Case study: Waerenga School

Waerenga School principal Willie Rosendaal.
Waerenga School principal Willie Rosendaal.

Muddy gumboots are placed neatly beneath backpacks bulging with lunchboxes and books.

They belong to the kids at Waerenga School - a small, decile eight school, tucked within the quiet Te Kauwhata countryside, about 15km east of the township.

Many of the 83 pupils, aged five to 11, are country kids, commuting from as far north as Maramarua and as far south as Waiterimu.

They are energetic and fit - doing cartwheels on the field and backflips on the trampoline during morning break - but inside the classroom they are calm and engaged.

The school's national standards results show 92 per cent achieving at or above standards for reading, writing and maths.

''To be honest, we don't actually focus on national standards,'' principal Willie Rosendaal said.

''At the end it is an outcome that we've got to pass on, but the outcome's only achieved because we're doing a whole, broader curriculum.''

This includes a strong focus on new technology, with pupils using computers and laptops from year one.

By year three, some of these students are learning basic computer programming and a group of eight and nine-year-olds this year created a Mario Brothers-style computer game.

The Education Review Office described Waerenga as having a ''caring, safe and stimulating school culture'' and said it was in a strong position to continue achieving highly in its latest report.

Mr Rosendaal puts the school's successes down to involving parents in their children's learning, and targeting kids who are slipping behind via ''short burst courses'' to get them up to speed.

''It's very community based and so for everybody who comes into the community the whole focus is about getting involved in the school and involved with their child, and that's really the whole cultural value of the school.

''If your kid starts at Waerenga, with your support we're going to make a difference.''

The school has whittled it down to its own set of standards: the Waerenga Way.

It promotes pride, respect, high achievement and community involvement in all areas of school life.

It might look like a list of buzz words, but the school, and the wider community, have taken them to heart.

A parent helped to build and arrange funding for a new shade area, and others chipped in with discount materials.

And when Mr Rosendaal dropped in on a knitting class he was greeted by a couple of grandmas helping to teach the young ones.

Mr Rosendaal echoed the concerns of nearly all principals in relation to making national standards data public.

While it might make his school look good, he said it would be wrong to compare Waerenga's results with any other school as the information is unmoderated.

He said the standards were helpful guidelines for teachers as to what is expected at each year level, but placing too much emphasis on reading, writing and maths was a ''trap'' and could lead to a narrowing of the curriculum.

But, the principal of 22 years, who still works in the classroom most days, has not let the Government's changes to education deter him.

The day he stops enjoying teaching is the day he should think about moving on, he said.

But he doesn't see that happening anytime soon.