Tauranga Special School principal Barrie Wickens says delegated leadership and meticulous organisation were fundamental to getting through the pandemic.
Tauranga Special School operates from its campus base, as well as having two off-site facilities and four satellites that are located at other local schools. The 110 students that are enrolled range from 5 years to 21 years old and require expert teaching to meet their additional learning needs. There are over 100 staff spread across the seven learning facilities, including 50 specialist staff who serve the specific needs of individual students. The school also provides an outreach service for 24 ORS funded students in mainstream schools that are supported by seven of their part-time teachers.
Principal Barrie Wickens says the way the school has coped with the pandemic has been through meticulous organisation. Not only does the school have a very good Health and Safety Administrator but also an astute Deputy Principal who had the organisational skills and took on the mantle of managing all matters regarding the rules and regulations. In addition he also became the conduit for families, especially when students were not attending and when staff were absent. “He has been the key to making it work, although it has taken a toll on him. It has worn him down,” says Barrie, who is troubled by this.
In addition to the careful organisation throughout the pandemic, the school has been able to take advantage of the higher teacher to student ratios that exist for each class. Ordinarily there would be two staff members assigned to each class, and therefore if one staff member was absent then the other could continue with the class. Barrie says that out of necessity and because a teacher has been absent, some classes have been run by the assigned support staff member for short periods. He says that “the support staff are brilliant, they really know the students and what needs to happen with the learning and support”.
This has meant that the school has remained open throughout the pandemic which has been very much appreciated by parents and caregivers. School is an important part of their own management plan for their child, especially when a high degree of care at home is required. Barrie shares, “We know the families well and work very closely with them, including making sure that the other agencies wrap around them, and even helping parents get their child to vision and hearing appointments.”
Students who have had prolonged absences from school due to illness, are relatively few in number. Barrie says several of their Māori and Pacific whānau are keeping their students at home. The school is keeping very regular and close contact with them, with the aim to get their children back to school as soon as possible.
As the leader of a very dynamic and unique school, and despite the many challenges that the pandemic has presented, Barrie continues to be very resilient and remains in good health, of which he is thankful for and doesn’t take for granted. He says that he has had to smarten up his routines about how he operates and to be less about administration and be more to being on his feet to help staff.
Dealing with the continuously changing rules and regulations and the large volumes of information has however ground him down and “has taken a bit of the veneer off”. He knew that the best way of dealing with all the information, especially from the bulletins, was by sharing the load with his senior leadership team and delegating tasks. By doing this they were able to keep well abreast of the regulations and necessary paperwork.
The majority of students who attend Tauranga Special School have their own health conditions and are vulnerable to illnesses, therefore the use of masks has been an absolute necessity. “It has been challenging for some students to wear masks but for many who do have the cognitive ability to understand they have done very well and wear their masks with pride.”
From a management point of view, Barrie says that he would have appreciated that mask wearing would have been made mandatory by officials and not leaving it to schools to decide for their communities. “It makes the decision clear-cut and takes away the grey area for principals.”
As Barrie contemplates the future, he does not see an end to the impact of the pandemic in the short-term, but sees it rather as a long journey ahead. He reflects that there is fatigue that results from the “constant pressure and thinking about what to do” and that taking regular breaks from it is important. He also sees that humour and seeing the lighter side of life, will help staff “relax more as they continue to face the pressures of their work”.
About the school
Tauranga Special School
Tauranga, Bay of Plenty
Y1-13+ Co-educational Specialist State School