When Huanui College – situated in Glenbervie north of Whangarei – opened its doors on February 8 2010,
it was the realisation of a long held dream for founder Evan Hamlet, and principal Anna Bell-Booth (nee Cronshaw).
Himself educated at a local high school, Hamlet’s parents chose to send him to Auckland Grammar School for his sixth and seventh form education.
The expectation on each student to be responsible for their own success at the much larger Auckland school stuck with Hamlet and led to his desire to found a school in Northland that held the same educational principles.
The dream started to become a reality in early 2009 when construction of the new co-educational independent school started in fields on the outskirts of Glenbervie. Founding principal Anna Bell-Booth was appointed in August 2009 and the school opened for business with a roll of 77 students at the beginning of 2010.
“A lot of the initial planning process involved Evan [Hamlet] and I discussing the schools’ values and direction,” says Bell-Booth. “It was very important that we had a similar vision for Northland’s first independent school.”
Much of that vision stemmed from Hamlet’s experiences at Auckland Grammar and Bell-Booth’s past teaching experience at St Cuthbert’s College. “We have the same expectations for our students as the larger independent schools do,” explains Bell-Booth. “Much of that expectation lies in requiring students to play their part by questioning things and taking responsibility for their own study.
“However, it did take the first term for many students to realise that we meant what we said,” she says.
The right people
But it doesn’t take just two people to turn the vision into a reality and much of the latter half of 2009 was spent finding staff that subscribed to the same vision and core values that Hamlet and Bell-Booth wanted the school to reflect.
“An important part of finding the right staff for Huanui College involved looking at the types of teachers that had made an impact on both Evan and I through our schooling,” says Bell-Booth.
“Key qualities we identified included the ability to build an authentic rapport with the students, being prepared to work hard and being enthusiastic.”
The first advertisement placed attracted more than 100 applicants for just three positions. A further two staff members were appointed soon after and the school now employs five full time staff and four part time. And with the roll expected to double in the 2011 school year a further three full time-equivalent teachers have also just been appointed.
Huanui College started the 2010 year with 77 students spread across Years 7, 8 and 9. Year 10 will be introduced in 2011 as this year’s Year 9’s move up a level and the school will continue to grow by a year level annually until, eventually, it caters for students from Year 7 to 13. The high staff:student ratio means classes are limited to a maximum of 25 students in junior classes. The largest class this year comprised of just 20 students.
“It’s something the kids really enjoy as they get to know everyone in their class and can get personal attention from the teacher,” says Bell-Booth. “And from an observational point of view, every student is tuned in to where they need to be during the classes, there are no students off task or dreaming at the back of the class.”
There have been a lot of high points for Huanui College during its first year of operation and Bell-Booth cites the school’s official opening as one of the key highlights.
Held in March, the school was officially opened by former Associate Minister of Education Heather Roy with attendees including former Whangarei District Mayor Stan Semenoff, advisory board chair Murray Lints as well as staff, students and members of the local community.
“It was a fantastic day with more than 400 people in attendance which showed the huge amount of support for the school,” says Bell-Booth. “It was also a great opportunity to reflect on all that had been achieved in such a short space of time and to have all our planning come together.”
A camp involving the whole school provided a great opportunity for students, staff and parents to bond and showed the commitment and enthusiasm parents have for helping the school and its students succeed, says Bell-Booth.
A further key highlight was the school’s successful first ERO visit, with a resulting outstanding report. Although the school didn’t need to go through the review process in its first year, an early review has had a number of benefits.
Huanui College has a number of students that benefit from the Ministry of Education’s Aspire scholarships which contribute to private school fees for students from low income families and, says Bell-Booth, an early review allowed those students to gain an additional two terms of funding.
“It also provided the catalyst to take another look at the school’s overall vision, which is now starting to evolve.”
With the outstanding review under its belt, Huanui College became a fully registered school at the end of the second term and has continued to go from strength to strength during its first year of operation.