New school: children first

Shotover Primary School principal Ben Witheford is looking forward to the challenge of starting a new school. Photo supplied.
Shotover Primary School principal Ben Witheford is looking forward to the challenge of starting a new school. Photo supplied.
The first principal of the newest state primary school in Otago says he wants to build ''a culture focused on children's needs from day one''.

The establishment board of trustees announced last week Ben Witheford had accepted the position of principal of Shotover Primary School, Queenstown.

His appointment was announced on Saturday at the dawn blessing of the site where the $17 million school will be built in stages; it is scheduled to open in 2015, catering for 460 pupils in the first stage and eventually growing to 650 pupils.

Mr Witheford said he talked about ''the power of technology in the hands of fantastic teachers'' when he was interviewed by the board.

He anticipated technology would be a ''large part'' of the learning environment at the new school.

''You don't often get a chance to be part of a school from day one, or even before it opens for the kids, and the chance to build physical space in the classrooms and then put together the team of people who are going to be charged with teaching these kids is a stunning opportunity,'' he said.

''Technology adds a whole other dimension to society because these kids' lives are changing so dramatically in what they will meet when they leave school and move on to high school; that's the challenge for us, but it's exciting.''

Board chairwoman Sally Mingaye-Hall said the trustees were impressed by Mr Witheford's ''experience, vision and leadership''.

''We believe Ben will bring a solid depth of experience, enthusiasm and strong evidence of leading 21st-century learning - in other words getting kids ready to approach the world with confidence and preparedness.''

Mr Witheford's family has a long association with Queenstown.

He and his wife and two children will move to the resort from Otautau, where he is finishing as principal of its primary school of more than 160 pupils.

Ms Mingaye-Hall said the principal had been instrumental in leading Otautau School through ''positive change'', after taking on the challenge seven years ago to revamp it following a poor Education Review Office report.

She said his experience and attitude showed commitment, ability to take on new challenges and to take staff through transformation.

''We had a high calibre of respondents, but Ben stood out due to his strategic skills, but also very real examples of engaging with staff, students and the wider community.''

The 41-year-old has a bachelor of education degree, diploma of teaching and postgraduate diploma. He is also president of the Southland Primary Principals' Association and convener of the New Zealand Principals' Federation 2014 Conference to be held in Invercargill.

He is a member of the Poppycock Trust and New Zealand Educational and Administration Leadership Society.

Mr Witheford will take up his new position in May, leading curriculum planning for Shotover Primary School and work alongside the board to appoint other staff members.

''The bigger picture for me is to build community around the site of the school through a range of strategies and it means being quite active on social media,'' he said.

''There'll be a webpage up and running within a few weeks ... so it gives potential families and everyone the chance to engage with how we're going.''