Orson Waldock, a senior urban designer with a landscape architecture background, helps the children with their design
Kathy Hunter catches up with the principals of our local schools as they look back over the past year.

Primary goals: Hobsonville Point Primary School

Principal Daniel Birch of Hobsonville Point Primary was pretty glad to see the back of 2020. But COVID didn’t hit his students as hard as it could have. “It was definitely challenging, but because we were already well set up with self-directed learning, it was a pretty easy transition,” he says.

Daniel and Deputy Principal Lisa Squire had a rapid and innovative approach to lockdown, putting together a ‘Distance Learning Plan’ the day before lockdown on 24 March 2020, with extensive guidelines for children, parents and learning advisers.

The team researched international schools in San Francisco and Japan before writing the plan for HPPS; these schools had road-tested distance learning for years. Daniel and Lisa advised achievable goals of just a few hours of supervised learning a day – and the wellbeing of children, teachers and parents was paramount.

The New Zealand Herald wrote about the school’s response, and there was even a personal letter from Secretary for Education Iona Holsted, who said, “I was really impressed by the work that has gone into this, and particularly the clear focus on student wellbeing and encouraging opportunities for integrated learning.”

Daniel acknowledges the positive impact student initiatives had on lockdown. In 2020 the first student council was formed: 16 trusted seniors whose main goal, in the words of councillors Tiotiana, Portia, Rylla and Priya is “to embody our students’ wants and needs”.

A clear requirement in 2020 for this team was some stress-busting fun during lockdown. “We organised online competitions like baking, a digital talent show, and a crazy hair day... just to bring someone a smile was a definite achievement.” The student council team mentioned fundraising achievements; service to others is an important school value. “Even if you don’t know them, it is important to take that extra step to help someone else out – and to do this your whole life,” the students said.

A huge achievement in 2020 was building a new outdoor learning space, funded by winning the TREEmendous grant. Touch rugby and kapa haka teams did well and Daniel said a new school choir had “good uptake... but challenging flow”.

An ongoing challenge for HPPS is the rapidly increasing roll. Soon after lockdown lifted, six relocatables were delivered and immediately filled, with further students installed at the senior school. This year’s roll is 920, with at least 200 more during the year, but plans are in place to stay ahead of the curve.

HPPS opened eight years ago with just 21 students, so 2020 saw the first Year 8 graduates. To send them off, flax ‘Kete Aroha’ were hung on the wall outside the office, each with a year 8 student’s photo on it. Teachers and students popped little mementos in each one throughout December, and a final kete-opening ceremony ensured a memorable send-off.

Looking back, Daniel’s glad that he and his team have stuck to their foundation principles: building strong relationships and dispositional skills such as resilience, collaboration, creativity and problem solving. And student wellbeing will always come first.

To read more about what's happening at Hobsonville Point, check out the lastest Point Life issue here