Big ambition: Wakatipu High board member Greg Turner wants ‘mutually beneficial’ relationships between the school, community and businesses
Wakatipu High is unveiling a new image to the community in a bid to stem a private school exodus.
The school’s board of trustees is keen to shake off negative perceptions that may contribute to local families sending kids to expensive private education in Otago and Canterbury.
Board chairman Alistair Nicholson revealed future plans to Queenstown Chamber of Commerce members last night, saying departures have a major impact on the economy.
“There are a significant number of locals who send their kids away to boarding school – some who even depart as a family – in many cases causing considerable angst but also taking with them probably $5-$10 million a year that is simply lost to the local economy,” he says.
‘Some kids suit boarding schools’
Sending kids to boarding school comes down to individual preference, Queenstowner Julian Kinnaird says.
Kinnaird, a board member of St Hilda’s Collegiate in Dunedin attended by his daughter, says:
“Everyone wants to make the best decisions within their circumstances for their daughter or son. Some kids suit boarding schools, some kids don’t. I wouldn’t comment or criticise or judge in any particular way at all.”
Kinnaird says the Wakatipu High board should be praised for its efforts in turning the school around.
“It’s great to see it rebounding through some of the issues and difficulties that they’ve had.
“Other schools are aware of what’s happening in the Wakatipu. It is a big source of students for the Dunedin boarding school fraternity, it always has been. So we are always watching – it’s competition, so to speak.”
About 25 local kids leave to attend private and public boarding schools each year.
Queenstown parent Craig McLachlan says families should recognise the local education opportunities – and not let a boarding school “bring up your kids”.
“I think parents should take a lot more responsibility and not just hand their kids over to a school and expect the school to do everything,” he says.
“I think by sending your kids to a private school you’re doing that – you’re sending them to someone else to bring up your kids.”
Nicholson and his board want to turn the private school exodus around – and fundamental to that is a new-look Wakatipu High.
Business leaders were last night shown major $3m infrastructure improvements – including a new state-of-the-art performing arts block, the recent cafeteria development and gym extensions.
A new centre to house information and computer technology, a library and study rooms is expected soon. A new school will eventually be built somewhere in Frankton, but that’s still to be decided by the Ministry of Education.
With a new principal in the mix – that announcement is expected in the next few days – the school is determined to
remove itself from a shaky past few years.
Former principal Lyn Cooper was fired, rehired and then resigned last year after Government-appointed official Peter Macdonald was called in to overhaul the management structure.
Macdonald was enlisted following the school’s Education Review Office report a year ago, which criticised senior management but praised teaching staff and students. Macdonald continues to work with the school this year.
‘Parents should keep kids here’ Local parent Craig McLachlan says kids should be educated in the community rather than sent elsewhere.
McLachlan is father of young tennis aces Riki and Ben – both schooled at Wakatipu High – who are now at the prestigious University of California on virtually full scholarships.
“We spent some money on them doing tennis coaching but it was nowhere near as much as we would have spent if we had to send our boys to a private school.
“Parents also need to show some responsibility towards their kids’ education rather than just expecting the school to do it for them.
“That said, we need to be constantly trying to improve Wakataipu High so it’s worthy. Our community's school should be that good that nobody should want to send their kids away to boarding school.”
Nicholson says despite “some uncomfortable recent occurrences”, there are plenty of positive aspects, like students winning 14 scholarships last year – double any previous year.
The school, which already has well-established ski and tennis academy links, is keen to expand these.
Board member Greg Turner says they’re looking to ramp up the academies and strengthen links with local businesses – as well as look at its own boarding options.
Nicholson adds: “We have enormous ambition. With our new principal, we’re determined to recalibrate the school in such a way that, while there will always be reasons that parents decide their kids might be better off somewhere else, there will be no academic, cultural, sporting or pastoral reason for that decision to be made,” he adds.
Nicholson believes the school has already “started to win the hearts and minds of families here”.
“If we can continue to progress, then it may well be that we eventually end up with a net gain – rather than a loss – of students coming to the area.”
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