Trustees quit after principal 'bullied'

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 05:00 15/09/2012

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The Board of Trustees parent representatives at a Southland school have resigned amid allegations several teachers have been bullying the principal.

The principal of the Tuatapere school, Maryse Anderson-Kereti, also left the school this week on advice from the board.

The Waiau Area School's Board of Trustees parent representatives wrote to parents on Wednesday saying they were collectively tendering their resignations at 3.30pm yesterday.

They had taken the action after receiving a comprehensive list of serious workplace issues that had caused them considerable alarm and distress, the board members said.

The issues, which had been ongoing, were so serious the board felt they were beyond the range of expectation for any board to deal with.

"Therefore we have no other option but to resign and open the way for the governance of the school through the appointment of a commissioner."

The board was so concerned that it had also encouraged the principal Ms Anderson-Kereti to take leave "to protect her health and her professional standing".

The Tuatapere school's board chair Karen Gill yesterday declined to go into details of why the board members had resigned, except to say the reasons centred on workplace safety issues.

However, The Southland Times understands the board resignations were triggered by allegations that several teachers have been bullying the principal.

The Times understands several of the teachers accused of bullying are unhappy with changes she has driven at the school in conjunction with the board.

It is also understood derogatory comments were written about the principal in a public place in Tuatapere several months ago.

The board's letter to the parents says its relationship with the principal has been a positive and productive one. The board was "proud to be leaving the school in such a good state . . . at the same time we are saddened we were unable to establish a more collaborative environment that could have achieved so much more".

The board's ERO report in 2011 said the board and principal had a clear vision for the school and were determined to provide students with the best quality of education.

It also said: "The amount and rate of change has presented professional challenges for some teachers."

Ms Gill said the board members were "gutted" to resign because they were passionate about the school.

"This is end-of-line stuff, last resort . . . it's gutting to resign, we have tried everything to deal with it, we have done everything a board can do."

It was now up to the newly appointed commissioner, who would start on Monday, to investigate the issues, she said.

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Teacher Steven Mustor, who was appointed as the school's acting principal on Thursday, wrote to parents yesterday saying nothing would change in terms of the children's learning at the school.

The safety issues outlined had nothing to do with the students' safety; "the issues are exclusively around employment", the letter says.

A parent at the school said yesterday she wanted the school's hierarchy to tell parents exactly what was going on.

"If there's serious health and workplace issues should I be keeping my children home? I just want to know what's happening, they are losing teachers, the principal has gone, the board of trustees have resigned. It's not like I can send my kids to another school," she said.

Another parent called on the Ministry of Education to call a public meeting to update parents.

The school, formerly known as Tuatapere Community College, is the only school in Tuatapere and has more than 160 students aged 5 to 18. The Education Ministry did not respond to questions by deadline yesterday.

Departed principal Ms Anderson-Kereti, who held the job for nearly two years, said yesterday she had been advised not to comment.

- The Southland Times

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