School’s Out: Howick College Takes Good Governance to the Next Level with Diligent
Education provides the foundation of a civil society and a wealth of opportunities for the next generation. But without good governance, limited resources can be easily squandered.
Howick College understands just how crucial this can be. The Auckland secondary school emphasises innovation and technology as a way to collaborate and inspire a community of passionate learners. That passion extends in particular to an activity loved on both sides of the Tasman – sport – as a founding school in the Sport in Education project.
Diligent has enabled Howick College to embed an efficient and professional approach to supporting its board and committees, keeping pace with the school’s progressive culture.
Howick College is one of the largest secondary schools in Auckland with more than 2200 students. It offers multiple learning pathways and is currently into the second year of a curriculum that encourages an innovative and collaborative learning approach. That can involve multiple teachers over several curriculum areas, working with a class at the same time, combining a range of skills to solve problems through self-directed learning.
“We give students quite a lot of ownership to do that, which means teachers and students have a shared learning experience.” says Howick College Executive Secretary, Kathy Heaton-Brown.
This approach means Howick College is a highly sought-after destination for teachers keen to embrace digital teaching and learning.
The school operates under a transparent and inclusive model, seeking ongoing feedback from parents, staff and students via online surveys.
The Howick College Board of Trustees is responsible for delivering the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s National Curriculum, which outlines the government’s learning foci and objectives.
The board holds around 10 meetings each year, supplemented by monthly meetings of its committees which focus on human resources, curriculum and student welfare, and finance and property. There is constant turnover to manage on the 10-person board, with elections held every 18 months and a new student trustee elected every year.
“All documents for board meetings used to be attachments and PDFs, sent via email and then printed copies that were filed the old-fashioned way, even though we are a digital school,” Heaton-Brown says.
This made it challenging to get the right documents to the right people and created technical issues, such as email bounce backs when attachments were too large.
Heaton-Brown was keen to make the overall governance process more professional and align the way the school worked with its digital ethos.
How Diligent helps
Howick College’s Principal, Iva Ropati, is not just the school’s leader but a genuine role model to its students. He trained as a teacher before embarking on a career as a professional rugby league player. Following a return to education, he received the prestigious Sir Peter Blake Emerging Leader Award in 2009 to recognise his significant transformation of a previous school as its principal.
In 2016, Ropati, who had used Diligent Boards during his time as a member of the Education Council suggested Heaton-Brown investigate whether it could also help the school.
“We’ve never looked back. I was impressed with the functionality of the programme, but more than that, the training and coaching support was key to adopting it.”
Executive Secretary, Howick College
Training was an important consideration given the constant influx of new board members: the timing and structure of the election process has meant Heaton-Brown has worked with four board chairs in her four years at Howick College.
Diligent’s cloud-based platform gives Howick College a simple way to meet its legislative requirement to provide board minutes and policies on its website. The process is now faster and more reliable.
“It sharpens our focus: I know exactly what I have to do and where to find documents, and the board gets push notifications so they know when documents are ready. I don’t have to worry if PDFs are too big to send. If something comes in late, I can put it on there later. Efficiency and professionalism have come to the fore.”
Directors also have a simple way to access all presentations, policies, procedures and minutes online. This promotes a more self-directed approach when they’re looking for answers, mirroring the school’s approach with its students.
“I really enjoy the way that everything is archived, you’ve got a permanent repository there which is a one-stop shop.”
Howick College has eight executives on its leadership team and Heaton-Brown can see clear benefits of extending Diligent Boards across this group.
“It’s hard to spend on administration but sometimes you’ve got to spend money to save money, because time is money.”
That also means putting in the hours in their own time. The Board and senior leadership team hold an annual weekend retreat. Discussions includes a review of the information provided to the board and feedback to help drive further improvement, which has refined how some reports are produced.
“We’re very fortunate that our board, principal and staff work well together. I’ll be in touch with our chair several times a week, sometimes daily depending on how board business is going. But we’re quite nimble in terms of how we address that partnership.”
Implementing Diligent Boards has provided a firm governance foundation for the leaders of Howick College. Heaton-Brown has plans to share her experiences at an upcoming annual conference for secondary principals’ PAs.
“Because I believe in it and because it’s made my job so much more satisfying, so much more professional, why should I keep this to myself?”