Remote, rural, and ready for anythingApril 2015
Te Mahia School is a 40-student, decile 1 school, 75km north-west of Wairoa in northern Hawke’s Bay. Education Review asks principal NICKY O’BRIEN about the challenges and opportunities facing remote New Zealand schools like Te Mahia.
Ed Review: What challenges does your school face, due to its remote location?
O’Brien: Living in rural New Zealand, when the weather is bad, especially with wind, we often have power outages. The frequency of these means it interferes with our internet connection. When the power is off, it usually knocks the central server system around and it needs to be manually restarted. No power also means no drinking water and no toilets.
We have two school toilet blocks at Te Mahia School that have not had any work done on them since 1960. We were in a predicament of desperately needing to upgrade this infrastructure but the size of our school did not generate the property funding that would allow us to move forward. Our property manager did overcome this challenge and sought top-up funding that was successful.
It is so expensive to get buses either to Wairoa or Gisborne. We often have invitations to attend workshops that are run in town, such as cricket or basketball sessions. We are a decile 1 school and don’t ask for school donations or fees. When activities/opportunities come up, we make a decision about whether it ties in with what we are doing and also whether we can afford to do it. We have some visitors who make a special trip out to see us at times but I do feel our isolation prohibits us from some opportunities that would be more readily accessible if we were closer.
We currently have a cluster relationship with Nuhaka School, which is based around sporting involvement, including swimming sports, athletics and winter sport codes. We have not had a professional learning and development cluster with the Wairoa district since 2006, when all 13 schools were involved in an EHSAS (Enhancing High Standards Across Schools) contract.
Ed Review: What are the positives about being a remote school? Do you think your school’s isolation gives it a stronger sense of community and identity?
O’Brien: There has been a massive involvement and commitment from people to support our school, more so than any other school I have worked at. Enormous energy is put into fundraising commitments, such as the school gala and PTA fundraising initiatives. We have a working bee here at school today and approximately 50 people from our community have turned up. It really is a strength of the school. We raised $12,000 at our gala last year – not bad for a roll of 54 students (at the end of last year, 40 currently). In a small,
rural community, the school really is a central hub. Cards evenings on Friday nights, Te Ataarangi te reo Māori classes in the evening, kapahaka practices on the weekends – there really is a comprehensive list of activities that happen at school which portray it to be a community venue.
We have a school centennial at Easter Weekend – it is fast approaching!