Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School

Deputy principal Iqbal Hussein and principal Kallie Ngakuri-Syde
Deputy principal Iqbal Hussein and principal Kallie Ngakuri-Syde

A collaborative strategy

By week 6 of term 1 2022, student attendance at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School was at 35 per cent, due to the effects of Omicron within the community. In response to this, principal Kallie Ngakuri-Syde and her staff mobilised themselves and embarked on a collaborative strategy that successfully brought students back to school. 

Responding to reluctance

After regularly communicating to the community that it was safe for students to be at school, there was reluctance from a significant number of families to send their children. Absence from school was often due to extended isolation times when it was not necessary. Regular contact by teachers with families to encourage them to send their children back to school was useful, but not enough. Kallie and her team decided that in order to get their students back to school it was necessary to find out what was happening at home, to better understand why students were not attending school. 

Assessing needs

Staff were organised into teams of four, with one person designated to make a home visit if necessary. Families were contacted directly to ascertain the reasons for students’ absences.  Information was recorded centrally and continuously updated.  All leaders and teachers had access to this information and could quickly find out the current situation and the steps taken for any particular student. 

Meeting together at the beginning of each day helped staff become briefed on what was happening for that day and to be informed of progress made. Lists were collated of those students and families that could benefit from ‘an individual touch’, which then prompted the community liaison person to make a home visit.

Visiting families and students in their homes, enabled the correct school information to be shared and also provided an opportunity to assess whether there were other resources needed for support. 

Kallie and her team found that some families were on “dire straits for food” and therefore 160 food packs were distributed. 

Responding to misinformation

“There was a lot of misinformation in the community, and many families didn’t understand what was required with isolation,” she says. This provided an opportunity for staff to communicate the correct information and answer questions.   An information sheet was created and shared that outlined the names and locations of local organisations and agencies that could give families support if needed.  

The SWIS (Social Worker in Schools) service was also used to assist with the families in difficult situations and would often provide additional information that included where to receive medical help, what to do if someone in the household had lost their job and how to apply for financial assistance. 

The consistent message conveyed to families was that it was safe for students be at school and that it was the best place for their continued learning.  Staff had to be firm and remind some families that their child had been away for nearly 20 days and that they might run the risk of being removed from the school roll if they did not attend.  Kallie reflects that it was unfortunate that they had to have those conversations, but “it got the job done and students returned to school”. 

Within 2-3 weeks, student attendance was at 91 per cent, with any absences being justified. 

Supporting students

Year 8 students settled back into the culture of the school, however Year 7 students are struggling and finding it difficult, says Kallie. “They lack the social and emotional skills that we would normally see at this age.”  In response to this, the school is introducing a comprehensive wellbeing programme.   

Strengthened connections

The team at Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School are unsure as to which specific activities really made the difference to the success of their strategy, however their proactive and collaborative actions have resulted in gaining a very good understanding of their community and have strengthened connections with their students and families. 

Reduced disruptions to learning

Leaders and staff took collective ownership of the attendance problem and a collaborative approach to solve it.  The success of their strategy undoubtedly meant that the disruptions to learning were significantly reduced and students are now back where they belong and where they learn best.

About the school

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Middle School


Ōtara, Auckland

School type

Y7-8 Co-educational State Intermediate 

Approximate roll



Kallie Ngakuri-Syde

School website

Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate : Middle school -

Contact details