It doesn't pay well and the hours are long, but for Conrad Waitoa leading Inspire In Education is the best job he's ever had.

The pilot programme, purposed to develop the ​potential of Maori learners, was established in March this year after Mr Waitoa realised the number of students, particularly boys, not achieving national standards.

"This has been the best job I've ever had, the least paid with the longest hours, but the biggest heartfelt job. I've not woken up without a smile on my face knowing that it's going to be a cool day ahead connecting with students or families."

He was "humbled" to learn he had been nominated for Hawke's Bay Today Person of the Year, he said.


"For me it's very humbling and appreciated. There's a lot of people out there doing wonderful things and you don't do it to gain recognition, you do it to help others."

Mr Waitoa, a husband and father of two, left a corporate career of 30 years to start Inspire In Education this year and said the results had been emotional.

"The most rewarding part was when the students I've had that are transitioning to high school have all said to me that they're all coming back to help me and be the leaders for other students.

"That was the greatest thing. I actually cried when I got to my car because it meant the whole year meant more to them than just being in the programme."

Introduced at Havelock North Intermediate, where Mr Waitoa is chairman of the board of trustees, the initiative uses a kaupapa Māori approach in identifying students' strengths, weaknesses and career and education goals.

Havelock North Intermediate deputy principal Liz Vanderpump, one of several people who nominated Mr Waitoa, said he was someone who had made a huge difference in the school.

"What he's actually done this year is give up his fulltime work, he was involved in the corporate world, and from what we could tell a pretty high-paying job. He was inspired to set that aside so that he could work with the kids in our community.

"I think that's a really selfless act and by doing what he's done he's made some pretty strong connections with some kids, made a huge difference in their lives and essentially been a leader for our community."


Mr Waitoa said since starting up the programme his work had taken him in many different directions and he had become, what he described, a "connector".

"I like to connect with people and I'm not afraid to ask for help and a favour. For me it's about helping some of our younger children, especially some of our Maori students in education.

"I knew that others were experiencing the same things that I experienced when I was at school. I thought it was a time for me to give back."

Mr Waitoa said funding the programme was a challenge but he was hopeful that in time the programme would grow and rally support.

"I'm self-funded at the moment but I know in time that funding will come along and I can then grow the programme further around Hawke's Bay. It's come a long way.

"I guess for me I won't make a million dollars, but I feel like I've made a million dollars if that makes any sense."