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A sense of belonging

Marion Harvey says she never wanted to be a principal but loves the role she found herself in at Makoura College. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

As school returns for another year, education reporter TOM TAYLOR checks in with Wairarapa’s secondary school principals, who share their visions for 2021 and the lessons they learned in 2020. This week, Marion Harvey shares the story of how she became principal of Makoura College, and the values that make the school special.

TOM TAYLOR: Last year was your first full year as principal of Makoura College. Can you describe how that happened?

MARION HARVEY: I was appointed as deputy principal in August 2019 and started the first week of November. The day I started, the principal resigned. No one saw that coming – it was a surprise for everyone including me … I never wanted to be a principal. But I got into it and loved it.

We had covid-19 in the middle of all that as well, which was interesting in an acting principal role. Then I applied and won the position, and now I’ve got a year ahead of me where I know I’m in the role.

TT: What was your previous experience in education?

MH: Prior to this role, I had been at NZQA, so I had actually got out of secondary school teaching. I was at NZQA for five and a half years, working with secondary schools mainly in South Auckland and Waikato, but in 2019, because I knew that we were moving to Wairarapa, I picked up overseeing the Wairarapa schools.

So, I had a connection with all the schools which was a real advantage. Prior to that, I had 12 years in Otorohanga, in the Waikato, and I started my training in Christchurch. I was also in Taupo for five years.

TT: What do you like most about secondary school teaching?

MH: You get your Year 9s in and most of them are still just children. Mum and dad might drop them off, and they’re a bit nervous. In five years, you get Year 13s that have licences, jobs, relationships – that’s huge. It’s incredibly challenging because it’s getting to know who you are, your purpose in life, where you are heading, but that’s why it’s so rewarding, too.

TT: What attracted you to Makoura College?

MH: I’ve always taught the small schools. With Makoura being a small school, it’s hard to hide, which is good. It’s hard to hide if things are going wrong – it’s easier to spot and we can provide support. And for

those that are wanting to excel, again, we can spot and support them.
TT: How do you support students?

MH: We’ve got quite a unique Year 9 programme which recognises the difficult transition between Year 8 and 9. We try to have it more like a homeroom where there’s a real sense of belonging rather than what happens in secondary schools where kids go all over the place. They have a sense of their hub first of all. This is a way of integrating, because suddenly they’re the little kids, from being the big kids wherever they were.”

TT: How does that support change as students get older?

MH: We have what we call Waka Huia, which is our key mentoring time. We have 150 minutes a week with one key person for all years of the school, and that’s not about qualifications and assessment, but it’s still certainly about learning. It’s the career planning, the well-being planning, the discussions about life. It’s ‘Adulting 101’ for some of the senior students: filling in forms and figuring out how to apply for scholarships, thinking about what it will be like to live in the halls or go flatting.

“It’s important to recognise a variety of future pathways and definitions of success. There is no one way … I think it is really important for us as staff to learn from our students and to recognise where they are going and celebrate those kinds of things.

TT: How do you measure success, apart from results and qualifications?

MH: Qualifications and results are important, because we want our students to be as well-prepared as possible when they’re out there competing against other people. I want the highest results we can get, but I also want a student to be a good person, to have the qualities tika, pono, and aroha, that make up our vision and motto … You can have all the academic qualifications in the world and not be a good person. I want both.

TT: What do those qualities tika, pono, and aroha mean for Makoura College?

MH: That’s something that I learned quickly when I arrived here. Tika is basically doing the right thing. Pono is wisdom through learning, developing your thoughts. Aroha is community. Our vision is growing tika, pono, and aroha through learning. It underpins everything that we do.

In our prizegiving, we don’t have, for instance, first in science. We have ‘demonstrating tika, pono, and aroha.’ Only one person can get first in science, but anyone could be showing those transferable skills: communicating, caring, working to the very best of their ability – and why aren’t they recognised as well? It’s not a participation certificate that you get for trying hard, it is meaningful and real. But it is also something that everyone can achieve.

Our top award at our prizegiving is our Kia Manawanui award, which is for courage and compassion.

TT: Makoura achieved solid NCEA results last year – an 80 per cent pass rate at Level 2, and an increase in pass rates for Level 1 and 3. How was that achieved in what was a very difficult year for all schools?

MH: I’m really pleased with the results. When the kids came back from lockdown, there was a lot of talk of kids missing out or falling behind. We said, we’ll work with where you are now. It might involve some extra work, but don’t worry about what happened. If lockdown worked for you, that’s great – we’ll continue that momentum. If it didn’t, we’ll put that behind you and work from now.

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