Charter Schools Perception Series: The Advocates Part One UPDATED



WHAT is your background in education Alwyn?

I started teaching in 1991. I taught at Tauranga Boys, which is a good school, then did a little time at Hamilton Boys and then taught at Saint Cuthbert?s college. During that time I worked really hard in the background doing some study looking at some other countries. In the end the questions were, what is really good about the New Zealand education system and what could change?

The bottom line is that for the vast majority of children in New Zealand if you place them in year eleven in good shape they will do fine.

Alwyn Poole has a BBS, MEd (Hons), Dip Tchg and a PG Dip Sport Mgt. He is a Principal and Academic Manager.

WHY is there a need for a new Middle School model?

I think one place that we are incredibly remiss in New Zealand is that we don?t ask our Primary School applicants to have a minimum NCEA level of two or three in Maths and a Science therefore we have got a whole heap of Primary teachers who are unable to be strong in those areas.

Children are coming to year seven quite often without a good background in those subjects.

So where do we fall down? The answer is in years seven, eight, nine and ten.

I think for many people Intermediate schooling has done its dash. And the first two years of secondary schooling are under valued and under resourced. You have got bigger classes and you put your less able teachers and you don?t put as much emphasis on it because the Schools are judged on year eleven, twelve and thirteen.

So at that year nine and ten time when the kids really need help developmentally and intellectually to be catered for at their best, is when in our New Zealand education system we choose to give them the least.

?TELL me about your Middle School model.

A lot of people have a crack at us as if we pretend that we invented what we do. We don?t, we take the best practice from different places.

?We have taken the whole New Zealand curriculum and re written it as 32 cross-curricular projects.’

I am not aware that anyone else has done that. We are pretty excited by that .

(The model was first put into practice at Mount Hobson Middle school in 2002.)

This school (Mt Hobson) is in its 13th year. We have had significant success at improving children.

Our model relies on being a small school. As Academic Manager here I am in charge of seeing that every child is making progress.

At South Auckland Middle School we have two units and each of those units has an Academic Manager in charge of sixty children.

The Academic Manager teaches as well so they get to know them really well. We don?t have an office sitting Principal.

South Auckland is broken into two mini schools, Manukau and Totora. One on each level. In West Auckland? they have three mini schools and intend to go to four as they grow. Teachers teach within a particular mini school.

We have beautiful grounds at South Auckland Middle School. In fourteen months we have only had two incidents of graffiti because the kids look after the place.

South Auckland Middle School grounds. PHOTO -

South Auckland Middle School grounds.

WHAT is the school timetable like?

We have an academic morning, the children come in at eight thirty and they work till ten to one.They have their heads down it is quiet. In that time they do three core classes and then they have an independent time, where they work through some quite structured projects. So every five weeks they hand in a project, so they are always working in a theme.

In the afternoon they do art, community learning, sport, and music. We have guest speakers.

TELL me about the projects.

Our first project this year across the three schools for year seven was architecture, For year eight it is Human circus, (cirque du solei they do that as a thematic study) Year nine is Flight and Space and year ten is a statistics based project.

For each project the whole seven learning areas of the New Zealand? curriculum are covered.

We integrate the whole project (all core subjects are part of each project) for example with a Project with the theme, Shakespeare at the Globe, we can look at poisons (Romeo and Juliet) and relate it to Chemistry.

South Auckland Middle School Project One Overall Certificate Recipients - Year 7-10. -Photo South Auckland Middle school Facebook page

South Auckland Middle School
Project One Overall Certificate Recipients – Year 7-10.
-Photo South Auckland Middle school Facebook page

There are so many cool things about that. For someone who is extremely good and extremely well organized we can extend massively as there is no upper limit. For those who are struggling we have always got their core subject as the back up, so they do the whole New Zealand curriculum effectively twice. They do it in their core subjects and you can tick off every strand in the New Zealand curriculum in their projects. So if you have someone who is struggling and there are eighteen tasks in a project we can say six tasks is a superb effort for you.

South Auckland Middle School Cassius and Tristan (Year 9) with their rockets that they designed and built as part of their Flight & Space project. Tristan launched his rocket by using water and air, and Cassius used hairspray, a PVC pipe and heat to build up pressure to launch his rocket. PHOTO South Auckland Middle school facebook page

South Auckland Middle School
Cassius and Tristan (Year 9) with their rockets that they designed and built as part of their Flight & Space project. Tristan launched his rocket by using water and air, and Cassius used hairspray, a PVC pipe and heat to build up pressure to launch his rocket.
PHOTO South Auckland Middle school facebook page

?HOW did you make your plans a reality?

For a long time we have wanted to do something elsewhere, somewhere people can?t pay and there just wasn?t an option.

In 2011 the Act/ National agreement for partnership schooling was a thrill for us, I could have written it as a proposal, I didn?t but to us it is a very, very good thing. For a long time we had hoped to take what we are doing here ( Mount Hobson Middle School ) and be able to spread it but the school here is resourced by my family. My wife and I sold our house to provide this.

We applied in the first round; it is a very formidable process. It required a one hundred and eighty page application document. You sit in front of a high-powered Educational board, you get ten minutes to review your application and then up to two hours of answering their questions that they fire at you. They make a recommendation to the Minister and the Minister makes the decision.

UPDATED: With Partnership schools we set up with approximately seven percent of a state school set up fund. We began South Auckland Middle School with one point three million to begin.

For a school of two hundred and forty in West Auckland our grant was nine hundred and sixty thousand with an extra three hundred thousand discretionary. It is not the smell of an oily rag at all but you have got to be really good at resourcing to get a two hundred and forty students’ school set up on that amount of money particularly in Auckland. You have got the lease, you have got all the building adjustments and initial staffing.

A State school gets an eighteen month run in, and the set up fund then they tend to graduate the numbers coming in.

In contrast we pedaled all classes in, all staffing, and we have achieved that twice in four and a half? months on both occasions. That is a lot of credit to our CEO who I happen to be married to.

Nothing gets paid directly by government. So even if you make a year by year comparison, we are down to around $9500 per student per annum, because we are full at South Auckland with a waiting list but that is EVERYTHING.

So when you get a State school comparison and there are State schools that are getting a lot more than that, people like to put out the average for State schools but that is just the average. There is a whole range. State schools get a lot more per student than we do but they have already got their buildings they are not starting from scratch and so their per student funding doesn?t cover everything. Our per student funding each year covers every single thing that we have to do.

We have to be innovative.

WHAT is the secret of your success?

Our secrets are that we don?t carry any infrastructure, no gymnasiums, swimming pools, sports grounds, that sort of stuff. In almost every neighbourhood in New Zealand those things already exist and they are completely underutilized.

South Auckland Middle School at Mountfort Park Weymouth Rd Manurewa. PHOTO South Auckland Middle School Facebook page

South Auckland Middle School
at Mountfort Park Weymouth Rd Manurewa.
PHOTO South Auckland Middle School Facebook page

We swim every term at both South Auckland and West Auckland so we use West Wave and the Manurewa pool in South Auckland. We obviously pay for the usage of those facilities but it saves us millions to not have to fund that facility. Same with sports fields.

Our Principals teach so you are saving quite a significant salary because of that. Our Principals at both Charter schools and the Academic Managers under them are all heavily engaged in teaching so you haven?t got administrative salaries to take away a lot of funding.


Independent learning space PHOTO-

Our Independent learning spaces are designed so that they can learn to work independently one hour a day but it also saves us a salary.

We have people who come in and tutor in our independent time as well but the teachers who are teaching in their classroom also must be open to helping the students who are working in the independent areas if they need it. They always have access to the specialist teachers during their independent time because you want them to be having conversation about their task.( Open door policy )

When the children are doing independent time in the designated independent work areas every time they sit down they are working out which task in their project they want to work on.


IT room PHOTO-

We have good money we can use to ensure that we have got really good IT because we are not spending it on infrastructure and administration. In the whole school ( South Auckland ) we have one computer between two. So at independent time they always have a computer available to them.

We also have a set of laptops between the classes. We haven?t gone at this stage with students bringing their own device because of the differentiation it might create.

TRUANCY can be a big issue for schools, what is your experience of it here?

South Auckland is an area where statistically there is 30% transience during the school year. Last year there were four children from South Auckland Middle School who left during the year out of over a hundred so that is a very good start. Their truancy is basically non-existent. We have very few disciplinary procedures.

HOW involved are parents in school life?

Parents can come in any time they like, parents can be within the schools any time they like, that is important we are building that. For instance at South Auckland tonight we are having a celebration of learning and we will contact every single parent to say that it is on by phone because we have found that when we don?t do that they don?t arrive because people do respond to personal invitation.

We have worked hard at involving the parents. When it hasn?t worked we have had a parents engagement meeting and when there weren?t as many parents as we thought there should be we have sat down and asked how are we going to fix this? So whether that is ringing every family, or whether that is our Community Liaison Manager which is a specialized role that we have got, whether he goes and does some home visits, and makes sure that the parents are all engaged. We want to tick off every term that every family has been engaged in the learning of their child. We have a Community Liaison Manager in both South and West Auckland middle Schools; their job is to know every child and every family background.

WHAT does a Community Liaison Manager do exactly?

A Community Liaison Manager’s job is to be aware of family situations and to discretely help where they can. This frees teachers up to teach and lessens the possibility of them judging a student because of their family situation and thinking that they can?t do something academically because of it.

It means you don?t say, ‘you know there is no way that I can teach the student that because? X? is happening in his life right now.’

What the student needs is someone in the school who understands his family situation and takes care of it and that is what our Community Liaison people are for.

The role also involves developing links into the local community as well as tracking and supporting students through their Year 11 ? 13 schools after they have left Middle School.

Next week we have Part Two of The Advocates for
the Charter Schools Perception Series.