The Next Chapter
By Kerry Monaghan
A new Principal for Pukekohe High
After spending the last twelve years at Christchurch’s Burnside High School, Richard Barnett has moved north and started the next chapter as Principal at Pukekohe High School.
From his teaching background in the UK, travel and Christchurch’s 2011 earthquake, Richard has both a strong and varied education career and is excited to start a new role with a diverse set of challenges.
2001 was Richard’s first introduction to New Zealand Education where he took part in a one-year teacher exchange programme from the UK to Cashmere High School in Christchurch, eventually relocating his family permanently to Christchurch in 2003.
“The teacher exchange was meant to be an experience as our two daughters were still young at the time. We thought it would be just a one- year wonder, so we spent as much time traveling as we could, but when we moved back to the UK, we found it hard to settle and missed New Zealand’s lifestyle, and I missed the educational point of view I experienced a real affinity to.” says Richard.
Relocating permanently to New Zealand, Richard started back at Cashmere High School as a relieving teacher, then moved on to an assistant teaching role before applying for a role at Burnside High as Head of Social Science in 2006.
“Becoming Head of Social Science was an equivalent role I held in the UK, so I felt really comfortable in that position and stayed there for five years before becoming interested in applying for senior management roles, where I became Deputy Principal for four years and the last two as Associate Principal.”
Coming from Burnside High, one of the largest secondary schools in Canterbury, and well-known for its strong academia; Richard says during his time there he experienced usual challenges such as student roll growth, but also had to deal with the profound effect of the Christchurch 2011 earthquake and the unique set of challenges it created.
While Burnside fortunately wasn’t damaged, they did site share their facilities with Avonside Girl’s High School that had sustained damage, while dealing with the challenges of the earthquakes aftermath.
“The earthquake was devastating in more ways than one and of course, population shifts occurred as a result. It was huge for me, the staff and students responding to the ongoing effects of the earthquake. It included a lot of input from counselling teams.”
Richard says the following years following the quake were the hardest, rebuilding morale and community spirit and says even today, the school is still coming to terms with the idea of resilience.
“Building academics and grit is important for any school and what you see is students still struggling years after an event like that, in both your own and school families, and it was important that teachers were also helped and equipped to deal with that.” says Richard.
The experience Richard believes gives him the confidence that he is prepared for new challenges at Pukekohe High School. “Every student that comes to Pukekohe High should be equipped with the tools and resources necessary to allow them to achieve a level of success in Education that is going to ensure their future and the future of their family” Richard believes.
The challenge of how to achieve that, further compounded by the area’s rapid growth from a medium populated school to a large school in a relative short space of time due to Auckland’s growth.
“Clearly the Ministry (of Education) is saying the school is going to see regular accelerated role growth so it’s important that we put structures in place to accommodate that growth, to be successful and cater to ALL students.”
Richard says he had a good feeling about Pukekohe High during his initial visit and sees the school as a place he will enjoy leading but is grateful to have the expertise of the school, its community and Ministry of Education to help implement strategies and changes and support the school and staff.
“In my first week we will welcome a review team from the Education Review Office and I’m sure their advice and suggestions will provide some very useful future direction for Pukekohe High and will help to answer the “how will we know” that our strategies are successful.” Says Richard.
Until then, Richard says although his new role will be challenging, it’s a privilege to be in the position, and it will be important for him to listen, be visible and plans to engage with Pukekohe as a whole, while using his experience and understanding about structure to make Pukekohe High work.
He says he is also looking forward to creating and building relationships with staff and students and hopes to build relationships within the community.
“This is very much a community role, small town, close knit and I’m excited to be in a different part of the country and build on the success that the school is already enjoying.”