High praise for Wakatipu High

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Wakatipu High has officially turned the corner, according to a Government review.

The Education Review Office has issued a report praising the secondary school’s learning environment and culture.

Three years ago, a damning ERO review led to the appointment of a statutory manager and the eventual resignation of principal Lyn Cooper.

Key observations of the new review, released to parents last night, include: “a positive, collegial school culture is now well established”; “multiple examples of effective teaching strategies”; “students are keen participants in the wider life of the school” and “feel that their opinions and ideas matter and are acted on”; and “staff members feel their views are sought and considered in decision making”.

Set against the general tone of ERO reports, these comments are “positively effusive”, board of trustees chairman Alistair Nicholson says.

“And compared with the 2011 report, this represents enormous progress.

“Comments regarding the ‘high trust environment’, ‘effective teaching’, ‘general spirit of optimism’ and ‘sustaining and improving performance’ are the type we could have only dreamed of just a few years ago.”

The February 2011 ERO report said senior school management and then-principal Cooper had “mismanaged” major curriculum changes and created “unnecessary division and lack of trust” among staff.

Five months later, Christchurch-based statutory manager Peter MacDonald told Mountain Scene the criticisms were justified: “It’s very clear … the school has quite serious communication problems.”

Many observers credit the turnaround in the 700-pupil school to the appointment of principal Steve Hall two years ago.

Hall, a teacher at the school in the 1990s, had previous leadership roles with outdoor education school Outward Bound and the Halberg Disability Sport Foundation.

Hall is thrilled with ERO’s findings.

“This is great recognition of the hard work that has gone on recently,’’ he tells Mountain Scene.

“It was a pleasure to be able to present this report to staff, who have played a significant role in achieving this outcome.

“This is a powerful affirmation that we are delivering a great all-round education to our students and are well placed to continue the progress.”

The report is timely on two fronts.

The Wakatipu High School Foundation, set up last October to establish a multi-million dollar endowment fund, aims to turn Wakatipu into one of the country’s best secondary schools in five years.

And in 2018, the school is relocating to new premises at Frankton’s Remarkables Park.