A SCHOOL leader described as “Mr King’s Academy” has said his farewells after more than 40 years in education.

Gary Wiecek is well known to thousands of young people across the North East, firstly from his time as a vice principal at Emmanuel College, in Gateshead, and, for the last 15 years, as senior vice principal at The King’s Academy, in Coulby Newham.

Scores of colleagues turned out for his retirement celebration, including Nigel McQuoid, former principal of both schools, and John Rhodes, a retired vice principal of The King’s.

Paying tribute to his colleague, Mr Rhodes said: “It was a real privilege to work with him. Every day there was something to look forward to. He had an incredible heart, particularly for the students, and has been an incredible servant to the Emmanuel Schools Foundation.”

Mr Rhodes reported how Mr Wiecek was so keen to see Emmanuel College open its doors in 1990 that he even turned his hand to laying bricks to move the build along.

“He was instrumental in making Emmanuel one of the most outstanding state schools in the North of England. He was the heart and soul of the college.

“He was Mr King’s Academy and was at the forefront of everything here. He had the ability to organise huge numbers of students, all done with a generosity of spirit, heart and in how he gave his time,” added Mr Rhodes.

David Dawes, principal of The King’s Academy, added: “Gary always put his care for students and staff first and foremost. He is a man of compassion, grace and great integrity, someone you can always go to for a sensible and wise view.”

Mr Wiecek, who is originally from Swindon, started his career as a PE teacher in Shropshire before a job at Wellfield School in Wingate brought him to the North East.

In his own speech, he paid tribute to Sir Peter Vardy, founder of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation, his brother David, supporters Michael Bates and Albert Dicken and Emmanuel’s first principal John Burn, for their “great vision” in developing schools that have transformed the life chances of young people from disadvantaged areas.

He said: “I loved my time at Emmanuel College but when the opportunity came to come to The King’s Academy I really felt it was where the Lord wanted me to be and where my skills would be best used. This phase of my career has been the most fulfilling.

“It is a challenging place to work but I love to see the personal growth of our young people. It’s wonderful that we get to make a difference in their lives, that we can show that people here care for them and want what’s best for them.”

He said he intended to spend his retirement at his allotment, fishing and enjoying being a grandfather, and is planning a road trip to visit the village in Poland where his father was born and grew up.

The King’s Academy also said goodbye to Mr Wiecek’s personal assistant, Alexandra Keay, who has also been at the academy since it opened.