Welcome back to another exciting term.
It is with very grateful hearts that we received our new Year 1 and Prep buildings along with the brand new car park. I have been speaking to the staff and the students who are housed in our new areas and they absolutely love them. The whole project has been incredibly exciting and, like most projects of this size, has not been without its ups and downs, but we are very happy with the results. It is going to be a wonderful privilege to witness the further development of our College over the coming years.
In the next few months we will be starting construction for our new Year 2 buildings, which will adjoin the new covered area called the OLA (Outdoor Learning Area). This new building will be a mirror image of the Year 1 classrooms and will complete our N Block.
New Zealand Study Tour
Last week Cheryl Bryers, David Heyworth, Jacq Vreeling and I had the privilege of joining with a group of 15 Australian Christian School leaders in a study tour to take an in depth look at some of the leading Christian Schools in New Zealand. Our study tour covered a good breadth of the country from Auckland to Christchurch.
Over the last few years New Zealand has developed a great reputation for innovative teaching and learning practices and for cultivating a truly Christian culture in their Christian schools. We visited six schools in total; Kingsway Christian School and Elim Christian College (both of these were in Auckland), Bethlehem Christian College at Tauranga, Laidlaw College which was a College specialising in teacher training, Middleton Grange School and Hill view Christian School in Christchurch.
At each of these schools the school leadership team generously gave of their time and their resources as they explained the ins and outs of how their schools worked in their own particular contexts. On some occasions we were also able to share a meal with them and extend the opportunity to network and hear some of their journey to the point they are at now.
We were able to gain a different perspective from each of the schools we visited. Here is just a sample of some of the things that stood out for me but I am sure that my colleagues will also have different perspectives.
Kingsway School (about 1200 from P-12) is well-established but had just recently began the establishment of their new primary campus. The classrooms were designed to facilitate greater communal teaching and less traditional classroom teaching. This is an interesting trend so it was good to see such a model being enacted and hearing the honest positive and negative appraisal of the system by the teachers themselves.
Elim Christian College (about 1300 students) was established in 1988. It rose to international prominence when six students and a teacher from the school died in a flash flood while canyoning the Mangatepopo Stream in Tongariro National Park on April 15 2008. It was a wonderful privilege to hear the principal speak about that harrowing time, how it affected the College but also how this event galvanised the community of Elim College and resulted in a stronger and more cohesive school. In this litigious culture it was also refreshing to hear that the parents who lost their children continue to be great supporters of the College and there were no law suits. Clearly the impact of this tragedy is still very raw and close to their hearts but as a school they have moved from strength to strength.
Bethlehem Christian College in Tauranga (1500 students) was a truly beautiful campus of 135 acres. The main focus of the principal’s discussion with us was the recent audit that the school had undertaken to ensure that they were remaining true to their classification as an “integrated school of special character” as all of these schools are labelled by the government. The results of that audit were surprising and the outcome of that audit meant that very deliberate steps were taken in order to maintain their uniquely Christian character. This was an important, at times painful, but necessary journey which resulted in a new curricular approach and a new College plan.
Middleton Grange School (1500 students) has been operating for 50 years. I was very impressed how the use of monuments and landscape features contributed to reinforcing the values that school is based upon and serve as reminders to their students. This school was also doing some very innovative things in terms of their lesson planning and their classroom delivery. We were also privileged to join with the College in their Anzac service. It was quite a different Anzac service to the traditional one that we were used to but no less meaningful or impressive. As we left Middleton Grange it was the topic of some exuberant discussion.
Hillview Christian School was a P-6 school in Christchurch with a student population of about 500. Unlike Middleton Grange, which is also in Christchurch, Hillview was deeply impacted by the earthquake that struck there in February 2011. The Hillview experience was a study in how pivotal the role a school has to play for the community it serves when disaster strikes and it was fascinating to hear the principal discuss his recollections of how Hillview needed to respond on that terrible day. It was a timely reminder for us to ensure that our emergency procedures and our critical incident policy will be able to pass muster should a drastic incident occur. Hillview were also adopting an interesting discipline system which polarised the members of our study party but we could see the parallels between their system and our own Responsible Thinking Process.
We were further reminded of the earthquake prone nature of the ‘shaky isles’ as we experienced a tremor in Christchuch. We discovered that the epicentre of the quake was several 100 kms away but nonetheless an interesting end to our day.
It was an incredibly valuable tour and I would like to thank Christian Schools Australia for organising the trip, all of the schools involved, our College board for allowing us this opportunity and for Mrs Mitchell and Mr Steffler for their expert leadership of the Primary, Middle and Senior schools while the management team was absent.
Mike Curtis, Principal