The re-opening of the oldest Māori boarding school in Aotearoa appears to be a step closer, with confirmation of a powerhouse couple returning to Auckland to oversee the re-establishment of Tipene/St Stephen's School.
Pulse netball coach Yvette McCausland-Durie will step down from the role after nine years with the Wellington-based franchise and return to the Bombay Hills with her husband Nathan Durie at the end of the year to take on the daunting task of reopening the school that closed its doors in 2000.
Nathan, a former student, teacher and deputy principal of the historic school is no stranger to establishing schools aimed at lifting the academic achievement of Māori. He and his wife established Tū Toa school in Palmerston North in 2005 before branching out to establish Manukura in 2013.
He says re-starting a school like St Stephens will present its own unique challenges but they are excited to take them head-on. Those challenges include ensuring the suitability of the buildings built in the 1930s and used for nearly a quarter of a century.
"He nui ngā mahi, kua timata kē mātou ki te whakahōungia, ki te whakariterite, ki te whakaora anō ētahi o ngā where tawhito. Nō reira, āe, he nui ngā mahi. Engari, tā mātou waimarie i tēnei wā ko te poari o Tīpene me Wikitōria tērā i whakautu."
(Well there is a lot of work to be done. We've already started to restore some of the old buildings and arrange things so yes, there is a lot of work. We're very lucky this time, however, as the St Stephen's and Queen Victoria Trust Board has covered the costs.)
Having established two schools, with a strong focus on sports as well as education, Nathan envisions a similar approach will be taken at St Stephen's, which is still remembered fondly for its rugby prowess, particularly in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, as well as its educational achievements.
"Etahi o ngā āhuatanga he ōrite, engari ko te tikanga ka noho ngā tauira ki atu i te kainga, he kura noho tēnei pērā i tau o mua. Koirā tētahi o ngā rerekētanga, engari ko te tino manako ko te mea ōrite ka eke a tātou tama ki ngā taumata tiketike.
(In some aspects there will be similarities but the hope is that students will be boarding at school, because this is a live-in school, just like many years ago. So that's one of the differences but the desire is that the thing that is the same is our boys excelling greatly.)
The school closed after a series of allegations of bullying and concerns over student safety saw then Education Minister, Trevor Mallard cancel funding.
At the time, the decision to close the school was seen by the school’s trust board and the Anglican Church as being in the best interests of Māori education, to ensure the school could renew and retain its status as a taonga for Māori. Since then, the collective efforts of many alumni have kept the spirit of the school alive.
With the trust board having paid off its debts, Durie believes it is in a position to continue supporting Māori education.
"I ngā tau kua pahure nei ko ngā karahipi tērā. Nō reira, ko tētahi o ngā rerekētanga inaiānei, kua huri te ao. Kua hiahia te Māori inaiānei ki te whakahaere a tātou ake kaupapa, ki te tū rangatira, ki te tū rangatira. Āe, kua huri te ao, e tika ana ka aro tātou ki aua āhuatanga, heoi anō, kei a rātou te pūtea, kei a rātou hoki te hiahia kia tautoko tēnei wawata a tātou."
(In the years that have passed, they've made scholarships available. One of the major differences now, of course, is the change in the world. Māori now want to execute our own initiatives, to stand proud as a Māori to begin with. So, yes the world is changing and it's only right to focus on those aspects. However, they have the funds, they also have that desire to support our aspirations.