Home > News > Archive > 27th September 2007

Lot to leave behind for a huge new challenge

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Barbara Cavanagh

By Dean Taylor

When Te Awamutu College principal Barbara Cavanagh starts her new job next term she will have nothing - not even an office to work from.

Miss Cavanagh was farewelled at the end of last term after accepting the top job for a school that isn’t even built yet. And as she says, she is leaving a lot behind for the challenge that lays ahead.

Miss Cavanagh was principal of Te Awamutu College for just six years. She says leaving is hard because she feels rooted to
Te Awamutu, her home town, and because the school is in such great heart and moving forward. But the lure of opening New
Zealand’s first public senior high school proved too attractive - so on Monday week she will be standing on the site of Albany Senior High School surrounded by controversy, challenges, issues - and hope.

Albany Senior High School is to be built on the site of the original Primary School. There is already controversy about the Ministry of Education buying part of a reserve for the project, and although the site is being used as a outdoor education centre, heritage buffs are wanting the original primary classroom kept - creating more issues on an already small site.

Other issues include traffic flow problems in the fast growing area. Nearby Kristin School has already had its share of incidents because of high traffic volume, and this will need to be addressed with another school on the busy route.

Miss Cavanagh says while the Ministry is committed to the project, there are still planning issues to resolve before building starts, and she envisages spending a fair bit of time taking to the local body.

And it also seems not everyone is happy within the school board. Trustees are a mixture of Ministry appointees and community elected members. Three have already resigned since Miss Cavanagh’s appointment, including Te Awamutu born chairman John Parlane.

But she says it is an exciting venture, and she has to take these challenges in her stride.

The school will be a model for future development. It will take it’s first Year 11 student in 2009, mostly from Albany Junior High School which opened in 2005 and takes Year 7 to Year 10 students.

The school is designed by Jasmax, the architectural firm which designed Te Papa. It will be four stories high to maximise ground space, classrooms have an open plan layout and there will be underground parking for 350 cars. With 500 students coming at each level from Junior High, total roll is expected to climb to just under 1500 by 2011.

The school has links with nearby Massey University and will offer courses at secondary and tertiary levels.

Miss Cavanagh believes some of the successes of Te Awamutu College helped her win the much sought after job, and she says Te Awamutu can be proud of that because in many ways this community is an educational leader. She says it was the relationship with the community that impressed her bosses, such ventures as Gateway, the Agricultural Academy, Hospitality programme, liaisons with other schools and strong network of principals. Her job is to build those same strong relationships in a new community, from scratch.

Her two deputy principals are being appointed at present and will start next year. In term three the senior teachers will come on board and in term four all staff will start preparation and planning for their first students.

Miss Cavanagh says everyone will be watching the school, so it is a chance of a lifetime to make an impression in education. And not that it influenced her decision greatly, but her mother and two of her sisters are handy to where she will be making her new home, plus she has friends there from her teaching days at Northcote College.


Leaving Te Awamutu is a wrench for Miss Cavanagh. A local girl, she says coming back to Te Awamutu has been good for her. She says the educational values of the district are outstanding, and having community buy in is a commodity not every school enjoys.

She also feels she has been privileged to work with tremendous school boards whose members have had very positive relationships with the school and senior management team, again not always evident in all schools. And she is very proud of the local principals group which works together to provide opportunities for all Te Awamutu and district children to get the best education.

Never too outspoken about secondary students going to schools outside Te Awamutu while principal, Miss Cavanagh now says she cannot understand any parent making such a decision without at least looking here first. She says parents only need to talk to senior students to see what Te Awamutu College has to offer, and she says it gives children a sense of belonging and opportunities to perform and succeed in their own community. This is something she knows a bit about, having gone off to Sacred Heart for her secondary schooling.

Te Awamutu College will be in the hands of acting principal Tony Membery until a new principal is appointed.