24 Apr 2012

Commissioner arrives to take over Northland school

6:21 pm on 24 April 2012

A commissioner appointed by the Government to run a school has arrived in the Far North amid fears he will sack the principal and banish senior students.

The Ministry of Education sacked the Board of Trustees at Moerewa School on Monday after it resisted an order to close the senior classes.

The school tried to formalise its senior class last year and until now has been run as a satellite unit of an Auckland school.

The ministry says it had no option but to take action, because the standards of learning at the school are not good enough and there are serious issues with assessments.

Commissioner Mike Eru, from Hamilton, refused to answer questions from media on Tuesday about what he plans to do, or give an assurance that he will not sack the principal. He says he wants to speak to staff.

Mr Eru was greeted by principal Keri Milne Ihimaera, who allowed senior students to return to the school again on Tuesday while their parents negotiate with other schools in the area to take them as a group.

Stay out of it, elder warns

Several Maori elders in Moerewa say they resent Mike Eru's presence - not least because he is of Waikato-Tainui descent, not Ngapuhi.

Elder Ron Poti has two grandsons in the senior unit and says if the Education Ministry is unhappy with student achievement, it should be employing secondary teachers to help them instead of spending money on a commissioner.

Mr Poti says Mr Eru will face strong resentment from the community.

"If you're coming into a situation like this, you negotiate and you talk about it - you don't demand. For myself personally, man to man, you're trespassing - don't come into my town, don't come into my country. Ngapuhi belongs to Ngapuhi - Ngati Porou, Tainui stay out."

Community worker Ngahau Davis says it is an opportunity for the school to prove to the commissioner how great it is, but if Mr Eru is close-minded he will be in for a rough ride.

"We're going to be in a long battle - they're our children. No department should tell family what should be the best for their children - especially if they've seen very good results."

Judy Te Tai, who has two grandchildren at the school, says they enjoy being at there, benefit from the small classes and one-on-one teaching and don't want to leave.

"It's really hard when somebody in Wellington's calling the shots ... they probably have no idea where our school is."

Ms Te Tai and other whanau have discussed alternative school options for their children. "All the parents of the children were adamant that we wanted them to stay together, and the children themselves want to stay together."

The chair of the sacked board, Mate Palmer, says he is appalled by the ministry's decision to install a commissioner. He says the school is not defying orders and told the ministry last week it would start the process of transferring students to other schools.

Mr Palmer said about 100 people supported the board at a community meeting on Monday night.

No option, says ministry

Education Ministry chief executive Lesley Longstone says Moerewa School was told last year of the problems. She says an audit by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority audit found just 11% of students passed NCEA Level One and there were problems with the quality of assessments.

"These children are behind in their learning, they need a lot of support and input in order to be able to recover the ground that they've lost, and we just can't wait any longer.

"The school had assessed their pupils at a higher level than NZQA assessed them in far too many cases."

Ms Longstone says the commissioner will work with parents to help them move their children to other schools.