The pair each received life membership of the Otago Primary Principals' Association at its annual meeting in Dunedin yesterday.
Mrs Direen, principal of Balaclava School, has been one for 20 years and was credited by fellow principal Tony Hunter as being at the "forefront of education for many years".
"She is the OPPA's answer to Speight's perfect woman," he said.
The praise from Mr Hunter left Mrs Direen "speechless" for a moment.
"It's an absolute privilege - we're here for the kids - the kids are what it's all about."
Mr Newton, a principal for 24 years - including 13 years at St Clair School - was also awarded the association's Ricoh Prestigious Award.
"It's quite overwhelming. It's such a complex and challenging job but I can't think of anything else I'd want to do," Mr Newton said.
He will spend three weeks next year visiting the United Kingdom to investigate children's understanding of their learning and the role of "innovative space" in learning.
The trip would build on work the school was already doing, especially concerning the school's own "unique and interesting" spaces.
Bathgate Park School principal Whetu Cormick was named association president.
He said there would be some challenges to face in the coming year regarding the association's responses to the Ministry of Education and policy direction, as well as supporting schools to meet the priorities set.