Ngaruawahia 'kick starts' new way of learning

16:00, Jan 30 2014
Chris Jarnet and Elaine Preston
'MASSIVE SHAKEUP': Ngaruawahia High School principal Chris Jarnet and trustees chair Elaine Preston are leading their school into a modern era.

A once popular high school that was on the brink of closure is taking a drastic new approach to education in a bid to win back the community's confidence.

The "massive shakeup" at Ngaruawahia High School includes phasing out traditional classrooms for modern learning hubs and students working together across all year levels.

The overhaul is a response to urgent government intervention and an attempt to restore the school's once glowing reputation.

The Ministry of Education appointed a limited statutory manager at the school in March after a review found that there was mounting debt, low achievement, high truancy rates and a declining roll.

Manager Lex Hamill has been working with acting principal Chris Jarnet, board of trustees chairwoman Elaine Preston, students, staff and the community to develop a plan to improve the school's overall performance.

Preston said the school was $169,000 in debt and on the brink of closure, students were disengaged and the board needed to change its approach to education.


"The old method wasn't working for us. We were having too many absences, too many kids pulling out, too many kids getting into trouble at school."

The school's finances was the first thing to be changed with more money directed towards teaching and learning and the creation of an operating surplus, Hamill said.

There had been a 33 per cent turnover in teaching staff since the ministry intervened with some choosing to leave and others being surplus to requirements.

"I also believe the community was disengaged from the school and when that happens it means that they've either lost faith in the school, or what it's offering doesn't meet the needs of the students."

He said the school had previously delivered an "industrial model" of education - students sitting at desks with a teacher at the front of the class.

However, a shared learning area was being developed in the library, which will be used by all year 9 and 10 students from this year.

"All of them will be working together in small groups or larger groups. Say there are 90 kids there, operating in that one space will be five teachers at one time," Hamill said.

Instead of learning a subject in isolation students would complete long-term projects that incorporated several subjects at the same time.

For example, a five-week study of water quality in the Waikato could teach students maths, science and literacy while providing context for their learning.

"What you've got to do is create experiential exercises where the kids learn and have to become self managers, hence the style of education we're offering."

A similar approach to education was being introduced at new schools across the country, Mr Hamill said.

Ngaruawahia High was also working closely with Waikato-Tainui on linking education with job opportunities.

Jarnet said the school had more than 600 students in the 1980s and now had a roll of less than 200.

He said curriculum changes introduced in the 1990s, as well as the army and air force bases closing, the culling of jobs at the meatworks and farm sell-offs caused the roll to plummet.

He was confident that the "exciting" changes would restore faith in the school.

"There's a huge amount of the community sitting and watching at the moment," Jarnet said.

"People want to see results on the ground and that's going to take a little time to come. We've given ourselves this year to get it embedded."

The group learning would start with the junior school this term with the aim of extending it to all year levels in 2015.

Waikato Times