The Cambridge News Person of the Year Award has, for the first time, not gone to a person. It’s gone to a school community. Mary Anne Gill explains.
Karāpiro School might be small but there is no way the staff, parents and students were going to be pushed around by any government agencies.
Day after day principal Tina-Maree Thatcher says she sees near accident misses on SH1 and Karāpiro Road.
She records them on behalf of the community and shares them in regular reports.
“I’m on that road every day and it’s terrifying.”
The turning point came four years ago when there was a fatality right outside the school and that prompted her, the school trustees and parents to step up their campaign.
Greg Brown, 43, was killed when his ute and a truck and trailer unit collided head-on outside the school on SH1 at 4.25am.
Thatcher had to close the school and tried her best to shield the tragedy from the children.
“But every child knew why they weren’t at school that day.”
Pictures from the scene were horrific.
“We’ve got to protect our children from that,” she says.
So began a campaign which has resulted in the school named the Cambridge News’ Person of the Year for its persistent advocacy which resulted in Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency putting in place a temporary speed reduction, installing signage and embarking on a series of safety improvements.
This follows Thatcher’s letter to Waka Kotahi in June saying, “we cannot wait any longer for our serious concerns to be addressed.”
Thatcher said it was a real honour for the school to be named News Person of the Year particularly after the last few years which had been “crazy” for all schools.
The school’s motto is to provide a safe and happy learning environment for its students, she said.
“There is no ego in our school and the common goal is what’s best for our children.
“We really felt we had a duty of care to our children and our families and our staff. We know what works well and what doesn’t. We hold the answers and it’s on us to pass on to the people making the decision.”
Thatcher kept on and on at Waka Kotahi passing on the community’s concern at every opportunity, engaging with national and local politicians and anyone else who would listen to their stories of the near misses.
Trucks coming out of Karāpiro Road and onto SH1 create huge complexities for other traffic particularly those who do not know the road well, she says.
“Karāpiro Road is a busy area,” with a quarry, fruit packers, kiwifruit, bus company and tourists to and from Hobbiton and Tauranga.
Every day Thatcher says she sees reckless passing manoeuvres which defy logic and speeds near the intersection which can be mind boggling.
“The board really took their role in safety seriously and as a resident I know the issue so on behalf of the trustees I took that on board.
“There’s a time and a place for really capturing that community voice.”
Thatcher feels the school’s actions and Waka Kotahi’s response will save lives.
Karāpiro School is eight kilometres south of Cambridge and provides education for students in Years 1 to 6. The current roll is 40 students but that is growing again, says Thatcher after the board of trustees resigned in 2018 and a commissioner was appointed. A board is back in place with former Hautapu School principal Marilynn Jones the chair.
It recently celebrated its 100th year on its current site – prior to that it had been further east towards Taotaoroa Road.
Which is why the upcoming community engagement between with Karāpiro School and Waipā District Council over its Ahu Ake spatial plan is even more fascinating.
Read: Community Disconnect
One of the suggestions is that the school move into Karāpiro village.
“It’s quite timely as we are celebrating a community relocating to our current site 100 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s like history repeating,” she says.
“We have 137 years’ worth of a fluctuating school roll where we grow – we might have two, three, four classrooms and we’re back down to two and then more.”
That is a trend because of the land around the school.
“We are the community hub. It just feels like the time to have some conversations about the future of Karāpiro and the school.”
There will be some rich conversations to have, says Thatcher.
“We know who we are and what we stand for. We’re not afraid of change. Schools have a place in the community to strategically plan for and be part of those conversations,” says Thatcher.
“We do really put the children at our centre and that includes keeping their families safe.”