A strong distributed leadership model underlined by a servant leader philosophy has been key to Weymouth Primary’s success.
The first thing principal Saane Faaofo Oldehaver says when we meet is that the school “is all about relationships – that is our kaupapa”.
And everything that followed in my conversation with her leadership team of four confirmed that this is indeed at the heart of their work
Right from day one of the pandemic, the leadership team decided they would keep the school open. Their community included many essential workers, and this was one of the best ways the school could support their whānau.
It was not easy, especially when Covid-19 levels changed and the school needed to provide clarity about who had to stay home and for how long, which was made all the more difficult “when we didn’t always know this for certain ourselves”.
The challenge of maintaining classes was huge, and the last week of Term 1 was the first time the school had all staff on site. No two days were the same and the team had to learn to lead through uncertainty and constant change – and take everyone with them.
Clear communication from the Ministry’s Bulletin and from organisations like Auckland Primary Principals’ Association helped them keep one step ahead – especially when messages from the Ministry of Health were different to those from the Ministry of Education – and enabled them to make decisions and communicate confidently to their staff and community. This, in turn, strengthened relationships, trust and confidence across the whole school community and especially in the leadership team’s decision-making.
The school was not set up for digital learning; few families had connectivity, so learning packs had to be provided. However, the school, supported by the Board and Manaia Kalani, worked tirelessly to provide devices to all Year 5 and 6 students so that they could engage in online learning.
Throughout the pandemic, staff focused on building relationships with families, and it was exciting to see parents learning alongside their children with teachers supporting all involved. Learning packs were delivered each fortnight, at first by staff and then by the leadership team. In addition, the leadership team were at the school gate each day to greet students and the school was able to connect deeply with whānau and identify any support that was needed.
Saane led the team in accessing cross-agency support, not just for Weymouth, but for the whole Kāhui Ako, and focused on helping families navigate the system to get any external support they needed, as well as tracking attendance and engagement. This was important given the community was hit hard by Covid-19 and parents needed a lot of reassurance about the safety of their children when they returned to school. The numbers of students who have returned is a tribute to the strong relationships the leadership team developed with their staff and community.
In addition, the school was strongly supported by local businesses and organisations, especially with food and clothes. The school plans a big thank you with an Open Day that will have stalls representing all those who provided support.
The Board redirected resources and along with some additional funding from the Ministry of Education, helped provide extra assistance to families, including free after school care, staffed by support staff who were aptly named Weymouth Angels (those attending were simply asked to feed the school’s animals at weekends and holidays). The school was also successful in accessing funding for a whānau hub, which has run for the last two years. The school is determined to keep this going and is working with grandparents who are now caregivers for their moko.
Pastoral support for staff was also a priority. The Board’s teacher representative reported to the board that staff felt communication had been excellent and they felt confident knowing the leadership team was keeping them up to date 24/7.
The school now looks to build on some of the things learned over the last two years. Hard packs will become standard. Parents have been surveyed about their aspirations for their child’s learning, what sort of feedback they want and in what format. The school will do away with bells after observations indicated they raised levels of anxiety and, in response to students who wore mufti throughout the pandemic, there will be one mufti day each week -- little steps, but all responsive to the community.
The school’s leadership team says it has been a demanding and challenging time, and isn’t over yet.
“Our school has always been about relationships and ensuring all our children succeed through providing those amazing authentic learning opportunities.
“We will continue to do this but with the focus on urgency as our children have lost so much kanohi ki te kanohi time with their Kaiako and social relationship with peers.”
A grateful parent told the school a person’s legacy is measured by the love they give, the love they receive and the love they leave behind. “You should all be proud of the living legacy of aroha that you create every day and are always passing on to us. I hope you all know this gift of love will continue to enrich all our lives, now and in the future lives of our tamariki. Thank you.”
About the school
Weymouth Primary School
Whaea Saane Faaofo Oldehaver