Principal from New Zealand visits Palliser

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Ken McLeay, of Kerikeri, Northland, NZ, talks with Sunnyside School Principal Connie Adserballe Thursday.

A principal from an elementary school in New Zealand spent Thursday and Friday in Palliser Regional Schools, touring schools and meeting with administrators to talk about how they are evaluated.

Ken McLeay, principal of Riverview School in Kerikeri, Northland, New Zealand, is conducting research during his North American tour, funded by a remarkable national education award.

The ASB-APPA Travelling Fellowship is described by the New Zealand Ministry of Education as “one of the most prestigious awards that a primary school principal can receive in New Zealand. It allows recipients to travel overseas to investigate specific topics that are relevant to their own schools and the wider education network in New Zealand.”

McLeay’s topic is administrator appraisal. In New Zealand, the chair of the board of trustees is responsible for ensuring an annual evaluation of the principal. In large schools, the board may choose to hire a qualified consultant to conduct the appraisal at a cost of $2,500 or so. For a board overseeing a smaller school, that cost may be prohibitive and in some locations, the expertise may not even be available. In that case, the board chair, who is a parent at the school, may conduct the appraisal even if he/she has no qualifications to do so, McLeay said.

In Palliser, principals are evaluated annually by the Associate Superintendent (Human Resources), Ken Garinger, who accompanied McLeay during his two-day visit to Palliser. Each principal has the opportunity to present evidence of their accomplishments in each of Alberta’s Professional Practice Competencies for School Leaders, Garinger said.

McLeay met with administrators from five community schools and visited two of Palliser’s 17 Hutterite colony schools. At Sunnyside School Thursday, Principal Connie Adserballe showed McLeay her annual evidence report, which includes data she’s collected throughout the year to show the impact of her efforts.

Adserballe, who was Palliser’s literacy coach before joining Sunnyside School, also wanted to talk about literacy with McLeay. The Fountas and Pinnell assessment tool now used across Palliser was based upon research by New Zealander Marie Clay. Clay’s Reading Recovery intervention program is found in schools across New Zealand, McLeay said.

McLeay, whose school has 350 students from kindergarten through Grade 6, said as principal, he is responsible for all aspects of his school, from the recently completed $3.5-million upgrade to the building, to the staffing. He said he loves the challenge of wearing many different hats.

“Here, I’ve been really impressed in the way the school district looks after all the administration and management of structures, resources, property, and finances, freeing up the principals to be the educational leaders of learning for the children,” he said.

Before arriving in Palliser, he visited four school districts in Texas, Colorado and Montana. After leaving Palliser Friday, he was heading toward Banff to see the Rockies before visiting a school district in Oregon. A flight out of Los Angeles would take him to the United Kingdom for visits to a half dozen more schools.

Once his school visits are complete, he’ll be expected to complete a research paper on his findings for the Ministry of Education, with 30 copies destined for the top officials in the department. He’ll also be presenting at two conference as well as at a function for the fellowship’s corporate sponsors.

“I’m looking for good practice and seeing a lot of it here,” he said, adding that New Zealand’s school system is already “fantastic.”

Garinger said he was pleased to show McLeay the great diversity of schools in Palliser and to gain an international perspective on leadership.

“There is no one perfect way to do things,” Garinger said. “Our Superintendent (Kevin Gietz) always says ‘you don’t have to be sick to get better.’ We want to continue to grow and improve.”