Inside the governance journey: perspectives from two presiding members

By Diana Wilkes

In the world of educational governance, the role of a Presiding Member (PM) on the Establishment Board of Trustees (EBoT) unfolds as a pivotal one, steering he course of a new school’s inception and evolution. In this article we share some of the insights and experiences of two seasoned education professionals who donned this mantle with enthusiasm and purpose from 2021-2023.

As we reflect on our joint tenure as the Presiding Members (PM) on the Establishment Board of Trustees (EBoT) at a burgeoning school in a new community in the northwest of Auckland, we’re reminded of the intricacies, challenges, and triumphs that shaped this journey. It’s a story of vision, collaboration, and resilience, punctuated by the echoes of community aspirations and our relentless pursuit to ensure our school would open on time with robust systems and processes in place, with a clear vision and strategic direction.

Image by: Nukumea Primary School

Embracing the call to leadership within the context of governance

What drew us to the role of PM? It was a blend of curiosity, a desire to contribute, and a yearning to view and support Aotearoa education from a different lens. Transitioning from leading schools to the EBoT offered us a fresh perspective – an opportunity to be architects of change from the outside in.

“It was an opportunity to view things from the outside in as opposed to the inside out.” M Nell

Image by: Nukumea Primary School website

Governance versus management

When leading a school board, whether new or existing, the focus remains the same, with slight differences: 

Existing school (redevelopments)  / New school (establishment)

  • Setting the strategic direction for the school | Setting the strategic direction for the school

  • Protecting the school’s vision & values | Co-constructing the school’s vision & values 

  • Building community engagement and support | Building community engagement and support with a focus on tangata whenua

  • Approving policies | Creating initial policies (School Docs is great!) and approving changes

  • Financial stewardship | Financial stewardship (including managing establishment grants and first budget)

  • Monitoring and evaluating student learning outcomes | Establishing a clear process for how the board will monitor and evaluate student learning outcomes 

For us the journey unfolded into a tapestry of visioning, recruitment, community engagement, strategic planning, and relationship-building, coupled with property issues, financial delegations and health and safety. All the while working to ensure ‘our way’ enabled a broad view of success and high expectations for all ākonga.

“Having real clarity about the difference between governance and management was critical to our success.” Di Wilkes

As a Crown entity, responsible for the governance of the school, our board, and every board:

  • ensures every student can reach their highest possible standard in student achievement

  • is the employer of all staff in the school

  • sets the school’s strategic direction in consultation with parents, whānau, staff, students and the wider school community

  • is responsible for overseeing the management of personnel, curriculum, property, finance and administration.

Navigating priorities and risks

At the heart of our role as PM lay the responsibility of charting the course for our new school. From inception to fruition, our priorities evolved – from laying robust systems to sustaining momentum, to supporting our principal and working with the Ministry to mitigate property issues. Clear guidelines and milestones in the form of our ‘Project Action Plan’ became our compass, guiding us through the labyrinth of challenges and deadlines. Through the use of targeted ‘workstream teams’, led by various members of the board, we were able to capitalise on strengths and share responsibilities. Weekly meetings, strategic planning, and collaborative partnerships with our Governance Facilitator (GF) were required, and the guidance from our Tārai Kura ‘Ringa Whao’ and ‘Ringa Roi’ was invaluable, steering us towards our collective vision and anchoring the trajectory of our Project Action Plan.

Image by: Diana Wilkes

Community-centric governance

One of the hallmarks of the EBoT is its unique ability to drive community engagement without the noise of day-to-day business diluting our focus. Our diverse board consisted of a group of committed folks with varied skills and strengths, and we worked to capture the essence of our community’s aspirations. From community consultation evenings to digital outreach, we endeavoured to forge connections that could transcend boundaries, fostering trust and collaboration within our community. We wanted to create synergy wherever possible around big things, like the vision and strategic plan, through to the more bespoke things that our principal lead with his team, like uniform, curriculum and how to bring the school values to life. In the second year of establishment we also co-opted two parent representatives which made for a seamless transition to the elected board.

Image by: Diana Wilkes

Fostering tangata whenua partnerships

To give effect to Te Tiriti o Waitangi our EBoT embraced a symbiotic relationship with tangata whenua – the indigenous people of the land. With an establishment board member representing tangata whenua from the on-set our narrative shifted from consultation to collaboration, with shared aspirations guiding our path forward. Engaging tangata whenua and the local community became integral to shaping our vision for learning:

Poipoia te kākano, kia puāwai | Nurture the seed and it will flourish

This partnership approach also led to Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara gifting us our official school name: Nukumea Primary School. Our connection with local iwi and the wonderful team at the local suburban marae ‘Te Herenga Waka o Orewa’ ensured we could welcome our tumuaki with the appropriate kawa of pōwhiri. Other tikanga touchstones included, the turning of the soil, subsequent pōwhiri for the deputy principals, a ceremony to open our temporary buildings and the formal dawn blessing of our brand new school buildings. Our kaumatua also lead the leadership team on a hikoi of the local area to help them connect with the turangawaewae of the school and the iwi aspirations for the land. The kōrero that took place on this joint venture hugely influenced the formation of the school values:

  • Turangawaewae – A strong sense of our place and identity is the foundation for learning. Knowing our diverse backgrounds enables us to feel connected and empowered.
  • Kaitiakitanga – Kaitiakitanga is reciprocal; we care for the land and water and the environment cares for us. Our learners are the champions of Nukumea Stream and beyond.
  • Manaakitanga – We acknowledge and protect the mana of all in our community. By acting with kindness, being respectful and serving others we nourish and empower each other.
  • Whakapuāwai – All learners are individuals and will flourish in unique ways. Our learners are excited about their learning and able to make a positive impact on the future.

Image by: Diana Wilkes

Overcoming challenges, embracing triumphs

Our journey was not without its share of challenges. From construction delays to navigating bureaucratic hurdles, resilience became our reality! An example of this was finding out that our buildings would not be ready in time for opening and having to work on contingency options, such as co-habitating with a local school, or operating out of a local facility, and finally landing on a temporary buildings solution. In addition, we had changes in staffing with our Ministry partners, which could make communications difficult at times – proactivity was essential. As PMs, we sometimes found ourselves spearheading efforts to keep our EBoT engaged and focused amidst these ‘bumps in the road’ and the commitments that our board members had in their personal and professional lives. Yet, by honouring our co-constructed ways of working (our norms) that were established very early on, we managed to maintain momentum and share the load.

Image by: Diana Wilkes

A Legacy of insight and inspiration

While the role of a presiding member is nuanced and difficult at times, it was actually a tremendous privilege to support this incredible community to establish their wonderful school. A few final thoughts for those in, or considering, the role of a PM:

  1. Be open-minded, it’s not about you, it’s about the community and the kids. Make sure you get that voice, which is tricky in a new community but it is important.

  2. Every principal should give it a crack, as it provides you with a different perspective to your own board (outside-in lens) and it would be great PD. ????

  3. Always tap into the strengths of the board members (e.g. we had a governance and finance guru who was amazing to work with, and a board member with lived mātauranga Māori experience).

  4. Use your Education Brief, initially to plan, and then retrospectively to review and reflect.

Image by: Diana Wilkes

He waka eke noa | We are all in this together

So, when we bid farewell to this mahi, we were both filled with a sense of pride and gratitude. Our journey may have had its twists and turns, but keeping future ākonga at the heart of our decision-making means we can confidently leave Nukumea Primary School in the hands of an amazing parent-elected board and a tenacious team of educators.

Image by: Tārai Kura