A new school focuses on collaboration and partnerships

By Judy Bruce

Foundation Tumuaki, Wendy Sandifer, shares her insights as she leads the establishment of a new school. The focus of Wendy’s work is on creating partnerships and working collaboratively with others to build an ākonga centred, future focused school that reflects the local community.

We took some time to learn about Wendy’s journey as a Foundation Tumuaki. Thanks for sharing your insights with us, Wendy. Firstly, tell us a little about yourself. 

I have taught and led in a number of New Zealand schools, both in Auckland and the Bay of Plenty. I have been a principal for 15 years; 11 years at Torbay School and four at Takapuna Normal Intermediate School (TNIS). Over the last few years I have become very interested in collaborative practice within single cell classrooms and in refurbished innovative learning spaces.

I believe that the development of collaborative practice in schools has been one of the most exciting changes in education in recent times. As principals committed to collaborative practice, I believe it must be evident in our own practice. At TNIS our school wide commitment to collaborative practice influenced our senior leadership team to rethink our leadership practice by working on a reflective coaching model together, and by developing a shared work space. In these ways collaboration was a very important part of our leadership approach.

My other huge passion is Wellbeing, and I was lucky to have a sabbatical to study wellbeing in schools across New Zealand, Australia and Canada. I believe that understanding and focusing on wellbeing is crucial to the success of all learners and schools. Successful wellbeing initiatives should be a three-way approach that includes learners, staff and the community. At TNIS we trialled many initiatives to understand, improve and celebrate/promote the wellbeing of our whole community.

Can you tell us about the Milldale community where the school is being established?

Milldale is a new subdivision developed by Fulton Hogan on the Western side of State Highway 1, between Silverdale and Wainui. The community will eventually have 4,500 mixed housing properties, a primary school, three early childhood education centres (ECEs), a large retirement village and a business hub. The brand for the area is “everything’s right here”, and this is the intention of the developers. The original land was a large wetland bordered by native bush, next to a significant kai gathering area for local iwi. It was also a west to east coast portage area, and an access way between the north and south.

How have you been involved in the school’s property and learning space design? How do you envision the flexible spaces will be used to suit a range of needs, now and into the future?

The basic school building plan has already been designed and built in other areas of New Zealand. Creating learner centered, flexible learning spaces with our staff is something we are really looking forward to. As we will start in a temporary school, while our permanent buildings are being completed, there will be an opportunity for our foundation learners to have input into how the furniture, resources and spaces are developed. Our goal is to make these spaces as flexible as possible – reflecting learners voice, choice and action.

In what ways have you and will you engage the local community, regarding sharing their aspirations for their ākonga?

We distributed a survey throughout the local community and invited people to contribute ideas for the new school. Interestingly, feedback from our initial survey has indicated that our community is very keen for our learners to show guardianship and care of our local environment, together with linking with the wider community through connection and acts of service. 

Additionally, we plan to hold a series of public meetings throughout the year, hosted at the local ECE. The aim of the meetings will be to meet our community and begin collaborative partnership planning.

How are you/might you actively engage with mana whenua – local iwi, hapū, rūnanga, and whānau to inform your vision, transformational change, local curriculum design and ensuring a bicultural and inclusive approach to establishment?

We have been in dialogue with local iwi, and are developing a relationship with Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara and Te Herenga Waka o Ōrewa. We are seeking ways that we can work together, including the collaborative development of vision, values and local curriculum that reflect iwi aspirations. We will continue to work with iwi, the local marae and our Kāhui Ako to develop our Milldale story, linking back to whenua and the people who have connected with the land before us. Coinciding with the start of the school is the refresh of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). This is great timing for us. It will enable us to look closely at our local curriculum, weaving aspects of our local curriculum and NZC together.

What’s on top for you this term? What are your priorities?

What an amazing opportunity to build a school culture and learning environment from the very beginning, with the wisdom of a fantastic Establishment Board, timely advice from other Foundation Principals and the wrap-around support of many educational experts.

We are thrilled to have appointed the first of our staff, two Deputy Principals, who will join us at the start of next term. I am very excited to critique and build on our initial ideas, welcoming the depth and experience they will bring to this mahi.

The most important aspect for our school is to be learner driven and future focused, to create the opportunities for learning to happen. Schools are places where learners come to learn, collaborate and be challenged. 

 We need to share our ‘why’ and how we plan to achieve that with our local community. We plan to share our draft vision and values with our community to gain their perspective and voice. We then aim to work collaboratively with our community to develop our local curriculum.

Looking ahead, what do you see as being the key milestones and/or touchpoints for the establishment journey?

One of the special aspects of Milldale School is the chance to celebrate inclusivity by hosting and collaborating with two other schools on our site. We will build a learning community with Wairau Valley Special School and the Northern Health School.

Building partnerships with all groups within our wider school community is a key focus of the Establishment Board. The opportunity to work collaboratively with staff in term 4, before the school opens, will ensure an amazing start for our kura and tamariki.