Julie Mackie joined us from Dulwich College, Suzhou at the start of term as our new Deputy Head Pastoral. Esme and Ruby from Year 5 and Chloe, Lily H and Robyn from Year 9 joined her for a lunchtime chat to find out more about how she is settling into life back in the UK.
Ruby. Why did you want to move to SHS and to Shrewsbury?
JM. Personal reasons were very important- in China I wasn’t able to see my family for two and a half years, so when I made the tough decision to leave, being close to family became a top priority. My mum and one of my brothers both live in Chester, my son is in Manchester and my daughter is in London, so living in Shrewsbury means I can nip up to see family at the weekend.
I’ve known about Shrewsbury High School for quite a while. My sister-in-law is a teacher and knows the school and always said she’d give her right arm to work here, it has such a good reputation. The fact that it is a small school with a lovely family feeling was very appealing; the school I worked at in Singapore had two and a half thousand students so was like a village! I love that the juniors have moved onto the same site. I’ve worked in two all-girls senior schools but never worked in a completely all-girls school before, so it is really special to be in an all-through all-girls school where the older girls are natural and constant role models for younger girls. I was also really excited by all the great initiatives at the school such as CLIMB, Period X and the Big Sisters mentoring programme. Finally, the GDST was another reason …
Robyn: What do you like most about the GDST?
JM: It’s great to be part of the far-reaching GDST network that has lots of different experts, including pastoral experts, which means you can tap into their experience. This is a group of schools that has been going a long time, so there is so much that can be shared, and it is important in a new role to reach out and get ideas from and visit different schools.
Lily: What is your favourite part of the job?
JM: Oh lots of things – I love working with students and with their teachers and parents. It’s so important to get to know the parents so there is collaboration between home and school. I’m hoping to meet lots of parents at the next SLT Parent Breakfast. I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same, so you never quite know what your day will look like. In this role you are always working with a team of people, it’s not the type of job you do on your own, in isolation – I’ll work alongside tutors, the nurse and counsellor, the SEND coordinator the Heads of Stage, amongst others – there is always a team to bounce ideas off. I love working with young people, and keeping in touch with things that are important to them. Having been through the pandemic, a priority for me is to look after people’s wellbeing.
Esme: If you could invite three people to a dinner party, dead or alive, who you would you invite?
JM: David Bowie! He is my hero! My older brother introduced me to his music when I was about 11. I saw Bowie in concert for my 18th birthday – he was incredible, and I feel blessed to have been on the planet at the same time as him – he will go down in history as an iconic figure. He was immensely talented, genre-defying, very generous and understood what it was like to be an outsider. There is a wonderful mural and memorial to him in Brixton which was very moving to visit. My second guest would be Frida Kahlo – she’s a very interesting character with her experiences of her accident and being in a brace and being bed-ridden in hospital for so long. Her life was her art, and I think she would get on well with David Bowie. Finally, I would invite my daughter – she’s an art teacher, an incredible artist and also a die-hard Bowie fan!
Chloe: What is the biggest difference between your old job and your new one?
JM: When I left China we were still in the pandemic and living under very tight regulations. At school for example, everyone had to do a Covid test every day at 8am. I never met anyone with Covid because you could be sent away if you tested positive or locked in your apartment. Everyone had to have Covid trackers on their phones; one friend of mine walked past a restaurant in a huge shopping centre in the city and because someone in the restaurant turned positive for Covid, anyone identified by their phone trackers as being in the vicinity of the restaurant had to self-isolate for 10 days. There were no parents allowed on campus so it’s wonderful to be here with the freedom of movement. Parents can come into school, school trips are going out and fixtures are happening; we had nothing like that in China for the last two and a half years. I also worked at a co-ed school so there is a difference in not having boys around and the cultural differences are quite significant.
Ruby: What is your favourite cheese?
JM: Emmental – the flavour and texture.
Robyn: What hobbies do you have?
I am a passionate independent traveller and like to head off on my own, with a backpack and no plan. I love photographing people in their national dress and especially capturing them walking away from me, unnoticed. Food, Food, Food! All of the food that goes with travel. I always try and do a local cooking course when I am travelling and I love both eating and cooking. I like the cultural element of travel, particularly dance or festivals and try to seek out countries with unique cultural traditions, especially in the Middle East or South East Asia.
Lily: What three words would you use to describe yourself?
JM: Adventurous, open minded and devoted (to my job).
Esme: What luxury item would you take with you to a desert island?
JM: It’s cheating but could I take my Apple airpods pro and a device? That is two items. I wouldn’t want the phone or social media but I would use it daily to listen to podcasts and music.
Chloe: What is your favourite destination?
JM: I’m lucky as I’ve been to some incredibly places before they were hit by mass tourism. Tibet was a favourite. As it is at altitude, the quality of the air and the light is incredible. I had to get a special film for my camera that could cope with the light. The purity of light in the day time is beautiful and at night because there is no air pollution you feel like you could reach out and touch the stars, they seem so close. It also has an incredible landscape: there was a phenomenal lake and I couldn’t initially work out why it looked a bit odd but then I realised there was not a single person or boat on the lake, because it’s sacred and the people don’t touch it, they leave it for their gods. Tibet is a very spiritual place and when you’re in the Himalaya and you’re a tiny speck, you can understand why people there think about their role in the universe.
Ruby: What book are you reading at the moment?
JM: Taste by Stanley Tucci. He is Italian by descent, and an incredible food lover. While he was being treated for oral cancer he wasn’t able to eat and was on a feeding tube. When his treatment finished he threw himself back into his love of food. The book describes how food was integral to his upbringing: he was an immigrant in America, and his mother was the most popular school mum as she fed all his friends amazing Italian food they had never tasted in the 1960s.
Esme: What is your favourite film.
JM: I love The Shawshank Redemption and Seven Years in Tibet but I think my favourite would have to be Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe.
Ruby: What is your favourite book?
JM: The Bone People, by Keri Hulme. It is set on the coast of the South Island in New Zealand, and is about a woman who discovers a young child that’s been washed ashore. It is full of Maori mythology and wild landscapes, and I visited the place where she wrote it with my daughter. I had to then re-read the book as it all suddenly made sense. I read it in one sitting!
Ruby: Where do you come from?
JM: I was born in Melbourne, Australia, so I have duel British/Australian citizenship. My parents moved to Chester when I was two. I’ve got three brothers who are all merchant seaman, my father was a merchant seaman and my mother’s brothers were all merchant seaman. So we are a travelling family! My parents would head off on adventures on the back of a motorbike in the 1950s so travelling is in our blood.
Robyn: Is there anywhere you would still like to go?
JM: Ecuador. I have had the Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador for about 15 years and it looks like an incredible place. Bhutan would be another place I’ve always wanted to go but it is tricky to get in as you have to have a permit. The Gross National Happiness Index is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan by valuing collective happiness as the goal of governance. There is not much western influence and they have only recently had access to the internet. It has a unique cultural identity which I love.
Ruby: What is your favourite animal?
JM: A Westie, obviously! They have a huge amount of character packed into quite a small dog!
Ms Mackie is looking forward to meeting parents at our next SLT Parent Breakfast on Wednesday 25th January from 9-10 in the School Dining Room. To register to join us please complete the attached form: