School's rich past lure for new rector

New Waitaki Boys' High School rector Paul Jackson displays the original architectural drawings of...
New Waitaki Boys' High School rector Paul Jackson displays the original architectural drawings of the old Don House on the desk of former rector Frank Milner. Photo by Ben Guild.

Paul Jackson took the "plum job" as Waitaki Boys' High School rector in November partly so he could immerse himself in the school's proud history.

He got his wish. Since moving into the rector's residence on December 22 he has been confronted with aspects of the school's past on all sides.

The school's original architectural drawings, dating back to November 1907, were found earlier this week in a stack of papers to be thrown away.

And old boys - some from overseas - had stopped by almost daily to walk in the grounds, take photographs and offer stories of, among other things, high jinks about secret tunnels leading out of boarding houses in decades long past.

"We never had anything like that at Marlborough Boys'," he said from his new office on Tuesday, referring to ex-pupils' continued desire to be associated with the school.

The fact Oamaru serviced a farming community and was a small town was also of importance to the son of an English farmer, who at the age of 77 still ran sheep and cows in the village of Ponteland, in Northumberland, near Newcastle.

"He'll never give it up," he said, before comparing his walk from the rector's residence to the short, daily commute of the farmer: "It's like having the cows next door."

The self-confessed workaholic, who struggled to remember his last sick day, said he was honoured to be the rector of "one of the greatest schools in New Zealand", adding he had aspired to become a principal since he got into teaching.

His predecessor, Dr Paul Baker, who resigned at the end of the last school year, had left an amazing legacy, he said.

The new rector, who had overseen the building of technology blocks at his previous schools, said education was changing rapidly and New Zealand children were at risk of falling further behind if the system failed to move with the times.

"Kids are walking around with more technology in their pockets than it took to put man on the moon," he said, before adding that some pupils, who could type faster than they could write and preferred to read from a screen, should be encouraged to bring their own devices to school.

That would now be pointless at WBHS, though, as the school doesn't have wireless internet or broadband.

There was no comparison between New Zealand's public school system and the private system in Australia, which Mr Jackson has experienced, where pupils were charged $11,000 to $20,000 a year and were often taken to school in Ferraris, he said.

In contrast, each pupil at WBHS receives government funding of $1200 a year.

"You're not going to produce much for that," he said.

Funding the school had become more difficult in recent times, with the number of exchange students having dwindled from 40 three years ago to just eight this year.

Times are tougher for pupils, too.

"I feel sorry for the kids who are leaving school today ... If they don't have a skill they will be stuck on $14-$15 an hour for a very long time, and that's not where you want to be," he said.

Unless a pupil's parents were millionaires, they should begin practising their reading, writing and arithmetic because jobs and apprenticeships were no longer freely available, Mr Jackson said.

"Life's not free anymore." Ironically, upon leaving secondary school, the new rector was "sick of reading books and studying" and instead entered the "real world", where he trained as an agricultural mechanic and diesel fitter.

Fourteen years in industry in England's northeast followed, "and then a woman came along called Margaret Thatcher", who closed shipyards and mines, which in turn threatened sports clubs, pubs, working men's clubs and brass bands.

"That's not to say she was wrong," Mr Jackson said.

"An awful lot of people were doing nothing and getting a salary."

That change led to teaching, and jobs at Brentwood Special School in Manchester, Bishop Viard College in Porirua, Greymouth High School, Rostrevor College in Adelaide and then Marlborough Boys' College, where he was deputy principal and worked with statutory managers from 2009.

He believed there was a common misconception about young people in New Zealand.

"I think what society doesn't realise today is that 95% of the kids aren't problems at school," he said.

"The police would tell you the same thing."

He preferred not to focus on the minority of pupils causing difficulties, or the top pupils, who would achieve regardless, but on those who sat in the middle of the classroom giving their best.

"That's the sort of kid I was; that's the kids my boys are," he said.

"Those are the kids I focus on getting the best for - those bread-and-butter kids are important."

The new rector "doesn't deal in daughters", having two sons aged 17 and one aged 12, while partner Joy also has a 17-year-old son.

Two of the 17-year-olds will attend WBHS, while the 12-year-old will go to Oamaru Intermediate. The other 17-year-old will see out the remainder of his time at high school at Marlborough High School, where he will be deputy head boy this year.



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