The Wellingtonian Interview: Sally Haughton

Sally Haughton: "I lived away from Wellington for some years and the experience of coming home felt right for me."
Sally Haughton: "I lived away from Wellington for some years and the experience of coming home felt right for me."

 Wellington East Girls' College principal Sally Haughton talks about Gandhi, discipline in modern schools and her time at Otago University.

I once came here for a school fair. Do you still have school fairs?

No, but we're thinking of reintroducing the fair. It's a great way of bringing the school community together. We'd do it for that reason as much as the fundraising.

I suppose that for a central city school, the community is particularly important.

We try to be as involved as possible. The students have done some inquiry work about water harvesting and have been involved with Massey University on that. The girls curated an exhibition at Thistle Hall and a few years ago year 13 drama students performed at the Museum of City and Sea.

Wellington East seems to be making a name for itself in the IT era.

We are one of six central Wellington schools that are part of the Wellington Loop. We're linked through fibre and fast broadband. It's changed the way we relate to each other as schools, and we can collaborate more easily on different levels. At Wellington East we have developed a digital pedagogy that supports traditional teaching and opens up opportunities to learn in new ways.

I understand you were an Eastbourne girl.

Yes, I grew up there. I went to St Matthew's Collegiate in the Wairarapa for four years and had a year at Hutt Valley High School.

What interested you at college?

I was interested in history, in getting a sense of perspective from the past. Gandhi always fascinated me, and what was going on in the United States ... moments that changed things.

Did you always want to be a teacher?

No. I went to Otago University and started training to be a physio, but didn't complete the course. I knew I wanted to be involved with people but that the health sector wasn't the right place for me. I did an arts degree – classics and history – and then trained to be a teacher.

Where have you taught?

I taught at Queen's High School and Otago Girls' in Dunedin, then at Hamilton Girls', and had two stints at Heretaunga College, the second as deputy principal.

Was it difficult coming here as principal, replacing an institution like Janice Campbell?

Janice certainly was extraordinary. I was told I had big shoes to fill and it's always a challenge to replace someone like that who has been so closely associated with a school. In the end you can only be yourself. Janice is still involved in the school, as president of the Old Girls Association and in looking after our archives.

Wellington East seems to be incredibly multicultural.

It certainly is. We have 45 languages in this school! It's a defining characteristic of the school.

Are you talking about international students?

We have 18 international students, but I was meaning our students from Wellington – Maori, Pasifika, Indian, refugee and migrant students, from Africa, Afghanistan, Iran. A proportion of our students are Muslim. We have a strong ESOL [English as Second Language] ethos. In this school we say that it's ordinary to be different and we celebrate that difference.

Are you a fan of NCEA?

It has been a good thing. The combination of internal and external exams is really useful for students. It prepares them for the demands of professional life, if you equate internal assessments with projects in the work force. I like the flexibility that NCEA encourages.

People say today's students are less disciplined. Has that been your observation?

They say that in every era! The ancient Greeks were worried about that. Young people today do face challenges that weren't there in the past. The teachers here are astoundingly good and committed. The girls know that and value it, and the respect grows from there.

Are you saying teachers have got better?

There have always been good teachers. But over the past 10 years, teachers have had access to a different level of research that in my opinion has invigorated the profession.

How big is the East roll?

Our roll is over 1000, which is close to capacity. What has been heartening is that the percentage of in-zone enrolments has increased. More girls living in our zone want to come here.

Don't you also oversee a teen parent unit at Linden?

Yes, He Huarahi Tamariki is part of our school. Though we are some distance apart, we have strong links. There are about 50 students there, and a fulltime creche.

And you also run a Special Needs unit.

Yes, it caters for about 20 students. Some are fully integrated, and some can't be. It's an important part of our school.

Do former students keep in touch?

Some drop in now and then, and some keep in touch via the website. It's a lovely part of being a teacher, following your former students and being in touch with them.

What do you like about Wellington?

The harbour and the hills, its compactness. The access to the outdoors, the south coast and Makara, the Karori wildlife sanctuary. I lived away from Wellington for some years and the experience of coming home felt right for me.

The Wellingtonian