Our story begins with a vision for change and a community who was willing to try something new. At the heart of our philosophy are our students and their learning.
Bay of Islands International Academy sits high on a ridge on the Purerua Peninsula, a jewel in the Far North’s renowned Bay of Islands. Down one side of the ridge lies nearby Te Tii village, where many of our students live near two historic marae which are set beside the calm, abundant waters of the Te Puna inlet. Down the other side of the ridge, sheep and cattle farmland leads down to perfect sandy beaches and the open ocean. This area is steeped in history and tradition and is regarded as the birthplace of cooperation between Maori and European people 200 years ago. At our school, this spirit of cooperation continues to this day. Our lineage includes New Zealand’s first school, opened 200 years ago at nearby Rangihoua. Our present school site dates to 1959. Today, we balance a modern, forward-looking outlook with deep respect and knowledge of history, tradition, culture, language and ancestry.
In mid-2012, when we began our journey to re-imagine this school, we had only eight students, all Maori. Today, succeeding against all odds, we have over 110 students from a wide variety of cultures and backgrounds.
Our improvement journey began in earnest in mid-2012, when we set out to achieve a total turnaround of a school which was struggling. In planning this turnaround, we recognised the necessity of clearly and boldly stating the educational and institutional outcomes that would be important, going forward, for our learner community.
These outcomes became our mission and vision statements, defining aspects of our new school charter. For our soon-to-be-growing learning community, our charter became a rallying point—a commonly agreed description of where we wanted to go and how we planned to get there.
Learning is an act of optimism. There are many motivations to learn, but a central one is the belief that the more we learn, the better our future will be. In 2012 though, there was little cause for, or evidence of, optimism at Te Tii School (as Bay of Islands International Academy was then known). It was nearly impossible to believe in a better future for our school and community, because all the evidence was against it.
The school was in an increasingly obvious death-spiral, as evidenced by its plummeting roll. Te Tii was always a small, rather isolated, rural school. For about a decade its roll had averaged 30 students and a degree of sustainability prevailed. By mid-2012, though, the roll had dropped sharply to 8. Finances were a shambles and the facilities and learning materials were obviously deteriorating. Morale and energy levels of the board and the tiny staff were low. This didn’t go unnoticed by students and whanau. One by one, in 2012, students dropped away. A family with some means would send their child elsewhere.
Each departure weakened the school, causing the next most able family to find a way to make their exit. Each exit further clobbered the budget and staffing entitlements, and there didn’t seem to be any lifeline available. It began to seem like there was a race on to not be the last one out the door. Objective evidence of student progress and achievement in 2012 was nil. What we can say with some certainty is that even if they were progressing and achieving satisfactorily (and they probably weren’t), that couldn’t last much longer without major change. Conditions at the school simply were not conducive to sustained progress and achievement, or even basic survival. Too many seemingly unsolvable problems of decline constantly nipped at the heels of leadership and teachers, leaving too little attention on student progress and achievement.
What did we change? The short answer would be EVERYTHING.
However, that wouldn’t be absolutely accurate. The one thing we had going for us all along, even in our darkest days, was caring. What became increasingly apparent, though, was that caring was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for strong, effective learning. Caring alone could not achieve the outcomes we sought. We discovered that caring needed to be expressed through a well-defined mission and vision, strategic goals, concrete plans, and skilful, powerful implementation.
Metaphorically, we think of caring as the heart. To be a complete and effective person, though, a heart is not enough. More is needed. A brain is needed to create and communicate a vision, and to craft the plans to implement it. A skeleton of sturdy bones is needed on which to build a strong implementation of a vision. Muscle is needed to drive change and push improvement. Finally, we come full circle to giving the caring heart a strong, steady heartbeat—the commitment to ongoing, unwavering effort to build and sustain a better school.
Internally, our board inquired at length regarding how great learning is achieved and what makes a strong, sustainable school. We developed a model with learning at the centre, surrounded and supported by the pillars necessary to run an excellent school.
Generally speaking, what we did was respond to identified needs. We devised and implemented solutions to our many problems. We obviously couldn’t respond to every need instantly, so we had to prioritise. We had to plan and stage our changes, and put them into effect as resources became available to do so. Resources often meant money, but frequently ideas, expertise and time were in short supply as well. Not every problem had an obvious answer. We consulted, we brainstormed, we researched, and sometimes we just trialled the best idea we could come up with, or experimented with competing solutions.
We had to keep our outlook on the big picture and the long term, even while our immediate attention was on the details of the next big step. We had to take risks, and we had to stay resilient in the face of many failures. We had to bring our community along with us—communicating, explaining and persuading as change after change took hold.
In mid-2012, we chose to begin the arduous and challenging process of becoming an International Baccalaureate school. We felt this would help us achieve several positive outcomes including:
- Setting a high expectation standard of excellence
- Providing a future-proofed 21st century learning programme for our students with its emphasis on inquiry, conceptually-driven learning, multiculturalism, global- mindedness, and transdisciplinary structure
- Unifying our efforts in a well-defined direction attracting exceptional talent to our school—board, management, staff etc
- Raising our reputation in the community
- Differentiating our offering from other nearby schools
- Attracting a more diverse group of students
- Securing community support and donations
Key to our selection of the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) is its complete compatibility with the New Zealand Curriculum. Later, we also came to understand how the pedagogical principles of the PYP align with the principles of Ka Hikitia. Having made the decision to become a PYP school, we spent the first half of 2013 getting ready to submit an application to become a candidate school. Even this required substantial upgrades to our planning, programme, resources and facilities. The improvement journey had begun in earnest. The rest of 2013 and 2014 saw us starting to put the programme in place, developing a programme of inquiry, upgrading the library, promoting our learner profile, developing policies and procedures to support the programme, and developing teaching and assessment practice. By early 2015, we were nearing a level where we could apply for authorisation, and by the end of 2015 we had succeeded – the first IB School in Northland, New Zealand. This was years of hard work by many and we are proud to hold this accolade.
Our board, staff and community have big plans for our school and what we can still achieve together as a community. We want to ensure our learners remain curious and active learners, and have a voice in their development towards an exciting future.