After nine years at the helm of Blaxland High School, Nikki Tunica retires on July 19.
She's seen the school through the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires, the latest summer bushfires, and the coronavirus pandemic, and is ready to hand over the reins.
"The last six months have been tough on energy, and the school and kids deserve someone with energy," Ms Tunica said.
During the summer fires, "We were living in our cars, we were ready to go if we had to go and it was sustained [for months]. Kids pick up anxiety from adults, so it's working with them," she said.
In 2013 a number of staff and students were impacted by the fires. The school had several guinea pigs, and these were very helpful for reducing students' anxiety as they played with them and patted them.
Ms Tunica was also personally affected. Her son Toby Settree was in the RFS and their truck became overrun with fire at Winmalee, and amazingly he and his Warrimoo crew survived. Naturally it rattled Ms Tunica but she didn't take time off.
"Being a leader you have to be there ... I had to check on people and make sure everyone was okay, that's what leadership is about," she said.
She is proud of her staff and how they've adapted to coronavirus restrictions, rolling out online learning and then reintroducing to face to face learning when school resumed on May 25.
"We've tried to provide as much normalcy as we can [returning to school]. Young people's wellbeing impacts on their ability to learn. They won't engage if their head is elsewhere," Ms Tunica, 62, said.
"Online will never replace face to face teaching. Kids want that connection and we want that connection."
After 40 years as an educator, teaching at several high schools in western Sydney before moving to the Mountains in 1992 after seeing Blaxland High's rendition of the musical Oliver, Ms Tunica says it's the little things that show you've made a difference, that mean the most.
Seeing students question their world, adapt to change, believe in their own capabilities and seeing their faces light up when they grasp a concept.
"It's not always about the glory that comes from top academic performers. It's the joy that's experienced by kids in their achievements and it's those who you find have been okay [after difficult times] down the track," Ms Tunica said.
She sees her legacy as "encouraging staff not to take for granted the role they they play with our young people", who often remember their teachers long after they've left school.
The wise words of her teacher mum Mandy Tunica have kept her grounded over the years.
"Never forget what it was like to be 15, always continue to be a learner and never lose your sense of humour. If you lose any of these three, then get out."
The process of appointing a new principal is underway, with the person expected to start when term three begins on July 21.