Otahuhu’s McAuley High School takes out supreme education award

South Auckland’s McAuley High School, winner of the supreme award in the prime minister’s Education Excellence Awards, attributes its success to having keen support from its community.

“Winning the award was a great way of thanking the community for the trust they have put in us for the direction in which we’ve been taking the school,” says Board of Trustees chairwoman Joe Tongotea.

“It does mean a lot to our community,” agrees acting principal Rachel Williams. “They’re absolutely delighted with the recognition that the school has been given.”

The Catholic girls’ school in Otahuhu also won the award for Excellence in Engaging – Atahapara.

Principal Anne Miles, who is on a sabbatical, says the awards belong to the entire McAuley High School community. “The strength of our Catholic character and our belief in the value of every member of our community enables us to move forward with a shared vision,” she says. “McAuley offers quality Catholic education, in the tradition of mercy, which challenges young women to strive for standards of personal excellence.”

For the past few years McAuley has been on a mission to get parents, whānau and communities engaged in their child’s education. “The project started when we got in a group of parents to talk to us about how we could make changes as a school,” says Ms Williams. 

Before long, McAuley began to try out a number of ways to engage parents and whānau. This included communicating with parents in their own language, not just English. Another idea was to provide parents with sample questions they could ask at parent-teacher interviews.

“Having parents involved and interested in their child’s education helps to boost their achievement,” says Ms Williams. “We started to break down some of those barriers to school been seen as a bit of a scary place. It really does help the students when home and school are working together.”

One of the most successful ideas was introducing a Tongan language class for students. “We found that the achievement results for our Samoan students were stronger than those of the Tongan students. These didn’t get on par until we began teaching Tongan as well. All these things are important for the identity of our students and for them to feel comfortable in our school.”

The school is lifting achievement well beyond national levels through faith-based values that are integrated into everything they do.

The school has a social worker and a chaplain who spend a lot of time working with the community.  

“Entering (the competition) forces you to be reflective,” says Ms Williams. “Taking the time to reflect on our journey made us see some of the little things that have brought us to where we are.

“Before we were even named as finalists it had been a great process for us. I would definitely encourage others to enter next year.”

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