Wakatipu High’s Mr Fix-it says changes on way

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An independent expert brought in to sort “serious communication problems” at Wakatipu High plans changes within senior management. 

Employment lawyer Peter Macdonald, appointed by the Ministry of Education, says he’ll reassess the structure of senior management following a recent damning Education Review Office report. 

Christchurch-based Macdonald has been with Wakatipu High for the past month as limited statutory manager, after the ERO report said senior management and principal Lyn Cooper “mismanaged” major curriculum changes and created “unnecessary division and lack of trust” amongst fellow staff. 

On the flipside, it gave a glowing review of teaching at the school and teacher-student relationships. 

Macdonald – speaking extensively for the first time to Mountain Scene and students in the joint newspaper-school initiative ClassMate – says his initial scoping at the school has led him to believe the ERO report criticisms are justified. 

“It’s very clear … the school has quite serious communication problems,” he says. 

“There’s a common understanding and appreciation that yes, the communication in the school, upward and downward, senior management to staff – that there are issues that are going to have to be resolved. 

“I’d be surprised if the change isn’t certainly seen as significant.” But Macdonald stres­ses he hasn’t made any decisions yet and rumours circulating the school that staff will be fired are “totally and utterly wrong”. 

It’s the traditional hierarchical structure the school uses – of a principal, deputy and assistant principals – that’s under the microscope. 

“That structure arguably doesn’t encourage good communication. 

“It may work at other schools – but I’m not sure if it’s the best structure for here. 

“I’ve got some reservations as to whether the roles are sufficiently defined and I’ve got some preliminary reservations as to whether some roles are over-burdened,” he adds. 

“If people don’t fit the tasks or the tasks don’t fit the people – or both – then you’ve got to make changes.” 

This is Macdonald’s seventh MoE appointment as a limited statutory manager. Charging $135 an hour – half his normal market rate – he has the authority to go through required disciplinary procedures with any employee of the school, subject to contractual requirements. 

He spends 40 hours a month at the school, interviewing teachers, parents, students and senior management. 

Macdonald expects to decrease his hours to 25 a month before handing over a recommendation by the end of the year. 

He commends the school’s academic record because of “fantastic staff” and good students. 

Board member Greg Turner says the community’s concern about Macdonald’s presence isn’t overplayed. “There were some pretty strong warning signals from the ERO report and with other things that were happening so I sense there’s a real desire to see positive moves.”