Tēnei te mihi ki a koutou. Haere mai ki te waka o Te Arawa.Haere mai ki te kaupapa o Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru.

Leith Comer, Executive Chairman of Excel Rotorua Education Trust sits on the mahau of his ancestral house Tamatekapua, the captain of the Arawa waka. To his left is a pou-haki or flagstaff, with one of his illustrious chiefs Rangitihi as the foundation carving. Above him are his eight beating hearts, his children – Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru. It is from Rangitihi that Te Arawa tribes trace their decent and are brought together through a common ancestor.

In a similar vein an initiative curated by Excel Rotorua Education Trust, Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru will bring together all schools, learners, iwi, communities and whānau of Rotorua to share a common kaupapa.

“We want Rotorua to be known as a great place to learn,” said Leith.

“We want all of our schools in the district to be well-led, well-resourced and staffed by superb teachers. We want all our learners to be engaged and excelling in their education; supported by their whānau with their learning enhanced by technology and connectivity at school, at home and the community. Everything we are doing must lead to improved engagement and achievement for all of our learners.”

Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru is a Rotorua district-wide initiative that will use best practice e-learning teaching methodologies and collaboration between schools to improve educational outcomes for learners and whanau across all of Rotorua’s schools and kura. The Excel Rotorua Education Trust is in the early stages of enabling Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru, to engage with up to 30 schools in its first year.

“With funding from NEXT Foundation, Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru will deliver a programme which will support principals and teachers leading change in their schools,” said Leith. “We will engage community groups and iwi to gain involvement in supporting their schools and whānau in children’s learning. And, we’ll encourage and facilitate collaboration between schools by establishing places where communities can share their e-learning plans and best practice.”

Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru addresses an opportunity for the Rotorua District to improve achievement outcomes for all learners of whom 54% are Maori. This transformational shift to a community that learns through a digital learning environment and pedagogy is fully supported by community stakeholders.

“This kaupapa is especially championed by the Mayor, Her Worship the Honourable Steve Chadwick,” said Leith. “The symbol that Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru carries is a ‘Cheeky E’ and will be awarded to people, places and organisations which excel in the kaupapa. We are delighted to award the Mayor of Rotorua the first ‘Cheeky E’, for her determination to make Rotorua an eCity.”

NEXT Foundation will also fund an evidence-based evaluation as an integral component of Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru’s development and progress. Professor Helen Timperley and Professor Lorna Earl from the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland will lead the independent evaluation to measure and assess its effectiveness and build evaluative capability into the practising schools and community stakeholders. Their findings will contribute to the continuous improvement of the initiative.

“I think the greatest responsibility parents, the community and iwi have is to make sure each and every child receives the best education that is possible,” added Leith. “Education is the doorway to opportunity. Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru – he kaupapa motuhake mō tātou. Ngā Pūmanawa e Waru is an important kaupapa for us all.”

Leith Comer is Executive Chairman of Excel Rotorua Education Trust and a former Senior Army Officer and Public Servant.