Wairarapa College recovery to take a year

By Nathan Crombie nathan.crombie@age.co.nz -
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John Carlyon, past principal of Wairarapa College, says it is a privilege to help return Wairarapa College to its former glory and central role in the district. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE
John Carlyon, past principal of Wairarapa College, says it is a privilege to help return Wairarapa College to its former glory and central role in the district. PHOTO/NATHAN CROMBIE

The $1.86 million recapitalisation of Wairarapa College -- a school central to the history of the region -- will take at least a year to complete, says commissioner and past principal John Carlyon.

Mr Carlyon, who was principal at the school in the 1980s, took over as commissioner in the New Year, replacing the board of trustees that was dissolved by order of Education Minister Hekia Parata.

Limited statutory manager Michael Rondel was appointed late last year and will stay on to help lift the school out of its present financial mire, Mr Carlyon said.

A newsletter outlining the school's predicament was sent to parents early last month, Mr Carlyon said, and he and Mr Rondel were to meet on February 24 "to come up with a plan to ensure the staff are able to keep teaching effectively and the students notice no difference".

He spoke to teachers last week about "the construction of a different strategic view of the school that is clear so everybody is working on side and all parents are kept informed".

"The implications are that the school has to look quite differently at the ways it operates. I'm a glass half-full kind of person and so I see it as a chance for the school to look at how it's doing things and to emerge stronger from this challenge.

"Right now Wairarapa College is far behind in terms of payments and all parts of the school are now in debt. But people need to know the school is not broke, and that's a good place to be."

Mr Carlyon will also concentrate his efforts on protecting the Wairarapa College hostel, he said, which is "the jewel in the crown" of the school.

He said overstaffing last year had contributed to the dire financial straits into which the school had fallen and five staff members were axed late last year.

The staff count was "now in line with the student roll", he said, which today sat at 1045, a count that had outpaced the ministry estimation of 933 students.

Mr Carlyon said the school roll had been about 1000 students when he stepped down as principal and had peaked at about 1200 students when his successor Alwyn Williams was at the helm.

The roll had since remained mostly stable, he said, despite demographic changes in Wairarapa and the "most admirable resurgence of Makoura College".

"Wairarapa is a very good place and to be part of a school which is central to the history of the district is pretty precious.

I'm very conscious of that, and the job I'm doing here is more than just the simple remediation of a school. There's a whole lot of community emotion and memory tied up with it all and to be involved is a privilege," Mr Carlyon said.

"I've asked Mike Rondel to stay on so that leaves me to look for solutions, to look forward. It's Mike who needs to look backwards and resolve what he finds to make sure the ordinary financial and property systems at the school are up to speed.

"Obviously they haven't been and obviously some of the decisions that were made haven't turned out to be effective," he said.

"I'm interested in the flow-on from those things and I will be supporting Mike in making the school a better place again, and stopping the negative impact of the decisions we make to bring that about.

"That is not likely to come about until the end of the year or even this time next year."

Mr Carlyon had hoped he would be able to hand the school back to the trustees elected in the next election round this year but believes his expectations were premature.

"My perfect dream would be that the school just goes on it's merry way and nobody will be the wiser for the work myself and Mike will be doing to return the school to its former glory."

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