Taupo is to get a charter school - a boarding school aimed at Maori boys in Years 11 to 13 with an emphasis on outdoor education.
The announcement was made at Rotorua's Tunohopu Marae today, with a Rotorua charter school Te Rangihakahaka Centre for Science and Technology, led by Rotorua iwi Ngati Whakaue, also announced.
The Blue Light Senior High School will be free to attend, with funding coming from the Ministry of Education and Blue Light, which has a well-established relationship with the New Zealand Police.
It will occupy what is currently the Blue Light Lodge in Wairakei Village near Taupo. The lodge was formerly accommodation for workers on the Wairakei and Waikato River power development schemes.
The new school will open next year with up to 30 Year 11 students and will add Year 12 in 2019 and Year 13 in 2020, building up to 90 students and a staff of 12 fulltime-equivalent teachers. It will have a strong kaupapa Maori focus, although non-Maori students are also welcome.
Blue Light Ventures Incorporated chief operating officer Mike Jackson, who will be the principal of the new school, said the lodge was being converted to a boarding school with learning spaces, multi-flexible learning classrooms and access to all of the outdoor activities run by Blue Light.
The curriculum will focus on maths, science and technology as well as Level 1 and 2 NCEA English. It will also offer students adventure-based learning, life skills, camps, the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and driver licence training.
"If we put all those together it'll be a fantastic educational package that will change lives," said Mr Jackson.
School days will include Blue Light Blast, an early-morning physical training with support and mentoring, work experience to provide students with authentic learning in workplaces, and outdoor experiences based around the lake, bush and mountains. Students will also gain NCEA credits. Learning opportunities will also be provided in the evenings.
There are no prerequisites for entry and Mr Jackson anticipated it would cater for a range of boys, mostly from around the Bay of Plenty.
"I think it'll attract a group of young people who really relate to the outdoor learning environment. Sitting in a classroom for five hours a day isn't for them so they get the opportunity to join in a wider range of areas."
Mr Jackson said the school would employ a mixture of teaching staff and Blue Light staff, both part-time and full-time. Current Blue Light Lodge manager Chris Te Whare would have a key role, he said.
Blue Light Lodge already runs leadership and life skills courses for secondary school students, and those will continue to be offered in school holidays.
Charter schools have been criticised by teachers' union the Post Primary Teachers Association. Regional chairwoman Alex Le Long said the new schools would not raise children's achievement.
"It's not going to close any gaps. It's not going to level any playing fields. The only thing charter schools do successfully is reward mediocrity by using scarce education money to prop up private owners," she said.
"It just doesn't make sense, and I fear it's a case of ideology trumping evidence."
The Taupo and Rotorua schools will be New Zealand's 11th and 12th partnership schools.