Headmaster’s prizegiving speech

Teenaa taatou katoa, kua tau mai nei, i teenei raa, Moorena e te whaanau

Chairman of the Waikato Anglican College Trust Board, Mr Andrew Johnson, Archbishop Sir David Moxon, trustees, fellows, staff, parents, friends of our School, and most importantly, the young men and women who sit before me today proudly wearing the crossed swords of Saint Paul, it is my privilege to present the 63rd Headmaster’s Report for St Paul’s Collegiate School.

12 months ago, our annual School Prizegiving was held here in this sacred Whare Karakia, the Chapel of Christ the King, without the presence of students, staff, and the wider St Paul’s whaanau. I vividly recall counting less than 10 individuals in this space at any one time on that particular morning, with Alert Level 3 restrictions creating a sense of eeriness that pervaded this typically energetic and joyful environment. While technology transmitted live feeds to classrooms across our Hamilton campus, it naturally failed to capture the essence of this annual day of celebration. Thankfully, today we meet in community, face-to-face once again, to recognise excellence, acknowledge contribution, and celebrate a myriad of student achievements.

The 2022 road to this point has been far from a seamless one to travel through. To truly appreciate the enormity of our students’ successes across this academic year, it is worthwhile returning to the start. On Monday 24 January 2022 our young women, and associated pastoral staff, boarded buses and embarked on a journey to the Tihoi Venture School to participate in our Girls’ Camp programme. Fast-forward seven days and a number of our students, both male and female, through no deliberate fault of their own, had tested positive for Covid-19 as the virus had become well and truly present throughout the Waikato. In excess of 200 St Paul’s families found themselves home-bound in isolation for 10 days, in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s decision to categorise all camp participants as ‘close contacts’, in turn requiring each of their respective household members to adhere to the same conditions of isolation.

Today I recall this specific time in our history, coupled with its associated frustrations for all members of our community, not to lead those gathered here this morning towards ruminating on the challenges of the past, but rather simply to highlight the blessings we have in the present. For today, we once again sing waiata without masks, shake hands without hesitation, and congregate largely without apprehension. Thank God for the old adage “start as you mean to continue,” is not considered sage advice in the Covid-19 context, and gratefully such a sentiment hasn’t proven to be the enduring reality across all of 2022.

I recognise many within our community were deeply affected by the Omicron outbreak, especially throughout the first half of this year. At times the main doors of our boarding houses resembled New York’s Grand Central Station atrium, witnessing countless comings and goings as everyone played their role in attempting to mitigate the spread of a virus that has reshaped our vernacular. The one consistent however has been the understanding and support provided to our School and our staff by parents and students alike. Today I wish to again record a simple but heartfelt thank you to all members of the St Paul’s whaanau for the patience, good grace, and unwavering support afforded to our team of passionate educators during the challenging periods of hybrid learning, and constantly shifting traffic light interpretations. While many schools throughout the country resorted to rostering year levels home and sometimes scheduling schoolwide closures in attempts to reset case numbers, we continued delivering on-campus teaching and learning, promoting the stability of a school routine, and providing a full array of extra-curricular pursuits where possible, steadfast in the belief that better days would lie ahead and steadfast in the conviction that not only would the darkness of the night pass but importantly that the night could still be used for critical preparation.

At regular Sunday evening Chapel services, our boarders often recite a karakia that includes the statements:

"Lord it is night . . .
“The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own
lives rest in you . . .
“The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys,
new possibilities . . ."

With this in mind, should we consider ourselves on the verge of a new dawn? I would shout yes in the affirmative. For rather than using the complexities of day-to-day management in 2022 as an excuse for remaining solely focused on the present, instead as a school we have looked towards the future. From Board to staff level, significant energy has been expended on key projects which have advanced the capability, capacity, and quality of our people and places. For it would be utterly pointless to have a vision that aspires to turn possibilities into realities without being real about what is needed to truly be considered a centre of educational excellence, and in turn working to address such needs.

So what are these needs? Firstly, we have needed clarity about what to build, where to build it, and a timeline to aspire to with respect to capital projects, so that we can provide premier facilities and systems which enhance high-quality learning opportunities. In 2022 the completion of a new Visual Arts classroom block, the extension and renovation of Harington Day House, the construction of a Health Clinic & Visitor accommodation quarters for the Tihoi Venture School, the refurbishment of the Year 12 Williams House dormitory, the building of an eight-bed Harington Boarding dormitory, and the current refit of the first floor of the Management Centre into a modern Staff Common Room sitting alongside what will be the new home of Te Reo Maaori teaching and learning in the centre of our Hamilton campus, all stand as testament to the School’s commitment to invest in our places for the direct benefit of our people. Looking towards 2023 the diggers, contractors, and construction will not stop. For our master campus plans for both the Hamilton and Tihoi campuses have set aspirational targets that we are excited to action.

We have also needed to review what we teach, why we teach it, and how we teach and assess it. Over the last 15 months our teaching staff have considered at length what a robust and engaging St Paul’s Junior School curriculum should look like. A full review of our current Year 9–11 courses, how our School operates on a daily basis with respect to timetabling and weekly activities, and an examination of our School’s educational philosophy has been undertaken. Throughout this November communications to parents will highlight and explain in further detail the conclusions and next steps that have been determined. Some actions we are excited to progress include:

  • A greater focus on literacy and numeracy for all junior students, with bespoke literacy and numeracy classes for some students (in addition to their regularly timetabled English and Mathematics classes). We simply will not accept the growing national discourse that foundational, basic comprehension and arithmetic skills can be acquired through casual, collaborative and often chaotic inquiry activities, without disciplined, and at times repetitious, endeavour.

  • The establishment of a St Paul’s Junior School Diploma, encompassing a variety of curricular and extracurricular criteria that Year 9–11 students will be challenged to fulfil to attain this initially extrinsically-motivated, but critically holistically-driven achievement. Importantly this Diploma includes the creation of a St Paul’s Year 11 curriculum and assessment framework, focused on best preparing our students for success at NCEA Level 2 and 3. This development aligns with the intent of many like-minded schools across the country who are also in the process of independently creating more robust curriculum for the betterment of their students. From 2024, in Year 11 we will teach longer into Term 4 consequently exploring course content at a greater depth, we will assess students when and where necessary rather than largely in November alone, and we will ensure rigorous academic knowledge will be taught. We simply will not accept the current desire of many who are working nationally to lower the level of academic knowledge required by students, whereby the optics of improving national pass rates hide the reality of a failing system.

  • The continuation of St Paul’s streaming classes in many core junior subjects. Effective learning requires differentiated tasks at any moment in time. Coupled with a growth mindset, every one of our young men and women can progress and experience educational success, whilst noting success looks different for each individual. We simply will not accept impractical, ideologically driven conclusions that purport extension activities and intensive remedial attention can be effectively provided to various individuals at the same time in the same singular learning environment.

  • The introduction of a compulsory Te Reo Maaori/Tikanga Maaori course for all Year 9 boys, and a nuanced short course for Year 11 girls. Preparing students to flourish in Aotearoa New Zealand beyond our gates requires us to not only meet our collective commitment to understand and honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi in its fullest sense, but moreover to equip all our students with confidence in using Te Reo Maaori. We will seek real partnership via challenging our own understandings.

These are but a few of our curriculum review findings. In short, we are real about enhancing our high-quality teaching and learning environment; this is a new dawn. As we look towards the future, it is critical to pause and reflect on the individuals who have brought us to the present. To the class of 2022, our Year 13 leavers, thoughtfully led by Head Girl Leah Weck, Head Boy Samuel Peoples, Deputy Head Girl Joanna Li and Deputy Head Boy Daniel Williams, I extend the School’s deep appreciation for the industry, good humour and adaptability you have demonstrated throughout the year. So many of you will be able to reflect on outstanding achievements in academic assessments, alongside 2022 extracurricular successes, including but not limited to, numerous Maadi Cup titles, a third placing at the Rankin Cup for our First XI Boys’ Hockey team, a Top 4 finish at the national First XI Boys’ Football tournament, the crowning of the First XI Girls’ Hockey team as Marie Fry trophy champions during national tournament week, a Premier Girls’ Netball Team Saturday competition Gold, a highly commended performance by our Chamber Choir at the national Cadenza competition, and a truly mesmerizing School Production season of the Wizard of Oz.

Whilst achievements such as those aforementioned involved students spanning all year levels, our senior students should be incredibly proud of the way in which they led such groups to great accomplishments. The achievements of our students, both inside and outside the classroom, are celebrated on a daily basis by our staff, for whom teaching is more than an occupation. Once again, through the uncertainty of Covid-19 times, often in the face of personal or household sickness, and during countless weeks of split delivery teaching, our teaching and support staff members have delivered with resolve, acutely aware that the settled learning environment they created each day provided reassurance and an example of optimism to the young men and women before them. I remain absolutely humbled by the quality of the staff I have the privilege to lead and I thank each of them for their profound contributions in 2022.

At the conclusion of the 2022 academic year, the School will say goodbye to two long-serving teaching staff members, Mr Michael Groom (27 years) and Mr Duncan Smith (23 years). At the final full School Headmaster’s Assembly we recognised each leaving staff member and in particular these two gentlemen who through their masterful classroom practice, most notably their respective energetic and interactive methodologies, have inspired countless adolescents to acquire a true love for their subjects. To you both, may your next chapters continue to be colourful and full of deep contentment.

To the members of the School’s Senior Leadership Team, Ainsley Robson, Peter Welham, Craig Hardman, Jeremy Coley, Joshua Hay, Helen Bradford, and Reverend Peter Rickman, thank you for your steadfast belief that the challenging start to the first half of this year would give way to both opportunity and advancement, and thank you for your collective desire to challenge many aspects of the status quo as we have sought to reflect, review and refine in pursuit of developing better people and places within our School context. To departing Associate Headmaster, Mr Ainsley Robson, the School is in debt to you for your relentless work ethic, solutions-based operational nous, and your cheeky humour. Your constant example of servant leadership and the generosity of your pragmatic yet heartfelt approach to mentoring young people will certainly be fondly remembered.

To you, Allana and your whaanau, thank you for giving of your energy to further our mission. To Miss Jennifer Purvis, my Executive Assistant, you remain the epitome of selflessness; please know my deep gratitude. To the School Board, a collection of engaged, astute, and generous individuals, thank you for providing our Senior Leadership Team with the opportunity to action so many projects and initiatives throughout 2022, as we have collectively sought to progress the School a little further forward each and every day. To the Board Chairman, Mr Andrew Johnson, my utter appreciation for your availability, thoughtful guidance, and genuine willingness to challenge me and my team to continually grow both professionally and personally.

To the members of the St Paul’s Foundation, passionately led by Mrs Megan Smith, to our Collegians Association and their committed President Mr Ryan McCarthy (Sargood 1993-1997), and to our energetic Parents’ Association members, led by Mrs Jacquie Shuker, the School’s sincere appreciation is extended for your efforts focused on the betterment of the St Paul’s experience for all. In closing, again I wish to acknowledge the parents and wider whaanau who make up our proud St Paul’s community. Thank you for allowing us the pleasure of interacting with your tamariki on a daily basis.

Most importantly, I wish to thank my incredible wife for her sacrifice, constant understanding, and boundless aroha.

“The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys,
new possibilities . . .”

May each of you experience an enriching Christmas and summer, surrounded by love and loved ones. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. Teenaa koutou, teenaa koutou, teenaa taatou katoa.