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Principal’s Speech – Prizegiving 2018

Special guests, staff, parents, students, a warm welcome…

It is my absolute pleasure to speak to you tonight, it has been with a lot of reflection and gratefulness that I address you tonight, at the end of my first year as principal of St Thomas’. This year we have seen our boys participate in 720 x 100min lessons, academic competitions, travel to Indonesia, Australia, Japan and throughout NZ, perform in musicals, variety concerts, debates, musical concerts, every sporting event possible, street retreats, Edmund Rice conferences, mass, parent evenings, sporting functions, charity events, advocacy events, Polyfest, Manu Korero, speech competitions. I could go on, but we would be here all night. The very first item listed was the teaching lessons in which our hard-working staff are employed to do, what you would have noticed is the list was on-going with activities that our staff lead, due to their sense of service all these activities provide our young men with incredible learning opportunities. I feel blessed to work alongside such a hard-working staff. Muhammed Ali once said “service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on Earth” if this is true, our staff will be well housed!!

I would like to acknowledge tonight the presence of the Christian Brothers, Br Joe Lauren, Br Bill Dowling, Br Frank Perkins…. Thank you for your legacy, I hope we can do it justice. I thank you for the trust you have imparted on our teaching staff to keep the Edmund Rice story inspired by Jesus Christ alive and in action within our young men, I feel honoured to be part of your legacy.

I would like to acknowledge the leadership of our Senior Leadership team, Mr Brendan Biggs, Mr Hamish Barclay, Mr Richard Washington, Mr Hamish McCombie, Mr Paul Donnelly and Mr Brad Milne. Our community is very fortunate to have you leading our school into the future, you are incredibly hard working, innovative, and have an absolute understanding of our mission. I thank you for your patience, the passion you share for our school and, most importantly, your sense of humour!

It is with sadness that we farewell Mr Paul Donnelly tonight as he departs and takes up the position as Associate Principal of Rangiora High School. Paul, you have served our community here at St Thomas’ for the last 8 years. Paul absolutely epitomises our Edmund Rice charism, he is the most self less human being I have met, he has been a fantastic role model for our young men. Paul has led the Special Character at our college as well as the innovation around our IT infrastructure. Paul is a futurist thinker who is never afraid to ask the tough questions. Paul, go well…Rangiora have gained an asset in you, your legacy here at St Thomas will continue. You have served Catholic Education over 20 years throughout the country at Liston College, Catholic Cathedral College, St Bedes and St Thomas’. While you will be a massive loss to the Catholic community, you will be a breath of fresh air at Rangiora. Most of all though Paul, you have been a fantastic mate to me in good times and bad. I will personally miss your friendship on a daily basis, go well, and don’t be a stranger.

With Paul’s departure the Board has undertaken an employment process to fill the DRS role at St Thomas. After a rigorous process of interviewing, it is my pleasure to announce Mr Stephen Kennedy as our New DRS commencing in 2019. Stephen is very well known to our community and has demonstrated the traits to be a successful DRS throughout his time here at STC. Stephen, I wish you all the best.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work of our BOT, which is well led by Andy Steel. We are so fortunate to have a hard working board that represents our community so well, and truly understands the mission of an Edmund Rice school. The building program that our College has undergone is transformational and holds up as one of the best in the country the facilities that our young men get to learn and grow in are absolutely top class. I thank our board for their passion in wanting our school to deliver a world class education and experience.

Our PFA has worked tirelessly all year raising much needed funds to contribute towards the facilities here at St Thomas’. Schools continue to be under funded and without the much-needed support from our hard-working parents on the PFA, our boys would be without much.

2018 has seen a deliberate focus on our academic performance, a number of initiatives have sharpened our focus and expectations. In the senior school, our termly routine of actual and predicted grades for our students studying toward NCEA has meant a clear understanding of progress for our senior students as well as the ability for our staff to target key remedial programs when required. Our junior students have also had an increased focus including our junior integrated curriculum, our enhanced gifted and talented program and Year 10 students due to start a change of focus in term 4 by starting their NCEA journey this year. All of these initiatives have both lifted expectation and highlighted the skills our students need to succeed; the pleasing aspect is we have already seen an improved performance in results, attitudes and expectations across both junior and senior students.

In some ways our academic performance is an area that we need a sharp focus as it does provide our students an opportunity to head in the direction of their choice, however it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success or happiness in the careers that our young men choose to undertake. The real measure is in the character and in our environment the gospel values that underpin all that we do. I feel blessed to work alongside a staff that understand the importance of a holistic approach an education of the whole person, an education that happens at a different pace for each student and often in different directions for students that attend our school.

2018 has certainly been a year of review especially at a government level with a very targeted review especially at NCEA Level 1 and the way we assess our students or, as is the case, over assess. This very public discussion has largely been in response to what is driving our education system is it a mindless over-assessment of our young people or is it a focus on developing the skills and curiosity towards learning that our students will need to take into the future. It will be very interesting to see where this large public consultation will lead our Level 1 assessment structure in the future.

I feel we are in a very strong position as a school, to embrace and succeed with any impending change. The integration of our junior curriculum and the skills based focus is certainly in line with proposals that have been presented, our students are very blessed to have access to a staff that is at the cutting edge of innovation and who are leading educational change in the current environment. There wouldn’t be a week where I am not approached from schools across the country to come and witness what is happening in our classrooms. It is very easy to take for granted what has become your normal, and I also understand it takes a huge amount of trust from our community to support the good work that is happening at a curriculum level at St Thomas’, especially given, as parents, we often measure what is happening now with the way we were educated ourselves.

The most pleasing aspect of our curriculum change has been the interest and focus in our junior curriculum, I believe you are going to end up in a better place when we have open and robust conversation. I have thoroughly enjoyed the large number of conversations within our community, and we have also been very thankful for the feedback we have received in the form of numerous surveys and parent meetings throughout the year, this collaboration has helped shape the direction of our school.

The most exciting direction of education not only at St Thomas’ but across the Christchurch network has been a deliberate focus on wellbeing. The increased use of MRI brain scanning has given educators a fantastic insight of how our brain works and how our young people learn best. The science has finally matched what we have known and believed for a long time as an Edmund Rice school, that when the respect and dignity of the individual is at the fore front of all we do our community gain a fantastic sense of belonging and value. When our young people feel valued they feel they belong and like all human beings when we feel a belonging, science has demonstrated that at this point our brain is able to function at a level where learning can take place at the all important pre-frontal cortex part of the brain.

All of what I have said sounds fairly simple, the reality is, like all communities of people, it is far from that the diversity of humanness in our community is large. We are a sum of parts that represents 70 adult staff, 630 students at varying levels of adolescent development and 1200 parents and caregivers that represent a lifetime of experiences and challenges that life has thrown up. While this diversity represents difference, it is in this difference that magic can happen. It is when we all truly believe in the dignity of the individual and respect that no one is exempt from the challenges life presents us. While this sounds rather depressing the opportunity is in the relationship, within this community is tremendous strength and an ability to help each of us experience value and belonging.

If our faith and witness to Jesus Christ’s is of true value it is in our believe that relationship with each other especially in times of turmoil is key to our relationship with God. I have spoken almost on a weekly basis to our students this year that what is central to our Catholic belief is that we are all created in the image of God, it is in this image that in times of trial we can find the answer. I believe that our young people are currently growing up in an incredibly judgmental era, one where it is easier not to be noticed as this is often the safest place. We are all constantly bombarded with images of perfection, the perfect employee, the perfect family, the perfect student, the list goes on. The reality is no one is perfect and it is in imperfection where our strongest faith is needed. It is at this time where we acknowledge the individual and don’t judge.

It is very difficult parenting, we love our young people dearly. We are never more emotionally connected to anything else in our life. If my career with adolescents has taught me anything it is that they will make mistakes, and they should as this is how learning happens. My biggest concern is when our young men stop trying for fear of making mistakes, for fear of letting people down, for fear of not being perfect, for fear of judgement and finally for fear of losing their dignity. Our primary role as teachers, parents, adults in the lives of young people is to value them, to acknowledge their individuality, to recognise they are in fact developing and that they are different to anyone else, that they are their own person. This is especially difficult when life throws up hurdles, whether it be that our young men are the offender or the offended against, we have to walk alongside them, not walk for them.

For our graduating class of Year 13’s, it is time for you to walk your own path. I will leave you with a challenge laid down by Mr Wayne Tinsey, Executive Director of Edmund Rice Education Australia where he challenged those in attendance at the 2018 EREA Congress, “We want the young to be happy. However, we want them to know that lasting happiness and inner peace arise from living in accord with purpose and from living every minute with love, grace and gratitude; lives of decency, kindness and service and authenticity consistent with their inner moral compass. We believe in education which stresses that happiness cannot be purchased, travelled to, arrived at, owned, accumulated, earned, worn or consumed. We hope to awaken in the young the desire to experience the divine in their lives. We don’t want them to cast off their religious formation when they leave our schools, in the same way that they will cast off their school uniforms”

Year 13’s, be men of Edmund, be a voice for those without one, have the courage and conviction to stand up when called upon. It has been a blessing watching you on your journey, all the highs and lows along the way are the experiences that have come together to form you into the men you have become. You have each in your own way left a legacy for those to follow. Let the seeds that have been planted here at St Thomas’ blossom and grow, go leave your mark on this world.

Earlier in the year, during an assembly, I spoke to the boys about ensuring they have joyful moments in life, I also reminded them we have to deal with the daily grind as this is the nature of life. I believe to have a positive well being, it is very important to ensure we have joyful moments each day. We don’t find joyful moments in things, but rather in people and in relationships. For me, the joyful moments each day involve the hundreds of 30 second conversations I have with your sons, each day at 2.30pm, regardless of what has happened throughout the day, I stand on the front gate and shake the hands of the young men leaving. Each one of them smile, say good-bye and share in a conversation, and in this moment, I see hope for the future. These young men sitting here amongst us are the moments of joyfulness that make up my day. I thank you for entrusting the education, the development and the growth of these young men.

I will leave you with the following quote from Albert Einstein “There are only two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle and the other is as though everything is a miracle”

Faafetai Lava Nau Reira, Nau Reira