Roll drop risk due to ‘breakdown of trust’

The education consultant in charge of Totara School’s intervention has said a breakdown in trust poses a great risk of losing pupils, but neither he, the principal, nor the board will explain what the problems are.

In January, Cleave Hay was assigned as the limited statutory manager by the Ministry of Education to conduct an intervention at the school following unspecified challenges and three teacher resignations, including long serving teacher, Sacha Terry, who finished at the end of term one this year.

It is understood that some pupils have left the school in the past month.

Last week a letter was sent to parents and staff providing an update on the situation.

"My scoping has revealed that Totara School has seen some breakdown in relational trust at various levels, including with some of the school’s community.

"This poses the greatest risk of losing students. Any significant roll drop will impact the school in its funding and staffing, particularly in 2025," Mr Hay said in the letter.

The school roll was 58 when last reported to the board on March 21.

Mr Hay said he could not give an accurate number until the start of term 2.

The Otago Daily Times understands the roll could be under 50 when the school returns for the second term.

Restoring that trust was "crucial in order to retain Totara School as a well respected and attractive school for students to learn at and for the recruitment and retention of the best possible staff and leadership".

Mr Hay also delivered a scoping report to the board and the principal, which identified issues that needed to be addressed, along with a plan on how the school might move forward.

The Otago Daily Times has requested a copy of both documents.

Mr Hay said he would be conducting a parent/whanau survey early next term to evaluate concerns in the community and to address any issues raised.

Mr Hay said there might be a community forum following the survey to "explore how we move forward together with a common vision."

A full staff survey, particularly focused on wellbeing, would also be conducted.

Mr Hay said he was working alongside the board and the principal in "other matters."

These included ensuring governance and management systems were in place and revisiting the school’s overall strategic direction.

He also planned to secure support and professional development for the board, principal and staff.

"I am pleased to report that even amid some relationship matters the learners/akonga remain at the heart of the school and are the No 1 focus." Mr Hay said.

Mr Hay was contacted by the Otago Daily Times earlier this week but said he would not be commenting further.

"In conversations with the board, it was agreed that this is all that would be shared with the media, particularly heading into the school holiday break."