More than 20 years after marrying her Fijian husband in Stewart Street’s then Union Church, Amanda Nasilasila’s been drawn back to the Raglan district she loves – this time for the sake of her career.
The 46 year old’s the new principal at Waitetuna, and finding the three-teacher school a big change.
With a steady roll of 56 spread across the senior, middle and junior classes, Waitetuna’s quite a bit smaller than Amanda’s used to. She’s taught for the past 16-odd years – the last 10 as deputy principal – at Pirongia’s “country” school which usually has about 380 children enrolled.
And that’s not the only difference.
“All the teachers (here) are called Whaea – and then their first name,” she told the Chronicle just one week into the new job. “It takes a bit of getting used to,” she laughed.
The commute from her home on the outskirts of Te Awamutu is different too, taking around 35 minutes against the 10-odd minutes to Pirongia School. For now – with her two teenage boys at the local college – that’s fine, she says, “but I’m not averse to the idea of moving”.
Also, she adds, her family are very keen fishermen.
Amanda was welcomed to the school with a “beautiful” powhiri, supported by local kaumatua from Aramiro marae in the Waitetuna Valley.
She comes to a school that’s slap-bang in the middle of $200,000 renovations, which is “a big learning curve for me”. The junior room is getting a facelift with a whole new covered deck, Amanda explains, providing extra space for play-focused learning.
The multi-purpose and the middle school rooms are also being upgraded, the senior classroom having already had a makeover. “It’s very exciting.”
Amanda reckons learning has to be fun, which means first ensuring her proteges love to come to school. She’s confident children will then learn the three Rs while not even realising it.
She’s also passionate about environmental issues, and with continuing both the development of the orchard – ultimately to feed the community – and working with Xtreme Zero Waste to turn ‘rubbish’ into resources.
As for the annual Waitetuna Wind Farm Trail Run, the school’s biggest fundraiser: “I’ll be helping organise it with the PTA, no promises on participating!”
On the day the Chronicle visited Amanda found herself flanked by three generations of one local family – Jess Powell, a former Waitetuna School student who now has a child in each of the three classrooms, and her mother Sally Ridley who also attended the school.
“I love the wonderful sense of belonging this kura brings to the community,” says Amanda.
“We have a thriving school culture that is based on a tuakana-teina system of reciprocal learning where the older tuakana lead and support the younger teina.”