Finlayson Park School

Shirley Maihi explains the importance of focusing on her students' social and academic development and total well-being, and of nurturing the relationships between the student, the school and the parents.

Our school community

Finlayson Park School is situated in South Auckland and is a large school with high transience rates and students who come from low socio-economic areas.

It's a multicultural school with 63 percent Māori and 27 percent Pacific Islands students – mostly Samoan, although we have a spattering of Niuean and Tongan – and then of course many other cultures. I think we have about 24 cultures altogether in our school, including Cambodian, Chinese, Indian and various other groups.

Our school is a very close-knit kind of a school, very welcoming and open to its community. And although our parents don't have too much to do with the school academically, they are very willing to assist in practical ways if need be.

We have many students who, for various reasons, don't get a lot of one-to-one assistance at home. So we employ 25 teacher aides. That means a lot of extra bodies to have on the staff, but it's absolutely imperative here that our children get one-to-one adult assistance, or one-to-two, or small group assistance.

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Educational beliefs

Part of my philosophy is that we must promote and nurture the triangular relationships of learning; that is the parents, the school and the children. I believe that our students must have parental involvement for them to be able to get the best out of their education at school.

I believe that our students need to be nurtured in every way, socially, academically, mentally, with the whole well-being of the child being looked after.

As an experienced principal, I realise how important it is for teachers to be upskilled and responsible for their own learning, so that we can offer the best possible education for our children.

I have a strong belief in children learning in their first language, so I have found it necessary to keep myself upskilled in that area. My own learning has never stopped and I have completed various papers in bilingual education and those pertaining to leadership. That has been a very important part of assisting teachers, and encouraging teachers to do the same thing.

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Supporting physical needs

Looking after our children is top priority for all people that work in this school. I make sure that students are looked after from very early in the morning and to ensure this, we provide a breakfast club that supports students who are in need of food. It also supports students whose parents go to work very early. Children bring their home readers and any homework that isn't finished, and they have a place in the school hall by the breakfast club where they can work.

At the end of the day we may have children who can't be picked up, or can't walk home, so we are part of a taxi service for them too. But I believe that's all part of looking after our students and keeping them safe.

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Manurewa Enhancement Initiative (MEI)

We are part of the MEI, a school enhancement programme that is funded by the Ministry. It includes 32 schools in all. As a group we decide what parts of the programme we want to be included in, and that gives us a huge say in what kind of programmes we choose to assist our schools.

For instance we have literacy and numeracy programmes, and a networking and information group. We also have an attendance programme, and a behaviour module, so schools can opt into any of those modules. In a school like this we have opted into quite a large number of programmes because being part of this extra-funded professional development certainly benefits our children.

Our school decided that literacy and numeracy was our major focus. This has enabled us to have our own literacy and numeracy leaders, as well as a backup leader for each curriculum area attending in-depth professional development. This has had wonderful benefits for all of the staff.

Our literacy leaders go into classrooms, work alongside teachers, work with groups that are having special difficulties, help to analyse the assessments, and help to analyse children's individual needs. So teachers are really supported strongly.

Exactly the same thing is happening in numeracy now and facilitators are working in classrooms, modelling lessons and working alongside teachers. Our teachers have never had that kind of collegial one-on-one support before.

The impact of the MEI on literacy and numeracy in our school has been widespread. Our teachers are now confident in the new skills that they have learnt. They recognise that they are not alone in their own classrooms, they are able to share more, and they feel confident in sharing.

We decided that we would also join the behaviour module to see if this could assist us in any way. Through this we have found ourselves in a very exciting, unusual, and innovative model of behaviour management. This programme, called Awhina Tia te Whanau, provides very strong support to students and their families.

The support comes from the school, the police, CYF, the South Auckland Health, and Group Special Education. All of those agencies work together for the child who has displayed difficulties in behaviour management. Through this we are picking up the whole family and working together with siblings, and sometimes the extended families to make changes that will be long lasting.

The transience rates in Manurewa are high. So the MEI attendance module assisted a group of our schools to work together to plan and produce a brochure to entice parents to keep their children in one school. We worked hard to get a catchy song, posters, and pamphlets, about 'One School is Cool' which went out to all families in Manurewa. It was advertised in bus stops and in town centres, and it has made a very big impact.

Unfortunately our transience is still on a similar level although families who move between Manurewa schools speak about the 'One School is Cool' campaign. We believe that this has to be a national awareness project not just a local story, for it to have huge impact and be more successful.

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Involving the family

At Finlayson we like to involve the whole family. We have provided adult literacy and numeracy programmes in our school which are ongoing term by term for the past 3 years. Parents opt into either literacy or numeracy. As part of that learning process parents go into their own child's classroom and become part of the child's lessons. That's had a huge impact on the unity of the family, and family learning, and parents' ability to support their children in homework tasks. It's really been very successful.

Another way of involving the parents is through inviting them to our goal setting sessions. We call them Three Way Conferences; and parents, the child, and the teacher are involved in setting specific goals for the following six months. These goals are evaluated and then new goals are set. It's been a very enriching process for parents to understand that they have a huge responsibility for their child's learning – not just the school.

We are enticing our parents to school by providing for all sorts of musicals, sports and fun days, and this is all part of looking after the whole well-being of the child.

As part of supporting the child we have employed our own fulltime fully-registered school counsellor. She is available for our children and our parents, at no cost to parents. As an add-on to that, we have a fulltime school social worker. With the backing of these two people, we have been able to support many families into being available for their child and encouraging them to get their children back into school and fully immersed in education.

Our board recognised the need to attract good quality, and experienced, staff. To encourage this, we purchased a house right next door to the school and turned it into a registered childcare centre for our teachers' children. Now we are reaping the benefits of having that crèche right on our doorstep.

We find that teachers who go on maternity leave come back much earlier. With their babies in the crèche next door they can see them at lunchtime. It's certainly been a wonderful way to attract staff and keep staff at our school.

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Highlights

I've learnt many things about leadership during this journey. For example, how to gel large groups of people together, how to share the load of leadership, and of course I've learnt that supporting one another in such a big school is quite an onerous task.

The main highlights of MEI for me are that I can see that our teachers are more strongly supported, happier in their jobs and they are feeling upskilled professionally in a non-pressured way. We now have a much wider skill base, and teachers are willing to support those who are not as highly skilled as themselves. The programmes are showing evidence of better learning outcomes for our students.

The next step for us will be to concentrate more on our numeracy package. We still have quite a long way to go in teachers feeling confident in mathematical skills. We would also like to look more deeply at the behaviour management programme. It is such an innovative and successful module, that we would like to think that we could extend it to several other families.

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