With their low fees and emphasis on values and academic results, integrated religious schools have set the benchmark for affordable high school education in New Zealand. And Roman Catholic high schools are proving to be particularly attractive to both religious and non-religious parents seeking structure in their children’s schooling. Many such schools have long waiting lists for the 5 to 10 percent of places set aside for non-catholic students.

What exactly is it that parents find attractive with the Catholic education model? Joanna Wane, Deputy Editor of North & South magazine, has looked into the matter and gives us some clues in the November, 2011 edition of the magazine:

“Catholic schools – with their smart uniforms and strong focus on discipline, tradition and academic achievement – are being seen in a new light as the equivalent of cut-price private schools. That most of them are single sex is a bonus.

I didn’t realize how multicultural our local Catholic school was. There are kids from India, Sri Lanka and Egypt; there are Jewish, Muslim and Hindu students. I really like that; it prepares them for the real world. The fact that controversial issues such as Kronic and planking are tackled head-on in the school has only enhanced its reputation for taking a tough stand. It’s also a very nurturing environment and by and large the students come out with a nicer world view than from the private schools. They’re self-confident without being pretentious or obnoxious.

The official line is that people are seeking out faith-based schools for their spiritual dimension, filling what’s perceived as a values vacuum in modern society. That’s undoubtedly part of the story, but the underlying motivation is often more pragmatic. When it comes to academic achievement, they’re getting results.

So, a values-based education and strong academic results are key factors, but facilities are also an important consideration for parents. Since integration, Catholic schools have had more resources from their relatively modest compulsory fees to update and add to their buildings and grounds.

The following notes are my take on what engaged parents look for in a high school, and it seems to me Waitaki has a strong base from which to rebuild a competitive, nationally recognized school.


While religious schools have a ready-made basis for their values statements, secular school parents also expect to see a clear statement of what values underpin all of their school’s activities. Frank Milner’s description of a ‘Waitaki man’ 75 or more years ago as ‘one who strives to achieve with all-round purpose, in the classroom, on the sporting field, and in wider society’, is still valid.


But today’s parents are looking for something deeper. I recently came across the following Values Statement adapted from a business setting and it seems to cover the basic values which would stand each student in good stead both at school and in the community.

Flawlessness – Do the right thing in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason, and with the right feeling, the first time.
Equality – Base all relationships on honesty, trust, fairness, and respect for each person equally.
Learning – Create learning opportunities to allow you, your peers, and the School to grow and develop.
Hosting – Welcome and entertain guests and friends with warmth and generosity.
Place – Protect, care for, and live in harmony with our School, the land, and its people and cultures.
Accountability – Have the courage and discipline to act on our responsibilities, and to accept all consequences.
Golden Rule – Treat each other as we want to be treated – with compassion, understanding, and dignity.

Frank Milner’s and these are the values for which a Waitaki Man should be known.

Just as a religious school incorporates its values into all facets of its academic, sporting, and cultural activities, Waitaki must live its Values. I still remember very clearly an incident at a Waitaki – St Kevin’s rugby game in the early nineteen sixties. The game was at St Kevin’s and was a close run thing. There was a scrum on Waitaki’s five yard line, St Kevins won the ball and the halfback dashed around the blind side and went over the line in a flurry of bodies. The St Kevins’ players celebrated but the referee was unsighted and it seemed Waitaki had dodged a bullet. But after a time of indecision the referee suddenly signalled a try. I don’t recall who won the match, but at School Assembly the next morning the Rector recalled the incident and indicated he had never been prouder as the St Kevins’ Head congratulated him on Waitaki’s outstanding sportsmanship. Apparently the referee had made his call after the Waitaki captain, Oliver Miava, confirmed to the referee St Kevins had scored the try.

Daily morning assembly allows the Rector to immediately address issues that reflect either positively or negatively on the student body and the School. The reading of a pertinent bible verse can reinforce the Values Statement, and the singing of a couple of rousing hymns can clear the morning cobwebs, promote cohesion, and energise students. It is definitely worth the time and effort. One doesn’t have to be religious to benefit from the wisdom of the bible. Steven K. Scott has interpreted King Solomon’s wisdom from the Book of Proverbs to provide advice, insight, and solutions to life’s problems in education, work, career, marriage, and parenting in his book “The Richest Man Who Ever Lived”. I feel it would be beneficial to provide a copy of Scott’s book to each graduating student, much the same as the Dilworth School gives each of its students a bible upon graduation. The book could be used as the basis of a small group pre-graduation discussion series hosted by the Rector and focusing on the underpinnings of a truly meaningful life.


Bullying is a values issue that has to be met head on. In that Waitaki is preparing young men to make a positive contribution to life in the wider community, they should be given a clear understanding of the School’s Values, and the legal concepts of libel, slander, and assault, beginning day one, year nine. Bullying is not a ‘boys will be boys’ issue and low-level initial violations should be dealt with by in-house counselling. Subsequent violations should involve parents. Significant violations should always involve law enforcement. The significant level of follow-on child abuse, domestic abuse, and gratuitous violence in the community demands this issue be taken seriously at all levels in the school, with the Board taking a leading oversight role. A well displayed school anti-bullying ‘hot-line’ number and email address should always be available to students and parents. All incidents should be promptly investigated and resolved, with records and a quarterly survey of parents and students used to measure and manage progress in eliminating bullying at Waitaki. Students involved in repetitive bullying or with on-going behaviour issues should be referred for professional counselling in an attempt to resolve underlying issues. Students failing to respond should be transferred to a more appropriate educational setting.

All students should complete community service and charity work to allow them to empathize with less advantaged people and to develop a responsible sense of place in the community.


The School can either grow its roll by attracting a healthy contingent of boarders and all eligible students from its Waitaki District feeder schools, or face further decline and possibly a ‘forced’ amalgamation with Waitaki Girls’ High School.

Competitor schools feature new and refurbished facilities in keeping with parent’s expectations. St. Kevins’ Principal featured the College’s facilities in a recent Educational Advertising Supplement published by the Otago Daily Times:

‘I am excited by the possibilities for improved teaching and learning created by the newly completed million-dollar refurbishment project at the college. The science laboratories, graphic suite, library, resource centre and boarding environment have all benefited from the upgrade. The project is aimed at creating 21st-century learning spaces supported by state-of-the-art technology. The College has always had an excellent reputation, but having refurbished facilities and a specialist team, which includes teaching staff, focused on student support makes St. Kevin’s hostel a market leader. ‘

And recognizing mothers in many instances either make or have a veto over school selection decisions, he goes on to add:

‘The hostel has just completed an external review which resulted in comments like “Students reported it was like a family. Both boys and girls enjoy the way older students play a role in welcoming, supporting, and sustaining them. “The students assured the review team the hostel was a safe and supportive environment.’

While Waitaki has many handsome and iconic buildings, the infrastructure issues are fairly well known – a boarding hostel requiring continual upgrade, an overgrown native garden and tennis courts, the newly functioning swimming pool needing covering and heating for winter use, an inadequate library with asbestos issues, inadequate science facilities, outdated cafeteria and IT facilities, and an eroding foreshore property.


Waitaki’s fiscal overhang is challenging and all funding avenues will need to be explored – a structured approach will be necessary. Ideally, the Board and the Rector will need to kick the ball off by communicating the vision in the context of the School’s current strengths and challenges. The School and the present parent body will need to show their commitment by raising funds from school-led activities. The parent/School commitment would lead to the Old Boys’ involvement, which in turn could promote town, community trust fund and, possibly, philanthropic participation. The wider community involvement could, in turn, attract government funding through the involvement of the Ministry of Education and the local government Member of Parliament supported by a School/Old Boys/community lobbying effort.

The Board and the School should have “buy in” of its infrastructure vision, plans, and cost estimates from its various constituencies at the outset. Ideally, significant fundraising would be underway and the various components of the project would be “shovel ready” when the Government is ready to reinvest the proceeds of proposed State Owned Enterprise sales into education assets. A $1 million Waitaki Boys’ Infrastructure Fund should be achievable, with a stretch to $1.5 million to more than match the competitive St Kevins’ effort!

An artist’s impression, cost estimates, and a completion timeline of the various project components should be agreed and collectively launched in the media by representatives of the various stakeholders – the Rector, the Board Chairman, the Old Boys President, the Foundation Chairman, the local Member of Parliament, the District Mayor and, ideally, a Ministry representative.

The Plan should take the long view and any new buildings should be designed to match the existing architecture and quick fixes such as the present library should be avoided.

Above all, the School should put aside its reluctance to promote itself and to ask for help. I have spoken to many Waitaki Old Boys who seem willing to help with projects around the school, but there needs to be an outreach to the Old Boys to show they are a valued part of the School community. And they need to be engaged in a dialogue regarding the School’s needs before being approached with requests for assistance with specific tasks within their area of competence, and possible capital funding.


Waitaki has relied principally on central government funding over the last 25 years and this is reflected in its current straightened circumstances. In order to break out of the current situation, it is essential for Waitaki’s funding/resources to be broadened on the back of a communication offensive headed by the Rector and supported by the heads of the Board, the Foundation, the Old Boys’ Association, and the Parents/Community Association. The visible public support of the local Member of Parliament and the District Mayor should also be sought.

The Rector is the face of the School and Waitaki experienced its finest years under Frank Milner who was its undisputed leader. It is important quarterly letters be emailed to the School’s various constituencies – students, parents, prospective student families, old boys, friends of the School, and so on. Early letters should clearly lay out the School’s situation in the context of a draft plan to address the issues, and to seek commentary and feedback. In the absence of other information folk will assume “all is well”. This has to be turned around in the context of “we are in a good place regarding academics and infrastructure, but there remains much to be done to secure the future of our School and to return it to a nationally recognized institution.” A sense of ownership needs to be established – particularly with the parents, townsfolk, local businesses, and the Old Boys’.



Since Waitaki’s classroom inventory can accommodate upwards of 800 students and its core funding is based on block grants related to a current roll of 500+, job one is to build the student roll. It is essential the school actively recruit every “eligible” student in its local catchment area. A database of all year 8 male students should be maintained and appropriate Waitaki teacher representatives should visit each family early in the year 8 school year to understand each student’s educational goals, and to sell them on the benefits of a Waitaki education. The Rector should visit each feeder school to host an informational evening for the parents. This is particularly important when the family is looking to a boarding option. Families looking to board their sons at other schools or to attend St Kevins’ should be identified early in the year and be marketed directly by the Rector. The attendance of any particular “eligible” student at Waitaki should never be taken for granted.

While Old Boys can be asked to help with financial contributions, their greatest contribution to the School can be to send their sons and grandsons to Waitaki, and to advocate on the School’s behalf. The Rector’s quarterly email letters to Old Boys and other constituents should include details of Plan progress as well as coverage of School activities and successes demonstrating the advantages of a Waitaki education. As an older Alumnus, I communicate mainly by email and a Rector’s email letter containing clickable hotspots to bring up Utube videos of the various academic, cultural, and sporting events of the previous 3 months would be well received. I recently spoke to a Dunedin Old Boy who is keen to send his newborn son to Waitaki, but he will, of course, need to convince his wife of the benefits attaching to the added expense – particularly in the face of the excellent secondary school options available in Dunedin. We need to begin helping him with that process now.

Recruitment is just the beginning of the roll-building exercise. Student retention is equally important. I freely engage townsfolk in conversation, many of whom have sons at Waitaki. While based only on anecdotal evidence, it’s my impression parental contact with the School is very limited. I recall my own parents’ experience of discussing only my high school course-option opportunities with my year eight guidance teacher and their having no contact at all with my high school masters. The poor attendance at a 2012 “Meet our new Rector” evening would tend to confirm the lack of importance placed on parent/school contact. This can only be turned around with hard work by every member of staff. The math is quite simple in that each of Waitaki’s forty odd staff members should be assigned 13 or so school families to call on. These “relationship “ calls should be made on each family, once each quarter, with the first an in-home visit each year to identify potential academic, social, or domestic problems, and the quarterly follow-up phone calls can track progress and help get on top of issues before they develop – including concerns of bullying.

Waitaki’s roll hit a high in the early 1960’s as a result of the post war baby boom, and to relieve pressure, the Waitaki Boys’ Junior High School was relocated to the newly established co-educational Oamaru Intermediate School. While recognizing Oamaru Intermediate is now well established fifty years on, it makes little sense to retain it in the face of empty class rooms at both Waitaki Boy’s and Girl’s High Schools. It’s never easy to close a school, but Fernbrook School was opened around the same time and has since been amalgamated into Pembroke School, along with Pukeuri School the country school I attended until grade 6 – so Oamaru is not new to school closure activity in order to rationalize classroom space. Not only would the amalgamation with the Intermediate School add a hundred or so to Waitaki’s roll and rationalize classroom space, but it would allow the School to regain an earlier direct academic influence over a significant part of its student body.

I was one of the last Junior High students prior to its spinoff in 1962, and I believe it broadened my early educational experience and gave me a running start to my high school education. In fact I believe my transfer from Pukeuri School to the Junior High School in 1959 was a pivotal point in my education. Grades 1-8 were taught at Pukeuri in the same room by a single teacher, whereas grades 7 and 8 at the Junior High were each streamed into 3 or 4 classes of 30 students according to academic ability. The lessons were more focused to grade and academic level, and a class of 30 same-aged peers provided a better opportunity for social development. I would also make the Junior High School experience available for all country school students ,which would of course boost Waitaki’s roll further.

In New Zealand there are integrated schools which cater for every level of schooling, primary through to secondary.

They teach the New Zealand curriculum but keep their own special character (usually a philosophical or religious belief) as part of their school programme. Because of the special character of the integrated school, there may be special requirements for some teaching positions.

Integrated schools receive the same Government funding for each student as state schools but their buildings and land are privately owned so they charge attendance fees to meet their property costs. The Government is responsible for the day-to-day expenses of the school including teacher salaries. Due to their level of government funding, their fees charged of parents are more moderate than those charged by Private (Independent) Schools.

While current sundry School fees for such things as technical subjects, examinations, sports, school trips, etc., can add up, the Annual School Donation seems low for the quality educational opportunity Waitaki offers. An increase in the fee to $500 would be well below St Kevin’s Day Student Attendance Fee of $840 which is pushed up to $1,100 with added building, activity, and chaplaincy donations. The increase to $500 in Waitaki’s fee would provide an additional $150,000 p.a.-$100,000 of which could be channeled to the Infrastructure Fund each year, leaving $50,000 for additional annual operating expenses. Their will, of course, be families who cannot afford the extra fees, but special arrangements could be made with Work and Income New Zealand to meet the additional family expense.  FLOREAT WAITAKIA!




My note, “A VIEW ON THE WAY FORWARD”, above, was written 3 years ago and shortly after the appointment of Mr. Paul Jackson near the end of 2012 as the new Rector of the School. I felt Paul brought great energy to the role and had a keen appreciation of the School’s character and history as he set about making changes.

Many of his initiatives served to modernize the School’s curriculum and infrastructure. The Cambridge and IGSCE curricula were introduced to increase the number of academic scholarships and excellence endorsements awarded to students.

A significant upgrading of the school’s IT infrastructure is currently under way and the Fraser Farm has been redeveloped. The farm is now fully irrigated, productive, and provides hands-on learning opportunities for students. Preliminary plans have been drawn for a new Boarding Hostel.

Unfortunately, however, it seems Mr. Jackson ran into significant problems when attempting to make changes to the School’s staffing roster. As a Government-controlled entity, strict employment equity laws must be observed.  A well publicized  and bitter dispute between the Rector and a sizeable group of teachers led to a dysfunctional School environment. The Government finally took action in late 2014 when the Board of Trustees was replaced by Commissioner Nicola Hornsey. A resident of the district and a lawyer by training with experience in a similar role at other schools, Ms. Hornsey is charged with normalizing the School’s teaching environment and arranging for the election of a new Board of Trustees.


I do not think the Government’s devolving of school governance to mostly local parents, staff, and students has served Waitaki particularly well. The composition of the Board of Trustees is set down in law:

A standard board of trustees’ membership includes:

  • between three and seven parent elected trustees;
  • the principal of the school;
  • one staff elected trustee;
  • one student elected trustee (in Secondary Schools);
  • co-opted trustees

The Board of Trustees is the Crown entity responsible for the governance and the control of the management of the school. The board is the employer of all staff in the school, is responsible for setting the school’s strategic direction in consultation with parents, staff and students, and ensuring that the School provides a safe environment and quality education for all its students. Boards are also responsible for overseeing the management of personnel, curriculum, property, finance and administration.

The Government Education Review Office’s 2014 report confirmed the governance failure at Waitaki:

“The school is seeking to update its teaching and management practices, and this process has been limited by resistance and mistrust. Without significant external support, the board and senior managers are not capable of leading positive change.”

By its nature Waitaki Boys’ is a reasonably complicated business undertaking and requires proven Governance over-site, which may not be available in the elected body. It’s therefore extremely important the “Co-opted Trustee” option be used effectively.  In my view the Education Ministry should be obligated to review and certify each newly elected and Co-Opted Board as meeting a minimum standard of competence. In addition to the Principal, and teacher, and student  Trustees, the ideal Board composition would include  Trustees skilled in the finance, legal, construction, and human resource areas, with the Chair having management/ governance experience.

The competence of newly appointed Principals also key.

Ms. Hornsey has been quite transparent in sharing details of her Intervention at the School via a Scoping Report, an Action Plan, and a series of Progress Reports. All of these are published on the Governance page of the School’s website.

Mr. Jackson’s eventual resignation was reported in the local newspaperat the close of 2015:

“After four years at the helm of Waitaki Boys’ High School, Rector Paul Jackson will be leaving the school at the end of the year. His departure was announced in a joint statement with commissioner Nicola Hornsey today. Ms Hornsey said Mr Jackson had demonstrated professionalism and maintained silent dignity in the face of very public discussion about his management of the school . ‘Being an agent for change has its challenges in any organization and, despite facing such challenges, Mr Jackson has successfully set in train a number of initiatives that will improve educational outcomes for students at Waitaki Boys’ High School and bring teaching and learning at the school into the 21st century,’ she said.”

Mr. Clive Rennie has agreed to serve as Acting Rector for 2016.


Mr Rennie was the Rector of Otago Boys’ High School for 14 years and more recently has been the Acting Principal at Kaikoura High School. Ms. Hornsey has the sole responsibility of appointing a replacement Rector but has formed an advisory committee to assist her with the interview and selection process. I had occasion to write her the following letter on December 13, 2015:

Ms. Nicola Hornsey,

Commissioner, WBHS,

Dear Nicola,

Hilary Bishop has kindly forwarded your latest UPDATE FROM THE COMMISSIONER report to the Old Boys.
Your update on the search for a new Rector was of course of particular interest. I wondered how Mr. Brent Russell the Principal of Dunstan High School would fit into the Interview Committee. But I see he is a former Head of St. Kevin’s – so that makes a lot of sense. And Mr. Matt Simpson who I’m told is the Chair of the Don House Parents’ Committee, an Old Boy, and lives in the Waitaki District will bring a valuable perspective. Ms. Felecia McCone the Chair of the Community Association’s Uniform Shop is also to assist. I assume Felicia is a parent and would in effect be representing the Community Association and the Parents at large?
While these folk will be of great assistance in the selection process, I was disappointed the group will not have the perspective of a business person from the town – particularly since one of the Strategic Goals for 2016 is the preparation of students for the work force. I had hoped the perspective of a local business person such as Ian Hurst or George Berry might be included. These gentlemen are also local Old Boys and Foundation members. And the inclusion of someone like this would I think serve to show the support of these bodies and the local business community matters – particularly in the present difficulties.
I find your UPDATE reports to be informative and very useful in keeping the School community in the loop regarding School governance. It would be great if they could be continued in some fashion under the renewed governance arrangements.
With kind regards,
Allan Portis.
Although Ms. Hornsey has not as yet responded to my letter I think it’s important for the School community to stay connected and provide input as it sees fit.