Charter Schools Perception Series: The Advocates Part TWO


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Background: Karen Poole has a B.B.S. (Marketing) and is a Business Manager for the Villa Education Trust with over 25 years administrative and business experience in the education sector. She implements strategy, provides development and compliance, and has worked within a number of education establishments around New Zealand.

TELL me how this all came about and why you wanted to do it?

I am the Business Manager for the Trust so I am in charge of  the resourcing, the teachers, the enrollments, the building facilities. Alwyn will have already discussed with you what his vision was and he does the curriculum and the academic side of it. I help facilitate all that. Mount Hobson Middle School being a private school was obviously where we started, it was the only way to start. Then when the Partnership schools agreement came into force it was an opportunity for us to be able to provide what we do, for other students which was always our aim.

NOTE: Karen and Alwyn are a married couple who sold their home to 
fund Mount Hobson Middle School. 

YOU put a lot on the line at the start, with selling your house.

Yeah we did, but it was something we very much believed in and could see that there was a real need for it and it was just something we wanted to do.

WERE you always on the business side of things? Are you the money person?

Yeah I am. I have been involved in schools since I did my marketing degree in business but I have always been involved in schools but more in the management and business side of schooling and education.

ONE of the perceptions or  criticisms of Charter schools, or why State schools are threatened by them, is that they think that the government is going to to prove that they are better and then privatise the State system and it’s all going to be this business model. What do you think?

I think that there just is different fits for different students and different opportunities and it is a different way of doing education and it works. The big difference for us and one of the big differences is that we are able to determine with more freedom how we spend our money. So we can have our Principal as a teaching Principal. Alwyn is Principal of Mount Hobson but he teaches twenty hours a week. So that frees up management money so that you can choose to spend your money differently. We are able to resource differently.


Reading corner South Auckland Middle school PHOTO-


YET you get less money than State schools and some say that the government, the whole premise behind this is that education will cost less.

We do get less money but we don’t look to purchase property. There is no way we would look to purchase property it is not an option but leasing works really well when we partner within the community. We partnered in South Auckland with a church. It is a facility within the community and so it makes sense as it is actually utilising a resource that exists without creating a massive expense for us.

They are all lovely facilities and we don’t need to own them to utilise them like this. There is some shared resourcing that we do in that, they are our vans yet there are opportunities for other people to use them. If the church has a use for them for a youth activity or whatever they need the van for, then that’s fine. If we are not using it then they can use it. It is more that there is a community, it helps create a community.


South Auckland Middle School


WHAT would be some of the challenges for you with the budget you have got?

We do have to make choices on how we spend money.There is not a yes to everything. Very much I try to work so if a teacher asks for something then they need it and I will try and make it happen. Teachers don’t have set budgets for the year. Traditionally within a school a department or a teacher have X amount of dollars that they are able to spend a year and they then aim to spend that. We don’t work like that we work more that if a teacher asks us for something, then they need it therefore they get it. But clearly there are some limitations on that but I try not to say, well you are over your budget now.

WHEN I was a teacher if I was told that I had X to spend then I would spend it but if I knew that when I asked for something that I needed you would get it, then I would only ask for what I needed.

Yes exactly,it works and that is how we have always run it at Mount Hobson and now at West and South Auckland Middle Schools. Clearly we have more set up expenses now, there are a lot more costs for fixed plant, not just consumables but if someone is asking for it within reason they are going to get it.

CAN you tell our readers any differences in how you manage money or prioritise?

One thing that Alwyn will often say to me is tell the staff that if it is not for the benefit of the students we are not going to do it. That is probably the overriding factor of the decision making like that. If it is going to benefit the students then we will try to make it happen as opposed to just benefiting staff.

DO you ever feel that you can’t attract the kind of staff that you want because you can’t pay them enough?

No, we pay them what would be considered State salary and they are all on individual contracts but we pay very competitively and offer a competitive package.

YOU have managed to do that despite getting less per student than a state school?

Absolutely and our aims for our teachers is that they teach and they assess there is not a lot of other additional things that they have to be doing. We want them to focus on the students.

Background: Alwyn Poole has a BBS, MEd (Hons), Dip Tchg and a PG Dip Sport Mgt. He is a Principal and Academic Manager.

DO you employ people who are not teachers to work with your students?

For sport we use external providers. We have an organisation that finds the best facilities, the best sports coaches.

SO does this mean that you don’t have P.E teachers?

Our staff supervise but we have the experts come in and do the work.

…Rick Wells a former world triathlon champion comes in and does swimming and triathlon with the children ( South Auckland Middle School ) every term, he works with every group within the school.

HOW do you get people like this to do things for your school?

We just ask. If it is their business however we pay, one example being when we brought in Clowns when studying the Circus.


Kelly Sports Waitakere Central Football Session to kick-off the start of Term 2 at Middle School West Auckland Photos-Facebook

Kelly Sports Waitakere Central
Football Session to kick-off the start of Term 2 at Middle School West Auckland

You mentioned that you get in a lot of speakers. Tell me about that.

We do a lot of stuff on interactive listening where they are interacting with speakers. Politically we have had Mr. Key, Carter when he was Minister of Education we have had Mr. Banks, Mr. Hide, Mr. Seymour.

One of our children made the slight error of asking Mr. Douglas how Mr. Lange was doing. Other guest speakers they have had, we have had Precious McKenzie, a Jewish historian who was visiting from Sydney and he spoke to the kids for an hour and a half and they were riveted. Doctor Mark Orams, the round the world yachtsman.

HOW do you get such well known people to come in to speak?

We just ask them.

I asked Mark Orams last time he was here after thanking him so much for speaking and being so engaging, why do you bother? And he said, ‘ because you asked.’ He said so few people ask. We had John Parker a New Zealand author in here last week, we get people in from Statistics New Zealand, we get people in from some of the charity organisations that we work with, we get parents in to talk about whatever profession they are in.

 In my mind it stops the children asking where will we use this in the real world? We make it to do with their project so when they are doing Architecture we go to an Architects’ place we get a builder in. Instead of a career day it is ongoing at the school.

They also become very good at interacting with adults. That has happened really quickly at South Auckland. You can imagine how many guests we have there, we get so many who are critical so we just say come in.

We get comments like, wow, they (the students) talk back to me, they look me in the face, and they can talk about their learning.

The Education Review office for example came in and get to talk to the children very openly and we bail right out and leave them to it because we do not want to be seen to influencing the children in any way. The things that they commented on are that the children all talked about how hard they are working. They could talk about the things that they were learning about, they could talk about their hopes beyond their learning and had their heads up and were engaging.

DO you do any thing here in West Auckland Middle school to equip children with the skills needed for trades? ( I realise this is not a High School ) but this is a question our readers asked.

Our main job is to equip children to go into year eleven with a good range of skills, obviously the Technology curriculum we have as a core subject. We do very well with core Maths and core English because those communication skills are within business as well so combining those three ( Maths, Communication and English, Technology ) should mean they are significantly equipped to go into those trade situations.

DO you have the same working hours and holidays as State schools?

Pretty much. We go from 9 to 3.15 daily then we do work up to the last day of term and so there is administration, marking and report writing which we do in the holidays but that is not unusual. Working up to the last day means that there is always something to do within those holiday times.

A criticism of State schools is that the curriculum is full of social agendas including global warming, the Treaty of Waitangi and sex education, do you also include this kind of curriculum?

Our contract is to deliver the New Zealand curriculum but one of the things that is most misunderstood about the New Zealand curriculum is actually how broad it is and how open to interpretation it is. …We value New Zealand’s history and of course The Treaty of Waitangi is an important part of New Zealand’s history. Children also bring to the table a lot of stuff that they want to talk about and through their project work they can express it and so both the New Zealand curriculum and the ability to do different aspects of it and the project based curriculum means that we think we go deep and we cover a lot of material.

A child that has been at a Villa Education Trust school for 4 years will have done 32 curriculum projects.

For Sex education we contract it out, we have an organisation called, Attitude come in from Parents Inc.

To us that also takes away a potential area of embarrassment for the children with our normal teaching staff….They do some relationship work, they do some drugs and alcohol work, they do some social media work.

DO you get permission from the parents to do this?

Yes we do. Every Monday an e-mail is sent out by our admin staff to let the parents know what is going on. Also every week our Academic Managers send an e-mail.

CAN they opt out?

Yes within reason someone can choose to opt out but the Attitude people are very good at what they do and we wouldn’t have them in our environment if we didn’t think that they were going to be positive and discreet and have boundaries about what they say.

DO you reward top performing teachers in any way?

Any teacher can negotiate their contract with us so I guess that is an opportunity for reward. As well as the staff salary package we have an insurance package that we provide for them. We have really good professional development opportunities.

DO you have procedures in place for removing poorly performing teachers?

Obviously you are going to give them all the help you can but if they are not improving…

We are not on a National contract so our appraisal and evaluation system, the teacher has to working at the levels we expect.

DO you have to give written warnings first for that kind of thing?

Like any business we fully abide by the law with our employment contracts. A part of getting that right is our recruitment process.

(*Admin person) ‘The best way to avoid having to performance manage people out, is to put in the work at the start, during the induction process.’

Next week in our Charter school series we look at the Critics 
of Charter Schooling

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