Kaik­oura ex­pe­ri­ence one of ed­u­ca­tional change

Kaikoura Star - - FRONT PAGE -

One of Michelle Spencer’s last projects as prin­ci­pal of Kaik­oura Sub­ur­ban School will be an out­sized chess board for the play­ground and an ac­com­pa­ny­ing wa­ter fea­ture.

‘‘The tiles for the squares will in­clude birds, names of our five class­rooms, and the wa­ter fea­ture will go next to it. And . . . we have two weeks to fin­ish it,’’ she says with a laugh.

After nine years at the school, eight of those as prin­ci­pal, it’s not un­rea­son­able to sug­gest that she has over­seen the trans­for­ma­tion of the school on the Kaik­oura dairy flats.

The school had 27 pupils and two class­rooms in 2007, and now has five class­rooms and a roll of 102. The teach­ing staff has grown to six, with a to­tal of 10 in­clud­ing support staff.

After train­ing at Christchurch Teacher’s Col­lege she went straight into the class­room in Christchurch, be­fore com­ing to Kaik­oura and run­ning the Why Not cafe´ with her hus­band An­drew for 10 years.

‘‘When I came back to the school scene in 2006, there was one sig­nif­i­cant change in ed­u­ca­tion – the in­tro­duc­tion of the newly cre­ated New Zealand Cur­ricu­lum,’’ she says.

She feels it was the best start she could imag­ine, as it al­lowed teach­ers to cre­ate a com­mu­nity- based cur­ricu­lum with unique val­ues that best aligned with the school and its cul­ture.

‘‘This was when the Fyffe Force learner was born.

‘‘Eight years later the cur­ricu­lum and val­ues are still strong,’’ she says.

She says another dra­matic and ma­jor shift of re­cent times is sim­ply the role of the teacher.

‘‘Teach­ers are now seen as learn­ers along­side the stu­dents, to ig­nite and pro­vide cut­ting edge ex­pe­ri­ences. This is where we are spoilt with the rich en­vi­ron­ment and com­mu­nity we live in. Kaik­oura has many ex­perts we in­clude in many facets of our learn­ing. We, the learn­ers [teach­ers and stu­dents], are not ex­pected to know ev­ery­thing any­more. But we need to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties and skills so that the stu­dents leav­ing our school gates can find the knowl­edge re­quired for ca­reers per­haps even we aren’t even aware of.’’

‘‘In past times there was a lot of money spent on train­ing the in­di­vid­ual teacher. Now our fo­cus is up-skilling staff and sup­port­ing them to work col­lab­o­ra­tively to­gether, en­hanc­ing and strength­en­ing the skills learnt. We can’t af­ford any­more to put this knowl­edge into a cor­ner of our sin­gle- celled class­room and leave it there.’’

‘‘Our teach­ers en­joy and work well col­lab­o­ra­tively, and this has seen a shift of the staff’s knowl­edge and skills,’’ Michelle says.

For the tra­di­tion­al­ist, this means rather than one teacher in front of one group, it could mean up to three teach­ers in one area men­tor­ing a group of 60 or 70 pupils.

She be­lieves the school and com­mu­nity are proud of the high ex­pec­ta­tions teach­ers have of all learn­ers, and the ef­fec­tive staff who love learn­ing, as well as teach­ing.

Another suc­cess­ful facet of the school is the in­quiry learn­ing. ‘‘We in­ves­ti­gate a whole area, for ex­am­ple ‘En­ter­prise’, and then pur­sue that theme for a 10-week block.’’

She men­tions a re­cent ex­am­ple where the school vis­ited Kaik­oura busi­nesses: the Kaik­oura Join­ery, Dun­lea Prod­ucts, Surge Surf­boards and Ben Foster. ‘‘From this we un­packed the dif­fer­ent busi­nesses us­ing the Tech­nol­ogy De­sign. The chil­dren then had the op­por­tu­nity to voice what they wanted to do next.

‘‘We’re in­deed for­tu­nate in this com­mu­nity as we have many spe­cial­ist who are al­ways very ac­com­mo­dat­ing to support our learn­ing jour­ney. We wouldn’t be able to carry out this learn­ing with­out them.’’

Some re­cent projects in­cluded bird feed­ers to en­hance the school grounds, new gar­dens, cre­at­ing ‘‘healthy lunch boxes’’ where the class vis­ited Kaik­oura High School food tech­nol­ogy suite to name a few.

At the end of our learn­ing we come to­gether to cel­e­brate the dif­fer­ence we have made at a night’s cel­e­bra­tion.’’

Michelle will take a new role next year at Ra­paura School, near Blen­heim, and is rel­ish­ing the new chal­lenge.

‘‘It’s another sig­nif­i­cant time in ed­u­ca­tion, for ex­am­ple the new ini­tia­tive IES [In­vest­ing in Ed­u­ca­tional Suc­cess - which in­cludes funds pro­vided for com­mu­ni­ties of schools to work col­lab­o­ra­tively to cre­ate 21st cen­tury learn­ing].

‘‘Ra­paura is a slightly big­ger school, with a roll of 160. To have more nearby schools and ex­perts to work with will be great, too,’’ she says.

She be­lieves Kaik­oura should be look­ing to­wards the fu­ture too.

‘‘For the fu­ture of Kaik­oura, we need to look out­side the square.

‘‘ We have the ICT [in­ter­net] cable run­ning through town and a dy­namic and ex­treme en­vi­ron­ment, which could well trans­fer into spe­cial­ist learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.’’

Changes an­nounced just last week to the school’s decile rat­ing – drop­ping from seven to five – will mean in­creased fund­ing for the school next year.

‘‘It shows how the school has changed. It will al­low for the school to con­tinue to in­clude mul­ti­tudes of learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties,’’ she says.

‘‘I don’t want to specif­i­cally speak for what will hap­pen next year, but the ex­tra funds will be wel­come.’’

Michelle wants to pass on her per­sonal thanks to the staff, the stu­dents and the com­mu­nity for sup­port­ing the jour­ney and the learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

‘‘ Kaik­oura Sub­ur­ban School will al­ways hold a spe­cial place in my life,’’ she says.

De­par­ture time: Prin­ci­pal Michelle Spencer, top right, with some of her young charges at Sub­ur­ban School as they pre­pare to leave for the week­end.

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