Wilson School leading the way in special education

Since the beginning of this 2018 school year, I have been the proud principal of Takapuna’s Wilson School.

It has been a year spent getting to know the students, families, whánau and staff that together create our school’s nurturing, positive and friendly atmosphere. I’ve learnt how to better balance the admin side of principal-hood with my passion for teaching. As a school we have continued to value and encourage improvement in learning, and as a principal I have thought about what kind of environment gives students an opportunity to grow and achieve.

Our school environment is designed for learners aged five to twenty-one who have additional learning needs across a range of settings, so we have specialist learning environments that make sure each young person has access to a personal, relevant, meaningful and individualised learning opportunity within the New Zealand Curriculum.



This op-ed originally appear in our current issue of School News! Click here to check the full mag out and find this article on page 14. 

The teacher that makes a difference…

I had a very inspiring teacher who made a difference in a number of young people’s lives. She instilled a sense of self belief in us and made learning relevant, meaningful and fun, but most of all she connected with us on a personal level. From watching her teach with such passion, wanting to make a difference in young people’s lives, I became inspired to want to become a teacher.  

As a principal, in turn, I believe that my role is leading teaching and learning.  The core business of any school is improving student achievement. Having said that, my biggest challenge as principal is to not get bogged down in all the ‘administration stuff’. I try to make sure that 80 percent of the time I am focusing on teaching and learning while the other 20 percent of the time I am taking care of all the other jobs.

I suppose in the last year, I have really learnt to prioritise. 

There is no student who cannot learn… 

Some of our students have high and complex needs, including high medical needs.

I believe that we fit the curriculum into the student, not the student into the curriculum. I have introduced a Learner of the Week and visit classes every week to personally deliver the certificate to the recipient. It is exciting to see teachers, teacher aides and students celebrate the achievements and seeing every student as a learner.   

Wilson School has students with a range of abilities as well as disabilities. We believe there is no student who cannot learn. Our students are supported to maximise every learning opportunity through play, sensory, music, art, drama and movement. We have a multi-disciplinary approach with teachers, occupational therapists, speech language therapists and a physiotherapist all supporting the student to access their curriculum. Every student has an individualised programme.

Satellite classes and specialist services…

Another point of difference for our school is that we operate over multiple sites. We have a base school and 10 satellite classes at five mainstream schools. Our satellite classes offer specialised programmes, smaller classes as well as mainstream opportunities, a bit of a win-win situation or as someone once said “a boutique education”.

We also engage in specialist outreach service work alongside mainstream teachers supporting ORS funded students enrolled in local schools. I believe it’s absolutely essential that we recognise achievement for all, so our school focuses on enriching learning opportunities across all curriculum areas based on multi-professional assessment of each individual student’s needs. We hold the learning of our young people and their well-being at the centre of everything we do, celebrating success at all levels and believe that working in partnership with families enhances the learning outcomes of our students.

I am supremely passionate about the New Zealand Curriculum and our autonomy to meet the needs of our community. It excites me to work alongside such committed and passionate staff who teach equally passionate young people. Our students have huge challenges, yet they turn up with smiles on their faces every day, always willing to give 100 percent.  New Zealand is the only country where every student can access an education irrespective of their ability.

What’s terrific as well, is that – as principal – you are absolutely not on your own. For those new to the profession: you are not expected to know everything or do everything. There is so much support available for first-time principals and colleagues are genuinely keen to support you. Everyone is supporting you to succeed. We recently had ERO and it was the most positive experience and probably best professional development I have undertaken yet.  

When Wilson School’s previous principal, Jan Kennington retired, Pam King (principal of WVSS) encouraged me to apply. I was the deputy principal at Wairau Valley Special School at the time, and the move may have seemed daunting at first but led to the most wonderful experience. For anyone contemplating a principal role, I say go for it! No two days will ever be the same, and it is challenging. But it’s the most rewarding job you could imaging.

Visions for the future…

As for my goal as principal, I want Wilson School to be a school of excellence and a school of choice; a forerunner in special education.

Natalie Todd

Natalie has been the proud principal of Takapuna’s Wilson School since the beginning of this 2018 school year.
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