By Simon Collins

New Zealand’s wealthiest school, Dilworth, is looking for a new benefactor to open a school for girls.

The Dilworth Trust Board believes its 100 per cent boarding school model with wraparound support could benefit girls as well as boys, and wants to help open a sister school somewhere near its 112-year-old boys’ school in Auckland.

But the catch is that the 1894 will of its founder, James Dilworth, restricts it to using its assets, now worth $858 million, to educate only “the sons of persons of good character, of any race, and in straitened circumstances”.

So the trustees are looking for a new benefactor for a girls’ school who would need to have around $350m to spare.

“We believe there are a few people in New Zealand who could fund this,” said board chairman Aaron Snodgrass, who attended Dilworth after his father died of cancer and who is now chief financial officer of Eastland Energy in Gisborne.

“If you think of the families that our boys come from, just because you are a boy doesn’t mean that you are in any more straitened circumstances than your sister who happens to be a girl.”

Aaron Snodgrass was sent to Dilworth from Paeroa after his father died of cancer; he is now chief financial officer of Eastland Energy.

The board went to the High Court in 2003 to vary James Dilworth’s will to allow it to investigate a school for girls, but has been advised that it can’t use the Dilworth legacy to actually fund a girls’ school.

“We have done work to ensure that there is a need, and we have worked with advisers and economists and educators for girls,” Snodgrass said.

“We are talking to philanthropists, but it is very, very early stages.”

He has gone public with the plan today to mark James Dilworth’s inauguration into the NZ Business Hall of Fame at a gala dinner in Auckland tonight, along with three other posthumous laureates and living entrepreneurs Bill Buckley, Dame Trelise Cooper, Alan Gibbs and Graeme and Craig Turner.

Dilworth, a founder of the Auckland Savings Bank and a major landowner, had no children with his wife Isabella and left most of his estate to establish the boys’ school.

Dilworth’s head prefect Harrison Dudley-Rode aims to study engineering, and to keep playing rugby, after he spends a gap year in Northern Ireland next year.

His legacy gives every boy at the school a scholarship worth $35,000 a year covering the full costs of education, boarding, books, uniforms, sports and music tuition.

Boys leave with a set of new clothes, a Bible and, if they choose to do tertiary study, a tertiary scholarship worth $5000 to $6000 a year.

Boys are selected based on “family need and suitability”. About 80 per cent, like Snodgrass, have no father in their lives.

“Every single boy has a story,” he said. “You hear some heartbreaking stories.”

Ethnically, the school has changed in line with the national profile of disadvantage. Pacific students have grown from 6 per cent of the roll in 2000 to 41 per cent, while Europeans have shrunk from 71 per cent to 27 per cent. Another 24 per cent are Māori.

Dilworth’s boarding school system aims to look after each boy’s emotional and social needs as well as education. Boys live at the junior school in Remuera from Years 5 to 8, spend Year 9 at a “rural campus” bought from the Hotel du Vin at Mangatāwhiri in 2009, and finish at the senior school in Great South Rd, Epsom, from Years 10 to 13.

Donald MacLean, only the eighth principal in Dilworth’s 112-year-old history, announced his retirement this week after 22 years at the helm.

Last year 98.5 per cent of the school’s Year 13 students achieved Level 3 of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), higher than any other decile 4 school, and 69 per cent achieved University Entrance, third-highest of the country’s 44 decile 4 schools with at least 20 Year 13 students.

“We believe that the model really works,” Snodgrass said.

“We have 80 to 100 boys coming out of Dilworth every year and going on to do amazing things.

“They are good citizens. They are good men. And we believe that we could offer the same to girls.”

Famous Dilworth old boys

Sir David Beattie (1924-2001), Governor-General

Dr Michael Bassett (b. 1938), MP and historian

Mike Moore (b. 1949), Prime Minister

Brendhan Lovegrove (b.1971), comedian

James Arlidge (b.1979), Blues and Japan rugby player

Mark Petrie (b. 1979), composer

Jami-Lee Ross (b. 1985), MP for Botany

Toni Pulu (b.1989), Chiefs rugby player

Angus Ta’avao (b.1990), Chiefs rugby player

Filipe Manu (b.1993), opera singer

Jason Hoyte, radio host

Source: NZ Herald

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