Award winners top at connecting with community

Issue: Volume 95, Number 14

Posted: 8 August 2016
Reference #: 1H9d3h

The shoulders of teachers and students are raised high with pride at McAuley High School after it won two awards at the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards.

McAuley High School, in the Auckland suburb of Ōtāhuhu, is the winner of the 2016 Supreme Award – Takiri ko te ata in the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards. The Catholic girls’ school has also picked up the Excellence in Engaging – Atahāpara Award, at the Awards ceremony in June.

Acting Principal Rachel Williams says the school community is incredibly proud of having won the awards.

“It does mean a lot to our community,” she says. “They’re absolutely delighted with the recognition the school has been given.”

Board of Trustees chairwoman Joe Tongotea says the school’s success has been wonderful and it still feels surreal to have won.

“Winning the awards was a great way of thanking the community for the trust they have put in us for the direction we’ve been taking the school,” she says.

Principal Anne Miles, who is on a sabbatical, says the awards belong to the entire McAuley High School community.

“The strength of our Catholic character and our belief in the value of every member of our community enables us to move forward with a shared vision,” she says.

“McAuley offers quality Catholic education, in the tradition of mercy, which challenges young women to strive for standards of personal excellence.”

For the past few years McAuley has been on a mission to get parents, whānau and communities engaged in their child’s education.

“When we entered the awards we really wanted to share the work we have been doing and we also wanted to recognise all those that have been involved,” Joe says.

Having parents involved and interested in their child’s education helps to boost their achievement, Rachel says.

“The project started when we got a group of parents in to talk to us face to face about how we could make changes as a school.”

Before long McAuley began to try out a number of innovative ways to engage parents and whānau.

This included communicating with parents in their own language, not just in English. Another idea was to provide parents with example questions they could ask at parent-teacher interviews.

“We started to break down some of the barriers to school being seen as a bit of a scary place. It really does help the students when home and school are working together.”

Rachel says McAuley has a social worker and a chaplain who both spend a lot of time working with the community.

One of the most successful ideas was introducing a Tongan language class for students.

“We found that the achievement results for our Samoan students were stronger than those of the Tongan students. These didn’t get on par until we began teaching Tongan as well,” Rachel says.

“All of these things are important for the identity of our students and for them to feel comfortable in our school.”

The school is lifting achievement well beyond national levels through strong faith-based values that are integrated in everything they do. Creating this level of ongoing engagement made a significant difference to the outcomes of their students.

Rachel also says entering the awards was a positive experience for McAuley.

“Entering forces you to be a bit reflective. Taking the time to reflect on our journey made us see some of the little things that have brought us to where we are."

“Before we were even named as finalists it had been a great process for us. I definitely encourage others to enter next year.”

Despite winning awards for their efforts at engaging the community, McAuley is not satisfied yet.

“We never think that we’re finished,” Rachel says. “It’s really nice to be acknowledged by getting these awards, but we’re continually looking at how we can meet the needs of our community.”

The 2017 Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards will open for entries later this year. We’ll keep you posted on the opening date.

To find out more about the Awards, go to the Prime Minister's awards website(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:56 pm, 8 August 2016

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