An interview with a Governance Facilitator of a new school

By Diana Wilkes

In this interview, Sandra Jenkins, who was the governance facilitator at a brand new school (opened 2023) shares her thoughts on the value and purpose of this role.

What is the role of a governance facilitator (GF)? What interested you in taking on this role?

Where a new Board of Trustees is appointed (an Establishment Board in the case of a new school being established) a governance facilitator is appointed by the Ministry of Education to support the Establishment Board (often referred to as the EBoT). The role of the governance facilitator is to ensure that the Board successfully completes the tasks needed to undertake to ensure that the new school would open. The Governance Facilitator role is to enable the Establishment Board to:

  • become operational as a board

  • develop a school vision

  • work with the Tārai Kurai programme to develop a working relationship with mana whenua

  • contribute to the design (as appropriate)

  • prepare the school for opening as an effective education provider, and

  • provide regular reporting to the Ministry.

The GF role interested me as an opportunity to serve the education community in a different way and bring value to the project. My wide ranging experiences as a principal, MOE PLD Cluster Leader, NZEI Industrial Advocate, and national and international experience of engaging stakeholders on school design align with the scope of services required for the governance facilitator’s support to EBOTs and Ministry of Education.

What are the key priorities for you as GF? What tools and strategies are used to support you in this (and in managing risk)?

As in any leadership role building positive relationships is critical. The GF is involved in all EBoT meetings and works closely with the Presiding Member, Foundation Principal and Ministry of Education. A highlight for me was being actively involved in the EBoT’s vision workstream, where I was able to work with Tārai Kura and the process of consulting with the local iwi and school community. As GF for Nukumea School I was quite hands on and involved in other workstreams as well, for example, I was seconded to assist the appointment of the foundation principal and leadership team. I was also on the property team and attended all the PCG meetings.

The GF also has to be an effective communicator. I was fortunate to have ongoing communications with an MOE appointed critical friend and we often met together with the Presiding Member on areas associated with risk.

I developed a couple of tools that were developed to support the role. These were xcel spreadsheets reflecting the critical path to opening and the risk register. The critical path was essentially the work programme. Progress on both was be reported monthly to EBoT and MOE.

In what ways do you see an EBoT differing from other school boards?

When a new school is to be established, an Establishment Board of Trustees (EBOT) will be appointed by MOE. The EBoT is supported by a governance facilitator, who is also appointed by MOE to support and ensure that the EBoT completes its tasks. The main task being to ensure that the new school will open on the date communicated by the Minister to the community. The EBoT role includes some of the things that all BoTs do, but the difference is they have to do everything that is needed to ensure the new school is ready to open : developing a vision for the school, consult with the mana whenua and school community about the vision, develop policies for the new school, prepare budgets, advertise for and appoint a principal, advertise for and appoint other staff members, keep the community up to date with developments and prepare enrolment information/forms for new enrolments.

What are the important skills that need to be around the ‘EBoT table’? What opportunities/advice/guidance is available when there is a real or perceived gap?

EBoT members play a critical role in the success of the new school. They are involved in both strategic planning / visioning / big picture stuff, as well as organisational / operational decisions, to ensure the success of opening the new school. Diversity of skill set is important, as well as being a good communicator and team player. Integrity is important, and a willingness to add value to a school community. Understanding Te Tiriti o Waitangi is essential, especially the concept of partnership. Ministry of Education, Tārai Kura, School Trustees Association, and local principal networks are available for advice. When there is a perceived gap in the EBoT’s skillset the EBoT can co-opt another member for a defined timeframe.

What steps did the Establishment Board take to help drive this visioning process and what was your role in this journey? What information did the Board draw on to inform the vision for learning for the school and how did you access this information? Pathways? Connections? People?

It was exciting to take part in the EBoT vision and values workshops. EBoT held community surveys and consultation with mana whenua. The EBoT aspired to have a vision that would capture the strong links with the environment, and also a learner-led and project based learning approach to teaching and learning.

Vision: Poipoia te kākano, kia puāwai | Nurture the seeds and they will blossom

This whakatauki was suggested by Te Rongopai Morehu (Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara) as one that captured the feel of the consultation, and it was unanimously approved by the EBoT and Foundation Leadership Team. The EBoT has developed a Vision for the school along with a set of values. These are now supported by an Annual Plan which has been developed by the school’s leadership team.

How was tangata whenua and the local community involved with the EBoT? in sharing aspirations for their ākonga? How? In what ways?

EBoT met with the local community and mana whenua iwi, Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, in a number of venues, including marae, local sports club and in a local school. They were able to seek ideas and engage in dialogue with these groups on progress of the schools vision, values and workplan. The EBoT undertook extensive mahi on the vision and values of our school, both through the Vision Workstream and the wider Board. Consultation was sought from the local community, and extensively with mana whenua iwi. This included the sharing of a cultural narrative with us. From this stakeholder engagement the school set of values were developed: Turangawaewae, Kaitiakitanga, Manaakitanga and Whakapuawai.

In developing an authentic, localised curriculum, schools are looking to understand their local history, connect with mana whenua and community groups. To what extent did the EBoT engage in relationships that might help the Leadership team to continue to develop a localised curriculum using local community resources?

This process involved working alongside the EBoT, Foundation Principal and the Tāra Kurai ‘Ringa Whao’ and ‘Ringa Roi’ in establishing relationships with mana whenua. The EBoT developed relationships with local iwi, Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara, prior to appointing the principal and leadership team. We were able to listen to local history and aspirations of the local iwi. The leadership team were able to continue these relationships and develop a localised curriculum using local community resources. Nukumea learners are now kaitiaki for the local Nukumea Stream and the localised curriculum reflects the stories and ecosystem associated with the stream. Continued ongoing engagement with Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara included consultation around the school logo, design manifestations, planting, and the opening of the stage one buildings.

What challenges did you face as a GF and how were they overcome?

Design and site works – There was no educational brief developed prior to the appointment of the EBoT who were presented with the completed plans of the new school. Myself and the Presiding Member and other EBoT members who had school leadership experience, and later the foundation principal, continued to attempt to address building and design challenges which the current design of the building contains. These issues have been raised with the Ministry’s project delivery manager and the architects. As part of the negotiating process I was available to support the Presiding Member on the school’s Project Management Group.

Delayed construction timeline – We continued to review the construction programme. COVID, availability of materials, workers and weather continued to delay construction timelines.

In October I was required to attend a Ministry meeting with the Network’s Chief Advisor and the Auckland Office Schools Network Planning Manager. This meeting was called at short notice and also involved the appointed critical friend /EBoT member in the meeting. The topic of the meeting was the likely response of the EBoT to a delayed opening of the school and potentially delaying the appointment of the Foundation Principal.  Clearly the new build was not going to be ready and the school needed to open somewhere that would be palatable to the community. I was able to support the EBoT through a negotiating process that enabled Nukumea School to open in temporary buildings in the school car park area.

I facilitated setting up a Readiness Workstream programme so that progress towards opening could be monitored.

This workstream caused considerable anguish for the EBoT given the uncertainties that surrounded the readiness of the temporary accommodation to be open by 7 February, 2023. I worked doggedly alongside the Presiding Member, the Foundation Principal and CF to facilitate the requirements for the school to be open. This included weekly ICT meetings which were often fraught. It would appear that the Ministry has little control/voice when Vectra, Chorus, and Watercare make the necessary connections. Examples included requiring a temporary generator on-site and staff only being able to “hot-spot”and use alternative water supply until 14 February.

It was a minor success that the school finally opened in temporary accommodation on the13th of February, 2023 – one week later than scheduled.

Both the ICT and Readiness workstreams remained in place to oversee preparations for the completion of the new school, which had a current hand over date of late July. I continued to maintain the implementation spreadsheet. The EBoT team were part of the weekly ICT meetings involving Leighs Construction, N4L, the Ministry and ICT providers.

It was a relief when the school finally opened in the new build in February 2024, a year later than scheduled.

a) What key advice would you offer those new to the GF role?

When I was appointed to the role as GF I was given the opportunity to have a critical friend who was also a member of the EBoT. I found this very supportive in my new role as a GF. The critical friend and I reviewed my role as GF and came up with the following areas for consideration, which could be useful for those new to the GF role:

  • clarity around roles and responsibilities and ways of working

  • what does supporting governance mean in a practical sense e.g. did we assume the EBoT had sufficient knowledge and expertise around meeting procedures, etc.

  • communications i.e. Sometimes MOE will call a sudden meeting with GF – clarify in these instances communication with the Presiding Member. Should they also be invited?

  • clarify your ways of working and wether the approach to the role is “Hands on/hands off”

  • be fully inclusive with your reporting and communication, and

  • keep the EBoT fully informed of your reporting to MOE and your work programme.

b) What key advice would you offer a new school foundation Board embarking on  this journey?

Establish a worksttream to lead the development of the vision and values for the school with the support of the Tārai Kura facilitator and programme. Co-opt local parents onto the EBoT to be part of this process.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Having the opportunity to be a new GF for the establishment of Nukumea School was a fabulous opportunity to work with an amazing team of people.

Currently I am working with another team of amazing people at May Road School, where they are building a new redevelopment. This is a 3 story building with 5 teachers on each floor. Quite a few classrooms have to be demolished to make way for the new buildings. Principal Lynda Stuart invited me to support her and the Board of Trustees through the process of this new build. I attend all the PCG meetings and often meet with Lynda and the leadership team on the critical path / workstream for the opening of this new build in July 2024. This work to support the principal is funded out of the project.

If anyone would like to discuss any of the above, please feel free to contact me: