When the land under his school was returned to the local iwi, Ōwhata School principal Bob Stiles says it helped to transform the relationship.
"You're the boss now, so I'd better listen," he told the kaumātua from Ngāti Te Roro o te Rangi, a hapū of Te Arawa on the east side of Rotorua.
Paraone Pirika, the kaumātua, said the gift of the land under four local schools back to the iwi in the 2008 Te Arawa settlement "created an obligation".
"Those children are going to our schools. Those children need to know a lot of our stories and we have to share our stories with them," he said.
The four schools - Ōwhata, Lynmore and Rotokawa primary schools and Mokoia Intermediate - have all now created iwi seats on their boards of trustees, brought iwi members in to teach local history, employed iwi members as teachers and teacher aides, and made te reo and te ao Māori central elements in their curriculums.
They have been rewarded by increased attendance, engagement and achievement. Lynmore School principal Lorraine Taylor, who leads a community of schools which also includes Rotorua Lakes High School, says Māori students' achievement is now equal to other students across all five schools.
That's not how it looked in 2008. When the hapū developed an education strategy, Pirika started with Ōwhata School because that's where the need was greatest.
"There were predominantly heaps of gangs, a lot of gang children in there, a lot of unemployed parents in there," he said.
He worked at both ends of the problem. With the families, the hapū worked with other community groups to develop what is now Tatau Pounamu, a collective of groups supporting families.
The other end of the problem was the teachers.
"It was one of the main things - getting the teachers to understand that these children are coming from backgrounds that don't have any of this [school] learning," he said.
"They have another learning, so how do we help them out and not blame the kids? That was another key issue: don't blame the kids."
Instead of blame, he offered Māori values of whanaungatanga (relationships), whakapapa (the stories of the area), wairua (engagement) and especially manaakitanga.
"The manaaki pou [pillar] played a big part in terms of establishing inclusiveness and empathy," he said.
"I went in there and gave them a different teaching - tools like our stories, our pepeha, building pride back into the school."
Stiles said te reo Māori has become "normalised" in the school. He employs about 10 teacher aides from local whānau, and six or seven have trained part-time as teachers through Whakatāne-based Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and stayed at the school.
"It's changed the attitude that the school has, that the teachers have and that the children have," he said.
"They get to come and be themselves. Their aunties and uncles and people who look like them are all through the school all the time.
"The education system has failed Māori so badly over many years. Things are certainly a lot better for our tamariki."