Waitaha Base School offers education programmes for 5- to 21-year-olds with learning support needs. The school relocated earlier this year to its new purpose-built premises co-located with Lemonwood Grove School, which opened last year for primary-aged students.
The schools have a combined kapa haka group, supported by staff from both schools, and have also held a joint art exhibition and market day. They are now working on a playground that can be accessed and used by all students.
As well as sharing a caretaker, cleaning team and hall timetable, staff participate in joint leadership meetings and professional development.
Waitaha School Principal Margaret Dodds says the co-location allows for greater staff leadership, collaboration and networking opportunities.
“We belong to a Kāhui Ako | Community of Learning with neighbouring schools. That provided a platform and it gave us the opportunity for others to see what we do, because people didn’t understand that we’re a school, we teach The New Zealand Curriculum, we have the same issues and our staff do the same things as they do,” she says.
“It allowed everybody to deeply understand special education and that was thrilling. For me, that’s one of the best things that happened because within and across this community, there is a genuine respect for special education.”
The collaboration provides students, staff and whānau from both schools access to communities and learning opportunities they may not have otherwise had, Margaret says.
“One Lemonwood Grove School learner comes over and uses our facilities in our Perceptual Motor Programme (PMP) room, because it’s a very specialist room, and our Waitaha learners go and use Lemonwood Grove’s gym.”
The Lemonwood Grove and Waitaha Schools’ Boards of Trustees have co-constructed a memorandum of understanding which allows them to ensure a variety of collaborative practices. For example, as Margaret is retiring at the end of the year, recruitment of the new principal, Maureen Allen, involved input from each school.
“We believe that these practices of doing things together model the long-term inclusive and innovative strategic thinking of both boards, staff and communities,” she says.
The opportunity to relocate and co-locate Waitaha came about as a result of the post-earthquake Christchurch Rebuild Programme.
“Change is always difficult. After the earthquakes it was very difficult to get the timing right and to present new opportunities in a way that people were not going to be traumatised by yet more change,” Margaret says.
“This was a completely new way of working collaboratively. We were very conscious of allowing everyone the time to adapt and embrace the innovations and opportunities the new build and the move to a shared site provided.”
As well as its base school, Waitaha School also has two satellite provisions located on partner-school sites, with a further satellite opening in February.
Margaret values the relationships that have formed and the increasing understanding of young people with diverse learning needs. She believes inclusive practices develop more naturally because of these respectful relationships.
“People want to do the best by their learners; they wouldn’t be in this job otherwise. What we are modelling and practising provides genuine opportunities for deep understanding of inclusive practices,” she says.
“It is a celebration of, and testament to, what can be achieved through the power of collaboration within and across schools. Our shared vision has been the impetus for the success of the initiatives.
“E Hara taku toa i te tao takitahi, he toa takitini – my strength is not as an individual but as a collective.”
Lemonwood Grove School Principal Sean Bailey agrees the partnership is about changing attitudes and increasing understanding around learning support.
“It’s being a community of learners where we’re all working together for all learners,” he says.
“I think that’s been critical to our community’s growth and development. It’s a two-way partnership, so we have things that Waitaha can benefit from and vice versa. Being able to cohabitate on one site is allowing us to do a whole lot more than what we normally would be able to do and I think that has been phenomenal.”
The schools speak to their students, staff and parents to gauge whether the practices are working and to make sure any initiatives instituted are sustainable over time.
“It’s that power of collaboration. It takes a village to raise a child and by sharing expertise and knowledge it certainly has been very beneficial,” Sean says.
“We have developed some good methods of communication through newsletters and keeping our community up to date with the initiatives that we are putting into place so they’re kept informed and I think that’s been powerful as well.”
Creating a culture of inclusiveness and working in an inclusive model of education requires a conscious effort, Sean says, and students interact through both organised and naturally occurring opportunities.
“They talk to each other, they’re having conversations with each other. There’s lots of opportunities for that to happen. Sometimes Margaret’s learners come and share our playground spaces to be around our learners.”
As well as encouraging informal and formal approaches to inclusive interaction between students, the team is also constantly thinking about innovation, improvement and maximising time spent together.
“It’s great to see our staff connecting and communicating with each other and building up relationships,” he says.
“We’re enjoying working together. Margaret and I are at different stages in our career but we still work really effectively with each other. I look to, and admire, her experience in special education. I’ve got a lot to learn from her and I’m just really stoked about the partnership.”
Source: Education Gazette