Friday, December 11, 2015

Leaving Today

Five and a half years ago I was a Principal of a medium sized mono-cultural Pakeha dominated Primary School in the middle of Wellington city. I had spent ten years there and leaving was difficult and sad. It was a great school with awesome staff- many of whom are still good friends and fantastic students, some of whom I’m still in contact with today.

In July 2010 I was appointed as the foundation Principal of a new area school in Te Karaka 32 km North West of Gisborne.
I had been to Gisborne exactly once in my life.

Te Karaka is a small village with a predominantly Māori population with strong links and allegiance to the local marae.
I hadn't been on a marae for 15 years.

As an area school we were going to have a projected roll of 140 Year 1-Year 13 students.
My knowledge of NCEA was restricted to that of a parents, and even that had been six years previously. 

I knew there would be some suspicion of me; I was female, I was white, and further to that I did not have much cultural experience behind me apart from two years as a Principal in Fiji. I came from a Decile 10 school and I was from the primary sector. I could hear the whispers and rumours being spread around the community.  How was I going to understand the needs of kids in a school with a predominantly Maori roll? How was I going to handle the situations, both at school and in the community, when it was evident that people felt a male should be in the lead? How would I possibly understand the needs of, or relate to the kids in a Decile 1 environment? How could I possibly understand the curriculum demands of secondary students, or the intricacies of NCEA?

I’d been involved in, and a part of, some really exciting innovations in the ten years before I came to Te Karaka and I wasn’t prepared to accept that rural kids living in perhaps a more deprived area, than the Decile 10 urban kids where I’d come from, were entitled to anything less.

Things weren't always easy. The kids didn’t always understand the different approaches, and neither did others looking in from the outside. We had a vision for kids to meet their full potential and for that to happen they needed to understand a whole lot about themselves and they needed to become self managing, a concept difficult to understand for those who wanted us to simply exert our authority in a traditional way. 

There are still suspicions from some corners about the way we operate; we don’t look like a ‘normal’ school, and we actually never will. That’s not because we are small, or rural or anything else. It’s because we don’t believe a normal school meets the needs of lots of kids any more, if it ever did.

There have been immense challenges, some to bear and some to guide others through. And there have also been immense rewards. 

Today is my last day at Te Karaka Area School. Before I head into school for the day I reflect on the last five years.

I've had the privilege of working with a group of staff that pulled together and dared to dream, explore and discover new ways of learning that would re-engage these young people in learning that is authentic and real and meaningful for them.
I've worked with teachers and leaders some of whom I am sure are going to make a real mark on the development of education in this country going forward.

Over the last week I've listened to staff working together to plan next year and been able to reflect on where they are and where they’ve come from. There is such strength and such beauty in those conversations I’ve heard. I leave knowing that education on te Karaka is in great hands.

Ive made some of the best friends Ive ever had. Living in an isolated community certainly inspires close bonds and I leave behind some very good friends, as well as having a few now spread all over the country who have left before me.

I’ve met some amazing local people and some incredible young people. 
I've said it a few times now but my life has been forever changed by the experiences I've had and the people I've met in Te Karaka.

I understand bi-culturalism and the history of Aotearoa now on a deep level. I might have thought I knew that before but my knowledge was so superficial.

I understand the difficulties of living in an isolated village, and in an isolated province, with the issues of unemployment and declining populations.
There have been great times, and difficult times, but I’ve never had any regrets about taking this journey. I may not have thought I had the ability to deal with some of the difficulties if Id known what they would be before I came. But I did and I have.

There have been so much I have learnt, and so many skills I have developed.

So as I head off to school for my last official day as the Principal of Te Karaka Area school I say a huge and public thank you to everyone who has allowed me to be part of their lives over the last five years. I’m sure the day will have some laughter in it, and I’m also sure there will also be  tears. But in my heart the strongest feeling is gratitude. Gratitude for what I’ve learnt, for the people I’ve met and the ways my life has been enriched.