Category Archives: Principal’s Message

At the start of the year assemblies I spoke about a number of things. One of these was our core priorities based on the māori word WERO. WERO means ‘challenge’ and it is about Whānau, Excellence, Respect and Ora and I want to focus on one of these aspects in particular, whānau.

In thinking about whānau it is hard to think past the headlines of the Guardian International edition late on Friday 15 March 2019. This was the day of the tragic events in Christchurch. The paper that day simultaneously carried the following headlines:

  • Dozens of people killed in New Zealand mosque terror attack
  • School children in 100 countries strike to protest inaction against climate change
  • MPs vote to delay Brexit with EU figures appearing supportive
  • Senate rejects Trump national emergency ploy to fund US-Mexico wall

Those four headlines and the reactions and events that followed them simultaneously carried messages of love and hate, unity and division.

Friday March 15 for us began as a celebration of action – the first climate strike. As a school we made a statement that we supported our students to take part in the strike. Many of our students gathered on the field at the beginning of the day excited by what was ahead of them, many of them preparing a variety of signs to carry. This was a wonderful assembly of our students, our whānau, around the common theme of climate change inaction, all borne in a sense by the actions of one young girl on the other side of the world. Our students banded together and headed off to Civic square, supporting each other, unaware of the events that would happen later that day.

Meanwhile, we were reading the news in the US with continuing disbelief at the prevailing rhetoric that divides communities by demonising immigrants, and portraying asylum seekers variously as rapists, pedophiles and murderers as an excuse to build a wall.

In the same way, on that day we perhaps were not as inured as we are now to the news of a Brexit delay.

As parents, as teachers, we feel a responsibility to try and help our young people interpret what they are seeing around us and the events in the US and Britain are extremely challenging to interpret. When we talk about bringing people together, about creating a better society by creating better communities who are empathetic to one another, it’s hard to explain Brexit or the US-Mexico wall.

And then the events of Christchurch occurred. And we all watched in horror as we learned more and more.

Sean Kelly, an Australian journalist, wrote an interesting piece a few days after the event entitled: ‘Jacinda Ardern does something radical while Scott Morrison tells fairytales’. He was obviously comparing the reactions of both leaders and the ‘radical’ action of Jacinda Ardern was not to use the situation for political gain by, as I’ve mentioned previously, demonising sections of the community, but to remind us that ‘the community around the mosques was part of the country, was “us”’ – they are us.

And instead of preying on the differences between people she went on to say: “Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.” In saying those words, Ardern quite simply did what good leaders should do, as Sean Kelly described: “She painted for her citizens a vision of a new and better world – and in doing so, made that world a little more likely to come about.”

A fortnight after the attack in a memorial service held in Christchurch Ardern uttered the following words:

“We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. We are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.”

And we all shared the pride of her statements during this period. And we all realised it is possible to bring people together in spite of the hatred. 

So I’d like to think that the cure lies within the bonds we have with each other. And that means growing our understanding and empathy for one another. And this is what I mean when I talk about whānau. It’s that realisation that we are all in this together and that we improve things for ourselves when we work at improving them for others.

In reacting to Christchurch in our school, our WERO leaders organised a lunchtime ‘they are us’ picnic on the field on a wonderful sunny autumn day and a chalk wall for expressions of support for the victims and their families. And out of one of the most horrific events, we bonded just a little bit.

And we carried this bond through other important events in the year. The national day of silence in term 3 which is a reaction against homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is celebrated as ‘pride’ week at our school. Te wiki o te reo Māori is a chance for all of us to embrace the strong heritage, culture and language of our idigenous peoples of Aotearoa and we do.

I spoke about both of these events in my end of term 3 message when I mentioned the often-repeated proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I highlighted these events and a few others. Any of you that have attended one of our music evenings would know the huge amount of cooperation needed to run an event of this magnitude with 150+ students involved. And it works, and this is because of cooperation, tolerance, and understanding – bringing people together, not driving them apart.

Against a background of division in Britain and the US, my wish is that we continue to work towards the cure in, as our Prime Minister says, “our daily acts of kindness”.

Finally, a whakatauki that I voiced at the senior prizegiving about a month ago is an appropriate insertion here:

‘Tangata ako ana i te kāenga, te tūranga ki te marae, tau ana’

A person nurtured in the community contributes strongly to society.

I hope all the students have a great summer break away from school. I hope they are able to take time out with friends and family, and read, watch TV, play games, play some sport – but most of all enjoy the people in their life and yours and appreciate the enrichment gained by the strength of those relationships.

Ngā mihi nui, Dominic Killalea

This has been adapted from the Principal’s speech delivered at Senior Prizegiving on 4 November.

At the end of last term I reflected on success and the many people involved to create that success. My thoughts were prompted by a lovely story that arrived in my inbox a couple of weeks ago. 

The email referenced one of our refugee students who has been with us since mid 2017. On arrival, he was placed in Year 11, although a little old for that year, and his academic programme was based predominantly around English language learning, as he had grown up speaking Arabic as his first language. By the end of 2018 he had achieved level 1 NCEA and he has already achieved level 2 NCEA this year. However, at this stage he looks unlikely to achieve level 3 NCEA this year in Year 13. When we look at statistics in relation to NCEA, he would be in the group that hasn’t achieved the qualification in the year he was supposed to. So that is not considered a success. But to tell you a little more about him, he has been studying this year in one of our transition classes which helps students to take steps into further training and employment through pathways other than university entrance. Through this transition class he undertook a Gateway placement (which is essentially work experience with NCEA credits attached) and the outcome of this placement is that he has been offered paid employment by Ray Hartley Motors over the summer holidays with a possible outcome of an apprenticeship in the future. Clearly, what he has done is quite astonishing in just over two years. It is success by any definition and the idea of success is worthy of exploring a bit further.

When ERO visited us at the start of 2018, we talked to them about what success looks like at Wellington High School. Our point, and it’s indicated by my previous example, was that success is very personal. For one student this may involve getting excellences across all of their subjects, and we have seen students like that tonight, but for another it may involve attending school regularly despite circumstances that make this a challenge. One of the ERO reviewers said to me, at the time, that success for her son was him being able to speak on the marae.

At the end of the review, ERO stated that “the school’s broad curriculum provides many opportunities for students to participate and celebrate success in a wide range of academic, sporting, cultural and leadership activities.” And they talked about Pathways, Secondary-Tertiary programmes, Gateway, The Secondary Tertiary Alignment Resource (STAR) and Industry Training Organisation courses, all providing options for senior students to receive sound career advice and guidance.

Further, we recognise that for a student to have success, whatever that looks like, they need to be secure in themself, their culture, and their identity and they need to be able to develop respectful and successful relationships with their peers and adults. We also understand the role we as teachers play in that growth. A recent ministry publication said the following:

“Young people spend close to half their waking hours in school and inevitably the quality of experiences with teachers and peers in that setting will affect emotional wellbeing.” (p42, Te Pakiaka Tangata – Stengthening Student Wellbeing for Success)

If students feel welcome and included, if they feel safe, if they can feel connected, if they can laugh and enjoy their time with us and with each other, then they will have success.

For my own children, I feel proud of them when they do well at school or at university. I also feel proud of them when they are able to successfully navigate and negotiate a relationship. I feel proud when we visit my family or my wife’s family and they interact well and they and everyone has a good time. I also feel proud when I see them successfully balancing a range of commitments in their lives: jobs, sport, music, study but still having quality time with me and my wife. My success criteria for them is wide. And so it is also wide when we talk about success here at Wellington High School.

When our Year 9 students start each year, I talk about WERO. As you probably know already, WERO means challenge and the letters of WERO stand for Whānau, Excellence, Respect and Ora which are our cornerstone priorities.

If we examine WERO as a measure of success, we are saying that we want students to be connected to whānau – that is, we say that family and community matter and being a part of that family and community and negotiating the relationships to do that is a measure of success. Further, we want our students / children to be seeking personal excellence – we want them trying to be the best they can be. We value respectful relationships and we want that to be at the heart of what they do. That means they work successfully with their peers, their teachers, their parents and whānau. Finally we value Ora – that emotional and physical wellbeing that allows them to find work-life balance. When each of these are in place our students will find success. 

So the Wellington High brand of success is build on these foundational priorities, it’s multi-faceted and it’s a deep part of our history.

I am going to return now to quoting one of my predecessors again – Turoa Royal, who was the Principal between 1978 and 1985. I say again because I have used this quote a number of times before. When talking about success criteria for students and what would be the most important factors for students to carry with them into the future, he said:

Firstly, if nothing else, pupils should leave the school with a sense of self-worth, a sense of self-esteem, and a sense of high expectations that life has beauty, and of truth. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s truism is worth quoting:

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.”

Secondly, whatever we teach, pupils should have the ability and skills to relate to others in a cordial, friendly and compassionate relationship.

“Ko te mea hui – ko te aroha”

The most important thing – is love and compassion

Thirdly, students should have the widest and happiest experiences in schools so that on leaving, learning is seen as a continuing and enjoyable experience.

Fourthly, to be able to analyse problems, no matter how complex, so that if career tracks are changing more frequently, they are able to make wise choices.

Fifthly, students should, through school practices be concerned for people and for mother earth. Mother earth is our past and our future.”

Although this was said over thirty years ago, what is there is very strongly linked to our current priorities in WERO. 

Valuing the relationships we have with ourselves, others and planet earth is embedded with whānau, excellence, respect and ora. Our role as teachers and parents is to help our students navigate their own pathway to success.

‘Tangata ako ana i te kāenga, te tūranga ki te marae, tau ana’

A person nurtured in the community contributes strongly to society.


Message from the Principal

It is often said that “it takes a village to raise a child” and this term has highlighted to me the strength in collaboration. There have been many highlights of a very busy term but the ones that stand out for me have all involved a high level of cooperation between a large number of people in order to achieve the success that has been achieved.

Firstly, on the weekend of 17-18 August we had some students travel to Auckland for the finals of the 48 hour film festival. There is a schools category and Wellington High School was the winning school for the 2nd year running. You can find our entry on the link above which has all the winners from the festival – ours is titled ‘The Talk’. The majority of the winning team were also past winners of the Roxy5 film competition which led to mentoring from Park Road Post Production and Weta Studios – an amazing experience for the students involved and slightly different groups of these students have won the past two 48 hour film festival competitions. In addition they have been well mentored by our own teachers, Kelly Jean-Louis, Ben Roth-Shank and Henry Hollis.

Secondly, around mid term, our Senior A netball played their final game of the season, playing for first place in their division which they won 26-24 in a heart stopping game where they advanced to 10-3 after the first quarter (with exceptionally high quality play) and then held on. The senior A team has played at this level for a number of years but we haven’t managed to win our division. This was a great achievement and a culmination of the hard work and commitment of the team, the work of their coach, Joe Sione, and the hard working netball committee led by Michael Melville, a parent volunteer. 

A third highlight but not as well known, has been the building of a rowing programme during this winter. What started as a dream of one of our counsellors, Lloyd Ward, has become a reality with a group of around 15 students keenly preparing themselves for competition next year. Winter for this group has involved weekend trips to the Whanganui River where they have been working hard honing their skills and building their ‘teams’.

Fourthly, we have recently celebrated both Te Wiki o Te Reo and Pride Week. Both involved significant organisation, the former by Whakamarurangi Chadwick and Anna Reeve, the latter by Rilke Comer (Year 13) and the Ultraviolet group. Te Wiki o Te Reo events included Warren Maxwell (Ngai Tūhoe) talking about music and hauora, Taawhana Chadwick (Ngati Kahungunu) kōrero about traditional navigation and astronomy, and poet and storyteller Apirana Taylor (Ngāti Porou, Te Whaānau a Apanui, Ngāti Ruanui) sharing some work and writing tips with us. Pride Week included a unity picnic mid week plus a range of panel discussions with many external speakers from organisations including Inside Out, plus alumnus Will Hansen (now a history researcher at VUW), MP Jan Logie and Drag King Willysmackntush. The buzz and level of student involvement in Thursday’s Outloud was phenomenal, as was seeing the library packed to overflowing with those at the panel discussion on ‘Rainbow representation in Aotearoa’. 

Fifthly, our second music evening for the year was a wonderful showcase of a wide range of very talented students. These nights are always fabulous but this one really stood out for me. The 25 acts on the night embraced music from classical, jazz, pop, hip-hop, rock and, dare I say it, death metal genres. The evening itself was a collaborative effort of lighting crew, sound crew, stage crew, programme writers and printers, mostly all students and all ‘conducted’ by the amazing Fritz Wollner, our music teacher.

My final highlight was a visit from our Education Minister, Chris Hipkins just this week. The minister was here to launch the School Leavers’ toolkit and recognize the work of a group of 18 of our students who had helped to curate the digital user experience. We have worked with a team from the ministry since February this year and the final product looks very exciting and useful for students with an eye on the future.

For each of these highlights, there has been a lot of inspiration and a lot of perspiration from a lot of people. And the learning and the success achieved doesn’t belong to any single one of them but to all of them.

I hope you are able to spend some valuable time with your young person over the school holidays. If they are a senior student, I hope they have a break but I also hope that they spend some time preparing themselves for the final term and the upcoming NCEA exams using the formative feedback they have received in the latter part of this term.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea


Message from the Principal

NCEA has been a discussion point as reviews have taken place over the last 1½  years. You may or may not have engaged in the ‘education conversation’ around NCEA but changes are imminent and planning is beginning for implementation of new standards of assessment at level 1 in 2021. One of the changes discussed at various points in the conversation was the removal of NCEA level 1. The final decision hasn’t been made but it will almost certainly be that level 1 is, as it currently is, optional. 

New Zealand is quite unique in the three levels of assessment that are offered and the national statistics in relation to this make interesting reading. Nationally, approximately 90% of leavers attain at least NCEA level 1, 80% of leavers attain NCEA level 2 and 54% of leavers attain NCEA level 3. It is fairly widely known that NCEA level 2 is the benchmark qualification for accessing the first tier of tertiary study that involves industry-led qualifications while NCEA level 3 is mainly a step towards university entrance. So what is the purpose of level 1?

Last year at around this time we investigated curriculum and assessment by testing some statements with staff, students and our community. One of these statements was specifically about level 1 NCEA – we said to you that “we should no longer offer Level 1 NCEA as a qualification in Year 11” and we asked you and the other two groups (staff, students) to rate your feelings about this statement from strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, and strongly agree. In response to this statement, only 15% of staff disagreed (including strongly disagreed). However, 40% of our students disagreed and 45% of our community disagreed. Another issue here was that in both of these groups, a large part (33% and 27% respectively) said they were neutral which was difficult to interpret. What did come through strongly was that although staff strongly supported the removal of NCEA level 1, this wasn’t backed up by our students or our community. 

Students commented that the value of NCEA level 1 assessment was mainly preparatory for higher levels and experiential in understanding process and expectations of NCEA. In addition, ‘higher stakes’ assessment forced students to complete work that they otherwise mightn’t have felt compelled to.

In contrast to this, teachers felt that assessment ends up driving the learning and we witness the effect on student wellbeing of 3 levels of assessment every day. I know from my own experience as a mathematics teacher that assessment is not a single event that occurs in an hour on a particular day. For each assessment there is the preparation for that assessment and the follow up. I want all my students to succeed so I teach them how to revise effectively and I spend time in class leading up to the assessment running quizzes that help their recall and understanding. I heighten the importance of the assessment because I want them to succeed and I give them feedback as they are getting closer to the ‘event’. After it has happened, I spend time feeding back to them about their achievement and what areas they can improve because feedback is feedforward. Instead of this single assessment ‘event’ we have something akin to a two week ‘festival of assessment’. And that’s repeated on average three to five times in every subject so that students spend their whole year doing assessment. Yes, of course there’s learning in there but whenever we get a little brave and try and offer some learning (without assessment) the first question asked is: will we get credits for this? In other words, the learning is validated by whether it counts towards NCEA.

This is not the students’ fault. This is systemic and it’s happening all over the country. And at least one third of the stress and anxiety and the effect on wellbeing is happening ‘systemically’ at level 1. So is it worth it?

Interestingly, the original intention of NCEA was as an exit qualification. It replaced the old systems of school certificate (level 1), sixth form certificate (level 2) and bursary (level 3) and it was supposed to evolve so that students would understand where they wanted / needed to get off, and do the appropriate assessments for that level. Except that it hasn’t evolved in that way at all.

But perhaps we should consider that model for a moment. It sounds difficult doesn’t it? It would mean that we had to put students at the centre of the decision making around their future. And that’s not how schools have traditionally operated. If students had autonomy to decide if they participated in assessment events or not, then what next? I might paraphrase the Sex Pistols here and suggest ‘Anarchy at WHS’! 

Of course I don’t believe that. I can conceive of a student in year 11 choosing a range of courses that they feel both interested by and in some cases, compelled to do. They want to know a bit about NCEA so they choose to do some assessments to get that experience. As the year rolls on they decide they like the learning but they don’t want to sit the end of year exams except in Spanish because they want to ‘test’ themselves particularly in the aural components of learning a language. They ‘only’ get 26 credits at level 1 for the year but they choose a more interesting, stimulating course of study for year 12. As they go through year 12, they start to increase the amount of assessment and they decide they want to get level 2 because they understand the ‘benchmark’ nature of that qualification. However, during their ‘learning conversation’ in term 3 of year 12, it has become pretty obvious to them, their whānau and their rōpū teacher that they won’t need level 2 and that they are heading towards university. They change the plan and sit some externals for experience at the end of year 12 but they don’t gain the qualification at level 2. At year 13, they are doing level 3. They have experienced but are not burdened by 2 years of assessment. They have discovered themselves what learning means and the role of assessment in learning. Although they never achieved level 1 or level 2, they achieve level 3 and they gain university entrance. Moreover, they have acquired the skills to succeed in the tertiary environment, and indeed, life!

I don’t think this is fantasy and it’s possible in our current system and in the changes that are being proposed for NCEA. If we keep students at the heart of learning, and of course that’s where they should be, then why wouldn’t they make the decisions about when and what to assess. If they want to do a full programme of level 1 then so be it. If they don’t want to do any assessment until level 3, then let’s give them the space to do that.

Our vision statement in our charter describes that we wish to develop the acquisition of “life long, independent learning”. The realisation of this statement doesn’t come through subjecting students to endless assessment and a ‘one size fits all’ model which is what has essentially been practised for years all over the country. 

This vision is realised when students are afforded autonomy to determine their own outcomes. This autonomy comes with responsibility from the learner and us as the education provider. We need to guide and support all of our learners, monitor and track their progress, then intervene and work together where we need to so as to enable their success. 

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

Message from the Principal

Recently we ran our annual International Students dinner and I was thinking about the effect these students have on the rest of the students in the school. One of the leaving students from Germany, Nelina Neumann, spoke very eloquently about her time here, about the life long friendships she had made with people from all over the world, and the experiences that for her were life-changing. 

At the time of writing, there are 65 international students in the school: 16 hail from European countries – Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary and Russia; 45 are from Asian countries – China, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Taiwan; and 2 are from South America – Chile and Argentina. In terms of year groups, 20 of are in year 13, 25 in year 12, 16 in year 11 and 4 in year 10.

In addition to this, there are 41 students who could be described as refugee students in the school coming from the following countries: Syria, Colombia, Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, and China. These students are also well spread amongst the year groups with 9 in year 13, 11 in year 12, 8 in year 11, 8 in year 10 and 5 in year 9. In total there are over 100 students, almost 10% of our school population, from at least 28 different countries. And this doesn’t include the rest of our students in the school many more of whom may have been born overseas or whose parents were.

We all grow up with our own cultural framework, our lens through which we view and make sense of the world. We use that lens to navigate our rules within our culture, defining what is right and wrong, fair and unfair, what is appropriate and what is not. And we know that what seems okay in one culture doesn’t make much sense in another setting. As we live alongside people from other cultures, this provides the opportunity for all of us to examine our own cultural framework and learn to understand and appreciate each other. Having the groups of students that I have mentioned in the school above provides us all with the opportunity to open our minds, enjoy the similarities and embrace the differences. We all learn about each other together.

The end of term 2 has brought the end of an era in our Community Education programme with the retirement of Robyn Hambleton. Robyn first came to Wellington High School as an ESOL tutor in 1989. In the late 90s she became our Deputy Director of our community education programme and has remained in this role ever since, working with a number of different directors. Robyn has been the constant in the programme and is largely responsible for why Wellington High School is the largest provider of adult education in the country. When the National government slashed funding for adult education in 2010, there were around 240 providers of courses for adults. There are now only 12 providers! Somehow we survived and this is in no small measure due to Robyn’s continued passion and advocacy for this sector. For me, Robyn has been my go to in terms of anything to do with community education. I know I’m not the only one and she will be greatly missed!

It has been a busy term for staff and students. Students have been engaged in a range of winter sports and seniors are well into NCEA assessment. Trips have returned from Nepal, Japan and China, feeder school visits and open evening have come and gone and students have been involved in film competitions, bullying free week, visits to Te Papa, striking for climate change, undertaking future cities projects, science competitions, music evening and of course our wonderful kapahaka rōpū who are performing on Friday 5 July. 

I hope you get to spend some good time with your young person(s) in the holidays and I hope they can enjoy some time out from the sometimes hectic pace of school life. I look forward to seeing all the students recharged and invigorated for the challenges that await them over the rest of the year.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

 Message from the Principal

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …”

I’m sure many of you will recognise these beautiful words from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens and you will probably know why I am starting my message with this quote. We are in uncertain times, there is hope and there is despair and the despair seems to be outweighing the hope at the moment. Unfortunately, negotiations with the government are not going well and disruption is occurring in our schools. This is not what any of us want but these are the times we are living in. The current government has inherited 9 years of neglect and they obviously cannot rectify this immediately but their intransigence on various aspects of the negotiations is reprehensible.

Education is a fundamental right and governments should be nurturing and cultivating the best teaching workforce so that we can have the best education system. The government should be leading the conversations about the best ways to do this but they are not. The key ingredient here, as I’m sure you know, are the teachers who are in front of our young people every day. We, as a society, have to decide whether we value those people or not. We have to decide whether we want the best people caring, supporting and inspiring our young people or not.

Thank you for your support during these times and we will need it in the weeks ahead.

I am sad to announce that Eric Tan has left us today to return to his home country of Singapore. Eric worked with us for 3 years in the Science department and made quite an impression with his calm, relational manner, his thorough planning and the cleanest Science labs you will ever see! We have already welcomed Dylan Weatherley-Libeau into the Science department this week as Eric’s replacement and we will also be welcoming Shaun Tavernor next week as a new Deputy Principal, and a Science teacher. Staffing changes inevitably cause more disruption and I thank the students for their patience in these times.

You should have received information and brief biographies of persons standing for election in the upcoming Board of Trustees elections. Please read these carefully and make sure your voice is a part of this process by voting by 12.00pm on 7 June. It is also important to recognise the service of outgoing members, particularly Deanne Daysh who has served on our board for over 6 years with the last three spent as board chair. Deanne has donated a huge amount of her time to the school and I am forever in debt for her inspirational leadership and support in this forum.

We have recently renamed our special needs unit from base 1 to He Kākano. He Kākano means ‘seed’ and conveys growth, development and expansion. Even before a seed is planted or nourished, it has inherent promise – the capability to take root, develop, grow and blossom. He Kākano reminds us of the opportunity we have in schools to make new beginnings, to plant, to nurture, to cherish, to realise potential, to grow and enhance that which is. He Kākano is a symbol of productivity and the promise of success through learning and achievement.

Finally, this is the time of year when we market ourselves to our community. We have had feeder school visits and we are about to run our annual Open evening on Monday 10 June. We always look forward to this opportunity to showcase the work that we do at our great school. My speech to the feeder school students was about opportunity and the words above which He Kākano embodies, explain this perfectly: opportunity “to make new beginnings, to plant, to nurture, to cherish, to realise potential, to grow and enhance that which is”.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

Message from the Principal

I write at the end of term 1, a term when we are getting down to business for the current year but where we also reflect on what happened last year. In our analysis of results I have been interested in the link between achievement at NCEA and connectedness. In our strategic plan part of our vision statement is that our young people “will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners.”

Connectedness reflects that students want to be at school and this is shown firstly through their attendance but also through their involvement in the wider opportunities that school affords them.

In the table below I have compared students who were involved in at least one activity (sporting, cultural, club, society, etc) with their level of NCEA achievement. The first 2 rows indicate the number of students in each senior year involved in at least one activity, then expressed as a percentage of the whole of that cohort. In the following rows, I have calculated the average number of activities that students were involved in compared with their level of endorsement. For example, at year 13 last year, students who achieved NCEA level 3 with Excellence endorsement were also, on average, doing 4 other activities (sporting, cultural, etc) at school. This data shows a clear link between higher NCEA achievement and involvement in wider school activities.

Year 11 Year 12 Year 13
Number of students in 1 or more group* 160 154 178
Percentage in 1 or more group* 54.8% 52% 58.6%
Ave number of groups – students with Excellence endorsement (E) 2 3 4
Ave number of groups – students with Merit endorsement (M) 1.7 1.5 1.8
Ave number of groups – students who Achieved (A) 1.3 1.1 1.5
Ave number of groups – students who did Not Achieve (N) 0.5 0.3 0.7
Total number of  students 292 296 304

*group = sporting, cultural, club, society, etc

None of this is a surprise and the data below further reiterates this link. For example, at year 11 last year, 74.4% of the students who attained excellence endorsement were involved in at least 1 group (group = sporting or cultural activity), whilst only 29.2% of those students who did not achieve the qualification were involved in at least 1 group.

Percentage of E (Excellence) students in 1 or more group 74.4% 85% 91.7%
Percentage of M (Merit) students in 1 or more group 73.8% 76.5% 80.9%
Percentage of A (Achieved) students in 1 or more group 61.2% 58.3% 73.8%
Percentage of N (Not Achieved) students in 1 or more group 29.2% 22.9% 41.7%

So what can we learn from the data above? I started by mentioning connectedness. One of the greatest experiences of schooling is the opportunity to be able to try a wide range of activities – sporting, cultural, clubs, etc. Students who are involved in activities perform better academically, and the more activities they are involved in, the better they perform. This creates for them an environment that they want to be in, that they feel connected to and this sets them on the pathway to success. This is also where the other aspects I mentioned earlier in this piece fit in: connectedness helps with being ‘confident’, it is an integral part of being ‘actively involved’ and it creates ‘lifelong learners’. This is also the pathway to healthy identity and wellbeing.

If your young person is not currently involved in anything other than the academic side of school, encourage them to find something that interests them and give it a go. A quick look at the daily notices any day of the week will give you a range of possibilities for their involvement in the wider school life. There should be something for everyone and if your student has a particular interest that is not being met by what’s on offer, talk to us about this and we will endeavour to provide appropriate opportunities.

Finally, I hope you are able to spend some valuable, quality time with your young person over the Easter break and perhaps during the accompanying school holidays. They will really value that time that you are able to spend with them and their connection to home and to you is even more important than their connection to school.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

April 2019

I hope your young person is settled into their classes and school routine and that they are setting themselves up for success this year. Our Year 9 cohort is the largest in many years with the roll nearing 1300 for the first time since I joined WHS. It is fantastic to see the community embracing coeducation at secondary level. Your increased support is an endorsement that a school should be a reflection of the society we live in. The increased roll places some pressures on us all, not least with some larger junior classes, and it is satisfying to see students settled well into the new academic year.

At the start of the year, we acquaint/reacquaint ourselves with WHS’s cornerstone priorities based around the māori word WERO. WERO means ‘challenge’. Its letters represent our core strategic priorities. W is for Whānau. Education is a partnership between the school and family. We have the greatest success when we are all working together. When we speak of whānau we mean this in the broadest community sense: we are looking after all of our students to ensure everyone is given a fair, even chance of success and that no one is left behind. E represents Excellence. Excellence is not confined to academic achievement but represents everyone giving their best and achieving to their own personal level of excellence. Excellence is not confined to academic areas and includes sporting, cultural, social and personal excellence. R is for Respect. Respectful relationships should be at the core of everything we do and want our young people to acquire. R can also represent relational teaching practice and how this shows the importance of good relationships. And R can represent restorative practice because when things go wrong it is important to try and repair harm that may have been caused. O stands for Ora representing physical and emotional wellbeing. We all need quality of life and we need to actively take steps to look after ourselves and others. When I think of Ora I think of the airline safety videos that talk about looking after ourselves first before helping others when the oxygen mask drops down from overhead. It is the same with Ora. We need to look after our own wellbeing to be in a position to look after others.

On 14 February our WERO leaders and DP Megan Southwell, ran ‘Aroha Day’: an opportunity for students to find out about sporting and cultural activities and sign up to something that interested them. It was great to see students signing up for so many opportunities enthusiastically. I hope that these initial commitments turn into enjoyable and rewarding experiences throughout the year.

As you read this, our students will have just be finishing competing in our annual Athletics Day. I hope this provides a positive fun day for all of those who compete and helps to engender a stronger sense of pride in our great school. You will be able to read about the event in next week’s Wrap Up.

On Friday 29 March we will run our first learning conversations for the year. The emphasis will be on how students can gain the requisite learning competencies to build success. These key competencies are an important part of our NZ curriculum and are: thinking; using language, symbols and text; managing self; relating to others; and participating and contributing. They all contribute to how a student prepares for and engages in learning.

Through the media you may have heard that a student strike in support of a worldwide day of action over global warming is planned for Friday 15 March. Some of our students have expressed an interest in attending and publicity material has been circulating at school and online. The action is a global initiative expected to bring thousands of students onto the streets worldwide.

In Wellington students will be meeting in Civic Square at 10am and marching to Parliament. We anticipate that students who participate will be out of school for the day. If your young person wants to support this action please notify us as soon as possible. Although the school supports students who wish to use this day to take this action, we do not support those that may use this issue as an excuse for a day off with no intention of being involved in the positive action being planned.

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea

I went to watch our junior cricket team playing last weekend. After the game I was having a chat with one of our teachers and a parent about tradition. The point being made seemed to be that Wellington High School doesn’t really stand for tradition. And it’s true that we don’t sell that part of ourselves so explicitly yet we are a part of an ever-evolving institution that has been around for 132 years. I think sometimes we associate tradition with conservatism and that becomes a strong selling point for some schools because it protects a sense that things were better in the old days and if we only adhered to what we used to believe in then we’d be better off.

I don’t believe that and I don’t believe this school has ever stood for that sense of tradition but there is rich tradition in ideas and ideas have been a strong part of our school throughout its history. We have always been a school that has listened to the needs of the community and acted accordingly. This is why we were once a technical college and why we led the free secondary education movement in the early 1900s. This is also why we were the first school in the country to identify career planning as important and therefore appoint a careers advisor in the 1920s. This is why after World War II, in a period of intense rebuilding of the economy, we supported almost 3000 students until we split to become a polytechnic, an evening institute and a high school in the early 1960s. This is why we were the first school to have a bilingual unit in the 1970s and this is why we were one of the first schools in the country to introduce Bring Your Own Device in 2010. Finally, this is why we are coeducational, why we wear no uniform, and why we have a special needs unit and put as a priority supporting all of our learners with as much intensive support as we can give them. Our tradition is founded in assessing what our community needs us to do and then acting appropriately.

In this vein, this year at year 9, almost all of our students studied 2 languages, as well as English. Te Reo Māori was compulsory and students all chose another language to study from Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. As well as learning these languages, students had cultural experiences which have allowed them to learn a bit more about others and how they live. This is a part of building empathy, that ability to understand and share the feelings of one another. I also note that more than half of our current year 9 have chosen to continue to study a language next year. Of this language study, the most popular choice is Te Reo Māori. If this school is a microcosm of our larger society then those decisions are helping us build a better future where, because we understand each other better, we are more likely to be caring and compassionate towards each other.

Next year we will be making a few changes to the timetable. We are doing this mainly to support the attendance of our senior students and to provide greater flexibility with our timetabling of classes. School will start and end at the same time as this year but breaks will be a little later in the day and we will only have one period after lunch. In addition, the later start day is going to change from Tuesday to Wednesday. On a Wednesday, school will start at 9.30am for students in years 9 & 10 and at 10.20am for students in other years. I have summarised these changes below.

Timing (except Wednesdays)

8.45 – Period 1
9.40 – Rōpū
10.00 – Period 2
11.00 – Interval
11.20 – Period 3
12.20 – Period 4
1.20 – Lunch
2.20 – Period 5

Wednesday timing

8.30 – Staff PD
9.30 – Period 1 – year 9 & 10 only
10.20 – Period 2 – all years
11.10 – Interval
11.30 – Period 3
12.20 – Period 4
1.20 – Lunch
2.20 – Period 5

We expect that the new timetable will take some time to get used to but I hope it will make school a little better for all of our students.

Finally, I hope you and your young person have a wonderful summer break and that you are able to spend valuable time with family and friends.

Ngā mihi nui
Dominic Killalea


Kia ora koutou

We recently had our senior prizegiving and as I approached this event I was thinking about what our leaving students would be taking away with them from their time at High. Although it is easy to recognise various levels of academic achievement, there are less tangible skills or competencies that students acquire that are just as, if not more, important. The New Zealand Curriculum Document published in 2007 attempts to define these competencies and describes them as ‘critical to sustained learning and effective participation in society’. The 5 competencies are: thinking; using language, symbols and text; managing self; relating to others; and participating and contributing.

Thinking is acquiring the ability to critically appraise and make sense of information, experiences and ideas. It’s questioning doctrine, beliefs, social and political structures. Maybe it is discussing and arguing with friends, parents and teachers about beliefs. Or feeling uncomfortable at times as other points of view are considered as opinions are developed. Hopefully, our students won’t become too fixed in their beliefs and they’ll always remain flexible and open to other points of view.

Using language, symbols and text is about communication with others and the ability to make meaning out of the codes in which knowledge is expressed. This may mean learning another language and improving, as Mason Durie describes, one’s ‘cultural competence’ and the ability to empathise with others. Or perhaps it’s the way our students use language and the way they use ICT to engage and communicate with others.

Managing self is self-explanatory but it is about being resourceful, reliable and resilient. It’s about reflecting and setting standards. Whether that be achieving level 3 with excellence, or finishing with level 2. Maybe it was to be the best swimmer in the age group in NZ or to play a sport that is enjoyable. Managing self is the planning, the setting of goals, allowing us to reach the levels of personal excellence that we set ourselves.

Relating to others is about the interactions we have with a diverse range of people in a variety of contexts – it’s actively listening, and recognising other points of view and being open to how our actions affect others. I loved hearing at the year 13 leaving assembly how students talked so beautifully about the influence that various teachers had had on them throughout their time at High. The positive relationships that they have built with their teachers and other students in the school will help them as they approach university, polytech, and work situations.

Participating and contributing is about active involvement in communities – family, whānau, school, sports, and cultural. The key is in the words there because it’s not just about participating. One can run around a sporting field and participate. One can be a part of a club or a movement and participate just by being there. But what have they contributed? And this doesn’t just mean that they have to lead the movement or score the goals, it’s also a blend of the previous competency because it might be that they help create the nice environment that allows others to contribute meaningfully. Contribution can be in so many ways and students should never underestimate how they can contribute positively to a situation.

Sitting alongside these competencies are our own strategic priorities based around WERO (Whānau, Excellence Respect and Ora) and these have been strong implicit themes that we have tried to convey to all of our students. I have described these in more detail at other times but I hope our students have emerged from their time here with a stronger understanding of what it means to be a part of a whānau / community, to strive to achieve to one’s best, to build respectful relationships and to look after and embrace one’s wellbeing as a priority.

One of my predecessors, Turoa Royal, who was Principal of Wellington High School from 1975 to 1986, was writing about this very topic in 1986 and I feel his words quite eloquently sum up what we are still aiming to achieve at High.

“Firstly, if nothing else, pupils should leave the school with a sense of self-worth, a sense of self-esteem, and a sense of high expectations that life has beauty, and of truth. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s truism is worth quoting:

‘Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful,

We must carry it with us or we will find it not.’

“Secondly, whatever we teach, pupils should have the ability and skills to relate to others in a cordial, friendly and compassionate relationship.

‘Ko te mea hui – ko te aroha’

The most important thing is love and compassion

“Thirdly, students should have the widest and happiest experiences in schools so that on leaving, learning is seen as a continuing and enjoyable experience.

“Fourthly, to be able to analyse problems, no matter how complex, so that if career tracks are changing more frequently, they are able to make wise choices.

“Fifthly, students should, through school practices be concerned for people and for mother earth. Mother earth is our past and our future.”

Ngā mihi nui

Dominic Killalea