By: Mikaela Collins

An initiative aiming to improve education for thousands of Whangārei students will bring together 600 teachers and 44 schools.

Whangārei’s five Kāhui Ako (communities of learning) – those are five clusters of schools and early learning services which come together using a staffing and funding resource from the Ministry of Education – have formed a hub being launched next week which will bring together 44 schools, 600 teachers and impact 13,000 students in Whangārei.

Grant Burns, principal of Tauraroa Area School, said each Kahui Ako has its own individual student achievement goals, but the joint goal of the five was to improve student wellbeing by tackling three major issues – attendance, transience, and mental health.

“As there are clear links between student wellbeing and achievement, it makes sense to put efforts into this area. Students don’t learn effectively when the foundations of wellbeing are not in place,” he said.

Burns said teachers identified those three issues as areas significantly impacting students.

“Attendance sounds pretty basic but we really want to attack this head-on because kids just have to be at school, and Northland’s attendance rates simply aren’t good enough.

“The second one is transience – a huge number of kids shift from school to school. As a district we want to try to reduce the amount of transients but we also want to come up with ways we can minimise the impact of it, because when kids change school it’s a speed bump in their learning.

“The third aspect to it all is mental health. We’ve got Dr Denise Quinlan of the NZ Institute of Wellbeing and Resilience speaking on Monday and they do a lot of work around helping young people deal with the stuff that drags them back.”

Burns said when Kahui Ako were launched a few years ago Whangārei schools initially wanted to form one large community, however that did not fit the Ministry of Education’s guidelines.

As a result 44 schools formed five Kahui Ako – one led by Ruakākā School principal Marilyn Dunn; another led by Hurupaki School principal Rob Posthumus; one jointly-led by Whangārei Girls’ High School principal Anne Cooper and St Francis Xavier School principal Craig McKernan; one led by Whangārei Boys’ High School deputy principal Allister Gilbert; and the one Burns leads.

“We are finding now that principals of primary schools are talking with principals of secondary schools.

“We’re sharing resources and there’s a lot of really informal co-operation going on – for example we’ve loaned science equipment and we even share a caretaker with another school.”

But Burns said rather than each Kahui Ako tackling major issues individually – it made more sense to pull resources together.

For example, Burns said they were able to spread the cost of bringing Quinlan up from Christchurch to speak at Monday’s launch.

“It’s unique in the country. There’s an example of two communities of learning working together in Blenheim but this is the only instance where a whole district has got behind it and co-operated in this way,” he said.

“By linking everyone across the whole district it makes sense so we can capture the wider school community. Also, if you’ve got 44 schools hammering the attendance issue, that’s going to be more effective than little clusters of schools.”

The hub will be launched on Monday at an event, which will be opened by Associate Minister of Education Kelvin Davis, at Northland Events Centre.

Burns said from there teachers are being asked to give feedback on what they see as immediate steps they can do in their own practice, in their schools, and in their Kahui Ako.

That feedback will guide the next steps.

He said the success of the initiative will be measured through statistics – for example attendance figures – and surveys.

Source: NZ Herald


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