No secrets to success

Issue: Volume 97, Number 7

Posted: 30 April 2018
Reference #: 1H9iXM

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and one small South Island school hopes their challenging passage to success will inspire others.

Nestled in the rural town of Methven, mid-Canterbury, is a small state integrated school with big determination.

The Board of Trustees of the Our Lady of the Snows School (OLS) recently received a 2017 Civic Award from the Ashburton District Council in acknowledgment of the school’s progress in recent years.

The Civic Awards recognise substantial service, usually of a voluntary nature or beyond normal employment, benefiting the Ashburton District and its people. The OLS board was commended by the council for working tirelessly to rebuild the school after a very challenging three-year period.

A few years ago the school was experiencing high staff turnover, declining student enrolment numbers, and ‘variable’ student achievement, according to an ERO report. The school requested assistance from the Ministry of Education and a number of supports were offered, with one being the introduction of a Limited Statutory Manager (LSM).

OLS Board Chair Deidra O’Shea says the school has learnt a lot from their recent experience.

“There was nothing you could put your finger on, it was a combination of things really, but there are so many things that have gone right since. We’ve been on quite a journey,” Deidra says.

“For us the whole LSM experience was actually a positive one; we learnt so much. Having the LSM come in and to have that viewpoint of what happens in other schools and that you’re not alone is actually quite reassuring.”

Raising funds, raising the feel-good factor

One of the actions taken by OLS was to reinvigorate the parent-teacher association (PTA) fundraising group, Our Lady of the Snows Friends of the School.

“That feel-good factor you get amongst parents in a small school is back, and it’s stronger than ever,” Deidra says.

“Our recent fundraisers have really connected with the community.”

The school raised over $25,000 in one year from fundraising, and were awarded the 2017 TrustPower Ashburton District Community Award for Educational and Child Youth Development

“The community has been really supportive and we’ve received positive feedback about being so proactive.”

Deidra also attributes the school’s success to more stability in staffing, which in turn has led to better student achievement and engagement with the local community.

“I guess it’s just that myriad of things that are going really well, the board have a very clear strategic plan, our teaching staff are absolutely fantastic and staffing is stable, student achievement results at the end of last year were great, there’s lots of noise in the community about our school and all the great things we’re doing and now people are looking for our next fundraisers to see what’s going on.”

Seeking help

Her advice to other schools that may be in a similar situation is to not be afraid to ask for help.

“I think it’s about not being afraid to ask for extra support from the Ministry when you need it. There are resources out there and you’ve just got to make use of them really; the NZSTA (New Zealand School Trustees Association) is a fantastic resource, as is making use of all their PLD (Professional Learning and Development), whether it’s online or attending sessions,” Deidra says.

“Getting in touch with the Ministry to find out what resources are out there and networking with other boards has been great for us. Quite often in smaller schools, those joining boards are new to governance, so upskilling with training and networking is essential to broaden knowledge and understanding, otherwise you will only know how your own board operates.”

Enrolment levels at OLS are on the rise, and student achievement results have improved significantly. Funds raised by the PTA have been used to replace the school’s playground and upgrade the school library with new content.

It’s really important to ensure that students aren’t missing out on opportunities just because they attend a smaller school, Deidra says. She encourages schools in this situation to be proactive in seeking any further assistance they may need.

“All the resources are out there and they are available. It’s just knowing how to access them, and not being afraid to access them as well.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 30 April 2018

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