Rangiora High School: attempts to discredit Authority decision: explosive staff meeting: why Hekia resigned: $m of blood money found

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.

The meeting:

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.

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9 Responses to Rangiora High School: attempts to discredit Authority decision: explosive staff meeting: why Hekia resigned: $m of blood money found

  1. Phil T says:

    This whole situation is a mess and right from the start smelt bad. Even from away down in Invercargill. People don’t change and the person accuses of being a bully has to work out how she can continue to bully. You cant do that in meetings where things are transparent so the answer is to state your points then agree to one on one meetings where you can act as you want and then argue its one persons word against another’s.
    I cant believe the teachers union can sit back and let a highly respected member or ex member continue to have to put up with innuendo and this sort of rubbish.
    God how we need some of the old values of solidarity.

    • Lesley Forrest says:

      “God how we need some of the old values of solidarity.” – you are so right Phil. When, how, and where did we lose them?

      • Phil T says:

        We lost them in a concerted attack on the unions back in the Birch/Bolger days. The union leadership under Ken Douglas rolled over and accepted the most draconian bit of legislation the western world had seen, the ECA. That fragmented the unions and made them become insular and inward looking as they evolved to meet the new laws. Ken Douglas went on to several perk appointed directorships and that set the tone for years to come that you didn’t need to act in good faith and with integrity. Was the start of the era of the Moores and the present CERA fiasco where self interest become a major driver in many peoples thinking.
        Talking with some old union mates recently and has become obvious there are very few union officials who would know how to run a strike. The junior doctors are doing not a bad job but still not getting their story out in a way the captures the publics minds.
        The teachers at RHS should take a stand, give notice of a strike unless a board is appointed and refuse to meet Moore one on one. She cant continue to sit and make malicious rumours about the employment case when it is over and a settlement has been reached. Peggy has been shown to have done “nothing” wrong apart from do her job as she should have. Now a million dollars on and no doubt more to come and this incompetent Moore is still happily ensconced into her no doubt well paid role when it is obvious she has fallen short at every step of the process. Cant believe the hypocrisy of it all

  2. Pamela Absolum says:

    I don’t think that we have heard the end of this. I cannot believe the autocratic dictatorship by the commissioner. To ask questions one on one is so dangerous. Any teacher asking questions needs to take a witness and make notes.
    The ex board member tried to sell their farm and then a relatives farm to the school, neither of which were suitable. Toys got thrown out of the cot! It would seem the conspiracy was all on to get at Mrs Burrows.
    There is more to this than meets the eye.
    Who was the concerned board member or staff member who meet the commissioner at the airport – made to anyone who saw them, to be an accidental meeting. This pimp sure had it In for Mrs Burrows and for their own gratification/retaliation and it seems things started to roller coast from here.
    As For the SLT, who at the ERA meeting, said they couldn’t work with Mrs Burrows and that is why Mrs Burrows wasn’t reinstated. Now those SLT – all four of them, have been supported and promoted by Mrs Burrows. To say they couldn’t work with her was ludicrous, they couldn’t because of his two faced and guilty they had been. Absolutely disgusting. They can cry all the tears they like, but they know they are guilty.
    MOE does not keep money on its books. What you don’t spend each financial year goes back into the coffers.

    I doubt that the ERA hearing judge would be impressed with the commissioners own conclusion that the ‘judge got it wrong’. The judge is legally trained, an experienced ERA judge.

    She only got it wrong because the commissioner was found to be wrong.

    God help us if she is allowed to continue throwing her weight around and running the show – ALL ON TAXPAYERS MONEY.

  3. poled says:

    I posted previously, “I wonder if someone writing of Peggy Burrows “…it would seem she was unsuited to her former role…”, has asked the same question about the commissioner appointed to Rangiora?”

    The question has been answered. A commissioner, given the responsibilities of the job, who is unwilling, unable or incapable of meeting more than one staff member of the school at a time to ask questions should not be there. Are they afraid? Do they not have confidence in their position, the facts, reality and fairness to front up? Are they simply gutless?

    Every teacher should ask for a question session. Every teacher should record what is said. Do their contracts include anything about the right to consult with their employer? Is there anything in their contracts about the need for the employers to be “good employers”? Is stipulating that employers will not be addressed more than singly being a “good employer”. Can refusing to talk to more than one employee at a time when employees have requested they be more than one, been as bullying?

    Something to think about right now:
    When Hekia Parata retires and you hear her name on the New Years honours List or the Queen’s Birthday one, think back to Rangiora and this appalling travesty. Consider how something so incredible could happen n 2016. And ponder how in a school environment, those charged with the highest ideals for our young people (and who no doubt spout on about them,) could be part of something so patently amoral.

  4. P. Absolum says:

    Good God, not a gong for Hekia Parata. I think she has caused enough upsets in schools in Canterbury, that a gong for her would be the last straw Canterbury schools need.

  5. P. Absolum says:

    Now, to become a ‘Commissioner’ one has to have been on a BOT, and then asked if they want to go on the ‘List”. My friend was BOT chairman and a policeman. He said no, as he felt it was more suited to those who has been teaching in the school system. So, therefore, we have Moore, an ex nurse and been on various boards, now throwing her weight around with so called high handed knowledge.
    Time she took her leave. But, then she likes to be in these positions for as long as possible, controlling, feeling important and bringing in the dollars. Certainly the staff at Rangiora High School, with the exception of the four Senior Leadership Staff who backed the commissioner and Not Mrs Burrows, the staff want the commissioner gone.

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