The Christchurch Schools announcement

Beck Eleven at The Press wrote:

Few people embrace change. That’s just science. Nonetheless, it is inevitable, especially in this post-quake era. However, I find it incomprehensible how Education Minister Hekia Parata, ably assisted by Bulldozer No 1, Gerry Brownlee, could possibly have thought the way they announced changes to ’s would go down well.

You would hope that hundreds of hours of research had gone into how many schools needed to close, the criteria for each and rock solid, defensible reasons for the changes. Then, one would expect a few more hours nutting out the best delivery method.

There are screeds of literature and academic theory dedicated to the psychology of change, so why on God’s Rubbled Earth would the news be delivered to principals who were given coloured name badges before being told if the colour of their name badge equated to a closure, a merger or status quo. I can’t even bear to give the Government’s term “rejuvenation” any more air.

It sounds like a terrible and humiliating rip-off version of New Zealand Idol or New Zealand’s Got Talent.

While I admit it would take some extraordinary being to deliver the news in a way that would be acceptable to the majority, surely someone suspected this would be the thorn that turned Christchurch into a wounded lion?

They gave out colour named badges to principals, and then announced whether their colour meant their school survived or not????

How on earth could anyone think that was a good idea? Jesus Christ. Someone actually sat down and said “Hey let’s give them different coloured name badges, to indicate what happens to their schools” and no-one else said “That’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever said!”.

I’m staggered by that degree of insensitivity and stupidity. Now I know Ministers do not get into the details of whether or not people get coloured name tags, so I don’t blame them. But they need to ensure either their Departments have a CEO and managers who know how to handle issues like this, or insist that such details get run through their office.

With reflection, almost everything about the announcement was flawed. Having one “big bang” announcement was the wrong way to do it. Summoning all the principals and board chairs together may have been convenient, but made things worse.

As Beck Eleven has said, any change is difficult and challenging. School closures or mergers are some of the most difficult. We’re talking the jobs of principals and teachers. The security of neighbourhood for parents, the incredibly important friendships for pupils. If any reorganisation needs maximum sensitivity, then school closures and mergers are it.

If I was the relevant manager in the Ministry of Education, what I would have done is:

  1. Appoint a dedicated liaison for every school that could be impacted
  2. Have them go in and meet key stakeholders in each school
  3. Keep the school informed on what is happening on a “no surprises” policy
  4. Share with them the data on which a decision will be made. Ask them for input and data.
  5. Telegraph well in advance what the likely scenarios are. If closure is likely, be honest and say “That is the likely outcome, but the decision is not final”
  6. When there is a draft decision, have someone go to the school, and in order tell the principal, board, and staff. Don’t summon them to come out to you.
  7. Have support services available to those affected.

You’re still going to have upset staff, parents and pupils due to the nature of the decisions. But you won’t have got the same degree of anger and pushback, as has occurred.

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