09 Dec Partnership school provides chance for academic excellence

Mulitalo Levi

Mulitalo Filipo Levi from Middle School West Auckland writes in response to a recent Herald article alleging - among other points - that the partnership school used fast food to 'bribe' students and that there had been a suicide attempt by a pupil.

Mulitalo Filipo Levi is the community liaison manager for Middle School West Auckland.

Article published on nzherald.co.nz

On two occasions this year the New Zealand Herald website has carried articles about Middle School West Auckland and aspects of our provision. For good reasons we left these unchallenged the first time. I won't stand by on this occasion.

Middle School West Auckland is a Partnership School. It was authorised by the Minister of Education in September 2014 and given a start-up time of four months and a budget of less than 10 per cent of a comparable State establishment situation.

It began on two sites in February of this year. One site in Henderson (Pohutukawa) will grow to 60 students, and a site in Glendene (Matai and Rimu) will grow to 120 students. A fourth site will be established during 2016 to allow for a capacity of 240 students. The school is led by former Auckland Grammar School deputy principal Alex Metzger, with an outstanding teaching staff, and has a sister school in the successful South Auckland Middle School - which began in 2014 and has already been given permission to expand further.

As a Partnership School, it is a school of choice with no zone. The purpose of the school is strongly academic. It is not an "alternative education" provider. To bring this about we provide high quality core subject teaching, classes limited to 15 students, a split day, and fully cross-curricula project opportunities that allow our students to develop knowledge and skills well beyond most expectations for Year 7-10 students. The policy is aimed at "priority learners" and enrolments are open to all. We have several features to make access to families easier including free uniform and stationery, zero fees and zero donations.

I am a respecter and avid reader of the Herald and I am passionate about education and lifting the educational outcomes for our young people especially Maori and Pacific people. It was, therefore, hard to stand by and allow accusations to be made earlier this year. I did so because to have responded would have been likely to cause harm to a school that had asked us to co-locate with them, but had got themselves into a tight situation and had been through a very tough time. They are good people and did not need another negative.

Since that time, the other school has closed. The second report repeated earlier statements. It was with significant dismay and anger that I saw that a statement of an attempted suicide was repeated, even though that is not accurate. For the record, the following statements are important.

  • It is a fact that children at MSWA were never bribed with KFC nor brought KFC on any occasion. We do have shared lunches but the only high value incentive provided was full sets of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia for some children who had completed extraordinary reading tasks.
  • There was no suicide attempt and to report that there was caused significant pain to a family who thought it was directed at them. If and when such occurrences occur in a school, they are of such importance that they should never be used for political point-scoring or to try to cause further damage.
  • To the best of my knowledge, and I am there a lot, there has been no drug use within the school.

Relatively early in the year a group of families quite rightly raised concerns through a proper process. We met extensively and addressed those concerns and made changes as fully as we are able to under the terms of our contract with government. We even employed one of the group's members to assist further within the school.

Some of what they had expressed was highly inaccurate and other points had a level of validity that we were not afraid to address. For some families the clarifications as to what our contract specifies around the level of academics, mode of provision and behavioural expectations meant that they exercised their right to leave the Pohutukawa site. For others, our response was just what they had looked for and they stayed and have seen significant progress for their children.

Responding positively to concerns and perceived failure is exactly what a good organisation should do.

Our first ERO report was good, and we expect the recently completed one to be the same. We work closely with that organisation and hope and expect they will tell us how to get better and better as is their job. As a staff and organisation we are resilient and expect to grow and learn on a daily basis. It is on those terms that we expect the same from the children and families that work with us. We are an organisation with very high expectations and aspirations for the young people.

I was personally affronted when Opposition politicians and other vested interests went down the pathway of stating that there was a lack of cultural awareness and responsiveness. These are people who choose not to visit Partnership Schools or sometimes lie in public that they have. Prior to becoming the community liaison manager for Middle School West Auckland, I earned a Bachelors and Master's degree in Pacific and Indigenous studies through Otago University.

I have previously worked in South Auckland for BEST Pacific Tertiary School from 2013-2014 in a role supporting Pacific and Maori adult learners. I played professional rugby for 13 years for Otago, the Highlanders and the Tasman Makos and New Zealand under-21s. I was standby reserve for the All Blacks in the 2002 Tri Nations squad. I captained the Samoan International rugby team Manu Samoa and have been involved in two rugby world cups.

I am happy to meet and discuss "cultural awareness" with any person. As a Samoan Chief, my Christian background and education has given me an insight into building relationships between the school and families, as well as developing links with the West Auckland community.

It is important to note we do not believe that that there are subject pathways and careers in New Zealand that some cultures are not capable of. Sadly it is the case in our country that "cultural awareness" is all too often used as an excuse for a lack of achievement by young people. Earlier this year, when confronted by University Entrance results, some Auckland principals chose to state that UE may not be for "our children". By that they could only mean their predominantly Maori, Pasifika and lower-socio-economic students.

As a Samoan I found that offensive. Some politicians seem to believe that being culturally aware means excusing patterned failure and having lower expectations for children from certain races and social groups who have a massive historic achievement gap.

When the very supportive Maori Party MP Marama Fox visited our sister school in South Auckland earlier this year and asked a class how many wanted a university education, every student raised their hand. That is the level of aspiration that was imparted to me as a part of my "cultural awareness" as a young person and my "responsiveness" were the achievements I outlined above.

The education and lives of young people is not about political points scoring. It is about expectations of excellence and clear pathways of which I am a proud to be a part. There is a Samoan proverb which states "E le sili le ta'i ilo le tapuai"; "One cannot achieve without the help of many".

It is my hope and prayer that we come together and help our children and provide an opportunity for academic excellence.