Otaki College is a co-educational secondary school, catering for students from Year 7, with just over 400 students. Forty-three percent of students on the roll are Māori and 44 percent are Pākehā. It is in the rural town of Otaki and is rated as a decile 4 school.
Everything that happens at the college is underpinned by the relationships built up within the college and between the college and the community.
When the current principal joined the college in 2007 as deputy principal in charge of discipline, little data was recorded; attendance, disciplinary statistics and achievement levels were not good, particularly for Māori students. The Ministry’s Pouwhakataki1 interviewed every Māori student in the college and it was clear that Māori students did not feel connected to the college and that this contributed to their poor levels of engagement and achievement. This was the impetus for change.
The college introduced Te Kawa o Te Ako2 and Ngāti Raukawa tikanga which now underpin college events. These, together with new Māori carvings and a college marae, have all resulted in an increased sense of belonging for Māori students and their whānau.
The principal, working with the staff, explored the student and teacher behaviours that were hindering learning and together they identified strategies for changing them. Staff ownership of the problem and involvement in developing the solutions helped to establish a culture of care within the college. The culture they developed is solution‑focused, strength‑based and aims to keep everyone’s mana intact. This culture has resulted in increased accountability (staff and students) for achievement throughout the college. Students are now more focused in class and teachers are able to spend more time teaching. Teachers are also more open to individual and peer-review feedback in appraisal, which further strengthens the professional community. The change has taken time and is ongoing. Stable staffing helps to embed these practices.
The charter aspirations are for every student to: be Respectful, to have Otaki College pride, be an Active learner and be Responsible (ROAR). These are clearly evident in the college and are supported through the college’s implementation of Restorative Practices and participation in PB4L and He Kākano.3 The college was an early adopter of these programmes, as well as the Student Engagement Initiatives; recognising the value of the support available to meet their intentions. The principal especially appreciated the impact of the PLD facilitators working with the college.
Data is well recorded and staff are encouraged to make full use of the student management system: ‘If it’s not on KAMAR, it didn’t happen.’This increased staff accountability, enabled transparency of processes, and actions taken by staff can now rely on comprehensive information about the student concerned.
Maintaining connectivity with families and the community is seen as a critical part of the success of Restorative Practices. Phone calls from parents are returned with urgency. Responses to situations as they arise are rapid and often involve the community beyond the college.
ERO spoke with students who had experienced suspension or stand-down. They, and their parents, spoke appreciatively of the experience and the support they received. These students said they were now far more focused on their learning.
The principal has close personal ties with local iwi and was elected chairman of Te Kahui Matua, the college’s whānau advisory board, long before he became principal at the college. He and his deputy principals often make home visits and, if appropriate, restorative meetings take place on the marae. Local iwi use the college facilities for classes which many staff attend. Parents and whānau are now more likely to come into college to talk with staff and are more engaged in their teenager’s learning and co-curricular activities in the college.
The principal has a longstanding and extremely effective working partnership with the local police and their sergeant. They share a common goal to have youth engaged in and succeeding at school. The sergeant and the principal communicate openly with each other and recognise the significance of the college as part of the wider community. Any incident in the community involving students is seen as the business of the college. Similarly, the sergeant and his officers are frequently involved in restorative conversations initiated by the college. Interagency meetings work well in supporting the college community.
Links with local industry, businesses and tertiary education providers extend students’ learning and employment pathways. The Gateway programme strengthens pathways for students from college to further education, training or employment. Many and varied local, real-life, opportunities engage students and promote their learning.
One such opportunity is the collaboration with the Otaki Clean Tech Centre. Year 12 chemistry students participate in a Clean Tech project to develop sustainable bio fuel.
All these initiatives have strengthened the relationship with the community, to the advantage of both the students and the community. The board see the development of the college as a community hub as a high priority.