Wednesday, 23 Jun 2021

Rototuna Junior High School over capacity, forced to use non-conventional teaching spaces

Hamilton’s newest high schools are already bursting at the seams with students spilling into its library, staff room, theatre and stairwell to be taught.

Rototuna Junior High in Hamilton’s north has 1380 students walking its hallways- 160 more than the number of Year 7-10s it was built for when it opened five years ago.

While the adjoining Rototuna Senior High, aimed at Year 11-13, is just 16 students away from reaching its 800 capacity meaning it can no longer lend some of its teaching space to the junior high.

But as their rolls continue to explode, the school’s theatre has been recommissioned as a learning space and parts of the large staff room and library have been partitioned off to make room for classes.

A spacious stairwell, about 35sq mand bordered by glass walls, is used as breakout area and there is also one timetabled class in the space.

Rototuna Junior High School principal Fraser Hill said while they were not the only school facing overcrowding – the difference was the sheer number of students they were dealing with.

“I think it’s amplified because quite often you will talk about schools that have increasing rolls or are over capacity – that might be two or three classes, 60 or 90 students – on our site we are talking about being overcapacity at the moment of around 300 students which is effectively a medium sized school.”

Hill said because they had been able to repurpose other spaces it had not had an impact on student learning, but it did present other challenges.

Assemblies that would have previously been held on a weekly basis in its theatre were now held in the neighbouring The Peak recreation centre on a fortnightly basis.

It also made holding staff meetings or hosting a broader range of programmes in the library a bit trickier given students were being taught in the same room.

Plans are underway to bring in additional learning spaces in the form of seven temporary modular classrooms, providing an extra 85sq m of space each, next term.

Shortly some senior students will also start being ferried across town to a satellite campus at Waikato University as the school tries to regain some of its non-teaching spaces back so they can be used for their intended use.

The temporary measures are likely to be needed until three new blocks – one each for senior and junior high and a shared space – are built. The ministry expects construction to start next year and to take between 18 and 24 months.

In 2019, the Ministry of Education approved the expansion aimed to increase the high schools’ joint capacity by another 800 students to a total of 2820. However the master plan is still to be finalised due to the sheer size of the project.

NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford said students spilling out into unconventional learning spaces such as the library or staffroom was not good enough and highlighted the urgent need for increased investment in schools.

“When educators don’t have fit-for- purpose facilities this impacts on their teaching and the support they can give to each student. Each child in Aotearoa deserves dedicated classroom spaces to learn.”

Ministry of Education head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said it was not uncommon for schools to use spaces such as libraries, halls and multi-purpose rooms to temporarily accommodate students during building projects, periods of high roll numbers or to allow for flexible teaching arrangements.

Shannon said the ministry had been working with the Rototuna High Schools to develop the right approach to their expansion in consideration of the ongoing growth in the area.

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