Auckland charter schools: What is life like after closure?

Cartoon Credit: SonovaMin

Whaleoil over the years wrote many articles in support of charter schools and I personally visited three of them in Auckland and was blown away by how effective they all were and how much their families and students loved being there and loved learning and succeeding.

We also wrote many articles about the fight for the charter schools to stay open against the ideological determination of the Labour government to close them all down regardless of their outstanding results for Maori and Pasifika students in particular.

PHOTO-Supplied to Whaleoil Dominic Elliot holding a sign: “Jacinda where is your support now?”

Last week a reader wondered in the comments what had happened to them and how they were now faring so I approached the management of three of the schools and asked the questions that I knew our readers were wanting to ask.

Photoshopped image Credit: Luke

Alwyn Poole is the person I approached about both South Auckland Middle School and Middle School West Auckland which were both established as charter schools until the Labour-led government forced them to close.

I asked Alwyn about the difficult challenges that both schools had to face after they were forced to close by the Labour-led government.

He said that working through the fact that they could no longer support their staff in the manner that they would like to was one difficulty. He laid this difficulty at the feet of the teachers’ unions that he described as an “entirely inept collective” that need to “take responsibility for negotiating over the last 20 years.”

This means that we cannot pay more than State, we cannot enhance teacher conditions for beginning teachers through lowering class size, taking away form classes, etc. We cannot add in high value conditions such as life and sickness insurance. Looking after staff well is one of our key values and the union’s collective agreement makes that very much harder.

Alwyn Poole

I asked Alwyn what things the schools can no longer provide or do since the change.

To this point we have been able to limit it to staff provisions. We still provide free uniform, stationery and IT and do not ask for parent donations. This has become harder without the bulk funding mechanism and we have had to put out the begging bowl to some extent.

I asked what the biggest difference was between how the schools operated as charter schools and how they operate now.

Having to jump through the bizarre Novapay hoops.

I asked if he lost any students or staff during the period of uncertainty when he didn’t know if the applications to become Designated Character Schools would be accepted.

South Auckland Middle School had a waitlist buffer and on numbers has not been affected. Middle School West Auckland got hit a little by the uncertainty but it is so brilliantly led by Warren Cook that it is now above 200 and nearing the maximum of 240.

I asked him about his schools’ biggest achievement?

There are so many. Very low transience and very high attendance. Provable academic progress of near 1.5 years for each year with us. Superb well being and teacher satisfaction statistics. Cognition education stating:

In summary we find and conclude that in both schools, the management and staff are actively involved in continuous development, and the delivery, of a unique programme of teaching and learning which is based on a comprehensive ?local? curriculum that is aligned with the New Zealand Curriculum, and which provides for the personalised needs of priority learners ?many of whom have been failed by the current education system[1]?.

[1] Referenced from the ?Mission? statement provided in each of the SAMS and MSWA applications for the establishment of a Designated Character School.

The vast amount of interest from other New Zealand and international schools who would like to emulate our success. The smiles on the faces of all of our students whenever I drop into our schools under the brilliant leadership of Wendy Greig, Warren Cook and NZ’s best education administrator – Karen Poole.

My final question to Alwyn was, how do you see your schools’ future moving forward?

That is very much up to Minister Hipkins. These schools are thriving and he should be very much looking for ways for us to expand. As soon as he changes the Board structure in such a way that we cannot do what should be done for our students Karen and I (and our Board) very much have a walk-away option.

Alwyn Poole
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