Ngā hononga kura-whānau e puta ai ngā ihu o ngā ākonga Māori

Sylvia Park School

Sylvia Park School is a decile 2 suburban school with a diverse student population of 320. Around one quarter of the students are Māori and over half are Pasifika. Ruia’s interviewer met with the principal, two teachers (the teacher in the bilingual unit and the teacher who is the project manager of the parents’ centre), and a parent.

SylviaParkSchool
What are the priorities for our Māori students?

The interviewees expressed a passionate commitment to student success. They stated that this requires having “a strong evidence base, effective pedagogy, and home–school partnerships”. Through the school’s participation in deep, genuine and ongoing professional learning over several years and through its work to build genuine, collaborative relationships with parents, students have experienced accelerated progress, with many achieving above national expectations for literacy and numeracy. This is especially significant for the school’s Māori and Pasifika students, who make double the rate of progress in comparison to national average mean scores in reading, and more than triple this rate for writing (ERO, June 2010).

While the school has a strong focus on ensuring that its students can meet curriculum outcomes and national standards, the interviewees added that educational success is also about cultural outcomes and students knowing who they are beyond their ethnicity. The school’s mission statement is about fostering lifelong learners. This requires students to understand what learning looks like and to be clear about where they are heading. The ‘Sylvia Park way’ is about students having a sense of belonging and experiencing a rich curriculum. The expectation is that students’ strong sense of identity and ability to express who they are will enable them to apply their knowledge beyond school life.

The school’s curriculum plan is a key document that is displayed throughout the school. Parents and teachers all have their own copies. This plan was created in an inclusive way and was based on community wants, needs, and values. This was achieved by holding a series of hui and surveys over eighteen months, involving parents, the board of trustees, staff, and students, as well as external educational expertise. Having identified what people wanted in a general sense, the school then held a series of workshops and teacher-only days to identify education priorities and ‘problems to be solved’ as a wider education community. The plan emerged from this extensive consultation. Two follow-up surveys indicate that whānau feel the plan is still relevant in its original form.

What are our own learning needs?

The improvements in student achievement were made through teacher, management, and board engagement in evidence-based inquiry learning. While the primary focus of this learning has been on literacy and numeracy, the deeper ideas have been consciously transferred across the curriculum. Despite the gains in student achievement, the leaders and teachers at Sylvia Park School knew from their own experience and from their reading of research that they could make even greater gains through strengthening the relationship between parents and teachers so that they could work together to support student achievement.

Planning and participating in partnership learning

The school had tried a range of approaches to improve partnerships with parents, including inviting parents to school for discussion on a particular focus, such as sports or literacy. The meetings were well attended, but the school leaders found that parents were often too intimidated to ask questions. They wanted to “explore and implement a more personalised approach that would grow honest, robust and rigorous relationships with parents” (Mutukaroa participants and Frances Hancock, November 2010).

Partnership actions: connecting and collaborating

In 2009, the school received funding from the ASB Community Trust to implement a School and Community Learning Partnership called Mutukaroa. The aim of Mutukaroa is to “shift the emphasis from the school to the child and their learning, focusing on student achievement and fostering the active engagement of parents through a learning partnership” (Mutukaroa participants and Frances Hancock, November 2010). A story on the Trust's website provides a snapshot of the early stages of project development, the difference Mutukaroa is already making, the lessons learned to date, and the next steps of the project.
The funding has enabled the school to release one of the interviewed teachers to manage Mutukaroa, the parent centre, for three years. The project manager works alongside a Pasifika Liaison Officer, who is a parent and board of trustees member.

The project manager’s main role is to help parents understand the assessments that students undertake, primarily through one-on-one review meetings that take place every ten weeks and can last up to an hour. The process begins with the project manager sharing the School Entry Assessment (SEA) results with new parents, to engage whānau at the beginning of their child’s school life. The project manager checks with the child’s teacher about issues for discussion, before making time with the parents for their first session.

At the meeting, the intention is to have learning conversations with parents about the assessments and specific ways they can help their child to progress. The project manager constantly reminds the parents that they have knowledge of their child that is important to contribute to the discussion. She also builds their inquiry skills so that they can learn to ask demanding questions. The parents work with the project manager to identify ten-week targets for their child, which the project manager passes on to the teacher. After ten weeks, the teacher informs the project manager of progress, and the project manager then reports back to the parents.

The interviewees talked about the need to be specific, to make it easy for parents to be involved, to go where parents are, and to do business in the parents' time. The meeting venues and times are decided by the parents, and the focus is on learning only – behavioural issues are directed back to the classroom teacher. The project manager is clear that she does not take a role away from the teacher. Rather, the intention is to shape a school where parents are empowered to ask the right questions about the what and why of student learning.

What has been the impact of our changed ways of working?

Sylvia Park School constantly reviews its success in terms of the impact on student outcomes, and the Mutukaroa initiative is no exception. Careful records are being kept of the project’s impact on student achievement. This means tracking student progress while also inquiring into the partnership’s impact on parents and whānau. As well as the in-school inquiry into the partnership, the school is participating in an external evaluation conducted by the University of Auckland.

The school constantly asks parents what they want from this partnership. One way of doing this is by asking parents to fill in an evaluation form after each meeting. Feedback from parents indicates that they like the dedicated time to really understand the assessment and know where to focus their support. Both of the interviewed teachers noticed that parents are now more confident, and the focus is now to build parent knowledge to ensure an equal partnership in discussions about their children’s learning.

Despite the enthusiasm expressed for this initiative, the principal is clear that this is early days and that they don’t yet know everything. The school needs to constantly look for ways to improve their relationships with parents in alignment with the school’s strategic goals.

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