An innovative Auckland school has integrated support staff into the heart of its working life. Robyn Claxton talks to Michelle Nixon.

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Robyn Claxton loves her job as database manager at Albany Senior High School. She engages with the whole school community” students, teachers and parents” and is part of the school’s professional life. She was able to grow into her current role after starting out as a receptionist. Albany Senior High, on Auckland’s North Shore, is a state funded year 11-13 senior high school” New Zealand’s first such school. It has a roll of 735, and a staff of 80.

The school is housed in one building, and its innovative design is matched by innovative functions. Robyn says it works as a learning community rather than a traditional school, and is mostly open plan.
The 10 different learning communities all work alongside one another – a maths class can be going on right next to a business studies one – but each class can also escape to its own presentation room if privacy is required. The offices are also open plan, and not even the principal has a separate room. Robyn says the lack of partitions makes everyone – teachers and students – aware of their neighbours, and they moderate their behaviour accordingly.

The democratic tenor flows through to relationships; students are treated as adults and call teachers by their first names, even the principal. They are even allowed to have their cellphones in class.
Because the administration and student areas are quite integrated, Robyn says support staff are more involved in school life. Working in the reception area, she gets to know the students as they sign in and out, or fill in late slips, and the cafe is just 10 steps away. Parents also drop in. “We see everybody – parents and students – all the time,” says Robyn. She’s involved in staff social events, such as this year’s mini masterchef competition.

Besides end-of-year school professional development that looks to the year ahead, Robyn also has her own specific learning; she’s been to a conference on Kamar, the student management system, and she and a colleague ran an onsite “un-conference”. Robyn is also skilled up in NCEA administration and deals frequently with the Qualifications Authority. She enjoys the school and says that while it would be good to be paid more, schools are struggling to get by. The school recognises the work she does in other ways.
“I like the hours, and school holidays off, and I enjoy the job and all the different challenges.”