Marcus Freke, Endeavour School Foundation Principal (2014-2021)
Community Farewell Celebration speech from Wednesday the 7th of July 2021.
Thank you everyone for coming today, it is very humbling to have you here and I thank you for your kind words and your support of me in this new adventure.
A lot of you know me as a bit of a cheeky fella. Someone who always has a smart comment or retort and someone who has a sense of humour, I’m not saying a good one. The problem is I have never been able to write my witticism down, they are always off the cuff. So this speech won’t be funny at all, but it will be sincere in thank you's and in the acknowledgements I make.
Endeavour School was my 4th principal position after enjoying time at Karapiro, Hautapu and Vardon schools. At each school I learnt lots about school leadership and being a principal, but I think being a foundation principal is where I have learnt the most. It requires one to have real clarity about how teaching and learning needs to happen, how space can enable learning, what resources are required to support learning and of course real consideration about the type of people you need to develop and implement a truly collaborative teaching and learning environment. You can’t default to historical practice, because there are none. It also requires you to be open to criticism and critique and on very rare occasions; you might be wrong.
The journey that Endeavour School has enjoyed has been a massive team effort. From day one we were fortunate to have some amazing educational thinkers offering their support and sharing their ideas. Four out of five of the Establishment Board were either current or recently retired principals and the other was the leader of the Educational Leadership Centre at Waikato University. It’s great to see Bill, Steve, Jackie and Spencer here. I still have vivid memories of the interview process and being introduced to the panel as Hamish, which was slightly disconcerting to say the least, was I actually meant to be in the interview, had there been some stuff up??? I got the job or Hamish did, anyway here I am. One thing I always admired and appreciated was that I was never told what to do, my thinking was regularly challenged and often changed as a result, but despite being surrounded by 100 years + of principal experience no one said “do this”.
I think it was because MLEs/ILEs/Flexible Learning Spaces (definitely not open-plan) were still a relatively new concept, there was no dominant model for establishing a school of this type and so we were all learning together. We were ‘building the plane as we flew it’, an analogy we often used. One thing we were certain about was, this was not going to be an experiment with children’s learning. Our kids only get one chance at school and we needed to get it right from day one, for every learner. Last year in 2020, 35 year 6 students left Endeavour as foundation students who only attend our school, they were our fault. They were a great group of young people who truly personified our ETC dispositions and values. I think we have gone a long way to achieving what we set out to do.
I have said it many times; I lived the dream for any Principal for my first term in the job. No children, no teachers, no parents. Just me in the office with a good coffee machine and a license to do some ‘blue-sky thinking’. I was joined in July 2014 by Leo & Michelle and they pulled apart everything I had done in the previous term and then we rebuilt it. We first came together in the lobby of the airport hotel in Auckland the night before we flew out together to visit schools on the Gold Coast. Michelle assumed I was a Christian because I said I was looking forward to enjoying a ‘lemonade with her’ she hadn’t learnt Marcus speak yet. Leo and I were able to shake this assumption of hers after a few VBs in the spa at Burleigh Heads. This opportunity helped us quickly gel as a team. It was when we were scribbling ideas down on a piece of cartridge paper on the floor in a motel on the Gold Coast that we decided Endeavour Learners needed to be able to ‘Learn without Limits’ and that became our vision statement. Another key cornerstone for Endeavour School was gifted at this time from Ngatae Wairere - Kia tukaha, kia eke - To endeavour, to succeed. This has been an important part of Endeavour Schools Kaupapa since.
Then we did it all again with our foundation team and decided that to ‘Learn without Limits’ we needed to be great ‘Explorers, Thinkers and Citizens’. Each time we brought a new group in, another layer of clarity developed. This thinking was led by Pam, Chrissy, Kate, Maria and Sarah. There are two other foundation team members who are still with us, Lou Cocks, who was teaching in the newest and oldest schools in Hamilton at the same time and Lisa Spaans who went from scale A release work to Director of our international programme in 2018. Sadly that is in hiatus at the moment.
Michelle and Leo were the right people at the right time for Endeavour School and I thank them for the amazing thinking work they did in our first 18 months together. Then Leo moved on to Horotiu and Meg joined us in term 2 of 2016. Right at the start of the ‘crazy years’ when we grew for 108 students on day 1 to 600 at the end of our 4th year.
As we grew, we continually reflected on our systems and processes for teaching and learning, our Kaupapa for appointing staff was how can you add value to what we are doing. After 7 years we have now embedded some highly effective practices and there is continuity and consistency across our school. I don’t think as a school you’re ever 100% finished and I know at Endeavour we don’t just do stuff because we have always done it that way, if it isn’t working for the students then we review and change it. In year 3 & 4 we recognised the importance of developing a leadership group, which were dubbed the APOLs (Associate Principals of Learning), who were charged with the responsibility of developing consistency and continuity to how teaching and learning happens at Endeavour. They are a driving force behind curriculum innovation at Endeavour. They are an extremely knowledgeable, experienced and challenging group to work with and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with them and learning from them. Our original APOLs all moved to new challenges in education but our current group, Debbie, Kylee and Liz continue the great thinking and hard work. They are well supported by our team leaders and of course all our teachers who are leaders of learning in their own right. From day 1 we had a Kaupapa "don't bring me a problem bring a solution’. This philosophy is as strong today as it has ever been. We are blessed with an amazing team at Endeavour School.
When Michelle won her principal position in 2019, we changed our Senior Leader structure to one DP and an LSC to cover our Special Ed requirements. I need to especially acknowledge Meg. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you, my Red Dot ‘get stuff done approach’ and your Yellow dot “how about some detail and organisation’ has worked pretty well over the years. I appreciate your wisdom, humour and the fact you are a bloody hard worker. I thank you for the support you have given me at so many levels. I would especially like to thank you for your hard work over the last couple of weeks putting together my farewells, as well as acting up in term 3 & 4. Behind every good man is a great woman, and Drew and I both know it.
I remember some advice I was given as a trainee teacher: don't make mates with the principal, get in with the office lady and caretaker, they are the ones who will help you out when you need it. This might work for young Scale A teachers but not so much for a principal. Jo is an integral part of our Leadership team; people forget she is a foundation staff member and do not realise the massive contribution she has made to getting our school up and running. So many of our operational systems are a result of her thinking and hard work. She has built an awesome admin team of Lucy, Linda and Victoria and they are integral to the running of our team. Nige has also been with us since day one. Thanks, mate, for all you do. I promise I won’t move your cones.
I mentioned our Establishment Board earlier but I would like to acknowledge and thank our Foundation and subsequent Boards of Trustees. Endeavour School has been fortunate to have committed parents who have worked hard to govern our school. I would particularly like to acknowledge Rob Bull our foundation board chair, Dr Heather Connelly who I first met while she was pushing Jamie in a buggy past the ‘turning of the sod’ for our school on the 14th March 2014 and Karin Adams whose recruitment skills were fully utilised during our massive growth phase and who now has a big task ahead of her. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all and thank you for the support you have given me. The board has allowed me to undertake study tours, have a sabbatical, work for ERO and be president of the WPA. These experiences have helped win my new role and I am extremely grateful for them.
I need to acknowledge our parents and community. For our foundation parents it was a huge leap of faith to start not only in a new school but also a new way of learning. We had amazing support from you all. I would like to thank a special group, our Friends of Endeavour who established in our first year and were able, with the support of the Lions Club, to raise enough money to build our senior playground. Victoria Brewerton was a driving force behind this group in its early days. Our FOE team works on and continues to make many contributions to our school that make it a great place to live and learn. I thank you for organising tonight's kai. I can’t mention our community without mentioning Colin & Thelma who welcomed the school with open arms. Sadly, Colin isn’t with us. Over the years they have been very generous to Endeavour buying resources for our school and sponsoring an annual award at our End of Year prize giving.
I need to thank my family Toni, Caitlin & Emma. They have been wonderfully supportive during the busy setting up and establishing Endeavour School. I remember coming home one evening and snapping at one of the girls for something minor. The response was “are you mean to people like that at school? No one will come to your school if you are.” It was a sobering reminder.
I feel I have built up some strong relationships and friendships during my 21 years of principalship in the Waikato. I am going to rely on these as I move forward in my new role. There is real desire in the MoE to engage better with the sector and key stakeholders. Rather than responding to poorly considered policy I am hoping our sector can be a part of shaping and developing through genuine consultation and engagement. I know there is a will to change but it will not happen overnight. I already sense there will be many restrictions on what can and can’t be done, sadly the pay rises and extra classrooms I have promised my mates may not come through, not straight away anyway.
I feel I’m leaving having gone through Tuckman’s full cycle of ‘Form, Storm, Norm, Perform’. We have an amazing team and we are ‘performing’. Tuckman added a final phase ‘mourning’ which happens as the organisation winds down. Endeavour is not winding down, quite the opposite, but for me this journey ends and a new one begins. I will remember my time here with a great sense of pride and fondness. It has been a privilege to have been a foundation principal and work with so many awesome people to establish our school. I wish you all the best of luck going forward. I know there are many challenges for our schools in the future and it is my hope that the Ministry can be a part of the solution, not contributing to the problems.
To my colleagues at Endeavour here are couple of things you all need to remember;
I will finish with this whatatoki:
Ki te Kotahi te kākaho ka whati, ke te kāpuia e kore e whati.
When a reed stands alone, they are vulnerable, but together they are unbreakable.
I am hoping this will be our relationship going forward.
Nō reira, tēnā koutou katoa