The school roll at Raglan Area School has climbed to over 500 with a record number of students staying on for their intermediate and secondary education rather than heading over the divvy.
RAS deputy principal Bronwyn Haitana, who heads the years 0-10 students, says in the past two years she has really concentrated on the middle school (years 7-10) and how those students were being taught. “Good progress” has meant more students staying on to further their education.
Bronwyn says there are currently 135 students in years 7-10, up from about 90 a couple of years ago, with an increase of about 50 students across the school.
“I have 38 year 9s in my class,” says Bronwyn, and there are 42 students in year 11 doing level 1 NCEA.
“That is unbelievable.”
Students used to leave RAS after year 6 in their droves to attend intermediate in Hamilton, and certainly by their high school years (year 9) the majority were travelling over the divvy for a better education.
“I’ve had no year 9s who didn’t go back,” Bronwyn says of her class from last year, and of her year 9 students from two years ago “pretty much all of them have stayed” to do NCEA level 1.
“If we keep the cohorts we are getting, every year we will be building about 30 students.”
Bronwyn, who has been at RAS for five years, came from a job with the NZ Police, working with youth in school and looking at troubling behaviour.
“That work that I did really helped me come here and clean it up,” she says, remembering her first year at RAS, when the perception of the school was that of a “rough, gang school”.
“We’re not tolerating some things that we used to.
“My first year – pretty much – in school was ‘oh my god’. I couldn’t keep teachers.
“The year 7-10 cohort of students was so dysfunctional it was affecting the whole school, the primary school. No kids were staying. It was really ugly. It really dragged down the tone of the school.
“I couldn’t believe the morale of the teachers, and the students felt the same – ‘our parents can’t afford to send us to a decent school’.
“Teachers didn’t want to admit they worked at Raglan because people were bagging the school so much.”
Bronwyn thought: “If we can get this area right, get it pumping, all the other areas will start to come right, too.”
She says she headhunted teachers and focused on engaging students, as the middle years are where kids get bored at school. “They’re not going for NCEA credits so what’s the point?”
She also looked at ways to nourish students’ thinking, building a learning culture.
“Harping on doesn’t work, it’s about building communications skills – doing things that build learning. We are looking at relationships instead of power.
“The thing that people are noticing now is the year 11s have really good learning skills.”
At the senior school level (year 11-13), a huge effort has been made to introduce more subjects or to offer courses by correspondence. This year, performing arts is being offered for the first time to NCEA level 1 students.
Bronwyn says she prioritises budget spending on subjects.
RAS has also teamed up with the Wintec Waikato Trades Academy, offering students the opportunity to study a pre trade apprenticeship.
Bronwyn is now into her third year of putting her heart and soul into making changes at the school and says she feels quite tearful about it because she has put in so much time and energy.
“I’m really proud of our year 7-10 team. The teachers are really proud, they have really stepped up to the concept of change – and I have made a lot of changes.
“Staff feels supported, students feel supported.
“It’s just a really nice feel here.
“The parents’ perceptions have really changed. Parents really trusted me that I would do good for their kids.
“We are keeping the students that we have got and getting students from Te Uku and Te Mata … we have had a lot from Te Uku this year.”
Raglan parent Bernadette Gavin says Bronwyn is the main reason why she and partner Phil McCabe have kept their daughter, Sequoia Gavin-McCabe, at RAS for her NCEA level 1 year.
“I can’t sing her praises loud enough. She is so devoted and passionate about what she is doing.
“We thought about it a lot and came close a number of times to sending her over the hill.”
Bernadette says the school acknowledged that because it is small it cannot provide the same opportunities as Hamilton schools but “pretty much whatever they can do to help Sequoia to stay they have done and they are very easy to talk to”.
“The teachers Sequoia has had have been really amazing people and dedicated to their job.”
Parent Veita Harding says her and husband John chose RAS for their daughter to attend year 9 for many reasons.
“RAS offers a stimulating and exciting environment with a strong focus on student engagement that we felt our … child would thrive in. Each school visit we have seen staff who are vibrant, enthusiastic and passionate about their school. As parents we want our children to have strong connections to this area, to have a strong sense of identity and self worth and we believe that our local school can contribute to this. We also want to keep life simple and our kids local.”