Looking back on his career as an Attendance Officer, Paul Drower shares that it was a journey worth travelling. The way he approaches his Non-Enrolled and Unjustified Absence Cases is just as relevant now as it was three decades ago. Paul celebrated his anniversary on the 3rd of July, the day he was handed his first Non-Enrolled Case from North Clyde School in Wairoa. “It was this case that I truly understood the importance of whanau, extended whanau, and building a rapport and trust with not only the young people, but their whanau as well.”
Paul’s first case involved five young people from one household. He tracked the movements of the whanau from Wairoa to Dannevirke to Taihape and finally ending up in Mangakino. “As we tracked the whanau from one place to the next, we spoke to extended whanau members who gave us their blessings to find these young people and return them home to the whanau. Then, we supported the young people, and their extended whanau throughout this transition to familiar homes that would nurture their education.” When asked what drives him, Paul’s reply is simple. “I believe that every young person regardless of their background has the right to an education. Sometimes mainstream education is not for everyone, but everyone fits in somewhere, and it is finding that education pathway they fit into”.
Paul’s career in education started as a Teacher Aide/Librarian at Kimi Ora Community School, when one day Soe Schofield from the Ministry of Education approached him to ask if he was interested in becoming an Attendance Officer to work with Non-Enrolled Students, which he took up. Eight years later Paul was encouraged to put in an offer to establish and operate the Hastings District Truancy Service. Paul collaborated in 1998 with George Waerea and the two of them became a great team working together for fifteen years, and were recognized and respected by students and their whanau as well as principals alike.
Only a few days ago he met a young man in Flaxmere, and greeted with “Paul! Remember me?!” the two got chatting as the young man reminisced about the days when Paul and George used to pick him up for school, and if he didn’t have breakfast, they would take him to McDonalds for breakfast and then drop him off to school afterwards. The young man had a lot to thank Paul for before he gave him a big hug and went on his way.
The Ministry of Education in Wellington approached Paul and George in 2000 to see if they would be willing to travel around the Central North Island to help train other Attendance Officers and to share their experience in the field. This partnership lasted for quite a few years, which Paul recalls as a great time hanging out with his best mate and colleague. A humble man that prefers to stay out of the limelight and work quietly in the background, Paul attributes his achievements to others “Meeting and Working with Soe and George, has been such a huge privilege, I have a lot to thank them for.” Paul has worked as an Attendance Officer at Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga since 2013 and works on the road as well as sharing his experience with other staff who come into the same role. His first lesson with other staff is the importance of building strong relationships with the young people and their whanau. Building trust with young people, looking at the wider whanau for added support and finally building strong working relationships with School Principals and their Teaching and Support Staff.
Paul shared one of his many stories, which involved one school, five whanau, three generations and a Nan. Throughout many discussions and meetings, Paul found that all five whanau were inter-linked, so he made an approach to the matriarch of the whanau. They were able to call for a whanau Hui where everyone came together to work out a plan for the young people. Aunties, Uncles and Cousins were there, all invited by Nan. Whanau put the plans into place to get the young people returned to attending school regularly. At the following Hui, the whanau invited the school principal who was impressed by the whanau’s response to the situation. A few years later, the whanau informed Paul that the young people made it through school, and eventually returned to their Mum, and the Whanau ties strengthened throughout the process. Of course, he credits this to Nan, never wanting to acknowledge his own hard mahi.
Finally, Paul wanted to acknowledge and thank those who have travelled on this journey with him over the past three decades, and for those who have shown much Aroha and Support along the way.
A TATOU HIAHIA, KUA WHAKAKOTAHI TE WHANAU HE WHAKAKOTAHI AE A TATOU MAHI