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By John Saunders, principal 1963-75
John Saunders, principal 1963-75.

Before the opening of Ōtaki District High School on February 2, 1959, secondary education was afforded to pupils of the southern Horowhenua district by their travelling by rail or bus to Horowhenua College.

Throughout the 1950s, there was, in New Zealand as a whole, huge growth in the provision of new secondary schools to cope with the great increase in the number of children of secondary school age. In the same period, there was a growing unrest in Ōtaki about pupils having to travel. This prompted the primary school committees of the district to seek a secondary education establishment in the area. 

A major meeting with Wellington Education Board officers on March 6,1957, showed that the establishment of a district high school was an accepted fact. 

On May 19 of that year, a committee was set up to study “high school uniform matters, col­ours, badges. . . ..”  

This committee reported in June, giving details of the colours chosen: clerical grey with royal blue and gold. 

Plans of the original D block were presented In August 1957 and a decision was made to press for action to get all the fa­cilities ready by 1959. 

Ōtaki District High School began on February 2,1959, with a roll of 62 third form students. The principal was Sam Bilborough. The school was not officially opened until March 3 1960 by Phil Skoglund, Minister of Education. 

The roll grew to 157 in 1960 and, in antici­pation of rapid growth, the committee pressed for establishment as a full college. This was granted as from February 1, 1961. The roll that year was 217, and the college also catered for 277 manual training primary school pupils. Terry Chadwick had been appointed principal. 

In 1962, John Saunders was appointed as the new principal. 


The period of 1963-1970 was marked prin­cipally by a growth in the roll numbers, par­ticularly in the senior forms, and by a great ex­pansion of the physical facilities of the college. The Stephen Hill-as Memorial Swimming Pool was officially opened in the early summer of 1963-64. 

In 1963, too, began the erection of B block, which had the library and art rooms, and the assembly hall and administration block. B block came into use early in 1964, and shortly afterwards so did the assembly hall block, which was officially opened by Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson. The gymna­sium was completed in 1969. 

In October 1969 the college board approved of the Education Department’s offer of transition to a Form 1 to 7 college. In 1971 the new institution began in the face of great difficulty: 234 new pupils in the Form 1 and 2 area were enrolled with no new facilities. By all sorts of makeshifts, somehow the school began, but it was late in the year before the Nelson Block was finally completed. It was even later when such conver­sions as the new metalwork room were avail­able; but a new era in secondary education had begun.  

A greater variety of subjects and course options were available, a greater de­gree of teacher specialisation and a wider use of physical facilities such as the gymnasium was an advantage for the youth of Ōtaki and wider district. 

A continuing growth in the physical ameni­ties was a feature of the years 1971-1975. These years were marked by a steady improvement in the level of academic successes and in the range of intramural and extramural activities available to the pupils. 

A music room was added in 1974 and there were extensions to the library, the gymnasi­um equipment room and the provision of a kiln in the art room. In 1973 the board agreed to 7th form students wearing “mufti” instead of uniform. This symbolised a new relationship in secondary schools that was growing between senior pupils and staff. 

At the end of 1975, John and Wendy Saunders retired from the respective positions of principal and senior mistress. Rex Kerr took over as principal, and Diane Barton was appointed to replace Wendy. 

In 1981 a horticulture course was established in line with the changing rural emphasis in the Ōtaki district. 

Another change was the development of a wider outdoor education curriculum to take advantage of the many venture opportunities in the hills, rivers and forests so close to the college. 

The growing interest and focus on the social impact of a changing society on education was evidenced by the appointment of a full-time guidance counsellor in 1978 and of a full-time teacher of Māori language and culture. 

The French language option disappeared for want of support, but computer awareness be­came part of the programme. 

The growing roll meant that the assembly hall had to be widened, the library in B block was substantially extended, an audio-visual room was provided and three more classrooms were additions to the teaching facilities. 

By John Saunders, principal 1963-75. Reproduced with permission from an article in the Otaki Historical Journal,vol7, 1984 

Twenty-five years of growth and expansion



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