Getting a troubled school back on track

Mount Aspiring College limited statutory manager Madeleine Hawkesby, pictured in Christchurch....
Mount Aspiring College limited statutory manager Madeleine Hawkesby, pictured in Christchurch. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Advertising for a new principal at Wanaka’s Mount Aspiring College has begun, fulfilling another of the tasks for limited statutory manager Madeleine Hawkesby.

The Christchurch-based employment law and HR specialist was appointed by the Department of Education in early June following a poor education review report and parental concerns about a lack of leadership and governance.

Kerrie Waterworth asked Ms Hawkesby for a progress report on her Mount Aspiring College assignment.

What exactly have you been brought in to do at Mount Aspiring College?

At the request of the board [of trustees], I was appointed as limited statutory manager (employment and communications).

I also have the powers to advise the board on policies and procedures.

This means I have taken over the governance function of employment and communications from the board. However, I am not a member of the board.

In the governance role of employment I am the employer at the school.

In this role I am the employer of the principal, who I support and hold to account.

The principal has delegated responsibility to be the employer of all of the staff at the school.

I hold the governance function of communications at the school.

This mainly involves dealing with the media and also overseeing communications strategy for the school.

I can’t speak on behalf of the board.

I work closely with the board so we are on the same page as far as strategic communications and messaging goes.

I initially produced a scoping report which identified the issues, which was shared with the school community.

From that, in collaboration with the board and Ministry of Education, an outcomes plan was developed which addressed the issues in the scoping.

Working in collaboration with Ian Hall (board chairman) and Dean Sheppard (acting principal), we transformed the ‘‘outcomes plan’’ into a ‘‘living action plan’’.

My role now is to make sure that we progress the action plan and I will provide a monthly report to the ministry on our progress. I will also endeavour to keep the school community up-to-date with our progress.

How far advanced are you in the selection of a new principal and what sort of person are you looking for?

We started advertising at the start of September for the permanent principal. We are advertising through a number of channels locally, nationally and overseas.

Applications will close at the end of September.

We will be interviewing during October and looking to make an appointment mid-October.

The successful candidate will ideally commence at the end of term 4, 2020, but at the latest be in place for the start of term 1, 2021.

We are looking for a future-focused leader who sets high standards and has a proven track record of leading a large school.

Experience in managing and dealing with change and growth is a definite advantage.

They must be an innovative and strategic thinker with the ability to galvanise a school community around a common vision and shared values.

They will have excellent people management and interpersonal skills with the ability to grow people and build effective and diverse teams.

As an educational leader, they will be passionate about education and developing students to be the best they can be.

The ability to lead change and motivate people is a key part of this role. A transparent and consultative style, as well as excellent communication skills are necessary. Being approachable and inclusive is also important for this role, as well as being culturally aware and responsive.

Mount Aspiring College in Wanaka. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
Mount Aspiring College in Wanaka. PHOTO: KERRIE WATERWORTH
How would you describe the rifts that occurred between board of trustees members, and board members and parents?

In my initial scoping report, I identified the ‘‘need to develop relational trust at all levels’’ and described it as follows:

  • Some parents concerned about the ERO [Education Review Office] report and the board’s response.
  • Some parents have lost trust and confidence in the board and leadership as they feel their concerns have not been addressed.
  • Differences within the board led to the chair and a trustee to recently resign.
  • School matters have been played out in the media with various interests and parties involved.

This has impacted on relational trust at all levels.

You have appointed Mr Hall, an experienced independent chairman, to the board of trustees for a fixed term. Has that helped?

Just for clarification, it was the board that appointed Dr Hall as independent chair and I fully supported that appointment.

It’s fair to say that Ian has approached his role with rigour and vigour and has made significant progress.

Were there outstanding parent complaints and teacher employment issues you have had to resolve?

Yes. Dealing with parent complaints and employment issues is not uncommon in a school environment.

Have you managed to resolve these?

For most of them I would say yes.

The board has revised and adopted a new concerns and complaint policy, so new complaints are being dealt with through the new policy.

It is still the board’s role to manage complaints at a governance level.

One of the key issues you identified in your comprehensive analysis was support and review of some departments. Have you had to make any changes in the departments you have reviewed so far?

A number of these reviews are currently under way. However, they have not been completed at this stage.

Once reviews are completed, we will be analysing the information, assessing what changes need to take place, as well as any support that needs to be put in place.

We would then put a plan in place for those changes and/or support.

The college is also ensuring best practice and continuous improvement by establishing an ongoing programme of review and evaluation of all departments/areas within the school.

There were rumours of particular department heads bullying younger teachers, so much so that some resigned or changed teaching positions within the school. How do you deal with that?

While I cannot address any specific allegations, new systems and processes are being put in place to ensure any concerns are addressed and resolved rapidly.

There are processes in place for staff to follow if they have a concern or a complaint.

I have confidence in the SLT [senior leadership team] to manage any issues raised.

Do you think the Ministry of Education waited too long before taking action and appointing you as limited statutory manager to the school?

I don’t have a firm view on this. I am not involved in or privy to the decision-making process for my appointment by the Ministry of Education and the board and the factors they take into account.

In your experience how long does it take for a school to recover from this sort of setback?

On average, I am generally in my role for 12 months.

From my experience, schools come out of these interventions achieving greater internal capability, better systems and processes and are considerably stronger in the areas of governance and management.

It’s a very focused way to fast-track sustainable change and build strong and lasting foundations to accommodate and support growth.

How are you finding the process so far?

My style is to work alongside the board and principal in a constructive, consultative and collaborative manner in order to get the best outcomes for the school. Ian Hall (chairman), Dean Sheppard (acting principal) and I, along with the rest of the board, are working well together. There is a real sense that we are working as a team, in the best interests of the college.

Seeing positive change occur for the benefit of students, staff and school community is very satisfying.

What would you say to parents who are not sure whether to send their year 6 child to Mount Aspiring College next year, given everything that has happened in the past 12 months?

The transition from the local primary schools to the college is a matter to which the college is giving particular attention.

Year 6 students will be invited to the college and the acting principal also proposes an open evening to provide all of the needed information to students and parents.

 

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