Principal's misery throws spotlight on trouble

18:14, Feb 27 2014

The case of a Manawatu principal pushed from her post is a prime example of the need for more transparency in school interventions, says the New Zealand Principals' Federation.

The principal, whose name and school have been kept confidential by the federation, has left her position after her relationship with the board of trustees broke down.

The principal contacted the federation for help through its Legal Support Scheme but it was not possible to reach an agreement where she would keep her job, president Philip Harding said.

The scheme involves principals paying money into a co-operative they can then access for help, covering legal expenses if conflict with the school community arises.

Last year a number of New Zealand principals called on the scheme, including a handful who spent money into the hundreds of thousands, Mr Harding said.

Principals could ask for help with problems including rifts between themselves and boards of trustees, splits between staff, management and parents, governance grumbles, or problems about the principal's performance.


"We are aware of four cases in New Zealand last year which ended in complete tears and the principal left the post," Mr Harding said.

Among them was the Manawatu principal who used the scheme to test the processes used against her, withdrawing nearly $25,000. Mr Harding said a Ministry of Education intervention at the school did not work out and the principal has since resigned.

He would not go into further detail, citing privacy, but said the principal was crestfallen by the outcome.

"The email I got from this person was heartbreaking to read because any way you look at it, it was a person faithfully serving their community for many, many years," he said.

"There was an incredible sense of loss, sadness and misery, and for that to be the defining thing that happened in their career which saw them leave under a black, black cloud, it's not a nice way to go."

Mr Harding said such examples should stand as proof as to why interventions, or bringing someone in to run the school during times of difficulty, needed to be "transparent and positive".

"This one size fits all, bring in a commissioner and sort all the bad schools out by getting rid of the principals is simply not working," Mr Harding said.

It's a call that has been heeded by Education Minister Hekia Parata, who announced last year a review of interventions would be launched.

Interventions were in place at about 70 of New Zealand's nearly 2600 schools last year. Commissioners, who take on all the powers of a board of trustees, were appointed at 26 schools, and limited statutory managers, who take on some of a board's functions, were in place at 46.

The ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said Turakina Maori Girls' College and Horowhenua College had limited statutory managers in place and interventions finished at Cheltenham School in 2012 and at Mana Tamariki, in Palmerston North, in 2011.

Manawatu Standard