What attracted you to the Manukau Christian School?
Manukau Christian School appealed to me because it is independent and because it is biblically based, both of which provide a firm foundation for discipline, ethics and learning. Independence allows Manukau Christian School to teach a robust academic curriculum (Cambridge) and to underpin this with a biblical worldview. This is the best way to educate, in my opinion.
How would you describe the Manukau Christian School?
I describe Manukau Christian School as a high-achieving, multicultural Christian school with a family atmosphere and a shared vision within our staff, students and parents for academic excellence.
Love to learn
Learn to love
Leave a legacy
What do you hope to achieve through your leadership at the Manukau Christian School?
I am finishing as principal of Manukau Christian School and the end of 2022. I want to leave a vibrant school community, with a clear vision in the minds of staff, students and parents as to why we exist. I want to leave a united staff team that is equipped and empowered to keep delivering educational excellence and Christian discipleship into 2023 and beyond.
What are your future ambitions for Manukau Christian School?
Manukau Christian School will prove its success by continuing to have waiting lists at all levels into the future, by having sufficient funds to build the new classrooms required to accommodate our steady roll growth, and by faithfully continuing to teach and practice biblical ethics despite operating amidst a culture that holds to a very different ethical framework. I also have confidence that as Scott Kennedy takes over the reigns as principal, he will build upon the successes to date and will continue to grow the school to around 310 or 320 students, allowing the high school to offer more diverse subject options which will allow the high school to offer a broader range of study pathways.
Describe the pathway your career has followed.
I began my career in education teaching physics and science at the tender age of 23 at Pakuranga College. I then spent 4 years as head of physics at Waitakere College, followed by a gap year where I studied theology and worked in a church setting. Equipped with some theological understanding I then began teaching high school students at Immanuel Christian School, an independent Christian school, from 2001, becoming principal of that school in 2010. I stayed in that role until the end of 2017, starting my principalship of Manukau Christian School in January 2018. In 2023 I am changing direction, taking up a role as senior pastor of Taupo Baptist Church. I will greatly miss educational leadership and am most grateful for the opportunities that this has opened for me.
Were there enlightening moments or inspirational people who set you on your way to a career in education?
As a student at high school, I had a couple of teachers who brought learning alive for me. I could see myself in a classroom doing what they did. Perhaps more importantly, I would wander the school grounds and see lonely young people who looked a little lost. I would imagine myself working as a teacher and having the time (this is the unrealistic part) to ensure school is a better experience for lonely students than it was for me or for those lonely students that I came across. That memory has stuck with me, obviously.
Colin Prentice taught me as a green, idealistic principal, how to do the difficult leadership tasks and how to manage challenging people. Larne Edmeades continues to inspire me with his gracious but unwavering commitment to do what needs to be done to bring about the best outcomes, cutting through the hazy complexity of competing priorities.
How would you describe your leadership philosophy?
The soft stuff is very important. Focus on communicating exactly what needs to be communicated and work hard to ensure it is ‘heard’ correctly. At the end of it all, people are by far the most valuable resource and they need to be valued as whole people, not just as cogs in a mechanistic educational system. There are seldom ideal outcomes so leadership is about weighing the options and choosing the direction that will bear the most fruit with the minimal fallout over a reasonable period of time, without compromising ethical standards. Having said that, my leadership axiom is, ‘people are precious; don’t break them.’ If in doubt, say less rather than more. When unsure, put a pause on proceedings and reconvene when there is more clarity. Never rush important decisions.
Can you share your thoughts about independent education - in New Zealand and internationally?
Independent education is essential because parents deserve the right to choose the type of education their children receive. The state has a particular vision for education that is becoming increasingly all-encompassing and focussed on wellbeing. Independent schools can provide an education that differs from what is provided by the state, giving parents a genuine choice. That being the case, independent schools genuinely fulfil the role of a school in serving the parents of the child rather than serving some state entity that purports to know better than the parents what sort of education their child needs.
Independent schools are required to be successful as providers of education because market forces do not allow them to be mediocre and still remain in the market. If independent schools do not impress their clients (the parents) then they lose them to other providers. Thus, independent schools tend to be efficient, well-organised and customer-focused, because there is no slush fund to draw from if the budget is not met. Hence there is significant accountability for independent schools. Excellence in education is an essential requirement and it cannot ever be overshadowed by political or other agendas.
What do you see as the benefits of working at an independent school?
Meeting the educational needs of the families that value a particular form of education is very satisfying. Staff can work together in a school that has a compelling, shared vision into which everybody contributes. Another benefit is the freedom to excel as a teacher and be paid accordingly, freed from the shackles of collective contracts. However, the most compelling aspect of working at an independent school must be the freedom to teach a curriculum of the school’s own choosing, rather than the state curriculum that is immersed in Critical Theory and other unwelcome influences. In addition, independent schools have a much lighter burden of administration and compliance, allowing teachers and principals to expend their energies educating young people.
What do you see as the benefits for students of attending an independent school?
Robust learning occurs at independent schools, for reasons already explained. Learners know that their parents are making a considerable investment into their futures by choosing an independent school over the state-sponsored educational provision. They recognise that the independent school more closely aligns with their family’s values. In the main, this is met with appreciation. Students will take learning more seriously when they can see that the core messages from home and the core messages from school align. Independent schools have the unique opportunity to gather parents with a particular educational vision and to work with them to bring out the best in the learners.
My boys both attended an independent school from Years 1 through to 11 and they both thank my wife and I for the choice that we made to educate them in this way. The friendships forged at school have been proved to be true and to endure beyond school. I bump into ex-students from the independent schools at which I have worked and am always delighted to hear the accounts of solid friendships that began at school.