Part 1 Rangiora is about the government dismissing a principal to get at the school’s assets

The children turn up of a Monday morning – there is the historical cheerful bustle of the school swinging into action, the greater quiet of the children at work, and the excitement as children surge to morning tea. Everything seems all right in schools – but it isn’t. When a minister of education feels she can organise to dismiss a principal so she can appropriate the assets of a school – assets given to the school nearly a hundred years ago and held under the Education Lands Act 1949 [High School Reserves], protected by the now famous caveat – then something is very wrong. I see the behaviour as terrible in itself, and terrible for its significance for what is happening in school education.

Last Wednesday I travelled many hundreds of ks to a wananga, and what a beautiful experience it was, meeting the outstanding tutors, the responsive students, and the inevitable fabled Maori woman from the community (and schools).

I talked almost exclusively about the holistic curriculum, my priority and my shimmering vocational love. The following link is an expression of that love .

I kept away from the education political stuff, except to say that I wouldn’t be mentioning the name of the wananga because if I did there would very likely be repercussions, not so much from Hekia’s office but Hekia’s bureaucracies.

The holistic curriculum is now a political act. That shouldn’t surprise anyone because a measurement curriculum is by definition fragmented – fragmented for bureaucratic control. And the holistic curriculum, the curriculum I promote, is about bringing the curriculum together to allow shared control – as a result anathema to bureaucracies. Promoting the holistic curriculum is now a subversive act.

I have struggled against Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata over the years: Anne Tolley, to me, was just an old-fashioned conservative, her education philosophy built from the shared wisdom of a multitude of Gisborne barbeques, not a complicated person; Hekia Parata, to me, has extreme traits ranging from the dazzlingly charming to the utterly unrelenting. Yes – Anne Tolley used Cameron Slater and besieged editorial offices, also brought in national standards with withering vindictiveness, then double-crossed and brought in league tables, but one senses she was actually better than that, and might have been half-way decent if not pushed to extremes by John Key.

There was one carryover from Anne Tolley to Hekia Parata – Marlene Campbell. No principal is without faults but all the charges against Marlene were false and trumped up. Marlene was flamboyant in her opposition to national standards, was on the executive of NZPF, so was a compelling target when a complaint came in against her from a teacher who had been dismissed – dismissed following due process. Cameron Slater then really went to work, a kind of hysteria developed, the Southland editorial office was taken in (and still is). From the beginning I said Marlene would win, and she did, she was found wrongly dismissed, but you wouldn’t think so when you read the coverage.

Hekia had taken up with a relish the Marlene persecution begun by Ann Tolley and this stain on New Zealand education and media coverage continues.

The media don’t get it. But then education reporters are scaredy-cats, fearful, protecting themselves by mainly sticking with uncomplicated stories for a skate along the surface, or occasionally potentially more complicated stories done in in uncomplicated way, or reheating media releases from the government.   The real question is do the stories reverberate? and none of them do, except Kirsty Johnston’s early ones (and any done by Catherine Woulfe in the Listener). But all reporters have had their safety-first behaviours reinforced from what happened to Kirsty Johnston of the NZ Herald: she reported the utterly obvious about ministry behaviour but her editors crumpled and she was humiliated. The boundaries for reporter behaviour were now set even clearer. This when school education is one of the great stories of the time.

Hekia Parata might be more complicated than Anne Tolley but I know her to a T.

Nothing she does surprises me, I know almost immediately what she is up to, why, and how.

Which brings me to the specifics of Rangiora High School and the suspension of Peggy Burrows and, just recently, her dismissal.

When informed of Peggy’s suspension some months ago, I went to my sources and learnt she was an impeccable, outstanding principal; then to my other sources to find out how the issue first came to Hekia’s intention. Then I checked the reasons given for Peggy’s suspension.

I knew then that Hekia was after the school’s assets for the school’s building programme. Peggy and the school were to be sacrificed to that end.

To the reader that might seem unbelievable, but knowing about, being involved in, many other intervention cases, and knowing Hekia to a T, I knew immediately and wrote so.

In a January posting I wrote:

‘But it was at this this juncture something happened in Wellington and that juncture and that happening was to do with Hekia Parata … It came in the form of those disaffected board members referred to. They approached her wanting a re-interpretation of the caveat on land assets held under the Education Lands Act 1949 [High School Reserves] requiring that land only be sold for land – like-for-like as the expression went. The minister saw a re-interpretation as an opportunity for some of those land assets to be sold to help fund the school’s extensive rebuilding programme – but to do that she would have to get in a commissioner because the board would never agree.’

That dear readers is why Peggy has been dismissed. A board of trustees would never allow the assets to be sold off for school capital development, so a commissioner needed to be in place for the duration.

  • In a December newsletter, the commissioner said she had looked everywhere for the aforementioned caveat, but for the life of her she couldn’t find it. Very convenient for this revelation to be made in December, the government was clearly planning to make its move over the holidays. The commissioner was, of course, putting on an act – an act that if there was a caveat, it would be lying dustily in a drawer or filing cabinet somewhere. She was just feeding the community more rubbish. She knew quite well the caveat was attached to the Education Lands Act 1949 cited above, that was because the lawyers back at head office were twisting themselves into knots reinterpreting it.
  • The scene a recent select committee, Tracey Martin asks Peter Hughes and Katrina Casey if the government is going to take-over the Trust fund assets for school capital development: 

Katrina Casey: ‘No’. 

Peter Hughes: ‘We’re not sure’. 

  • On an internet page of Wynn Williams Lawyers is the picture of Annabel Sheppard and listed as one of her six activities is:

‘Significant property disposal for a large education provider, complying with property disposal requirements of the Education Act.’

  • Peggy above all wanted her job as principal back, but the ministry side said ‘That would make it look as though she won. We can’t have that.’
  • The ministry will lose the court case big time, but Hekia will rely then, as she nearly always does, on a settlement with a confidentiality clause.
  • There are also Kafkan-type advantages to the government from such cases, even if losing ones – in fact, in a way, the worse the  losing the better because principals shudder when they see no-one is safe, not even completely innocent ones.  National has made a big thing of school interventions as a symbol of putting schools in their place; of the government’s campaign to scapegoat schools; of the determination of the government to ‘improve’ schooling. There is a further advantage, not mentioned, but very real, putting fear into schools to give the government a free hand in its policies.
  • If the sale of the land brings in about $6 million, my estimation is that $2 million will go in investigation fees, outside support for commissioner fees, investigation fees, commissioner salary, and legal fees.
  • Lies have been spread about Peggy Burrows, which Peggy has been unable to answer because of the gagging restriction, and the commissioner cruelly unwilling to.
  • For instance, in the recent Stuff article (March 7, 2015) announcing the dismissal, there was a repeat of a distortion told right from the beginning – that Peggy ‘controversially spent $5000 on a trip to attend an Ethnography in Education Research Forum about the time the school was taken over’. The trip was one in which she was invited to present the findings of her doctoral research on Maori students and secondary school learning and was willingly and proudly approved by the board of trustees. It was only ‘made’ controversial by the ministry and the very small group of people with an agenda.
  • There were no tensions within the board of trustees, except for a small group who wanted the Trust lands to be sold and a couple of them ended up in Hekia’s office – and the rest is history.
  • Stuff says ‘The exact nature of the allegations against Burrow’s remained unclear [exactly], with Moore simply referring to “matters relating to integrity/security of documentation, including a significant breach of privacy.”

All will be shown to be wrong in accusation or immensely trivial.

And what of the matters that were cause of Peggy’s suspension as against dismissal? – nothing.  Once again, a suspension has been used to construct reasons for dismissal – all completely unable to be challenged.

In the next part, I will demonstrate the commissioner’s appointment as illegal and, from that, call for Peggy’s immediate reinstatement, and the ministry to recompense the school for the $7 hundred thousand spent so far on this squalid matter.  I will also be calling for an inquiry.

The following are some of the postings on the issue:

This entry was posted in Education Policy, Ministry of Education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Part 1 Rangiora is about the government dismissing a principal to get at the school’s assets

  1. Kelly-Ned says:

    A tragic time to be an educational leader in NZ – especially if you stand up for important things and have integrity.
    Thanks for your analysis Kelvin.
    Kia kaha.

  2. Sue McIntosh says:

    Thanks for this Kelvin. The media has distorted the truth so that the general public think that Peggy Burrow’s suspension is right and proper. Hekia and National’s crusade to rid the teaching profession of visionary leaders, who ask questions is despicable and should be stopped, while there are still a few of these left.

  3. Phil T says:

    Sadly the days of good investigative journalism are gone and Fairfax rely on press statements rather than look for the facts.
    The only thing that scares politicians is numbers and what is needed is a generic email that people can sign and send off their inboxes. Has worked in the past and would work in this case as well

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