There were mixed emotions last week as a Banbury school bid farewell to one of its most celebrated educators after a career spanning more than three decades.
Sean O’Sullivan had been the headteacher at the Frank Wise school for the past 11 years but started his teaching career at the Hornbeam Close campus in 1986.
To say the staff, students, parents and friends of the school organised a leaving-do would be an understatement.
Instead they had put together an afternoon of music, food and fun in what became known as Sean-stock, remarkably leaving the departing head in the dark as to the scope and scale of his send-off.
Matt McArthur, assistant headteacher, said: “Sean has been with us for many years.
“He’s been a teacher, a deputy headteacher and the headteacher so we really wanted to show our appreciation for him both as a school and as a wider community.
“He has got a particular love for Northern Soul so each of the classes has put together a different element for the afternoon. We have fancy dress and food from places Sean has taken people on residential trips.
“We have a technology museum as Sean was the technology subject leader for many years and put a lot of effort in creating a culture where children access ICT in a myriad of different ways.”
You would be hard pressed to find a single person with a bad word for Mr O’Sullivan and Sean-stock was a fitting display of the enormous respect and gratitude the Frank Wise community holds him in.
Sean said: “It’s way more than I deserve or asked for. They kept it an amazing secret. I knew there was going to be a sports day and I knew they were going to feature me a little bit but I thought it would be a token bit of fun, like during the egg and spoon race, I had no idea they were going to devote it to me. I’m bowled over really.”
The event was nothing but celebratory, marking a career not just of longevity but of devotion, purpose and legacy. There was also an air of emotion as this particular chapter in the story of Frank Wise drew to a close.
Sean said: “They’ve handled me very well, they have eased me into it and not put too much pressure on me.
“I’m okay at the moment but I think I will feel very emotional to leave.”
During a three-decade-long career Sean has touched the lives of many students, has implemented sweeping positive changes and given families hope but without hesitation one thing stands out.
He said: “It sounds cheesy but the children, that’s what we’re all most proud of.”
Assistant headteacher, Matt McArthur, joked the hole departing headteacher Sean O’Sullivan would leave behind was so large he is to be replaced by two headteachers.
The sentiment, however, bears a grain of truth and is testament to his lifetime of educating.
Matt said: “For a lot of us Sean has gently guided us and developed us as people as well as ensuring the children get the best outcomes for life, engaging the community and being visible in the community and being celebrated for their achievements.
“He’s left a real legacy in the school. It’s a physical status as he developed our ITC suite and he was instrumental in ensuring our post-16 centre was built and the curriculum was developed to support our young people develop into young adults.
“He’ll leave a physical legacy as well as a cultural legacy, to say goodbye is going to be really really tough.”
Sarah Paton, who teaches the 16-to-19 year-olds, has known no other head in her 11 years at Frank Wise. She said: “Its a bit sad to see him go. He’s so loved by everybody. He’s given so much to the school it will be a big change for us all.
“Every decision he has ever made has always been in people’s best interests.
“You couldn’t question him as a head. It is always the children first and there isn’t a decision he has made that hasn’t been about the kids.”
Year 10 student Cameron Bowler-Wright was manning the photo tent where people could pose with a life-sized cardboard cut out of the departing head in a range of novelty outfits.
Cameron said: “I’m a bit upset. He’s very nice, he’s a very good teacher.”
Current deputy headteacher Heidi Dennison and former Frank Wise teacher Simon Knight will return to jointly take over the headteacher role.
The Frank Wise School has, like no other, a strong sense of community with staff, students, friends, parents and volunteers, a collective family that extends beyond the school gates.
The challenges faced by the students and their families are met head on and the results have life altering effects for both.
For the past 11 years of his 32 years with the school Sean O’Sullivan has been the headteacher and numerous parents and family members attended Sean-stock to wish him well and thank him and his staff for their continued commitment to their children.
One such couple were Lyndsey and Lee Foster whose son, Brodie, who turned eight this year, has been a student at Frank Wise for the past four years.
Lyndsey said of Sean: “He’s just a phenomenal guy isn’t he?
“He has such a caring nature, he’s just a lovely, calm, caring man. The calmness, he’s been here for 30 years, it’s amazing how calm he is.”
Lee added: “Given the potential for chaos, this school is so calm, which says a lot. It ticks all the right boxes and it’s a credit to Sean.”
Brodie, who has autism, has flourished within the Frank Wise environment, transforming his and his families lives for the better.
Lee said: “Words cannot express what he has done for our son.
“When Brodie first came to school the future was very bleak. Now we have a future and a son.
“When he was diagnosed with autism he didn’t talk we didn’t have any social interaction whatsoever. “He’s a completely different child now, he’s trying to talk and interestingly enough he’s learning Japanese, and he’s eight.
“As parents the future was dark and now it’s not, there’s hope and that’s only because of this school and largely down to Sean.”
Lyndsey added: “The teachers who have taught Brodie have all been fantastic.
“The teacher he has now, Helen, we want her to live in our house!”