Wakatipu High senior management jobs under scrutiny

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A Government-appointed manager at Wakatipu High – who last week axed the school principal – is now running his ruler over other senior jobs. 

The revelation coincides with the emergence of a new report that is scathing of the school’s leadership culture. 

The report, obtained by Mountain Scene, warns student learning was at “considerable risk” of suffering because of a breakdown between teachers and senior leadership team. 

Written in June by educational specialist Steve Rees – at the board of trustees’ request – the document follows an Education Review Office report in March, critical of axed principal Lyn Cooper and her senior management team. 

Cooper, who’d held the top job since January 2008, was last Wednesday asked to leave the school by Ministry of Education-appointed limited statutory manager Peter MacDonald. 

MacDonald, investigating issues at the school since May, now says he’s examining Wakatipu High’s traditional structure of a principal, a deputy and two assistant principals. 

MacDonald proposes changing that to one principal and two deputies.

Senior management will have to reapply for their positions if the current proposal is accepted, he adds.
“They will be substantially different jobs.” 

Additionally, there would be two “strategic committees” focusing on curriculum and student welfare. More staff would be involved in these committees, therefore making the structure “flatter” and ultimately more united, he says. 

In the wake of Cooper’s exit, MacDonald has allowed an extension to his proposal – likely till term one next year – to allow for feedback. 

MacDonald’s confident that once the overhaul takes place, Wakatipu High has the chance to become a “nationally-recognised school”. 

Meanwhile, Rees’ report states: “Generally the leadership function of the school is incoherent and disconnected, with inconsistent application and no clear lines of responsibility. 

“The internal communication systems are not reliable, are ad hoc and often depend on individual relationships. 

This has resulted in a lack of transparency within the leadership function. 

“The senior leadership team is not viewed by the school community as being a ‘team’ but more as individuals with different agendas.” 

The report also claims Cooper didn’t effectively manage a major, controversial curriculum change last year, which restructured junior classes according to ability instead of age. 

“The teaching staff clearly indicated that they wanted and needed to be effectively led in this particular area of the school,” the report says. 

Rees’ report adds there’s confusion around roles within management and a lack of trust between them and other staff. 

And teachers wanting to try new teaching practices were often discouraged: “Some staff indicated that the reaction by some members of the senior leadership team bordered on bullying and had a significant impact on their willingness and ability to engage with the recent curriculum developments.” 

MacDonald tells Mountain Scene that Rees’ report, the ERO review and a separate “very critical” principal’s appraisal contributed to his decision to sack Cooper. 

MacDonald was also guided by staff feedback and the board of trustees – which “voted overwhelmingly that they had lost trust and confidence in their principal”. 

“Standing back objectively and looking at all the advice, I had to make a decision to resolve matters,” he says. 

MacDonald expects it will take six months to appoint a new principal and he plans to remain working with the school for the next 12 months on the “reorganisation proposal” for senior management. Deputy principal Grant Adolph is the interim acting principal. 

Cooper declined to comment on the new report or say whether she’d be contesting her dismissal.