Nick Wilson was deputy principal under Wim Boxen at Ponsonby Intermediate. In an internal appointment, Wilson became principal in May 2016 when Boxen retired.
I talked to him about some of the changes he has made since then.
“We’ve always had a big focus on student achievement,” Nick Wilson told me, “with around 93% at or above National Standards. I have set out to put a strong focus on student wellbeing.”
Wilson has made some strategic staff appointments around the aims of wellbeing. The school has strong guidelines around prevention of bullying and has developed a strong pastoral care system. Teachers regularly meet to discuss students. The pastoral care is designed for the whole two-year experience at Ponsonby Intermediate and is known as the ‘Ponsonby Experience'.
The school explicitly teaches around four core values, known as Ponsonby Gems - Growth Through Learning - Expressing Ourselves
- Making Connections - Showing Respect for Other People.
Nick Smith is big on what he calls "cognitive portability," by which he means the students must hold learning in their heads and values are an integral part of cognitive portability.
“Relationships are so important in everything we do,” Wilson asserts.
In some ways, he explained, Ponsonby Intermediate is like a private school. We run a specialist subject model in a similar way to private schools, but in other ways we are definitely not like a private school. “We have no uniform, we don’t have campaigns to pull up socks, we let kids have skateboards and scooters, and they are at the decision
-making table too. We give students a strong voice and agency."
The ERO report on Ponsonby Intermediate earlier this year was extremely positive. Among other compliments the report said, “The new principal has created a wider senior leadership team, which has had a strong focus on developing a more strategic approach to responding to students’ wellbeing.” They went on to say “Wide consultation with the school community has resulted in the development of a new vision statement ‘articulate, energised achievers, ready for the future."
This vision is highly evident in student outcomes. Learners demonstrate high levels of social and emotional competence and are achieving very well. They are curious, enjoy intellectual engagement and confidently tackle challenging learning tasks.
This ERO report is a massive endorsement of Nick Wilson and his team’s work over the last year. You can read the whole report on the school's website - great reading.
Ponsonby Intermediate also has an innovative ‘priority learners’ programme in place. Most schools use teacher aides to help with students at risk. Ponsonby Intermediate’s board has funded
a group of ex-teachers, ‘magicians’ Wilson calls them, often with vast experience at year two or three level, who are assisting those students who need extra help to catch up with their peers. “They are absolute gold," Wilson adds.
Nick Wilson is in his absolute element as principal, and even has an idea for Nikki Kaye on how to bolster teacher numbers in Auckland. “Many great teachers have left to have babies,” he said, “and not because they were failures. Their registrations have expired and they have to do expensive retraining to be re-registered. Bring them straight into schools and get them teaching again.”
Ponsonby Intermediate is in good heart and, with Principal Nick Wilson, it is in good hands. The tone in the school is outstanding and one only has to read the ERO report to realise that the powers that be acknowledge that excellence. (JOHN ELLIOTT)