Tensions put schooling at risk

By Peter de Graaf


Conflict between the principal of a Northland school and its staff, trustees and Maori community has escalated to a point that pupils' education is at risk, according to an Education Review Office report.

The latest ERO report on Bay of Islands College in Kawakawa paints a picture of a school where teachers and  trustees work hard and where once-low NCEA pass rates are now higher than many comparable schools - but where that progress is threatened by increasing tensions and lack of trust in principal Elgin Edwards.

The report states that since Mr Edwards' appointment in 2010 relationships between the principal and teachers, the Maori community and the board had steadily deteriorated. One trustee resigned in 2011 and two more last year; three well-regarded teachers left at the end of last year.

After a request for help from the board the Education Ministry appointed a limited statutory manager in early 2012.

However, disharmony had continued to increase and staff were suffering ''significant discontent and low morale''.

''The level of conflict at the school is impeding progress at many levels,'' the authors say.

In contrast the report states that students are ''very well supported by teachers'', who are ''hard working and focussed on providing positive outcomes''. The board had worked ''extremely hard'' to govern the school effectively.

Mr Edwards referred questions to the school's limited statutory manager, Carol Anderson. She said the ERO review, carried out last September, noted some areas for improvement. She was working with the principal and board to address those issues, for example with a successful community consultation process late last year.

''We look forward to further strengthening relationships both within and outside the school in the coming year and we are working closely with the Ministry of Education to obtain further advice and support where necessary,'' she said.

The ERO had identified and praised continuing improvement in NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3 over the past three years, and noted the school roll had increased by 58 students, or 15 per cent, over the same period.

''We thank the principal and staff for their hard work in achieving these results and their ongoing commitment to the school and the students,'' Ms Anderson said.

The Advocate understands a facilitator has been appointed in a bid to rebuild relationships between the school and the Maori community. That could include re-establishing the Runanga Kaumatua, a group of kuia and kaumatua who gave advice and supported school events. Relationships between the principal and the runanga reportedly became so strained that some kaumatua were trespassed from the school. 

It is not Mr Edwards' first brush with controversy. He was suspended as principal of Tokoroa High School in 2004  but reinstated with compensation by the Employment Relations Authority two months later. The Herald reported that seven senior teachers resigned during the last two terms of 2004 and the board of trustees quit in February 2005. Tokoroa's 2005 ERO report was also critical of Mr Edwards' management style.

Bay of Islands College has a roll of 380 in Years 9-13, 86 per cent of whom are Maori.

- Northern Advocate

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