Community clout - a town’s pursuit of better outcomes for its learners

August 2015

 

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JUDE BARBACK shares how a group of schools in Te Puke collaborated and harnessed the support of its community to build a Learning and Change Network that is about to transform digital learning opportunities for its students.

Community clout 02It takes a village to raise a child, the ancient proverb goes, and in the case of Bay of Plenty town Te Puke, the saying isn’t far off the mark. Te Puke is typical of many New Zealand towns. With a population of around 7,500, the town has a high school, an intermediate and two primary schools –and a community that cares immensely about educating its youth.

By harnessing this community support, the schools have been able to get the Hua Pai Maota (Te Puke Learning Network) project off the ground, giving the opportunity for every Te Puke student to have access to a digital device throughout their schooling.

Learning and Change Network

In 2013, the four schools – Te Puke Intermediate, Fairhaven Primary, Te Puke Primary and Te Puke High School – decided to work together to improve the learning and achievement of years 1 to 13 students.

While the cluster to which the schools belonged works very collaboratively, the four schools in town connect particularly well as their students are on a pipeline of learning between them.

The Te Puke schools had talked previously about aligning aspects of curriculum, charters and values, so when they heard about the Learning and Change Network (LCN) initiative, they were keen to be involved.

“We thought the LCN would be a great framework for some of the contributing schools to the high school to connect across a variety of areas,” says Jill Weldon, principal of Te Puke Intermediate.

The LCN strategy was developed to accelerate achievement for students by involving networks of students, parents, teachers, and community members from multiple schools to collaborate in developing innovative new learning environments.

The LCNs, including the Te Puke network, have been facilitated by The University of Auckland and the Ministry of Education. The LCN strategy has received international acclaim, capturing the attention of the OECD Innovative Learning Environments project and the Global Education Leaders’ Forum.

Weldon says the network has taken collaboration between the schools to another level.

“Our charters now have some alignment; our vision and values are connected. The language parents hear will resonate because of the similarity.”

The schools are not part of an IES Communities of Schools at this stage. They submitted an Expression of Interest to the Ministry but are yet to overcome some of the “sticking points” around leadership, especially given the flat, distributed leadership model that is currently in place.

“There is no question to me that the Communities of Schools have emerged from the success of the LCN,” says Weldon. “Collaboration works.”

The Student Graduate Profile

With the LCN wheels in motion, the schools looked at what they wanted to achieve. They decided they needed a shared vision of what a student passing through their schools from years 1 to 13 should ultimately learn and achieve – a Te Puke Student Graduate Profile.

Successful year 13 school leavers are not products of their years at secondary school alone, but of their education from the very beginning, across all stages of learning to that point.

Weldon says there was certainly a collective belief and desire to raise achievement and pathways for Te Puke learners.

Fifty LCN groups across the country have come together to identify their common achievement challenge and put plans in place to address them. Each network follows a path that suits its schools’ and community’s needs.

“We didn’t draw from anyone else,” says Weldon. “The process facilitated by Auckland Uni and the MOE allowed us to delve into what learning looked like in our schools – for priority students and their families. This evidence then set the pathway.”

So, what defines a successful year 13 school leaver from Te Puke?

The schools have been guided by the three priority areas that have been identified to improve Te Puke student learning and achievement: 21st century learning, learner agency, and engagement. Students, staff, boards of trustees, parents and whānau and the community have all been part of the process. The consultation process took an entire year, but gave the schools clear guidelines for the Te Puke Graduate Profile. The profile has now been developed, but is yet to be shared with the community.

The Graduate Profile is being used by the four schools to develop specific criteria of what Te Puke learners should be able to do at different stages as they progress from years 1 to 13. The specific criteria make the expectations of all our students very clear and parents, whānau and the community are expected to help the students meet these expectations.

The Te Puke Network is eager to involve early childhood education as well, in recognition of the fact that learning begins well before students hit year 1.

“We are nearly at a point where we can invite others to be active partners in the project. Having ECE with us is vital,” says Weldon.

Utilising community support to realise technology goals

Another vital aspect to the network was establishing a technology framework to support students’ learning. With 21st century learning identified as a priority area to improve learning and achievement, the network looked to find a solution that would give students ready access to digital technology. It also needed to be appropriate and feasible for the schools and community.

Weldon said they knew the Te Puke community could not sustain a traditional BYOD (bring your own device) model, nor could the schools provide a 1:1 ratio of devices for students, so they established a model that offers parents and caregivers the opportunity to purchase a digital device (iPad or computer) via a low-cost, lease-to-own scheme.

The digital device is intended for the student to use as a learning tool at school and at home.  At the end of the lease term, students and their parents keep the digital device. If they are still a student they can lease a new digital device if they wish.

“We wanted the students to have access 24/7, anywhere, anytime with anyone. Research shows that for students and whānau to value the asset they must have an investment in it,” says Weldon.

To achieve this goal, the network partnered with Te Puke Economic Development Group (Te Puke EDG) to develop the lease-to-own scheme for a digital device (iPad or computer). The Te Puke Schools embraced the Te Puke EDG’s ‘Te Puke Goodness Grows Here’ campaign and identified an opportunity for the EDG to be part of the programme.

Te Puke EDG’s Mark Boyle says they are pleased to support the programme.

“We have provided some financial support,” says Boyle, “but our input has been more around marketing the project to the wider community, getting business and community groups to see the value proposition on offer and finding affordable and achievable solutions for families to equip their children with hardware, software and internet connectivity at home. This is an ongoing process. Locking in financial support for generations to come is also an ongoing process. We are making excellent progress across all fronts.”

The input from Te Puke EDG has been fundamental to the initiative. They have set up a Trust trust to support the ongoing work of the network, as well as some financial and human resources support.

“They are fully behind the concept first and foremost,” says Weldon of Te Puke EDG. “They believe in the collective investment and responsibility of educating our youth.”

The long-term goal is that the Trust will assist the schools to provide free internet access for students at home after school using the schools’ Network 4 Learning (N4L) data packages.

Having the community involved is very important to the Te Puke Learning Network. The schools have opted to deal with local suppliers rather than through All of Government IT hardware contracts. The network believes local suppliers have been able to give the network deals and insurance, finance and service that they couldn’t have found through an AoG contract supplier.

In conjunction with the Te Puke EDG, the schools decided to request tenders from local businesses. They needed a business capable of selling devices such as iPads or Windows laptops at an affordable price.

Moai Technology Solutions was the successful bidder. The IT business included services such as imaging and web security management in its proposal, as well as a three-year extended warranty, theft/loss coverage and accidental damage insurance.

Now, Moai is working with the schools to create device packages in preparation for the Network’s launch in early October of this year.

The collaboration with the Te Puke EDG has allowed Moai to offer parents finance on devices, with entry-level packages costing under $5 a week. These packages include the device, protective case and three-year warranty/insurance coverage.

Students who take advantage of the programme will receive free cloud-based, enterprise-level antivirus and web-filtering. This will protect students and their devices while they use the internet, both at school and at home. They will also receive free Office 365 for those with Windows machines and students with iPads will receive free apps from the Apple App Store.

The warranty service includes a free pick up/drop off service from the school for the student, plus repairs should the device be accidentally damaged, and a replacement device if the device is lost or stolen. Any manufacturer’s faults will be fixed free of charge for three years. Schools will also have loan devices, so students will never be without the technology essential to their learning.

Mauricio Galleguillos of Moai says their suppliers have really helped to ensure their prices and the devices they’re able to offer are top-notch. Moai is keen to offer a wide range of devices to students to suit their learning needs for the stage they are at on their learning pathway.

“Parents will be able to purchase devices such as iPad Minis and ASUS laptops. We are going to offer a complete range of devices, so that senior students who are taking graphic design, for example, have access to a machine capable of handling everything they can throw at it,” says Galleguillos.

He believes the uptake will be “massive”.
“By providing students with access to technology, they will be better prepared for university and the workforce, as almost all industries require knowledge of computing systems now,” he says.

Managing change and expectations

Enthusiasm for the project appears to be widespread through the community.

Weldon describes the feeling as “hugely positive” among students, staff, whānau and community, although she says change is always difficult for some.

“21st century pedagogy means we do things a bit different and everyone judges on how it was when they went to school. Digital learning is one example and Learner Agency is difficult for some parents to get their head around.

“There are small pockets of cautious wait-and-see parents who don’t want to be the early adopters and that is fine. People will come in when they are ready.”

The schools believe that communication with the wider community is critical to the success of their network. Weldon says it is important to give parents and whānau a voice, to listen to their wishes and desires for their children. Equally it is important to include the objectives of wider community, business and tertiary education.
“It’s difficult to please all of the people, but all stakeholders need a voice,” says Weldon. “Inclusion and contribution to projects – sustainability will depend on us having this.”

The Te Puke Learning Network was founded on the vision of “engaging the child, engaging the whānau, engaging the community” and so far, it is on the right track.


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