Special People, Special Place

By Wayne Bainbridge

Once upon a time there was a little sad school. It was sad because all the children have grown up and moved away. There were only 150 left. The school was sad too and ashamed that it was all run down. It hadn’t been painted for 12 years on the outside and 18 years on the inside. Some of the boards were rotting away. Principals kept coming then going away – none wanted to stay. Some people started to talk about closing the school and selling the land for new homes. The little sad school would cry itself to sleep each night and dream about the days when the school was full of children.

One day a new principal came. He told the sad little school to stop crying and stop being sad. He said he would work hard and try his best to make the school happy and strong again, and promised not to go away like the others. He was a young man with long hair. He was very keen on sport and loved teaching children. He had just returned from America and had turned down a job there at a small university, and also with the Ministry of Education in New Zealand. He took a lot of photos of the sad little school and went into town and banged on the door of the Ministry of Education.

He said the little school was sad and all the children had gone away. We need fixing he told them, so men came out and fixed the rotten boards and painted the school. The new principal spoke to lots of people and got a lot of things donated. Lots of art supplies and sports equipment arrived, lots of trees were planted. All the gorse was cut out from the bush and for two boxes of beer, the nature trail was made.

The little school started to smile as more new children came and the school started to feel proud of itself again. I think we need a hall said the new principal, and for $26,000 a new hall was built. We need more money he said, so he started to apply for grants and they got enough money to line the inside of the hall as well. Over the years, well over $1 million in grants were received.

More children came and then more classrooms came. The parents were very happy. The school enjoyed great success in sports and in choir festivals. Lots of famous visitors came to the school to speak to the children. The principal continued to apply for extra grants and extra opportunities. He appointed lots of well qualified young teachers. As the school’s reputation continued to grow, the principal was lucky enough to win a number of awards and travel grants, and went to a number of overseas conferences, mainly to listen to world experts, and a couple of times to speak.

Each time he came back, he told the children how proud he was of them. He told them of schools he had visited overseas, and how well the children compared. The children know this because when they went out on school trips, they saw how kids from other schools were not as well-mannered and as well behaved. The children would sing a song:

“School is really cool
It’s a lot of fun
Cos every day
We laugh and we play
School is number one!”

The reputation of the school grew and grew. The Education Review Office gave outstanding reports about the school. The Ministry of Education called the school an ‘overachiever’. The school didn’t know what that meant, but it was happy.

The principal started to get older and fatter. With his grey beard, some of the kids called him Santa. He just smiled. The children were happy, they were well behaved, did lots of extra things and he was so proud of them. Then the government from Wellington called up the principal. For six years, he got up early and flew to Wellington one day a month. He told everyone about the little school, the school that boxed above its weight. He also kept on learning all he could from experts in Wellington and around the world.

The little school was no longer little any more. It was also no longer sad. The buildings and grounds kept getting improved. The school academic results kept improving. The Education Review Office rated the school in the top 300 of all the schools in New Zealand. The Ministry of Education in November 2014 wrote a report about the schools in Te Atatu, and identified it as the top performing school.

The school was an early adopter of Information Technology and computers. It was a leader in Inquiry Learning, now used across the country. It has become an Asian Aware school, teaches Mandarin, has a strong performing arts stream and continues to provide opportunities for its children. It has to turn some new enrolments away and have a waiting list from parents hoping to have their child join the school.

The little, old sad school is now a big, happy school. It is a school full of special people, like the entire staff and special children who are mostly engaged, cooperative, well behaved and motivated. Surveys of the children say they feel happy and safe at school and that teachers try hard to push them to achieve more. Surveys of the parents say that most really like and support the school. A few say that they don’t like the principal. He sometimes feels sad about this, but works hard to run the best school possible for all children.

As the principal becomes older, greyer and fatter, he still has lots of ideas and plans for the future to continue to make further improvements in resources, learning, engagement and achievement. Some of the little kids still call him Santa and he smiles. He continues to employ smart, highly qualified young teachers with extra value added strengths to bring to the happy school.

The sad, little school is neither sad nor little any longer. The children still laugh and play.

“School is really cool
It’s a lot of fun
Cos every day
We laugh and we play
School is number one!”