Charter Schools – Bay of Plenty

Today MyThinks travels deep into the Ureweras where multi-national public service operator Serco has just opened their new charter school. This state of the art facility will educate some of the country’s most uniquely challenged students. 

Bay of Plenty

Heavy mist hangs in the air as I drive through the chilled spring morning to my destination – the new Serco-run charter school in the heart of the Ureweras. Having recently been opened by the Minister of Corrections, Sam Lotu-liga, this facility is an exciting new development that will be at the vanguard of innovative learning in Aotearoa New Zealand.

I park my car at the gate and take the short walk to the entrance – a 2 metre high steel door set inside a 5 metre high wall of reinforced concrete. Drops of morning dew high on the razor wire above me sparkle with each pass of the powerful search lamp. As I arrive at the door it opens and I head inside.

Once the full cavity search has been completed, I put my clothes back on and two guards lead me through several heavy steel doors to the office of the headmaster Commandant Fraser Hitchcock. I’ve been told this former Navy diver is a hard man but I find his generous greeting and firm handshake a welcome juxtaposition to the sign-in procedure I’ve just been subjected to. He motions for me to sit in the plush antique leather seat in front of his desk.

We exchange pleasantries for a couple of minutes – me giving him some background on my career and he staring intently at me not saying a word. Eventually I pull out my notebook and commence the interview.

“So, you’ve only just opened. How are things going so far? Will you be ready for the start of the new academic year in February 2016?”

The headmaster opens a ring-binder labelled Appropriate Responses to Media Inquiries Approved by Serco Head Office and flicks through half a dozen pages before nodding to himself, looking up at me and saying, “Yes.”

“That’s good,” I reply, “you must be very excited.”

Several minutes pass while he again consults his ring-binder.

“Yes,” replies Commandant Hitchcock before returning to the ring-binder for a further seven minutes before adding, “very excited.”

“Is there any chance of heading out on a tour of this excellent facility?” I ask.

The ring-binder is again consulted before an adamant no is given. Concerned that I have driven some five hours to get here and already have the permission of both the Minister of Education and the Minister of Corrections for a tour, I question his answer.

“But sir,” I begin, “I do have permission from the ministers. They have told me that I could come here and tour the brand-new learning centre you have created.”

“The answer is no,” he replies before pressing a buzzer on his desk and informing the two teachers who escorted me in to escort me out once more. Following a further cavity search I am taken to my car and told to leave the school grounds immediately. Both teachers have their hands on their side-arms.

As I drive back down the long driveway I can’t help thinking how wonderful it would have been to see learning in action inside this fantastic new amenity. Who knows? One day Serco may indeed open their doors to someone else who will be able to see the amazing things the highly skilled educators are offering the incredibly lucky students in attendance.

That’s the last in this series of charter school profiles from MyThinks.

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