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Auckland to Uawa

Samuel Hughes is 28 years old and already is the deputy principal of Tolaga Bay Area School. Reporter Matai O’Connor wanted to find out more about his life and how he came to be in this role . . .

Auckland-born Samuel Hughes has a goal of providing equitable education outcomes for all and his role as deputy principal at Tolaga Bay Area School is a way he could achieve that.

He was born and raised in Auckland where he went to Westmere Primary, Henderson Intermediate, and Kelston Boys’ High School where he was head boy.

He went to the University of Auckland straight from high school and when he started working there full-time, he completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Education.

Mr Hughes is Welsh and Pakeha through his mum’s side. He did not know his dad until he was 12 years old.

“I didn’t know my dad so that role was taken up by my amazing whanau,” Mr Hughes said.

“I’m whangai to my uncle’s whanau. I am Te Whakatohea raua ko Te Whanau-a-Apanui.

“My biological dad is Tongan. We don’t have a relationship but I am still proud of my whakapapa and the Tongan community in Te Tairawhiti have been amazing,” Mr Hughes said.

When he was younger he wanted to be anything but a teacher.

“My mum trained as a teacher, my uncle is a principal in Auckland and my aunty is a deputy principal.

“It’s a bit of a whanau trade on my taha Pakeha (Pakeha side), so I was hesitant to pursue teaching.

“It wasn’t until my last year of school that I thought about it.”

He chose teaching for the lifestyle and security of the job.

“I left school the year after the recession and there was a lot of scare-mongering around job security.

“I had been tutoring kapa haka since I was 14 and working at my uncle’s kura (school) when I was 17, so it made sense for me to become a teacher.

“If you are doing it for the right reasons then you can bring so much to the table,” he said.

Mr Hughes went back to teaching after time away working in tertiary education.

“I knocked back some other opportunities to stay teaching because I believe you can help create the change you want to see in the world.

“While I worked in tertiary I was able to come down the coast to recruit students and I always loved visiting.

“A job popped up at Tolaga Bay Area School — it was my first time applying for a deputy principal job.

“I was pretty nervous, I hoped I would get an interview and then when I got the job I was even more nervous for the move.

“I decided to make the move and leave my whanau and friends to pursue a cause I believed in which is equitable educational outcomes for all.

“I was extremely excited I was going somewhere I could utilise all the skills I had picked up along the way.”

Community 'has really looked after me'When he moved to Tolaga Bay from Auckland, he said it was a bit of a change.

“When I first came down here, I didn’t know anyone in the area.

“I came down for my transition which was the first time at the kura and I immediately fell in love.

“Life on the coast is super-relaxed and I don’t have to commute an hour for work which is the best.

“The community here has really looked after me and I feel really blessed.

“Being a deputy principal in a community like Uawa is a privilege.

“I get to coach rugby, go to the marae often, help students to pathway into tertiary education and teach in the middle school which I love.

“I wake up everyday keen to make a difference — you have to be more than an educator and be willing to go above and beyond.

“Watching students I have taught go on to tertiary study, as well as seeing my tertiary students graduate after being their kaiarahi (mentor) is something you can’t really describe.

“Teachers are the often unsung heroes of success.”

Mr Hughes said watching a student learn how to read for the first time or understand a certain maths problem are highlights of being a teacher.

He does not have any whakapapa to the East Coast except through tipuna, he said.

The opportunity brought him here and the manaakitanga (hospitality) and his love of Uawa is what makes him never want to leave, he said.

He was the Maori academic advisor of the University of Auckland Business School for a couple of years and had worked on and headed some kaupapa there.

“While I was at the business school I was able to develop the Maori and Pacific Stream that provided students with a chance to be in a stream of Maori and Pacific students, taught by Maori and Pacific lecturers and tutored by Maori and Pacific students.

“We had the highest passing rates for Maori and produced the most Maori graduates in that time.

“That is definitely something I am extremely proud of.

“I was super lucky to be able to present our research on behalf of our Maori team at the Business School at the World

Indigenous People’s Conference of Education in Toronto in 2017.

“I went on to a leadership role at Lincoln University, before being a part of the US Embassy’s Young Pacific Leaders, so when I went back into teaching, I was keen to utilise my full skill set.”

Mr Hughes runs a trust in Auckland with some of his best mates called Nona Te Ao that aims to provide equitable outcomes for rural Maori, specifically those in Te Tairawhiti Gisborne.

He was able to pilot a programme called E Tipu, E Rea that took 31 students from Tolaga Bay Area School to Auckland to see what pathways there are for young people to pursue.

“It was a really special way to contribute to our kura and community.

“It was definitely an achievement becoming a deputy principal at 28 years of age, but I feel more privileged that Nori

Parata and the other senior leadership team thought I was the right person and chose to hire me.

“I am thankful everyday for the opportunity and I work to repay the faith they have in me.

“I have been at the kura for just over two terms and what I have seen is amazing staff and community who want the best for our tauira (students).

“I just feel really lucky to be where I am and want to give as much as I can.”

A PRIVILEGE TO BE HERE: Sam Hughes is the deputy principal of Tolaga Bay Area School and loves being a part of the community in Uawa Tolaga Bay. Sam Hughes (middle) is pictured with students Keaton McIlroy (left) and Manaia Puha.Picture by Paul Rickard