This posting begins quietly, setting the scene, one in which a principal and a board are unjustifiably dismissed on the basis of a secret report.
In the process, I believe the commissioner compromised the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) which partly explains their lack of response to the injustice wrought and what subsequently appears to be an unbalanced response to the definitive Authority decision.
As part of that, a letter was sent to the media on behalf of the SLT complaining about unbalanced media reporting of the Authority decision (whether it was on behalf of the SLT or the undertaking of one member in particular is up to the Team to make clear). The SLT it seems, is trying to undermine the Authority decision by concentrating on criticisms of the principal made by some, perhaps by the members of the SLT themselves, which were untested, which I find unconvincing, and which the Authority member said she gave no weight to in her unjustifiable dismissal decision.
Then the explosive report of a staff meeting in which fed up staff had to sit and listen to the commissioner and the SLT justify their behaviour but not be able to ask questions.
In the course of that staff meeting, information is provided that is scandalous and proves to me, what I hadn’t been able to say before the Authority decision, that the Peggy Burrows’ case was the main cause of Hekia Parata’s resignation. Readers need to remember that I predicted her resignation three weeks before it occurred.
I want to keep it simple, not delve too much back in history: I want to pick my start at the pivotal point: the point where a principal’s fate was tossed into a maelstrom not of her making; where a report writer became the commissioner of the school on the basis of that report; where that report was kept secret from the principal and the board that employed that principal; where that report was shared with the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) with, in my view, the intention of compromising that team; where the principal and board were dismissed on the basis of a report they still hadn’t and haven’t read; where innuendo and lies about the principal somehow became media knowledge, and some or all in the SLT must have known was incorrect, needed challenging, but no-one acted.
If you only knew what that principal has been put through.
It has been hell.
To elaborate a little: the board was described by some as dysfunctional but the board wasn’t, it simply had three members who were hostilely insistent on the school’s farm assets (one a refused buyer) being sold, and the principal, consistent with the conditions of the Act, standing resolutely against. She stood for the school, but the school in some of its elements did not stand for her. Those three men with their hostility and arguments were to go to the ministry and right from the start the ministry and commissioner displayed an obsessive interest in the assets.
Now the key moment: I can remember seeing it on TV and then reading it in the newspaper.
There was innuendo about finances and, to compound the matter, the principal had, I heard and read, gone to a conference in America to deliver a paper on her doctorate without board permission.
At that moment, if true, the principal was gone – but it was completely untrue.
No-on spoke up.
The principal was to be humiliated by the commissioner, gagged, and dismissed.
To jump forward a couple of years, the Employment Relations Authority found the principal to be unjustifiably dismissed.
I was called on to help by Marlene Campbell about six months into this professional tragedy and bureaucratic travesty.
I have been going into schools in an official capacity for just under 50 years. I knew immediately it was a huge injustice. I can’t say, however, I had seen anything quite like this before, but I recognised the pattern. And I predicted how this would end: the ministry and commissioner in their arrogance would spend the school’s money as if it was going out of fashion, confident the school’s farm assets would be there to make up for their lavish spending, but when the ministry and commissioner failed in the courts and thereby to gain control of the assets, they would be in a fix, and would be forced to find money in the government’s accounts, which would be something of a scandal. I warned the minister and the commissioner, especially the minister: you are going to fail Hekia, cut your losses Hekia – I wasn’t saying this as a threat, simply trying to short circuit the scandal, because I wanted to keep the situation as calm and brief as possible to increase the possibility of the principal returning to her job.
What has happened is that the principal after winning in the Authority has had to then fend off attempts by the ministry and it appears the SLT to distract from that win to their own advantage with untested statements, near slander, unbalanced comment, and misinformation. It is just so cruel.
Commissioners in these cases see a principal returning to her job, no matter the principal’s overwhelming innocence, as the principal winning.
In the Court hearing, in relation to reinstatement, the Authority member allowed witnesses on both sides to speak: those who were against the principal were recorded in a particular list and the commissioner and some members of the SLT have been making a feast of what was said. The Authority member listened as well but took not one dollar from the principal’s remuneration and costs.
Now to the state of staff relations at Rangiora.
You will remember from a previous posting that the commissioner put up ahead of the actual judgement those untested comments. (Most of them come across to me as spurious: I will comment on a few later.)
I have in my possession, sent to me by three sources, a communication written by a SLT member (apparently on behalf of the SLT) that was shared with the staff and was written to the editor and chief reporter of the Christchurch Press.
The SLT member told the staff it was not for distribution, in his naivety apparently unaware that you can’t insist on confidentiality when you send something over an insecure network.
The communication complained about the ‘inaccurate and unbalanced reporting in the Press and Northern Outlook of the ERA determination.’
So here we have a principal unjustifiably dismissed then smeared by innuendo and lies, none of this challenged by the SLT, and when she wins her case but is not reinstated, the SLT puts the boot in.
Let me say now, I find many of the untested comments trivial, apparently arising from the hostility, disturbingly unprofessionally expressed.
- ‘An inability to work with the commissioner’ oh come on, the commissioner was on a hatchet job
- A lot of comments about the involvement of social media: oh come on, she was gagged and had no voice
- Comments about the minister and commissioner, but they were demonstrated to be true
- ‘The principal would find it difficult to develop trust with SLT’: and that’s the principal’s fault?
- The principal had difficulties working with boards over the years: only when those on them tried to take school assets illegally.
- ‘Ms Burrows would find it difficult to follow the new strategic direction that the school has taken in her absence’: I think this statement is the most invidious of all – what it is saying is that the principal is incapable of leading in a modern learning environment (MLE). The principal was already preparing for a MLE and I suggest there is no-one better in the school to be so. And if there is, well, hooray, the principal would make the best of that person or persons. I have never met the principal but I have read portions of her doctorate which relate exactly to practices of inquiry, individual learning, and curriculum integration; and, as it happens, as a former teachers college lecturer, then a senior school inspector, I took a close interest in the courses of other teachers colleges – the principal was trained at Massey, around 1980, as a primary teacher no less, when Massey had one of the richest menus of inspiring and progressive learning.
And now I move to the staff meeting.
In the interests of the principal, the teachers, and justice, I would hope that what unfolds here is sufficient to engage the PPTA and SPANZ.
The teachers who approached me said they want another meeting to ask questions. The commissioner said they could only visit her on a one-to-one.
One teacher wrote that many of the staff are seething at the SLT.
All said the commissioner had no right to discredit the hearing decisions. And they all cited with great anger one senior teacher who is always talking about moving on. The staff want it out in the open.
In the course of the summary of the staff meeting held on the first day of the school year, a huge development, one that in my view brought the minister down.
It also exactly fits my prediction made many months ago.
The ministry of education has found some $5m belonging to Rangiora that has, it said, been sitting there for ten years and, in particular $1m to cover the commissioner’s expenses. This is nonsense any money not spent one year is spent elsewhere the following one. This is a scandal and a complete victory for those who fought for the principal.
No questions we were told, just sit and listen.
Then we were told about $5m of unspent money and $1m for commissioner expenses.
We sat stunned.
We were talked at by the commissioner. We felt nauseated.
The commissioner implied the hearing got it wrong and talked about how much work she had put into every document.
You can ask her questions in her office she said.
Someone [I have left out names] stood up and said we need another meeting to ask questions together.
The commissioner then went on to rubbish the biased reporting in the media. Said she’d even heard reports the … were having affairs. She set out to discredit some of the hearing arguments. The ministry she said did not want to grab the school’s money, in fact, the ministry was coming across with money which was on the books but unspent.
Someone [I have left out name] asked someone why they can’t appoint a new board now seeing the other one should never have been dismissed. Also appoint a new principal. Tears were observed to an unsympathetic audience.
Someone [I have left out name] then talked about how other schools had been hurt and moved on from it. We just wanted to say that nothing schools had been through was anything like we had been through.
They are just trying to justify themselves.
This has been a terrible business. All the fault of the minister and commissioner but the innocent has paid – the principal – she lost her job, meaning her life will never be the same. The commissioner made sure of that. If you are not about wishing the principal well, then leave her alone and think upon yourself.
For those who stood by her god bless you.
Perhaps this is my last posting on the matter: if so, all the best, it has been nice meeting you through my columns.