Interview with Principal Steven Hargreaves

Taylor Swift vs. Kanye – What’s Mr Hargreaves’s verdict? — this and 10 other interesting questions answered by the principal

Name: Steven “Steve” Hargreaves
Hometown: Kaiwaka
Occupation(s): The Fourth Principal of Macleans College
Previously:
Former Principal of Wesley College
Former House Leader of Snell House
Former Head of Economics at Macleans College
Marketing, sales and finance in the private sector (NBC, Telecom)
Past achievements: School dux, Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, Queen Scout’s Award
Quirk: Sweet tooth!
Four recordings to take on a deserted island:

  • Box set of Breaking Bad
  • Guns and Roses – “Appetite for Destruction”
  • The Cure – “Standing on a Beach”
  • Neil Diamond’s “Something Blue”

How does it feel to be back at Macleans College?

It’s great to be back. Macleans is such a positive place to work, with so many talented staff and students – I get a lot of enjoyment just from the act of coming to work to be in an environment like this. The quality of the staff is amazing here.

What’s the biggest difference between Macleans College and Wesley College?

Size is the biggest – and probably the most obvious one! Wesley is a religious boarding school with a roll of 350, so it’s a small school standing at a decile 1C. We’re big, we’re state-secular with a roll of 2000, and we stand at a 9Q.

 

The one thing that struck me about looking in from the outside, was the time when I had been in Wesley working with a charity to get some shoes for some students who didn’t have them. I came home that night, and my daughter had an application form to go on a trip to the USA for me. It just struck me how privileged we are at Macleans.

 

On one hand the kids at Wesley were going without shoes and walking to school barefoot in the rain, and here we at Macleans come in and request $7000 on a voluntary trip to the States. We are so privileged, and I know that there are people here who aren’t well off – a lot of us here aren’t well off. But here at Macleans, we enjoy great resources and many privileges-slash-opportunities. It’s amazing; it amazes me.

What does your job as the principal of Macleans College entail?

Well, my job is about relationships and resourcing, which sounds simple – but a lot of things happen underneath that.

 

A big part of the job is human resources – building relationships with the staff, students, parents, suppliers of the school, external agencies, ministry and so on. And then there’s lots of aspects to do with motivating staff and – unfortunately – competency and discipline that you must be up to the play with.

 

The resourcing is about the finance, property, strategic decision making, allocating teachers to classe I’m lucky that I’ve got specialist deputy principals and an excellent staff to take care of the details, setting a direction and letting people get on with the job.

In the February issue of the local Eastern Courier you were quoted as having said: “Grades are important but what we need is people that are open minded, can communicate, they can adapt, they’re resilient and I want to make sure we’re focusing on all aspects — that holistic approach.” What did you mean by that, and going on, how can we expect this vision to influence the way Macleans does business?

I firmly believe that success is far more than simply getting good grades. Grades, on their own, will not ensure success or happiness – you need to be somebody with a sense of purpose, somebody who can relate well to others, who’s prepared to give something back to your community. Somebody who knows they’re in charge of their own life.

 

If we can have students leaving here with some of those beliefs, then that’s better than simply saying “well done, we got lots of scholarships”. Furthermore, I think our students come here and quite quickly sense there’s real purpose here. We’re not here to muck around, we’re not here to be average. We’re here to get somewhere, and get things done. We’re motivated – and that’s what makes our school different.

 

This is how we’re perceived by the public, apart from our commitment to academic, sporting and cultural excellence. This is our distinguishing point. You can take any one rule in isolation, and one particular aspect of school in isolation, and say it doesn’t do anything on its own. But that’s not the point – the point is that you have to look at it together. You must look at the whole experience.

 

One thing about Macleans is that we are huge. There are two thousand names among our roll and, unless we have some structure, it all goes to custard pretty quickly. Running a school isn’t easy! Another thing is the strength in the house system, which gives us a sense of identity. Eating together is something that builds relationships. It’s interesting. It’s different from being in a classroom together – sitting there and reading a book in a group might not build that same sense of comradeship. But when you sit and eat with people, you do. It’s a lot more intimate and personal than we’d think. And it’s about building these relationships and actually having these experiences. It’s because of this, that you can one day graduate from Macleans College, and say that you’ve truly been a part of Macleans College.

The school has had a somewhat public disagreement with the Ministry Of Education over the new science and technology blocks. Specifically around the use of ‘flexible learning spaces’ which would’ve introduced more ‘modern’ layouts to classrooms. These classrooms would include movable walls and combine multiple classes into one open plan

An image of an open plan classroom
Example of a ‘flexible learning space’: image courtesy CORE Education NZ

In 2015, Mr Bentley said of it as “a re-launched bandwagon that quickly lost its wheels, traction and credibility in the early 70’s as it was run out of town, has now rolled into this school” and said it would “resisted as a fad” at Macleans. You were mentioned as having stated that: “It’d be difficult to make that work in a way that’s good for students.” What would you say to those, who would say that by resisting this new mode of learning you are antithetical of progress?

First and foremost, change does not mean progress. The academic progress of students like yourselves is way too important for us – as those responsible for inducting this progress – to take chances of any kind. At the moment, the real, legitimate, statistical benefits of integrating a modern learning environment into a high school is currently unproven: it’s just too early to say. When there is a really good body of evidence suggesting that if we move into these open spaces it will be better than what we currently have at Macleans, then I’ll gladly be its most candid supporter.

 

At Macleans, we’ve never been afraid of being trailblazers. Mr. Bentley introduced international students and the Cambridge system. We have a modern learning environment in our own rights. We have trendsetting facilities, auspicious learning pathways. I do not want exterior sources and people – those who are completely unrelated to our school in any way – telling us how to build our school. If I was going to experiment, I would make sure I have good reasons for doing what I choose to do. Students are here to learn, and nobody has any right to deprive them of such opportunity in any way.

Further reading:

Ministry and school clash over ‘flexible learning spaces’


What was your school life and early adulthood like?

My school was in Kaiwaka – a little town just nearby up north, an hour and a half north of Auckland. There was a roll of approximately 500 students. It was quite small, and I was very lucky to attend that school at a time when there were very good teachers there. I was able to enjoy a range of sports – I was heavily involved with the sports department – and I also got into debating.

 

I consider myself very lucky that I had a really supportive family; they allowed me to do all of the things I put my mind to – they drove me around, provided me with the resources I needed to do these great things, and gave me encouragement without being overbearing. I’m also really lucky to have a very enthusiastic group of friends to do all these things together with.

Did you ever get into trouble at school?

Oh yes. I did a couple of silly things at school. I got the cane once for doing some silly things during athletics day with the loudspeaker (ed. note: he didn’t elaborate). Soon, after getting my driver’s license, I managed to drive my father’s new car over a bank and into a ditch. Plenty of despair there.

You were dux of your previous high school – do you think you could reproduce that feat if you were a student here at Macleans?

No.

When have you been most satisfied in your life?

I tend not to be satisfied. I mean, satisfaction or contentment? Neither really.

 

Because if I finish my work on a Saturday afternoon, then I’m satisfied because the work is done. But I try not to get too carried away. I always try to think that I’m nothing special, that I’ve never done anything special.

 

Taylor Swift or Kanye West?

TAY-TAY.

Further reading:

Familiar face back at Macleans
Activating academic excellence at Wesley College

Header image supplied by the principal’s office
Written by Angela Zhang, interview conducted by John Sibanda and Angela Zhang, Published on The Collegian’s launch day

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