Secondary Education in Ōtaki: the First 25 Years
John Saunders, Principal of Ōtaki College from 1963 to 1975, first considered the history of the College after its 25th Jubilee in 1984. His article, from the Ōtaki Historical Society: Historical Journal, Vol. 7, is reprinted here (abridged).
Establishment of the District High School
Prior to the opening of Ōtaki District High School on 2 February 1959, secondary education was afforded to pupils of the lower Horowhenua by their travelling by rail or bus to Horowhenua College.
Throughout the 1950 decade, there was, in New Zealand as a whole, huge growth in the provision of new secondary schools to cope with the great increase in the number of children of secondary school age. In the same period, reference to the newspapers and to the primary school committee meeting minutes showed a growing unrest in the Ōtaki district concerning the educating problems that related to the pupils having to travel. This prompted the school committees of the district to seek a secondary education establishment in the area.
A major meeting with Wellington Education Board officers on 6 March 1957 showed that the establishment of a District High School was an accepted fact.
On 19 May 1957, a committee was set up to study ‘High School uniform matters, colours, badges, and uniform.’ This committee reported in June, giving details of the colours chosen: clerical grey with royal blue and gold.
Plans of the original D block (the present technical and home economics area) were presented In August 1957 and a decision was made to press for action to get all the facilities ready for 1959.
The District High School began on 2 February 1959, with a roll of 62 third form students. The Principal was Mr Bilborough, with Mr T H Burt as Senior Secondary Assistant. The school was not officially opened until 3 March 1960 by Mr P Skoglund, Minister of Education.
The roll grew to 157 in 1960 and, in anticipation of rapid growth, the committee had pressed for establishment as a full college. This was granted as from 1 February 1961. The roll for 1961 was 217, and it also catered for 277 manual training primary school pupils. Mr T R Chadwick had been appointed Principal with Mr T H Burt as First Assistant.
At a board meeting in July 1961, the first mention of the new type of Form I to VI College was made.
In 1962, John Saunders was appointed to succeed Mr T R Chadwick as Principal.
The period of 1963 to 1970 was marked principally by a growth in the roll numbers, particularly in the senior forms, and by a great expansion of the physical facilities of the College.
Stephen Hillas Memorial Swimming Pool was officially opened in the early summer of 1963 - 1964.
In 1963 too, began the erection of B block, which has the library and art rooms, and also the assembly hall and administration block. B block came into use early in 1964, and shortly afterwards so did the assembly hall block, which was officially opened by the Governor General, Sir Bernard Fergusson. The gymnasium was completed in 1969.
In October 1969 the Board approved of the Department’s offer of translation to a Form I to VI College. In 1971 the new institution began in the face of great difficulty: two hundred and thirty-four new pupils in the Form I and II area were enrolled with no new facilities. By all sorts of makeshifts, somehow the school began, but it was late in the year when the Nelson block was finally completed. It was even later when such conversions as the new metalwork room were available; but a new era in secondary education had begun. A greater variety of subjects and course options were available, a greater degree of teacher specialisation and a wider use of physical facilities such as the gymnasium was an advantage for the youth of Ōtaki and wider district.
A continuing growth in the physical amenities were a feature of the years 1971 - 1975. These years were marked by a steady improvement in the level of academic successes and in the range of intramural and extramural activities available to the pupils.
A music room was added in 1974 and there were extensions to the library, the gymnasium equipment room and the provision of a kiln in the art room.
Other changes came too. In 1973 the Board agreed to seventh form students wearing ‘mufti’ instead of uniform. This really symbolised a new relationship in secondary schools that was growing between senior pupils and staff.
At the end of 1975 Mr and Mrs Saunders retired from positions of Principal and Senior Mistress. Mr Rex Kerr and Miss Diane Barton were appointed to fill these positions.
In 1981 a horticultural course was established in line with the changing rural emphasis in the Ōtaki district.
Another change was the development of a wider outdoor education curriculum to take advantage of the many venture opportunities in the hills, rivers and forests so close to the College.
The growing interest and focus on the social impact of a changing society on education was evidenced by the appointment of a full-time guidance counsellor in 1978 and of a full-time teacher of Maori language and culture.
The French language option disappeared for want of support, but computer awareness became part of the programme.
The growing roll meant that the assembly hall had to be widened, the library in B block was substantially extended, an audio-visual room was provided and three more classrooms were additions to the teaching facilities.
The 25th Jubilee celebration was held over Labour weekend in 1984.