Mātua Heywood Kuka has been appointed Te Wharekura o Mauao's new principal.

Kuka will replace Mātua Koa Douglas, who stepped down as principal of the Māori immersion school in October last year.

The new principal has been with the wharekura since its inception in 2010 and was previously associate principal.

"I'm extremely honoured to accept this position as the new tumuaki at Te Wharekura o Mauao," Kuka said.

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"I have a real connection with this school. My father, Tame Kuka, was the founding tumuaki [principal] here, and my son has gone through as a student."

Kuka said his aspiration was to carry on the work and vision that local tipuna and kaumatua [elders] had for the school.

"Their vision was about our tauira [students] being proud of who they are and where they come from, being proud of being Māori and of our traditions, being fluent in te reo, and being able to succeed in the mainstream world," Kuka said.

He was excited about the way forward and said the school had a strong teaching group.

"Our community is 100 per cent behind the school and our philosophy brings out the most in our tauira," he said.

"My goal is that each student who leaves this place can stand resolute in this community and in the world, knowing they can be whoever they want to be and take their culture with them."

In 2016, Te Wharekura o Mauao introduced a new curriculum that encouraged students to choose their own learning path, based on what they are passionate about.

"This school is something I thoroughly believe in – it's about students having a place to learn in their own way," Kuka said.

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"We are challenging mainstream traditions here - flipping everything on its head. We are making sure that the centre of everything is the student and what they want. They are leading their own learning, and it's working."

Te Wharekura o Mauao chairman Graham Cameron said Kuka represented a new generation in Māori and educational leadership for Tauranga Moana.

"We are very excited to see Matua Heywood step up as tumuaki of this school," he said.

"Over the last few weeks we have seen him in action as acting principal and it's only emphasised to us that we have made the right decision."

Cameron said the school board had spent a lot of time working out what they wanted in a new principal.

"We wanted someone strongly connected to Tauranga Moana, and who would help build up Māori and educational leadership within our rohe – that is very important to us as a wharekura," he said.

"We also needed someone committed to carrying on the passion-based learning we have implemented and helping students achieve quality standards in the areas they want to learn in."

Cameron said Kuka was deeply immersed in his marae, hapu and iwi, and truly committed to the school. "We are all excited about the future of Te Wharekura o Mauao."


Te Wharekura o Mauao:

- Located in Bethlehem, Tauranga
- Te Wharekura o Mauao provides tikanga Māori education for Year 7-13 students
- Recently welcomed an additional 70 students
- School roll of 240 this year