Student Te Aranga Hopa leads a powerful haka as Te Kāpehu Whetū marked its final day for students as a partnership school. Photo / John Stone
Student Te Aranga Hopa leads a powerful haka as Te Kāpehu Whetū marked its final day for students as a partnership school. Photo / John Stone

Tears were shed and the sound of waiata, haka and applause echoed as Te Kāpehu Whetū marked its last day as a partnership school.

Staff, students past and present, and whānau packed Maumahara, one of the school's buildings, for a final assembly yesterday.

Next year the Whangārei school will open as a designated character school - state schools with a special character that sets them apart from ordinary state schools - after Education Minister Chris Hipkins launched the Education Amendment Bill in February to formally end partnership schools, also known as charter schools.

Raewyn Tipene, chief executive of He Puna Marama Trust which runs Te Kāpehu Whetū, told the crowd that forcing the closure of Te Kāpehu Whetu - which encompasses a primary school and a composite senior school (Years 7 to 13) - was a disgrace.

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"It goes to show that we are still in the grips of oppression, racism and colonisation. I want to say that because this kura was born out of the fight and the activism for the last 180 years. I don't want us to forget that this is a kura that is different, and not a school."

Former Te Kāpehu Whetū student Kelvyn Henare and He Puna Marama Trust chief executive Raewyn Tipene. Photo / John Stone
Former Te Kāpehu Whetū student Kelvyn Henare and He Puna Marama Trust chief executive Raewyn Tipene. Photo / John Stone

The official termination date for the partnership school is December 18 but yesterday was the final day for students.

Tipene spoke about how one of the last messages Sir James Henare - or Uncle Jim as she called him - left was "we stand on the shoulder of giants" and how that message was important for the students.

"You might be thinking you're sitting in here in Maumahara listening to me but you stand on the shoulders of giants," she said.

Kaumatua Te Warihi Hetaraka reminded everyone this was not the end for Te Kāpehu Whetū but a new beginning.

To close the formalities students and whānau headed outside for the raising of the Tino Rangatiratanga, He Whakaputanga and New Zealand flags as The Last Post played.

Once the flags were raised students performed a powerful haka.