Modern schooling network rises from quakes

Issue: Volume 95, Number 3

Posted: 22 February 2016
Reference #: 1H9cz1

On 14 February, almost five years to the day since the devastating 2011 earthquake, Christchurch was rocked again by a big quake. This time, though, nobody was hurt. Several schools were closed as a precaution, but as we went to press there were no reports of major damage.

The lack of damage was a heartening demonstration of how strong Christchurch’s buildings, including its schools, have become. The quake came as new schools opened all over greater Christchurch in time for the start of the new school year. They’re part of what will be the country’s most modern schooling network, a network which has literally risen from the ashes of the Canterbury earthquakes.

After the February 2011 earthquake the Government committed more than a billion dollars to rebuilding or remodelling 115 schools by 2022. The task was huge: some schools had been destroyed altogether, and others required major work to get them functioning again. Some 80 percent of greater Christchurch’s learning spaces needed to be repaired, replaced or renovated.

The Government and the education community saw an opportunity not just to replicate what was there before, but to build innovative schools which will keep Christchurch at the forefront through the next half century of educational change.

What this means is that Christchurch students will learn in modern, flexible and digitally connected teaching and learning spaces. Their teachers will have the most up-to-date facilities and teaching tools. And schools continue to work together in clusters, providing students with flexible, personalised learning options.

Some of this is a far cry from traditional schools, which worked largely in isolation from each other, with teachers standing in front of classes of students seated at desks. It was important that the education community be involved from the start in the new designs, and in learning how they could work with modern teaching techniques.

Funding is available for schools to test how flexible learning spaces can support a range of ways of teaching within their existing schools while they wait for their new schools or refurbishments. Sometimes this is as simple as knocking out walls between classrooms to create more room for teaching practices such as multiple teachers working collaboratively with different class sizes. These spaces can also support traditional class sizes with a single teacher, or students in small groups or learning independently.

Teachers continue to access professional development opportunities to explore creative teaching and learning practices in existing and new learning environments.

All of this preparation has come together in new and refurbished schools around Christchurch. One example is Waitākiri School, which was created by merging Burwood and Windsor Schools following earthquake damage to school land and buildings, and the red-zoning of significant areas of their catchments. Waitākiri operated from two sites during 2014 and 2015. It moved into its new buildings at the start of 2016.

This gave the new school time to develop a vision based on what worked best for teaching and learning, which could drive the planning and design of the new buildings. Teachers and leaders considered existing literature on collaboration and co-teaching, and visited a number of schools using teaching practices in innovative learning spaces.

Waitākiri School believes that teaching and learning is most effective when it’s social and collaborative. The school now operates in ‘learning studios.’ Students have a ‘homeroom’ teacher, as well as other teachers and staff they work with in their learning space.

This approach is working well for students. “I think it is better having two or more teachers because you get the best of both worlds,” says one Year 6 student. “I can go to one teacher for maths extension because I know she is great at that and to another teacher for IT support because he is great at that. Basically having two teachers means we have two times the knowledge to help us learn.”

A teacher at the school is also finding the new way of doing things is working well. “I was used to having my own room and doing things my own way, and I knew what I was doing had been successful. Once I started to think about it I realised I was so lucky to have this opportunity to learn from and with others. Now I would not go back!”

Schools outside the city are benefiting too. Swannanoa School is a small semi-rural primary school in the Waimakariri District. It currently has both traditionally constructed classroom spaces and a larger learning space with connected breakout areas.

It has been working closely with parents to develop an understanding of what future-focused teaching and learning should look like. This will inform the school’s property repairs and redevelopment. The school’s rural setting and history is much valued by the community, and will continue to be an important part of teaching and learning.

Swannanoa School emphasises self-direction and active learning. Teachers use strategies to support students to become more self-directed in their learning. These include increasing student accountability through the use of checklists, listing work for the week and the purpose of each item. Students choose where and when they complete the work enabling them to learn to prioritise, and to choose times and methods of learning that meet their individual interests and needs.

One parent says this approach is helping her son, and not just at school. “I have seen my son’s ability to organise himself much better. He has even begun to write lists at home to help him prioritise what he has to do.”

And it’s not just within individual schools that new forms of collaboration and learning are being seen. Canterbury is now home to 13 Communities of Learning, involving 113 schools and almost 33,000 students sharing good teaching practice and ideas. The Communities work together to set common goals, then tackle them using their shared expertise.

Students with special education needs are also seeing the benefit of the revitalised Christchurch education network, with an extra nine satellites built for them.

And more than 500 new early childhood education spaces have been created.

New schools opened this month are Waitākiri Primary School; the $13.6 million Rāwhiti School, which is a merger between Central New Brighton, North New Brighton and Freeville schools and will accommodate up to 600 students; Marshland School; West Rolleston School and St Francis of Assissi.

Each school’s design and approach is different, depending on the requirements of its students and community. What they all have in common, along with all the other schools being redeveloped in Christchurch, is a commitment to innovative learning and ways of working that will see their students become part of the most modern schooling network in the country.

Coping with disaster: getting schools up and running again

Three weeks after the devastating earthquakes of February 2011, eight out of 10 schools and six out of 10 early childhood centres in the Canterbury region had reopened. This was despite significant damage to buildings and land.

Schools are a focal point for communities. The Ministry realised that re-opening schools and early childhood services would help provide stability for children and young people, as well as enabling parents, whānau and caregivers to return to work or have respite to address quake-related issues.

Following both the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, we managed emergency school readiness work, including making buildings weathertight, ensuring electrical connections and repairing water connections. We identified and deployed relocatable classrooms, portaloos and potable water supplies where required. We set up an 0800 call centre, established emergency contact lists for all schools and early childhood education providers, and put quake updates and FAQs on our website.

Since the two major earthquakes, all structurally significant buildings at all state schools and early childhood centres in Christchurch, Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts have been assessed by professional structural engineers. Over 3,000 buildings were assessed and the Ministry has followed all recommendations. To date, there have been 330 Canterbury school buildings demolished after being assessed as not repairable, or as part of some school’s redevelopment programmes.

After this month’s quake we contacted all schools and early childhood services to let them know that they should inspect their buildings for any damage. If they had any concerns they should get in touch with us, as we have engineers available to check their buildings.

After the February 2011 quakes nine schools (two primary, one intermediate and six secondary), unable to reopen on their existing sites, were co-located on other schools’ sites. The duration of these co-locations ranged from one month through to the present time. The nine displaced schools became ‘guest’ schools, sharing a site and facilities with one or more ‘host’ schools.

Five secondary schools shift-shared with other secondary schools, with the ‘host’ school operating on the site in the mornings and the ‘guest’ school in the afternoons.

We coordinated and funded the property and service infrastructure needs of the co-locating schools. These included property (relocatable buildings, toilet facilities), infrastructure (telephone and IT systems) and logistics (bus transport, emergency staffing), as well as financial advice and mentoring for principals.

Meanwhile, some Banks Peninsula schools nearly doubled their rolls as families relocated to holiday homes. We offered support and advice to schools accepting these extra students.

Emergency funding for early childhood providers was extended from the usual two days to cover a longer period following both events. We also provided relief staffing to schools where teachers required time to deal with earthquake-related issues, or where additional staffing was needed for logistical or pastoral care purposes.

Traumatic incident teams supported schools and staff, and resources were provided to schools to use with students.

In the words of one parent whose daughter spent time at a co-located school: “Given the circumstances, we couldn’t have asked for more. Teachers at both schools did all they could to make it a very positive experience. She was very happy to get back to her own school but probably learnt a great deal through the experience.”

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

Posted: 4:22 PM, 22 February 2016

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