2019: A new Vanguard?

Vanguard Military School students. PHOTO-Vanguard Military School facebook page

By Nick Hyde
Chairman of the Board

On December the 7th 2018 Vanguard Military School held its graduation ceremony just as it had for the previous four years. We celebrated the success of our recruits, acknowledged the hardships they had overcome, their resilience in changing their lives for the better, the support they had received from their parents/caregivers and all the dedication and hard work by the staff to make this all possible.

The staff in their academic gowns shook their hands as they went across the stage and the recruits smiled, hugged and in some cases cried to show their pride and appreciation. Awards were given, trophies raised and scholarships to university presented. The only difference was that this year was our last as a charter school and we were now heading into the unknown.

The following questions have been asked of me by the readers of Whaleoil and I have done my best to answer them.

Since your school was closed as a charter school what has been the most difficult challenge your school has faced?

I think the biggest challenge has been to retain what Vanguard Military School is. Parts of our unique jigsaw have been challenged. For example our ability to pay ex-NZDF personnel a competitive salary has been removed as they have had to be placed on scales on the teachers’ collective agreement. For some, that scale places them at a significant loss, and the school board has worked hard to find solutions to retain those key personnel, as they, like all staff members, have been critical to our success.

Another key point of difference was that previously we were constantly under the microscope, which made the staff keen to prove that the Vanguard system worked and was of considerable value not only to our recruits but to the education system itself. We all worked extremely hard to do things right, to care for each and every one of our recruits and to gain results that proved we were on the right track.

Having a contract that meant we could be closed for poor performance and having several opponents raised our expectations on ourselves to perform. This is no longer the case, and my biggest fear would be that we slip back into the mode of ‘being average is okay’. I prefer to think that Vanguard will be allergic to average and always aspire to be the best it can be.

What can your school no longer do or provide since the change?

One of my key desires from the charter school model was the ability to replicate the original school in Auckland and set it up in other regions in New Zealand to help more children and their families. We had just gained approval to open a school in Christchurch and had plans to open three more before things all changed on election night 2017.

On a day to day basis we still do not charge fees, we provide the uniform and stationery etc. This year will be critical to how that continues with our first budget as a state school. The money we receive is the same as previous years which is why we have been able to keep the same number of staff and continue with a ratio of 1 teacher to every 15 recruits, the trouble is parts of the funding must be spent in certain areas whereas with bulk funding we had the freedom to make it work our way.

What is the biggest difference between how your school operated as a charter school and how it operates now?

Vanguard has been lucky in that its senior management and the governing board are all still at the helm. Ministry officials that helped us close off the old charter school and open the new special character school have been extremely helpful in helping us put any changes in place; however, the biggest difference is in the control of the school and our ability to make decisions and act in a quick manner.

We are no longer a business but a state entity. The Principal has now had to take on many of the jobs that the CEO had done in the past. Our ability to determine our destiny with roll growth and property has also been removed as we now work in an environment where it is all passed through the Ministry. The best way to describe this is that as a company we were free to make decisions quickly, act on them and live by them as we didn?t need approval from anyone. Now we are part of the system of 2550 odd schools and any applications or processes can take the ministry time to work through.

Did you lose students or staff during the period of uncertainty when you didn’t know if your application to become a school of special character would be accepted?

Staff and recruits were kept informed of the entire process during 2018 to help them make future decisions. As the old school was closed all staff had to apply for the new positions at the new school as per state regulations and this wasn?t a great situation with many other teachers applying for what used to be secure jobs.

Vanguard has for the past three years had demand exceed supply, and 2019 was no different with regard to recruit enrolments, and I expect this will again occur for 2020. There are many parents, families and aspiring recruits that wish for an environment that provides structure, discipline, care, safety, no devices, no open plan classrooms, a teacher ratio of 1 to 15, compulsory maths, English, physical education and physical training and of course high NCEA results.

What is your school’s biggest achievement?

I like to think that Vanguard has five major achievements.

  1. Firstly it has to be all the young people who have changed their lives for the better since attending. I could tell stories for hours on them all but it?s a great source of pride, and seeing ex recruits doing well is a highlight for any staff member who has worked at Vanguard.
  2. A focus on the character development of our recruits has been equally rewarding. Being known as the school that gives up their seats on the bus and train, are well behaved and that the entire school marches at ANZAC Day is another proud achievement.
  3. Our NCEA results show no difference between the achievement of Maori, European and Pasifika children. That?s how I believe New Zealand should be and I?m pleased that Vanguard has copied other organisations I respect like the All Blacks and the NZDF in providing high expectations for all and an environment where all succeed.
  4. Speaking of those NCEA results, consistently being in the top ten schools in Auckland for NCEA results has exceeded our expectations especially as every recruit must take Maths and English at every year level.
  5. The last big achievement is that we have survived and are still going. This means that we can continue to provide a choice to parents and children who wish to be educated our way. We have remained and that gives hope for families where school isn?t going well and a change might be all that?s needed to make a real difference.

How do you see your school’s future moving forward?

The vision has always been to expand to take Year 9 and 10 recruits as we continually enrol recruits at Year 11 who don?t know their times tables or even to put a capital at the start of a sentence. This seems crazy as they have been in the school system for 10 years prior to arriving at Vanguard. By enrolling these children earlier we would be able to fix up those gaps and therefore give more recruits and opportunity to progress on and pass University Entrance.

I also wouldn?t be averse to starting a primary school along a similar theme, probably tame the military aspect down but maintain a structured and disciplined environment.

These plans all hinge however on property. The school would ideally like to move to the unused Hato Petera site to make this possible but this project is now out of our hands and up to Ministry officials to decide.

The school still faces challenges for its future around the politics involved. National has pledged to bring back charter schools. Does that mean we convert back only to have another change in power and have to close and convert back to a special character school again? We do not want to be a political football every three years.

Lastly, many people may think that there would be some bitterness in the closing of the charter school. It has been a tough pill to swallow but we are positive people and the bright side is that 6 years ago this school didn?t exist and now it will exist forever providing an opportunity, a choice, some hope to the kids that need it. I?m sure in the next 5 to 10 years the Vanguard Alumni will start to make their mark on our communities and we will see the real value of Vanguard Military School.

To the readers, thanks for all the support over the years and if you see a recruit in our uniform don?t be afraid to go and say, “Hi”. I know they are teenagers but they are a very respectful and caring bunch and you just might get a nice surprise.