From Gisborne to Adelaide and back again

Issue: Volume 95, Number 22

Posted: 5 December 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5b

The first-ever South Australia/New Zealand Principal Exchange Programme saw Gisborne’s Steve Berezowski swap places with Adelaide principal Tracey Davies during the third term of this year. In issue 95.20, we published Tracey’s experience at Te Wharau School in Gisborne. In this article, Education Gazette talks to Steve Berezowski about what he learned at Richmond School in Adelaide.

Steve Berezowski says that applying for the first-ever South Australia/New Zealand Principal Exchange Programme was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I want my teachers to experience working in different environments, so the opportunity for me to do so first was ideal,” he says.

But even so, the principal of Te Wharau School in Gisborne says he found it hard to ‘let go’ of his own school during the first couple of weeks of the exchange.

Both he and his exchange partner Tracey Davies had prepared well for the swap, with a number of discussions over Skype that also included deputy principals from both schools.

Te Wharau staff members were naturally apprehensive leading up to the exchange, and Steve says next time he would include all staff in the discussions so they too felt comfortable from the start.

He also notes that he had the backing of his partner and two deputy principals from the start, which was critical to the entire process.

His first few days at Richmond School were a little nerve-wracking, too.

“My first day was complicated because the deputy principal who was helping me get ready for my arrival had unexpected heart surgery so couldn’t be at school."

“My nerves kicked in at day two’s first staff meeting. I had to talk about myself but once I explained that every decision I would make would be based on the needs of the children and that I was here to learn rather than make sweeping changes, things relaxed.”

It’s all about the children

Richmond is an ethnically diverse school, with 42 nationalities represented at the start of Steve’s exchange, which soon became 43 after the arrival of a Syrian family.

“I absolutely loved the level of diversity. Because all the children from non-English speaking countries and new to Australia went to intensive English language classes together, they were learning English together and so they became friends and played together, talking in English,” he says.

At Te Wharau, Steve is affectionately known as Mr B. and he was Mr B. at Richmond too.

“The children were so happy and always happy to see Mr B. The kids were full of life and I loved that.”

South Australia Department for Education and Child Development

The Minister of Education for South Australia, Susan Close, visited Richmond while Steve was there and the 45 minute visit comprised of 35 minutes talking to Steve and 10 minutes being shown around the school.

Steve met Rick Pearce, CEO of the South Australia Ministry of Education and worked a lot with Leah Cassidy in the Ministry office.

He also met Jayne Johnson, deputy chief executive – Office for Education and Early Childhood; Deb Graham, Richmond’s director in charge of schools, and the Partnerships Schools principal’s consultant Marcus Knill. Steve says that in the absence of the deputy principal, he worked closely with Marcus.

Steve says he had a lot of professional support during his exchange.

Rich learning

Richmond School runs an Intensive Language Teaching programme which Steve believes is outstanding.

“They have high-class teachers and I cannot believe how quickly the students progress to a high rate of competency,” he says.

He’d like to take Te Wharau’s ESOL teacher there at some stage to see it in action.

Steve also hopes to introduce TfEL (Teaching for Effective Learning), Literacy Pro, Words their Way and BitL (Bringing it to Life) to Te Wharau staff, after seeing these resources used with success at Richmond School.

Personal and professional learning

Steve says he learned a lot from informal conversations and some from the formal ones he had in South Australia.

“I was asked a lot of questions about Te Wharau, and then reflected a lot afterwards. It was great being able to look at the school and reflect from a distance.”

Now back in Gisborne, he hopes to implement non-interaction time after seeing it work well at Richmond School.

“The Richmond teachers have non-interaction time while their students are doing PE or drama, for example. I want to look at how we can get teacher balance across the entire curriculum."

“I know that Te Wharau kids loved having Tracey in the playground and she was in it far more than they were used to with me."

“Interestingly, I spent much more time in the playground at Richmond. I was determined to leave my office more when I got back but this simply hasn’t happened yet – although term four was probably not the right time to make that declaration!”

Steve believes that the teachers at Richmond enjoyed the calm he brought to the school environment, his common sense approach, his insights and practical suggestions, and that is definitely supported by the many wonderful comments on his farewell card.

“I think as principals we all have a bit of self-doubt but working at Richmond and reading the comments on my farewell card has helped to remove a lot of that,” he admits.

“As Tracey said, it’s hard to make any long-term decisions because you know you won’t be there when the term is finished. I would have liked another term. You know you are there for one term, so you work to that but it would have been good to have another term there.”

Steve also went to a ‘partnership’ review meeting. The South Australian partnership model is similar to our Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako.

However, he didn’t like the fact that not all the students went to one of the partnership secondary schools because they lived outside the appropriate boundary, and therefore the advantage of a seamless education pathway was missing for them.

“There were also many and varied opinions from the principals about the partnership model, which of course is no surprise,” he laughs.

Steve also felt the partnership review meeting was reasonably hierarchical, with a lot of talk about complex terms, as opposed to a central focus on going forward with the students and families involved.

Back to Te Wharau

Steve has been the principal of Te Wharau for 15 years and he is absolutely committed to the students, teachers and wider community. 

That said, he admits he found a quiet spot in which to hide on his first day back.

“However, day two was a different story and it took me 45 minutes to walk 50m through the playground – there were so many hugs and high fives,” he laughs.

“One of the best things about this school is CHARM – our values programme that stands for cooperation, honesty, attitude, resilience, and manners."

“But best of all is the whole community – students, whānau, great staff, great deputy principals – and everyone here is here for the kids. We are all working under the radar and enjoying every minute of it,” he says.

And as for advice to another principal considering taking up an exchange – Steve encourages anyone interested to go for it.

“I was treated really well – I had great accommodation and a vehicle with a fuel card. So I got to sightsee and that was wonderful."

“I also made friends and met colleagues that I’ll stay in touch with.”

When we thanked Steve for giving up some of his time to talk about the exchange, he said he was happy to give up his time to talk to the Ministry because it was a small way of giving back for the amazing experience he had.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:18 PM, 5 December 2016

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