High decibel education

“I don’t want my kid to go to a low ‘decibel’ school”. She was adamant.

Her child’s need for a high decibel school did not include her having a hearing problem. Not having too many students for whom English was a second language or those who had the behaviour issues that are sometimes associated with poverty seemed important. She didn’t seem concerned about the behaviour issues associated with wealth: i.e. unrestricted access to money and alcohol and parents who sometimes opt out of the hard balancing act of gentle guidance and guerrilla parenting because they feel they’ve ‘paid the fees’ to make sure the kids turn out alright. Couple this with an encouraged view of entitlement rather than service and I’d have thought it was a recipe for disaster.

She was convinced that a high ‘decibel’ school was the key to a good education, genuinely believing it was an indicator of the school’s performance.

I’d come back from overseas and it took me awhile to realise that her daughter did not suffer from any hearing impairment requiring amplified sound in the classrooms but that she was in fact talking about deciles; a relatively random rating of the material backgrounds the kids at the local school came from.

It was odd that she was telling me this because my kid, although just a pre-schooler at the time, also had English as her second language and wasn’t it the low-income immigrant kids who were under the most pressure from home to perform well at school?

What I didn’t tell her about the school in which she had enrolled her child and which I also attended for 6 years was the down side of being in a high ‘decibel’ catchment. Although there were a number of stellar teachers who were visionary and for whom teaching was a true vocation and not just a job – they too were constrained by the expectations of an unofficial ‘league table’ of exam pass rates. At the end of the year all students who were expected to fail were sent home a letter asking them to seriously consider not sitting the exam – thereby giving them an official excuse not to; effectively making this cop out legitimate to their parents. In terms of life lessons it was a big failure of the system but it did ensure that our school ranked right up there and echoed loudly in the chambers of the upwardly mobile at a very high decibel indeed. People wanted to send their kids there regardless of the fact that our school pass rates showed no indication of what a truly gifted teacher can do which is; to get the kids at the very bottom through while still letting the ones at the top shine.

Another thing I didn’t tell her is that I learnt a lot about other kids who were… well… just like me. In a school of 800 girls only 6 of us took Te Reo and in that class there were only 2 brown faces. Amongst the well-heeled I also learnt about the great kiwi cultural pastime; binge drinking. The headlines over the last 2 years have shown that nothing much has changed in those high decile schools in Auckland.

In all the arguments about ‘white flight’ and whether or not league tables would bring about more teacher accountability what has been forgotten is that the New Zealand education system and therefore teachers are doing very well.

“The performance of New Zealand students is significantly above the OECD average in all areas assessed by the Programme for International Student Assessment . But while on average New Zealand students are among the top performers in the world, there is a large dispersion of achievement scores. Performance differences are most pronounced within schools rather than between schools.”

No amount of flitting between schools will allow parents to escape the disparities in achievement that stem from wider societal problems rather than weaknesses in the education system itself.

Until we address those, whatever the ‘decibel’ it seems that school is the answer – definitely not the problem.

Read More......

I am intensely impatient

Patience. Such a lonely word. It doesn’t feel virtuous. It’s annoying – prissy even. Sitting there on the page doing embroidery and waiting for something to happen. I prefer Patience’s naughty sisters: Impetuosity and Imprudence. They’re good time girls that don’t hang around twiddling their thumbs. But they’re also like the girlfriends you can go out and have a few drinks with but then have to go home before it ends in tears or the police station. They may be fun but I’ve learnt to not hang around them long enough to pay too high a price for the good times.

Patience is one of the many virtues I seem to have missed out on (Chastity and Temperance left their business cards somewhere in the education I got from the Sisters – I left a message but they never got back to me.) I blame it on genetics.

My father is hopelessly impatient – we had to buy a magnetic scrabble board when we were kids because he’d upend the whole game when it started testing the boundaries of his tolerance for sitting still. We timed it at a maximum of 8 and a half minutes. He also once burnt the paint off a brand new tractor by setting a fire under it to get it started on a frosty morning (it worked) and nearly killed my brother and I for not handing him the ‘donger knocker’ immediately on trying to haul in an enormous schnapper. We were about 7 and 8 at the time and while the Moby Dickian fight was ensuing, complete with colourful expletives we stared at each other nonplussed and wondered what a donger knocker could possibly be. He explained (having kicked the side of the boat and thrown the gaff over board in frustration to follow the now lost fish) that it was bloody obvious that a donger knocker was something with which to dong (hit) the knocker (head) of the fish that would have been the envy of all his fishing cabal if he hadn’t been so unfortunate as to have been lumped with two offspring who didn’t understand English and couldn’t obey orders immediately. We shrugged and decided he should have spent more time at the scrabble table and doing more reading like Mum said.

The sad thing is that I totally get the ‘donger knocker’ moment where I want something fixed (my way) right now. Spoilt with instant information and entertainment I can’t understand why – once I think something requires change that it can’t be done immediately.

World fish stocks replenished (kazoom!)

Next week! Child poverty. Magically vanished!

The brilliant absurdity of this cop out is that it requires no sustained effort or the requisite ability to maintain a long-term memory on the issues that matter. By election time I’ve usually forgotten why I even care.

In scanning the headlines (‘Man has giant Feet’ ‘Coca Cola kills Woman’) I am intensely impatient with myself and the universe when I find I’ve read the article before registering that it has absolutely no newsworthiness and will not contribute in any way to my understanding of the world.

Diligence would help here; an ability to focus on the important things, winnow the chaff and follow through with clear-headed constancy. A sober understanding of what needs to be done and when.

Considering all of this while icing the birthday cake for the small person I stand back to survey my handiwork. “It doesn’t look like the shape of a nine Mum– it looks like a circle with a random stick. No offense but I think you were in lala land’. In truth it looks like the kind of cake Homer Simpson would make and there’s a moment when I hear myself say ‘Why you little….” and have the sudden impulse to run around strangling her in the time honoured style of Bart and Homer. I’ve only just realised that this is not in fact a valid parenting technique that Ian Grant would endorse. I know it’s not ok but sometimes just losing it would feel so damn good.

Patience. The theory is great – it’s the practical that tests me.

Read More......

From the lemon farm or being paid a visit

Dear Readers, I am writing to you from the lemon farm. It’s nice here. Quiet. So many…er..lemons. Kerikeri is not exactly Siberia and as a destination for self-induced exile – there are worse places to be. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not hiding exactly but I have changed my name and now wear a moustache.

Last week I wrote a column expressing my opinion regarding some of the unusual decision-making processes that our council engages in. I mentioned the CEO’s salary and my personal opinion that 15 years in the job might be a call for a bit of fresh air.

Over a hundred families’ rates go towards paying Mr. Simpson’s salary, and, being a public servant, I thought a member of the public could freely express her opinion on how she felt she was being served.

My bad.

Hey – we can’t all be Russian developers with council numbers on speed dial.

Mr. Simpson paid me a visit. Which was nice – sort of. The café was spookily empty when he came in and I was alone. He shook my hand the way a father does to his daughter’s new boyfriend. Intimidating. 

He asked me how old my daughter was – which was odd. I told him and asked him how old his was and he told me. 

“Mr. Simpson, I fail to see the relevance of this conversation, “ I said. 

“Look, he thundered, my wife comes from one of the founding families, the Nova Scotia boats that came out from Scotland….” 

“Are we going back 200 years now Mr. Simpson?’ Lost, I shrugged. 

“Look, – she knows everyone in Northland and is related to half of them and you will find that there are a lot of people who back me and think I am doing a fantastic job.’ 

I agreed that there probably were and hoped they would write lots of letters to the editor and then we could all join in a big group hug. 

What I didn’t say was that I hadn’t been aware that Northland had a landed gentry or that they held any special privileges. If that were the case I wondered if Mr. Simpson had considered that some of the founding ships had actually been called waka and perhaps Mr. Harawira should be informed of his true status. 

‘You have slagged me and hurt me and my family’ he roared. 

This was getting more random by the minute and I hated to interrupt but I had never mentioned his family – he had, and he had started the conversation by mentioning my daughter. In South America that alone would be a call to arms. 

A small voice in the back of my head said ‘You’re not in Guatemala now Dr. Ropata.” I told it to shut up. Maybe this is the way things are done up here. Who knows? 

It’s nice to know that I can wander into Mr. Simpson’s office unannounced and with no appointment to randomly give my opinion on council decisions as Mr. Simpson had just done to me. Surely the arrangement is mutual and all citizens can do this. 

“Who are you?” he asked. 
“A rate-payer” I replied. 
He blinked. 

It was a Mexican stand-off with no sombreros. 

They give you all this power to write what you like…” he trailed off. 

“Nothing that is not factually accurate. The rest is just opinion and what I wrote is not personal. 

“ To me, it’s personal! he growled. 

No point in arguing the principle over the personal. He was just plain mad. 

“I’m the tea lady at the local café. If we’re talking power ratios I think you’ll find the difference in your favour Mr. Simpson.” 

But I was talking to his back as he stormed out. He hadn’t even bought a coffee. 

I went back to wash the pile of dishes that lay waiting. Powerfully. Masterfully. And so here I am; squeezing another bounteous lemon into my gin and sipping it through my moustache and I find I’m shaken, but strangely – not stirred.

Read More......

Picking Lemons or Whangarei District Council

‘Maybe you should go lemon picking up in Kerikeri’ he suggested. “Why?” I asked not getting where the conversation was heading. “ Well, you voted for Morris Cutforth, you said that Phil Heatley would romp home last election and you liked the idea of the Hundertwasser building – I’d have thought you’d be an expert in picking lemons by now.” Ha. Ha. He wasn’t laughing with me.  

I do support the idea of a Hundertwasser building or something (anything!) that will attract more people to Whangarei. Whether it’s the right time or place is questionable but there are things about the latest decision that rankle nonetheless. I’m grappling with what the Mayor was reported to have said at last week’s resolution to fund the Hundertwasser. I’m considering asking him for next week’s lotto numbers as his psychic abilities are astonishing. That you can receive 65% of submissions against a proposal in a community infamous for its pathological apathy and then ignore them entirely is astounding. That you can then claim to read the minds of those who are silent but by your own calculations; the majority, and then do their bidding is nothing short of miraculous. 

Forget the Hundertwasser I’m prepared to sell my house and follow Morris, Kahu and his merry bunch of minions towards the promised land. Which, according to the mouth-pieces for the mining industry could be somewhere north of Puhipuhi in a town near you. The dismissal of those councillors with reservations about community buy-in by our Mayor was on the brink of offensive. That they; ‘’have got ratepayers in their areas that are against it and they need to take notice of what they're saying to them, so they want a bob each way.’’ Taking heed of rate-payers or even (perish the thought) citizens’ concerns! Disappointing. Radical even in these parts. They should be punished! I’m sure they will be. 

 The message is very clear to those of you who took the time out of your busy days to write tedious things like submissions when you could have been fishing or with your kids. Next time – don’t bother. The Mayor can read our minds and he’ll do what’s good for us. 

What is of equal concern is that the business brain behind council which should be the CEO, has been a very public agitator for the Hundertwasser, spending, along with Kahu Sutherland at least a quarter of a million dollars on trips to Vienna to back the proposal. 

Perhaps I’m old school, but I thought CEO’s of councils were the shorts, socks and sandals kind of guys (what used to be called a Town Clerk I think) the steady hand on the cheque book. Didn’t they advise on a project as to whether the numbers stacked up and if it was good for the community rather than be an active proponent for or against? I know. That was before they got all sexy and said they were worth the same as the guys in the private sector. No one bothered to tell them that the private sector salaries were also entirely fictitious but I didn’t think, on nearly 300K a year it could be considered a job for life. 

Mark Simpson has been CEO of WDC for nearly 20 years. Wasn’t he around in Stan Semenoff’s first time as Mayor in the early ‘90’s? It shouldn’t be surprising that a CEO starts to merge the lines between stewardship and ownership when the timespan with that ‘enterprise’ is so long. It’s why private sector CEOs move on after 5years. It’s not his fault. These councillors, bar one voted for him. And we voted for them. 

Still it must have been nice for the councillors to have Stan back in chambers, eye-balling dissenters, to see finished what he’d started. Nice to have him back. Yup. Almost like he never left.

Read More......