Community cause for collaboration

by Mike Isle

Compelling evidence that students in the Selwyn District are in good hands is a little known yet vibrant formal confederation of local schools called the Rolleston Community of Learning. 

The Community is part of a wider group of education and trainer providers set up by the Ministry of Education under the collective title of Kahui Ako. There are Kahui Ako communities dotted throughout New Zealand, yet Rolleston’s version seems something special. The Record set out to find out why.

The Rolleston Community of Learning — Nga Peka o Tauwharekakaho — comprises of 11 schools in the district: Burnham, Rolleston Christian, Kingslea, Lemonwood Grove, Rolleston, Waitaha, Weedons, West Melton and West Rolleston schools; Clearview Primary and Rolleston College. There are also seven early childhood centre (ECE) members — ABC Rolleston, Ako Rolleston, Bright Beginnings Montessori, Edukids Farringdon, Educare, Paradise for Little Angels, Selwyn Kids and West Melton Kindergarten. 

It was established in 2012 as a school cluster with the stated aim of taking a collective approach to placing the holistic development of the learner (child) as the central focus of the district’s education providers.

Whilst all principals, staff and even the students of the participating schools and ECEs are members of the community, it has a stewardship team charged with overseeing the smooth operation of the community, and a leadership team comprising all 11 school principals and two ECE representatives.

One of the co-leaders of the leadership team, West Melton School Principal, Sue Jackson (the other co-leader is Burnham’s Sandra Keenan), says the Rolleston Community of Learning brings an exciting and, in Rolleston’s case, unique dimension to education.

She says the growth of the community — up from just four schools at its 2012 inception — and of the Rolleston community itself (one of the fastest growing in New Zealand), has presented many challenges, but also presented a vibrant synergy among schools that ultimately benefit the students and community.

“That is one of our strengths. The schools work exceptionally well together, and that reaches far back. We were a collaborating cluster even before we decided to form a community of learning; there has always been a sense of community.

“Our overarching vision has always been communities collaborating to grow. That is the governing factor behind the decisions we make and the goals and aspirations we have for our students.”

Sue Jackson says the Community of Learning’s leadership team meets twice a term to set and monitor achievement challenges and adherence to a strategic plan.

She says an important part of those meetings is the inclusion of the two ECE representatives, which ensures that the total needs of the learner from early childhood to college are catered to, and there is an almost seamless journey for the student as they transition through their education.

Sue believes the structure of the Community of Learning is the key factor in its success, particularly in terms of having a strategic plan and in the sharing of resources. But she believes there is also another, less tangible factor.

“It is that sense of community, both within the Community of Learning and with the wider community itself. Even before the Community of Learning the schools collaborated. We have never competed for students, as has happened in other communities. When the new schools have come on board, we welcomed them into our community. And for their part, their principals and staff have brought a freshness of thought and new ideas that have kept us evolving. It has been great.”

In summing up the success of the Rolleston Community of Learning, Sue’s thoughts turn to the wider community.

“We strongly acknowledge and respect our responsibility to the wider community, and we are in constant consultation with them regarding their needs and views.

“The whole purpose of our Community of Learning, why we formed it, is to empower our learners, empower our staff and empower our communities so that we all have the opportunity to grow.

“That is something very special”