07 Jun Congratulations to Partnership School leader Sir Michael Jones

Sir Michael Jones

The All Black legend has been knighted for his work re-engaging students in learning, but says he's just part of the big village.

It's lunchtime at Michael Jones' school and along with the sausages, kumara and coleslaw on offer he's also serving up gentle reminders to hungry teenagers.

"Don't forget to use your manners.

"Eat up boys."

He nudges them to use Pacific languages, "faafetai," to thank the smiley cook and those on the assembly line.

A little over two years ago the All Black legend opened Pacific Advance Senior School (PASS) in Otahuhu for kids left behind by mainstream education.

He's known as "Uncle" here and that's unlikely to change even as he grapples with becoming the country's newest Sir.

That's because his work re-engaging students in learning is today being recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours with a knighthood for services to the Pacific community and youth.

He's endearingly awkward about it all.

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"I don't know if I'll ever get used to that,  but I'm quite happy still being called Iceman by my mates in rugby and Uncle Michael around here.

"They sometimes call me Sir, but I think they're just being cheeky."

The International Hall of Fame inductee joins a raft of ex-All Black players and coaches to become sirs, including John Kirwan, Brian Lochore, Gordon Tietjens, Graham Henry and Colin Meads.

"I'll be happy being the waterboy in that team," he jokes. 

The 52-year-old had a storied rugby career, redefining what it was to be a blindside flanker - speed, athleticism and a ferocious hit. 

He's equally passionate about PASS having a significant impact on outcomes for Pacific students, who along with Maori make up what educationalists have called the long tail of underachievement.

"It really motivates me and others in our community to do whatever we can while we have breath to not only shorten that brown tail."

He wants these kids to one day lead - to be the "head and not the tail."

PASS is a partnership or charter school.

They've been widely panned by teachers unions and politicians as delivering poorer educational outcomes for students.

But Jones says transforming lives will take time.

"To have an opportunity to provide a framework that is designed and delivered by Pacific for Pacific, understanding our values and world view but understanding the unique learning needs of our students is a huge opportunity that we can't let it...pass us by."

From the man who is also famous for not playing on Sundays because of his religious belief, the criticism is something to be shouldered.  

"Anything that's worthwhile in life you've just got to fight for."

Jones knew that post his All Black career he wanted to work in education and with young people.

His mother was a school-teacher who raised him with a raft of uncles, aunties and cousins in West Auckland after his father died when he was four.

It was this westie kiwi village that bought him up with simple values.

"I mean we have a saying in Samoan culture...the road to true leadership is through service.

"So it's a matter of learning to serve and serve and serve."

He's on the lunchline in hopes it's a production line for successful Pacific futures.  

Source: TVNZ