Divisions at college fire up hui

Emotions ran high at a meeting of more than 200 people at the Fairfield College marae last night to discuss divisions within the Hamilton high school.

The community meeting, which lasted more than four and a half hours, was attended by about 200 staff, students, parents and police. There are deep divisions in the school community, with many expressing unhappiness with principal Julie Small, who arrived in 2007, and the senior management team.

Mrs Small, the school board and special adviser to the school, Dennis Finn, also attended.

Security officers were put on the marae gate and the Waikato Times was not allowed past. However speakers could be clearly heard.

One of the main concerns was the number of Maori students being stood down or excluded from the school. Speakers said the school was not just about NCEA results, but about looking after the wellbeing of the students.

One speaker seemed to sum up the feeling of the meeting when she said: "You talk about all being on the same waka, but Julie (Small), I don't think you're on the same waka as the rest of this community."

Mrs Small's husband, Clint, spoke at the hui. He said problems at Fairfield were not caused by management.

"In my opinion this school has been allowed by previous management to fall into a state of financial and educational disrepair... I've heard it said many times that Julie is ruining the culture of Fairfield. I think the culture needs to change."

He said a school was like a business, it was about delivering results to shareholders (the parents).

"Fairfield College has failed you over and over and over."

He believed his wife was the best thing that had happened to the school.

Board chairperson Anne Pouwels said there was no truth to rumours the board planned to move the marae, a concern many speakers wanted addressed.

On behalf of the current students, one girl told the gathering most of the students used to enjoy going to Fairfield College, but "now I'm ready to leave. To Mrs Small, this is not Rodney College. We are bigger, we are better, we are Fairfield".

A current teacher got the biggest applause of the night when she told the board: "We have looked after your children, now it's time to start looking after the current students and staff".

For the community the root of the problem was not people resisting change in the school, but that management was characterised by little or no consultation and collaboration, limited transparency and accountability and actions and words that had broken trust.

They wanted to know what level of support was being given to students with behavioural issues and to families of students who were stood down.

Concern was also expressed about the high level of staff turnover and the impact that had on students.

There were too many speakers to get through in one night. A second whanau hui will be held at the marae on February 28 from 10.30-3pm to continue to develop the outcomes they would like to see as a whanau community.




Waikato Times