Faith-based charter school puts hand up

Children could be enrolling at Wellington's first charter school next year if a faith-based trust with Caribbean ties gets the green light.

The Davidic Centre Trust has overcome the first hurdle by successfully applying to open a charter school in Porirua.

The trust's headquarters is in Trinidad and Tobago, with schools currently operating in the Caribbean, Kenya, Zambia and the Pacific. Davidic refers to the Old Testament dynasty of King David.

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The school, NorthGate College, would cater for 5 to 7-year-olds and operate under a faith-based model similar to the one that's run in Zambia for more than a decade.

The trust initially pitched to open a secondary school in central Wellington in the first round of charter school applications last year, but was turned down.

Trust project manager Sarah Gucake said the application had to be modified this time around to better meet the needs of struggling students - as set out by the Government when it introduced six assessment criteria.

"We thought we had identified a need in the secondary school area, but we have modified to accommodate what was being looked for."

That meant a shift from secondary to primary and moving the school to Porirua, to be more accessible to Maori and Pacific Island students, who have been targeted in charter school policy.

"How we go about running the school might shift and change, but the nature of it stays the same," Gucake said.

The curriculum would centre on the "values of the Kingdom of God" and be provided using a "biblical framework".

She said teachers had already approached the trust about roles at the school if it went ahead.

"The point of difference here is everyone is passionate about education. You can have someone with a teaching degree, but you can't teach someone to be passionate.

"We are keen to see children growing up with a holistic understanding of the world and their place in it."

The Government's six assessment areas for charter schools scheduled to open at the beginning of next year are: catering for primary-age students; making effective use of the charter school model; schools based in areas of roll growth; large enough to be viable; in a location where students aren't being served; and having innovative options for pupils aged up to 8.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said all of the assessment areas were important.

"How much weight is given to each individual area will depend on the assessment made of the overall applications, and how well applicants demonstrate how they will go about raising achievement for priority groups."

In the next few weeks, the Authorisation Board would make its recommendations from the 19 applications received. "No decisions have been made in relation to the funding that will be provided to support the opening and operation of successful applications in the second round."

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said this year's Budget announcement to pump millions of extra dollars into the five existing schools was "tilting the playing field" against state schools. "Every New Zealand student deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential."

The Dominion Post