26 Jan 2018

OId boys to announce Māori boarding school reopening plans

11:10 am on 26 January 2018

Nearly 20 years after it closed its doors, St Stephen's Māori boarding school may soon reopen.

St Stephens Māori boarding school in the 1940s.

St Stephens Māori boarding school in the 1940s. Photo: Supplied

The school was closed in 2000 because of performance and financial issues - and concerns over the safety of students.

The site of the former school, at the foothills of the Bombay Hills south of Auckland - a stone's throw from the Southern Motorway - has sat unused and wasting away since.

St Stephen's boasts an impressive alumni list of Māori leaders, politicians and sportstars including Shane Jones, Te Ururoa Flavell and former All Black Dallas Seymour.

The chair of the oldboys association Joe Harawira said repeated promises by both the government and the Anglican Church to build a new school had not come to fruition.

He hoped a change of government will help change that, and also wanted to work with the Church to build a new pathway for the school.

He has been heading a campaign to reopen the school, with plans to be announced tomorrow at this year's old boys' reunion being held at Kokohinau Marae.

"I think there still is a place for Māori boading schools," Mr Harawira said.

"If you look at the camaraderie and the things I learnt and people of the ilk of Te Ururoa and the other Māori leaders across the motu."

Former Māori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell attended the school in the early '70s, and said the school had helped to create a legacy of success for its students.

Te Ururoa Flavell Māori Party Co-leader

Former Māori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"It was a great experience," Mr Flavell said.

"It pretty much set me up for life - sure it didn't have everything that other schools had - but what we did have was a brotherhood and bond."

Māori educationalist Te Kani Kingi is another former St Stephen's student who has been working behind the scenes to raise the school from the ashes.

He said the plan came from a desire to lift the underperformance of Māori boys in education.

Mr Kingi said there was still a strong case for Māori boarding schools despite the recent struggles of schools like Hato Petera in Auckland.

He held up St Joseph's Māori Girls' College as a success story: the Napier school has produced some of Māoridom's most well-known leaders.

"When we look at the data and statistics, mainstream or conventional approaches to the education of Māori boys are failing really," Mr Kingi said.

"If we don't do something there's a generation of boys that will miss out."