Having meaningful conversations with emerging adolescents is one of the best things about being principal of an intermediate school.
And for Owen Alexander, the principal of Takapuna Normal Intermediate School, those interactions with pupils were one of the things he would miss most when he leaves next week.
“I’m really going to miss the interaction with students; sharing and seeing all those ‘ah ha’ moments.”
Alexander was leaving to become one of three leadership advisors for the Auckland region – essentially a role that supports new principals and their mentors.
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It was a Ministry of Education contract, administered for the first time this year by company Evaluation Associates. There were 33 roles nationwide.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. The job [as principal] is becoming more and more complex by the year and it’s great that that support is available to new principals.”
Alexander said the role of principal was as much about collaborating with the community and parents, as it was about education. It also involved finance, professional development, recruiting and performance management, health and safety, and marketing.
The lack of funding increases for schools was one of the biggest concerns, he said.
“It worries me. At TNIS [Takapuna Normal Intermediate School], we’re lucky because we’re able to attract international students, but not all schools are able to do that,” Alexander said.
Another challenge in Auckland was staffing, with a global teacher shortage compounded in Auckland due to high accommodation costs, he said.
“Once upon a time, we would have 100 applicants for a job here. Now, we’re struggling to find any applicants with the right experience.”
But the job is not all bad, according to Alexander, who said he enjoyed collaborating with fellow principals from North Shore schools, as well as the teachers at TNIS.
“The quality of education on the Shore is very good.”
Alexander first became principal at Waikowhai Intermediate School in Mt Roskill about 25 years ago. He was also principal at Papakura Intermediate.
He deliberately targeted intermediate schools, saying it was a critical time in pupils’ lives.
Alexander said extra-curricular activities were also important at the school, with sport and music being the “soul” of any intermediate school.
He had been principal of Takapuna Normal Intermediate School for 17 years and was just the third principal for the school which started in the 1970s.
The advantages of working at a “normal” school was that every teacher was involved in helping to train future teachers, and the school had a close relationship with Auckland University, Alexander said.
Deputy principal Lorene Hurd would be acting principal at TNIS until a new principal was appointed, which was expected in term four.
NORMAL SCHOOLS MODELS IN NZ
Normal schools trace their existence back to 16th-century France, when the church-based leaders became interested in educating people to teach normal, or non-clergy, students.
The French concept of “école normale” was to establish schools to model best teaching practices, setting a standard or norm for student teachers.
In New Zealand, there were 22 normal schools which aligned with five universities that train teachers.
Alexander said the word “normal” was quite archaic and the schools should be called model schools.
While all schools these days help to train would-be teachers, the normal schools get all teachers involved, even those new to the job, he said.