Getting them ready…. Arrowtown’s new principal James Rasmussen changes codes
It’s been a fun transition from Wakatipu High School deputy principal to new Arrowtown Primary School principal for James Rasmussen, who’s already greeted with ‘high fives’ and invitations to play Four Square.
The long-time PE teacher was deputy principal Wakatipu High School for nine years, prior to that, six years as deputy principal and six as head of PE at Wellington’s Newland’s College.
Fresh from Otago PE School he headed home to Masterton starting out as a sports co-ordinator 26 years ago at Rathkeale College, later completing his teacher training at nights and weekends.
He then taught for four years in London, including a year in a young offender’s prison dealing with under 16s. “It definitely made me realise young people need someone to care and love them. Most of these kids hadn’t had that. They’d lived on the streets or been abused.”
Already on the Arrowtown School board, he recalled how influential his own intermediate school years were in gaining confidence and instilling a good work ethic. “We’ve done some amazing things at Wakatipu High School, but I thought I’d take up the challenge to leave a legacy to these younger kids.” Fresh from completing his Masters in Education on study leave, serving on the Arrowtown School board helped him understand primary school education and governance. “That sparked my interest.”
It’s also nice to lead a school in a community that he’s been part of with his own children attending Arrowtown School.
It’s been refreshing to see how many kids get out and active during school breaks since he started on October 15. “It’s not as simple for kids now with cellphones and technology. They’re great, but that can be challenging. They can’t get away from that and have as much down time.”
Touch, football, netball, and basketball are popular and the new sport, pickleball, is on every break in the school hall.
Rasmussen says his main focus will be ensuring his new charges are well prepared for life beyond Arrowtown School and ready to enter high school in a good place to continue their education.
“Every year is important from day one, maintaining that academic focus and passing them on to high school, knowing you’ve done a good job,” he says. “I feel I’ve come from a unique situation, knowing what they need to succeed and do well at high school.”
The challenge is ensuring there’s enough resource to provide that, especially for those with higher needs. “We’re often hamstrung due to funding.”
Increasingly, education is more than rote learning and knowledge, he says. “It’s about the way we are – our EQ (emotional quotient) and our wider worldly knowledge. Having values like kindness and empathy are incredibly important.”
Rasmussen’s started the job with 500 kids on the roll, but the challenge will be losing 95 of those to high school next year. “With those students goes a lot funding, but we will pick up some new entrants so should start the year with about 460.” Increasing living costs make it even more challenging to retain that roll.
“I’m really concerned that we can hire teachers who can afford to live here. I’ve seen it at Wakatipu High School. Schools are struggling to recruit staff unless the staff have a partner who can support them. The local rental shortage is a huge problem.”
Arrowtown School has money from the sale of a significant asset and the board is currently working with the Ministry of Education to ascertain whether it’s permitted to use that for staff housing.
“People don’t understand the housing challenges in this district and how desperate people are. That’s what worries me the most, being able to retain and recruit great teachers.”
While he will miss the high school teenagers and their energy, especially the older students, Rasmussen says he’s feeling so welcome at Arrowtown School. “It’s a cool vibe. I’m very grateful to lead this amazing school.”