Beyond an unassuming tree-lined driveway at the north end of Stratford, lies a historic yet future-focused school bursting with passion, pride and positivity.
Set on spacious grounds under the gaze of Mount Taranaki, Taranaki Diocesan’s campus offers a peaceful, calm environment for its students to explore and learn. It’s an environment that clearly reflects the wellbeing focus that flows fluidly throughout the school, says Principal Matt Coleman.
“I see wellbeing as paramount. I think you’re going to struggle to be successful in anything if you’re not physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally well.”
This focus means less time having to react to “situations”, and more time nurturing the school’s learners.
With a school roll of approximately 110 students from Years 9 – 13, every student is known to every teacher, and not just by their first name.
“Our teachers know them as real individuals, and by extension, get to know their families. All the students know each other as well, not just within their cohorts, but across the whole student body.”
While the pastoral team is able to fully support students who are navigating challenging situations, they also have time to look forward with all students, helping them to set goals, or work on enhancing skills such as leadership.
The school’s size is also an enabler of its non-traditional curriculum, which focuses on learner agency — a notion that places students at the centre of their learning.
“We do offer all the traditional subjects, including all the sciences and the arts, but how we teach them is quite different,” says Matt.
The school’s curriculum is developed at the end of each year, based on what the incoming students are passionate about learning. It’s a process that is made possible by the teachers and staff who work flexibly to facilitate it.
“We have an amazing staff at the moment, which is not by accident. We’ve put together a team where everybody is on board and working in the same direction together. We’ve all bought into the vision which is really, really cool.
“I have to give most of the credit to our previous principal for her work on this, but we’re so fortunate to have a focused, capable staff who all understand our wellbeing philosophy and the need for our students to be well, before we can expect them to perform well.”
And that they do, with NCEA pass rates sitting well above the national average, sports teams being highly competitive and their arts and culture programme one of the most inclusive and exploratory you will find.
While Taranaki Diocesan itself sits sheltered from the outside world, the experiences Matt aims to give his learners are anything but.
“We try really hard to give students experiences that take them outside of Stratford. We visit other cities and universities, involve them in outside competitions like Show-Quest and Taranaki’s Puanga Festival, take part in a range of sporting opportunities offered by TSSSA, and the like. We don’t cloister the girls and try to shield them, we try to prepare them by giving them those experiences in the real world to prepare them for life beyond school. And that happens from day one.”
While a Diocesan school often comes with the tags assigned to private schools, Taranaki’s version is worlds apart from some of its national namesakes. It is not a private school, but in the mid-1970s became one of the first integrated state schools in New Zealand, meaning it was now funded by the Ministry of Education with the expectation of teaching the NZ Curriculum, yet able to retain its freedom when it came to celebrating its Anglican faith, or Special Character.
“It’s a common assumption that Diocesan schools are elitist, or affluent, but we are definitely not those things. We are a decile five school and have a real mix of students, some of whom are able to attend through scholarships, or support from different benefactors.”
Matt says the Anglican faith is one that is very open and welcoming, and so too is the school. With no preferencing restrictions in place, anyone can attend Taranaki Diocesan as either a full-time or part-time boarder, or a day student.
“The values are what make us who we are, and the Anglican Church is kind of like the vessel for delivering those values, but it’s not necessary for the girls to be religious in order to still absorb and experience the learning of those values.
“We try and connect faith to community, to creation, to culture, and relate what is being learnt, to something evident. So while our special character does support everything we do, it does not sit on top of everything.”
With an overarching school framework that focuses on wellbeing, transitions, culture and learner agency, and a boarding house that supports independence and interpersonal skills, Matt is confident that Taranaki Diocesan has a strong and innovative vision that will positively impact any learner who walks through their gates and down that long, unassuming driveway off State Highway 3.
“When our graduates leave us, we want them to be those really able, social, global citizens who can make a really positive difference in the world. And when you see girls making changes towards that, that’s hugely rewarding for us all.”
Take a VIRTUAL TOUR at taranakidio.school.nz
(06) 765 5333, 61 Broadway, Stratford
Matt has been part of Taranaki Diocesan since 2007, holding many roles from Head of Science and Head of Curriculum, to his current role as Principal. He believes curriculum content is one small facet of a student’s school journey, while less tangible qualities such as connecting, collaborating and problem-solving are just as important for a student’s holistic growth. It’s clear he is deeply connected to the school (he even had his wedding here) and says it’s the connections between people and place that he enjoys most. “The longer you spend in the Taranaki Dio family, the more you feel that this place is just an extension of your actual family, rather than a place to just teach and learn.”
Being a teacher remains at the heart of Maria Taylor’s everyday practice. She believes education is about knowing what matters and having the strength, courage and resilience to respectfully stand up for what is right in the world — that, and leading a meaningful life which leaves the environment and people around you in a better place.
“Our school has a team of professional, well-qualified, passionate staff, who genuinely care about students as individuals; and the students are supportive of each other and motivated to learn. Taranaki Dio is a busy, happy place to learn and to teach. Why would anyone want to be anywhere else?”
As the newest addition to the leadership team, Lisa brings years of experience working as a science and biology educator and Dean, as well as a sports administrator at both a national and international level. Her education philosophy is based around students gaining as many opportunities as they can through their education, and creating an all-round experience that prepares each learner to go out into the community and be their best self. Lisa says Taranaki Diocesan has some of the best relationships she has encountered, both within the school as well as the wider community. “Staff not only know the students they also know the entire whanau. Taranaki Diocesan has a fantastic presence in the community holding an annual Fete which creates a terrific atmosphere at the school. The relationship with the holy trinity church is also something to treasure.”