Case study: Rhode Street School

09:35, Sep 22 2012
 Shane Ngatai
Rhode Street School principal Shane Ngatai.

''Hello, Mr Ngatai,'' the kids chirp as their principal passes by in the schoolyard.

It's the same inside the classroom.

A seven-year-old girl rushes to show him a story she's written. It's two pages long and she's proud of it.

Mr Ngatai calls each of these pupils by name and almost always asks them a question.

 ''What have you learned today?'' he asks a girl during lunch break. ''Heaps of stuff,'' she says, shyly.

And to the young writer: ''Where are you at with your reading now?'' She points to a wall where her name is displayed next to her reading level, for the whole class to see.

''Have you told your parents yet?'' he asks her. She shakes her head.

He tells her to give her dad a call on the class cellphone to let him know how well she's doing.

It's about celebrating success, he says.

Shane Ngatai has been principal at Hamilton's Rhode Street School for six years, and has a reputation for challenging the status quo and going the extra mile.

The school has its own commercial kitchen, vegetable gardens, greenhouse, orchard, chickens, and is in the process of creating an ecological island complete with lake, swing bridge and shipping container classroom.

The projects are student-led. If they can dream it, they can do it.

The decile three school has a high proportion of Maori students (about 70 per cent) and has previously made headlines for its struggles with poverty.

Mr Ngatai has also been open about the school's national standards results, announcing on Facebook and in a school newsletter that about 60 per cent of his 220 pupils are achieving below or well below in reading, writing and maths.

His goal is that 100 per cent will be at the standards by year's end.

''The reason we feel comfortable with our community knowing where our school is with national standards is because it's not news to them. They already know, and they know because we have an open, transparent relationship with them.

''Don't judge us by what we're telling you. Get to know us first and then you'll see the difference we're making and trying to continue to make for these students who may be below or well below compared to a national standard.''

The school is built on the philosophy that it ''takes a whole village to raise a child'' and connecting whanau with school life is key.

He said parents and the public should view national standards data as a ''snapshot in time'' and not as a way compare schools.

''In my view they're comparing apples with oranges.

''We're at the stage where we need to get some form of national moderation across schools just like they do have in NCEA so that we can be assured, the parent can be assured, the student is assured that what standard they are at ... is not only accurate, reliable and valid, but that would be the same if they were in another school on the other side of town or in another city.''

However, national standards opened opportunities for teachers to discuss and develop their craft, which is a positive, Mr Ngatai said.