Her job is to make judgement calls, but this has been the hardest one she has ever had to make.
At the end of this academic year Dr Jackie Johnston will step down as principal of the College of Richard Collyer in Horsham.
She leaves behind a legacy to be proud of.
“It’s not been an easy decision,” said Dr Johnston. “Every time I try and talk about it to the staff I want to cry so I’m avoiding talking about it.”
In 2004 she made history by becoming the first woman to be appointed to a head role at the college which was established in 1532.
Having studied a PhD in Medievalism, it was the history of the college that drew her to it.
The college had a good reputation when Dr Johnston took it on a decade ago. Her challenge was how to make it even better.
She said: “People underestimate how difficult that is. If you take on a failing establishment you can get some easy wins in improvement.”
At the core of Collyer’s success has been incremental improvements.
Campus expansion over the principal’s time at the college includes the sports hall and multi-gym, the John Dew building, and redevelopments to the canteen, art and photographic departments.
Today (Thursday April 3) Collyer’s unveils a new Duckering Hall - a project to be followed by the construction of a six-classroom building which will open in 2015.
This will increase pupil capacity - which has grown from 1,200 in 2004 to just under 1,650 today.
Since 2010 around £3.5million has been invested into the college. Most of this has come from Government funding.
“We’ve never done massive growth in one hit,” said Dr Johnston, who comes from a long line of teachers.
“We’re in a situation where Horsham is growing, and we need to grow with it. There’s a need to be able to manage people’s aspirations to come to Collyer’s.
“I’m very proud to be part of an organisation that has history but it needs to change with the times - we’re dealing with 21st century people not those in Tudor outfits.”
Dr Johnston spoke to the County Times on the same day teachers held strikes across the country to fight against education secretary Michael Gove’s plans impacting on pay, pensions and retirement age.
While Collyer’s was largely unaffected by industrial action, many schools across the Horsham district closed or partially closed on Wednesday (March 26).
The principal commented that all teachers are entitled to take up these issues with Gove, but ‘I can’t really say I’m in favour of strike action’.
She added: “I’m leaving much of that to my successor.”
The competition for her replacement was tough.
After a string of intense interviews the college’s governing body choose to appoint Sally Bromley to serve as new principal from September 1 2014.
The successful candidate is currently head of Sussex Downs Park College and previously enjoyed a seven-year stint as vice principal of BHASVIC in Brighton.
“Staying too long can be a mistake,” stressed Dr Johnston.
“Some times it’s right to have a fresh start for somebody else to come in and see what they want to do.”
She said she will miss everything about the college - not least the students and staff.
Vice principal Steve Nicholls said on behalf of college staff: “Jackie is loved by the Collyer’s community. The staff is very sad to see her go. She’s done fantastically well over the years and had a massive impact on the college and its excellence.”
Dr Johnston praised the tight-knit school community in the Horsham district.
“Horsham and the education system is fantastically strong,” she said. “There’s all the schools you work with as well as the college doing a fantastic job for Horsham. There is a really strong network of schools and the college and I just want to recognise the schools we have worked with.”
Now the principal is thinking about life after Collyer’s.
She is excited to ‘being able to pass by the college and say it’s brilliant and I used to be involved in it’.
But what Dr Johnston is really looking forward to is a change of pace.
“I have had to live a life where timing dominates. In this job every second is planned and accounted for. I’m moving from that to having no plans. And I’m going to exalt in having no plans.”