Retiring head teacher Chris takes centre stage in dramatic send-off

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Chris Willsher pictured on stage with the Bugzy Malone cast
Chris Willsher (centre) pictured on stage with the Bugsy Malone cast

A SPECIAL gala night showcasing the Priestlands School production of Bugsy Malone was held in honour of outgoing executive head teacher Chris Willsher.

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Joined by staff new and old, over 80 guests including school governors and Rotary club members attended the evening to celebrate the head’s 18 years at the school.

Retiring at the end of term, Mr Willsher (60) said that he was particularly proud of the “lively and energetic” community that had been created within the school.

He told the A&T: “We have made a community where everyone feels included and happy to be at the school. Everyone gets on with each other and I will miss the interaction between the adults and the children.

“Priestlands is a very busy school with so much energy, enthusiasm and vibrancy, and whatever I do after this is not going to have the same buzz – that is what I will really miss.

“It’s a very odd feeling to be leaving and I don’t think I have quite come to terms with it yet. It is right for me to move on at this point but it is going to leave a very big hole in my life.

“Somebody once said that if you find the right job it doesn’t really feel like work and if that is the case then I have to say I haven’t done a day’s work in the last 18-and-a-half years. I have loved every minute of it and I would not change a thing.”

Looking back over his time at the school, Mr Willsher recalled the trips to Poland where he would accompany students on a tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the effect the visits had on the children.

The school’s new head, Peter Main, took up the role in January 2018 and has been in post for 18 months working with Mr Willsher as part-time executive head to ensure a smooth transition. Mr Main had previously been at the school as a senior teacher for four-and-a-half years.

The farewell gala evening kicked off with food and canapés before the production began, surprising Mr Willsher when he found himself taken on stage numerous times by performing students.

He said: “The performers dragged me up on stage and put on this sort of ventriloquist mask on my face which made it look like my mouth was moving and someone else was doing the voiceover which was hilarious and hideously embarrassing.

“I got called up when the first dance routine came around, and I was roped in again at the end for the big fight scene – I knew what was coming and I got coated in gunge from head to toe.”

He added: “The cast worked in another character to the production as well called Wiley Willsher who would dance across the stage wearing a giant mask of my face that we had used before in the school’s Christmas review.

“It was a super performance, the youngsters personalised the show and improvised many parts. It was a very entertaining night and a good send off.”

The head teacher’s name will live on at the school in the form of a new study centre – replacing the library thanks in part to a £23,000 grant from Lymington and Pennington Town Council.

Mr Willsher aims to catch up with friends and family, travel, and work on his second book on leaving the school. He has also been elected as a parish councillor for Lyndhurst.

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