Strategic perspective, not small decisions

Sonya Hapi’s journey on the board started when her first daughter started at Irongate School and Sonya approached the principal about being on the PTA. The principal suggested she put herself forward for the school board instead, and gave her a nomination form. Sonya went for it and nine years on she is still on the board. While her children are still attending Irongate School, Sonya intends to be there as well, so she is standing again in the 2016 triennial elections.


Sonya’s initial expectation was that she would turn up to meetings and help with small decision making. After the completion of her first term, Sonya realised there was a lot more responsibility involved - in a good way.


“I’ve seen student achievement levels rise. The board makes financial decisions on professional development for the teachers, and seeing the positive effect flow on to student achievement is hugely rewarding.”


Trusteeship is a very specialised role, but Sonya has found that the skills learnt from professional development opportunities given to the board, are transferrable to her work in other community environments.


“The strategic perspective needed on a board is very different to the day-to-day running of a school. Learning how to use this strategic perspective into other areas of my life has been a personal reward,” she says.


Sonya also works part-time for a tertiary education provider, and says she can see the positive outcomes from the work that boards do at the other end. “I am able to see the results of good leadership in schools and where gaps have been recognised and addressed,” she says. Furthermore, she is also able to identify gaps she sees in tertiary, and take these observations back to her board.


Her biggest challenge on the board has been communication, both within the board and within the community. “There are challenges when you need to communicate with people from different backgrounds,” she says.


“It’s important that you have the right information in order to make the right decisions.”


Sonya comes from a Pakeha/Pasifika background, her husband is Māori, and she sees the community as a wider extension of her family. She is proud to be able to help them.


“It’s wonderful when the school is seen as a place of safety, especially for people from low socio-economic groups.”


Her message to prospective trustees is to be prepared for many rewarding opportunities. “It requires commitment and lots of work, but it’s hugely rewarding.”


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