Alarm bells for school as roll spirals downwards

The entrance to Totara School. PHOTO: JULES CHIN
The entrance to Totara School. PHOTO: JULES CHIN
Pupils are fleeing a troubled North Otago school, putting it at risk of losing teachers and staff as its roll spirals downwards, an official report warns.

Issues around relational trust, governance and management relationships, communication breakdowns and pupils leaving are risking the operation of Totara School, a report from limited statutory manager Cleave Hay says.

Mr Hay was appointed by the Ministry of Education in January following what was then described as unspecified challenges at the school and three teacher resignations.

In the report, dated March 28, obtained by the Otago Daily Times, Mr Hay said he was appointed after the board requested support "following a breakdown in relationships" between members of the community, staff, the board and principal Sandra Spekreijse.

The restoration of trust "was crucial" to return Totara School to a well-respected and attractive school for pupils to learn at, and for the recruitment of the best possible staff and leadership, Mr Hay said in the report.

The "breakdown" of trust with the community and parents would continue to affect the school until it was rectified.

He said staffing allocation and teaching roles for next year were likely to be "significantly impacted" due to a reduction in pupil numbers and poor applicant numbers.

The school was funded for 72 pupils for this year. The roll was 58 on March 21 and the current roll as of term 2 was 45 pupils.

All four issues listed under "principal wellbeing and performance management," including the analysis of the severity and scope of those unnamed issues, were redacted in the report provided to the ODT.

The report made clear a range of other issues needed addressing, including employment relationships and staff wellbeing.

Concerns about communication management, including around the complaints policy also needed reviewing.

The report said the school would benefit through the development of a community engagement plan. Board members would also benefit from a professional development programme, including clarity around respective roles and responsibilities and other areas of governance practices.

A concerned parent spoke to the ODT after attending a board meeting at Totara School on Tuesday night.

The parent said despite those attending being given updates, it seemed the board was trying to "hide something".

Mr Hay told the ODT parts of the report referring to Ms Spekreijse were redacted because performance management and wellbeing matters were "private matters between an employer and employee".

"The principal and I are working on an honest, transparent and good-faith basis. This includes appropriate support by me as the employer," he said.

He said progress was already being made.

"I would like to note that the board and principal are co-operating willingly with all my work and we have achieved many of the objectives already."