A glowing ERO report is proof that Bay of Islands College has overcome past divisions and is on the right track, principal John Paitai says.
The report, released on June 30, praised the Kawakawa school's sound governance, strong leadership and the value it placed on students' Maori identity, but especially its efforts to rebuild relationships with the community.
Under previous principal Elgin Edwards, who departed in 2013, those relationships had become toxic, hitting bottom when Mr Edwards trespassed one of the Mid North's most respected kaumatua from the school grounds.
Mr Paitai said the report's findings were heartening.
"It's a total affirmation that we're going in the right direction, that we have a really good school here. The board and the staff have been working hard to dispel some of the negative myths in the community about the college, and we're still fighting a perception from some people that it's not a place to send your children."
For its size and funding Mr Paitai said the school punched above its weight.
"But you're not going to have achievement if you don't have the relationships first, with students, parents, staff and the community."
While the small roll - currently just under 350 - limited subject choices, big was not always better.
"I know every student, and they all know me. We're a whanau really," Mr Paitai said.
Board of trustees chair Ken Timperley was "ecstatic" with the report, which recognised the hard work put in since 2013.
"One reason we chose John over the other candidates is that he's a people person. The school had been separated from the community but he could mend the bridges."
As well as holding face-to-face meetings he set up a forum, led by late kaumatua Sonny George and called Te Roopu Whakakotahi, for parents and community members. He also took staff on a 200km hikoi to every corner of the Mid North where students came from.
The ERO report noted improved teaching quality and student engagement, and commended school leaders' commitment to rebuilding relationships with parents, primary schools and the wider community. The college was highly effective in valuing and affirming students' Maori identity, and its bilingual unit - with 100 students in Years 9-13 - showed high levels of academic achievement.
Areas for improvement were attendance and NCEA results at level 3 and university entrance. To that end the school was working on lifting literacy and numeracy in Years 9 and 10 to set a foundation for better NCEA results in future.
The ERO inspectors will return in three years' time, a sign of confidence in the college's current direction.