Interview: Vaughan Couillault

Stuart Macadam

Stuart Macadam is a contributing editor to Getfrank. With a focus on entertainment, he enjoys watching the latest movies, reading the latest books and discovering the latest and greatest technological innovations.

James Cook High School Questions

Tell us about the history of JCHS

Opened in 1968.  Named JCHS as 1968 was the 200th anniversary of James Cook landing in NZ.  The current demographic of JCHS is ~1200 students, 48% Maori, 42% Pacifica, 4% European.

When did you become principal?

July 2012

What were some of the reasons the school results were so low a few years ago?

Our school serves a community that experiences significant intergenerational poverty.  In most years, over 70% of our incoming year 9 cohort is approximately 3 years behind in their learning as a result of the barriers created by such poverty.  We continually work to help improve educational outcomes for our students, to get them up to an academic level that allows them to access qualifications!

What do you believe makes a successful school?

Amazing staff, extensive professional learning and development, students that respond when relationship between them and teachers are working, families that do the best with what they have to support what happens at school and facilities that are safe, modern and conducive to learning.

Were there certain initiatives you implemented to bring the results up so quickly?

Already in place when I arrived were our Puutake bilingual unit, a Health Sciences Academy, a Services Academy and a deep engagement with the Te Kotahitanga project.  In 2012 and 2013 we added StarPath and PB4L to our fleet of interventions and began knitting them together.  2014 we added the ART 2015-2017 initiative to the way we engage with students.  As with any school based intitiative things don’t happen overnight.  The result increases we have experienced are a function of solid and fundamental ground work, with a wee bit of new stuff to add value.

Are more students as a proportion of the school roll sitting end of year exams now than when you took over?

More students are gaining meaningful NCEA qualifications as a results of the work we have been doing over the past 7+ years.  Some barriers to accessing these qualifications have been overcome due to the combination of interventions we have managed to get operating symbiotically.

Where do your current teachers get their ideas? Do they do workshops, courses?

We have a highly effective Professional Learning Centre and the vast majority of our staff development is led by in house experts.  We foster innovation, encourage pedagogical risk taking and support those who want to try and make the boat go faster!  Staff are able to access external professional learning if they wish, and in any given year we have at least two working on Masters level degrees.

What do you think holds a lot of public schools back from achieving better results?

Nothing, results are achieved by students. We as school leaders help guide them on this journey and provide opportunity, resources and expertise where it is needed.

Who are some past students that have gone on to achieve great success?

Many…we have 1000’s of students who lead families, speak on paepae, hold middle leadership positions in businesses, own businesses, have wonderful engaged children and are proud to contribute to their community.  If you want a list of famous alumni…

Scott Dixon (Race car driver), Russell Stanners (CEO Vodafone NZ), Beau Monga (X FactorNZ winner 2015), the Bromwich brothers (NRL), Leleia Masaga, Joe Rokococo (both rugby dudes)…

Do your children attend the school?

My children are at primary school.

What are some things you want to achieve moving forward with JCHS?

We want more of the same.  Improved student outcomes, improved engagement, happy staff, proud whanau.  We want all students to be in charge of where they go next in life, once they leave JCHS.  We want them to be the lead agents in their lives, and have the skill set and capacity to make meaningful life, education and employment decisions.

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