The son of an Indian-South African father who worked three jobs prior to gathering his wife and children and leaving that apartheid ruled country in 1989, Powys saw firsthand the impact a lack of opportunity and a prejudiced society can have on people’s lives.
“For a lot of immigrants, there’s a weight of expectation on your shoulders when you are brought to a country like Australia from a place like South Africa was then, or other places around the world that are completely stifling and oppressive.
“There’s a weight of expectation to be the best – better than what you could ever possibly be where you’re from."
It’s hard to know what Powys would have achieved had his family stayed in is former home, but here in Australia, he has excelled.
Now the principal of Glenella State School in Mackay, having started his teaching career at the Gold Coast school he attended as a child, Powys has taken out the Queensland emerging leader title as part of the Australian Institute of Management leadership awards.
To win the award and then realise he was the only education representative at the national awards evening was quite an experience for the young leader.
“Backstage we were talking as a group and they were like ‘oh, I just sold this company’, or ‘I’ve got to get back because we’ve got this meeting with UN delegates bla bla bla’.
“It was very high level stuff, but while they were talking about leadership in a completely different context, it’s all related. I loved it,” Powys says.
There are a number of reasons why the young educator was given national recognition, but it was mainly for bringing an entrepreneurial approach to his role, forging local industry links and being keenly involved in his local community.
One initiative in particular that caught the judges’ eye was a youth traineeship program instigated by Powys.
In response to a chronic deficiency in ICT support in his area, and indeed right across his state, he brokered the linking of a group of schools with development group MRAEL and Axiom College to provide an 18-month traineeship for a local in an ICT support staff role.
“So we managed to identify a local kid in our area who was probably heading down that track of dropping out of school and being on employment benefits, and he’s been going great guns,” Powys says.
“He travels around the schools, he’s got a mentor, I coach him through the growth coaching model and he’s going really well.
“He’s turned his life around, he’s a confident kid, he’s been taking a few classes in coding, so he’s going to help us out with that in our schools.
"What we've done is hopefully get people in education and other industries in our area and across the state to think outside the box, but also think about how we can be more involved in the community,” he says.
Having lost the Year 7 level of his school to high schools in Queensland's recent year level transitioning, and also felt the impact of mining slowly shutting down this year in his area, to stimulate school numbers Powys has brought in several new programs involving after-school and vacation care to better cater to working families, and an increase in school numbers is beginning to reflect that.
He’s always thinking ahead and analysing and gathering research to better serve and prepare his staff and students.
He says there’s a there’s a strong sense of moral purpose to what he does.
“In everything that I think about, if I’ve got to make a decision or provide some feedback or if I’ve got to have a pretty fierce conversation with someone, it just comes back to my moral purpose – why did I get into education?
“And if I can satisfy myself in terms of ‘OK, am I willing to do or say something uncomfortable, am I willing to alter my thinking or get rid of some judgement or any inferences that I might have had in a situation have completely changed, am I willing to work with this person to get them to improve, that I’m the best person to do that – if I can satisfy all of those, then that ticks all the boxes in my moral purpose.
And if that’s what it does, and making sure that everyone is achieving, the way that was instilled in me when I was young, then that’s just who I am. I just deeply internalise everything that i do while I’m at school – and out of it.
“I remember my boss when I was at Helensvale, telling me ‘it doesn’t matter what you do, if you want to be a principal or a deputy, it’s not really about knowing all the bits and pieces of the curriculum and the syllabus, this document and that document, it’s just about relationships, that’s everything.
“If you don’t have an idea about how to cultivate, sustain, improve, develop a relationship with your staff, or your parents or your kids or the community, there’s no point doing any of it.
“I’ve tried to put 100 per cent of my time and effort into being a much better leader in the sense that the people who work with me feel that ‘OK, this is someone who genuinely cares about me’."