Opening of Pāpāmoa’s Suzanne Aubert Catholic School welcomed by local principals

By Caroline Fleming,

Tauranga’s newest school opens its doors in Pāpāmoa today after 10 years in the making.

About 82 foundation students were set to walk through the brand new gates of the multimillion-dollar Suzanne Aubert Catholic School this morning.

It is move welcomed by Pāpāmoa principals who are battling ever-growing rolls and “overcrowded” classrooms.

The state-integrated school sits on the corner of Golden Sands Drive and The Boulevard, Pāpāmoa East.

Foundation deputy principal Shelley McKay said they were “incredibly excited” to be part of a new Catholic school in such a “vibrant and growing” area.

The school welcomed 82 students today and was tracking to almost double the roll to 150 students by the end of next year, she said.

Pāpāmoa had been chosen as the site for the new school about 10 years ago as the Catholic Church was aware of the likelihood of significant growth in the area. The land for the school was purchased five years ago.

Like most integrated schools in New Zealand, the church will own the land and buildings but the school will be state-run.

When asked what systems the school had in place to keep up with likely extreme roll growth, she said they had a “preference enrolment agreement which requires 90 per cent or more of the roll having strong catholic connection”.

“In addition to this, we are developing partnerships with our parish, iwi and local early childhood education providers to predict roll growth.”

The school planned to have future stages of building completed to reach a capacity of 250 pupils by 2024.

The school was named after French-born Suzanne Aubert, who died in Wellington in 1926. She was better known to many as Catholic Sister Mary Joseph or Mother Aubert and devoted her life to helping others.

She was a nurse, botanist and spoke fluent te reo. She established the Sisters of Compassion and had a close relationship with the Māori community at the time.

“Our learners will have opportunities to make connections with Suzanne Aubert through all aspects of their learning – especially when making a difference in the community,” McKay said.

“When we canvassed our community last year about their priorities for their children, compassion was listed highest.”

An official opening and a blessing by Bishop Steve Lowe was taking place today with more than 350 guests expected before a formal dinner for VIP guests tonight.

Tomorrow will be the first full day of learning.

Pāpāmoa mother Diane Berghan previously had one of her boys at Golden Sands School but said she thought her boys would “benefit from smaller classroom sizes”.

She said she had been “impressed by the leadership” at the school and how innovative they were when it came to learning.

How to protect the environment and work with those in need were things she thought were so important for her young boys to learn and things the school had offered, she said.

Her boys, Kahn, 5 and Kaius, 7, Hepi were set to start at the school today.

After trying on their new uniforms for the first time yesterday, they were both “so excited and nervous”, she said.

There were currently four primary schools in Pāpāmoa with Suzanne Aubert Catholic School set to be the fifth.

Construction is also under way for Te Okuroa Drive School, set to open its doors next year.

According to Ministry of Education roll data, all four schools in the area had seen significant classroom growth of between 100 and 200 students since 2016.

Golden Sands School principal Melanie Taylor said as Pāpāmoa continued to grow at the rate it was, it was “the more the merrier” when it came to schools.

She said they were “excited to have them as our new neighbours” and she hoped it would help to ease the roll growth all schools in the suburb were feeling.

The new school would allow “more choices” for parents and add to the “diversity” of school options in the area, she said.

She had been in close contact with the new principal and said it was important to “support each other” she said.

Pāpāmoa Primary School principal Lisa Morresey said schools in the area were “overcrowded” as a result of the “hugely growing area” and the opening of the Suzanne Aubert Catholic School and the Te Okuroa Drive School next year would help “ease the pressure”.

She said her school roll was at an “all-time high” of 690 pupils with enrolments still coming in today.

She said their roll was growing year-on-year alongside every other school in the area.

They were waiting on four roll growth classrooms and would be applying for four more to get by, she said.

Ministry of Education spokeswoman Katrina Casey said: “Minister Hipkins approved the integration of Suzanne Aubert Catholic School on March 5, 2020, and we are very pleased to be supporting a special character education option for Catholic families in Pāpāmoa.”

She said the school was “relatively small” and would only have a “minor impact on the local school network”.

“We continually monitor growth and Pāpāmoa is one of three high growth catchments in the Bay of Plenty Waiariki Region outlined in the National Education Growth Plan 2030.”

The Ministry of Education could not provide details on the cost of the school build as it had been funded by the Catholic Church as proprietor.

The Bay of Plenty Times previously reported, however, the build was a “multimillion-dollar” one.

In the plan, the ministry was planning to accommodate up to 1080 more students in Pāpāmoa by 2030.

It mentioned how the Te Tumu area of the suburb was set to open up this year and could see 15,000 more people living in Pāpāmoa East.

“This will require significant investment in additional schooling provision to accommodate
the anticipated school-age population,” it said.