On the board for all students at school

Rosalie Feleti-Ivala’s eldest child was home schooled, but when she put her name forward for election to the board of Dunedin’s Brockville School three years ago, Rosalie had two children at the school. She knew she could have relationships with teachers, but wanted a deeper relationship and involvement with the school.


She is currently the board chair.


Rosalie is standing again in the 2016 elections. She has learned a lot and invested a lot. She still has a child and two nephews at the school so she still feels a responsibility to be there.


Being a school trustee is absolutely not what she thought it would be! Although she did research the role prior to joining, the reality was not at all what was expected. At the time of joining, everyone but the board chair was brand new in their roles, and the school had a new principal. There was lots to learn - and quickly.


Being a trustee is not just a monthly meeting, there can be very serious outcomes. Rosalie didn’t fully understand that when she joined the board. And of course, every board is different, so talking to people who have served on a different board may not prepare you for how yours operates.

Rosalie is Samoan/Tongan. Her nephews, who are also at the school are Māori/Burmese. Two of the board are Māori, and rest of the trustees are Pakeha. Cross cultural learnings have been one of the biggest challenges for Rosalie. Not every parent has same cultural experience, and you can only draw from your own experience.


Rosalie has found that raising the particular needs of Pasifika, Māori and special needs students sometimes gets the response that it is the same for all students. This is true, Rosalie says but there are studies that show these students do lag behind. It can be difficult at times to move the agenda for these students forward but Rosalie is clear: “We can’t leave them behind.”


Rosalie ‘carries the flag’ for Pasifika and Māori on her board, but as a trustee her time and energy on the board is for all students at the school.


One of the most rewarding outcomes is the way that the board works together. Half now have three years’ experience, and half of them have only six months. Being a diverse board with people with different backgrounds could create issues, but as a board they are very cohesive. As a group they enjoy meeting, and practice manaakitanga making sure everyone is on board with what to do. And everyone is on board. They all agree on their primary objective: the academic achievement of the children.

What has Rosalie gained personally from her experience on the board of trustees?


“A lot,” she says, “particularly being the Chair.” As the board chair she says, she has extra responsibilities. For example, there is the Risk Assessment Management document that is used when students travel away from school on field trips or other activities. The board chair signs off on this document, which is a very big responsibility.


By signing off on this document on the board’s behalf Rosalie checks that the measures staff put in place to keep students safe during the event are reasonable, and makes the board accountable for keeping the foreseeable risks down to an acceptable level.


There have been some positive changes at Rosalie’s school since she joined the board. The principal has been very strong in introducing technological changes in the school, and this has created changes in the delivery of the curriculum and generally a more modern classroom environment.

The board now communicate online rather than with traditional paper documents, so they can do things anywhere now. The board all gets the same info at the same time, and it makes the work easier to do when information is accessible at any time.


The background has to run smoothly so it appears smooth on the front, says Rosalie. She now knows a lot about how a school is run and what goes in in a classroom. This involves lots of upskilling at fast speed - learning what academic achievement means, what strategic planning means. These are invaluable transferrable skills that can apply to other things in life as well.


Rosalie has some advice for anyone thinking about standing for their school board of trustees.


“If you want to be more involved than just for your child, and give to other children and the community, then you would be a good fit on the board,” she says.


“Be prepared for lots of reading! But it is very rewarding. It’s about giving back.”


Election Project Manager Janet Kelly says schools need informed people with a balance of skills and experiences to stand for election as trustees.


Parents, caregivers and people from the wider community can be nominated for election to a school board. It is important that the board reflects its community.


"We need people who can make a positive difference for their local school. A well run school board has the power to lift student achievement - which will then benefit the whole community", she says.


"Anyone interested in more information about trusteeship should contact their local school."


Most schools called for nominations by the 6th May. Nominations close on the 20th May. 



2016 School Trustee Elections


The New Zealand School Trustees Association provides support and resources to school boards, and is coordinating and promoting the 2016 school trustee elections in partnership with the Ministry of Education.


School trustee elections are one of the most significant democratic processes in New Zealand, involving the election of boards of trustees for almost 2,500 state and state-integrated New Zealand schools, every three years.


More than 15,000 people are needed to form boards, and more than 110,000 people have taken on the trusteeship role in New Zealand since the introduction of self-managed schools in 1989.


For more information please visit www.trustee-election.co.nz