My job: fight-back saves school

Ask Sue Stuart from Salisbury Residential School for Girls in Nelson if she loves her work and she replies “you don’t stay in a job for 32 years if you don’t.”

Sue StuartSue is a social worker whose job is a residential unit supervisor at the school which caters to girls with complex learning and behavioural needs.

Salisbury School has had its fair share of headlines recently.  A year ago it was facing closure as the Ministry of Education came up with a plan for special education involving an intensive wraparound service for pupils.

The school took its fight to the High Court and late last year the court ruled that the decision to close Salisbury and place girls in Halswell Residential College in Christchurch was unlawful.

In a complete back down the Minister of Education announced in May that the school would stay open.

But while the school hasn’t been shut down, it has still undergone some very big changes over the past two years due to falling rolls, funding cuts and the effect of the new wrap around model for special education.

The school’s roll has gone from 80 to about 21 at the moment although it is waiting on more referrals.  Up to 30 staff have also been lost as a result.

Sue says “it’s been a difficult few years and it was absolutely horrendous when we thought we were facing closure.”

Despite all the upheaval Sue says the school is functioning well and even though they are hoping to increase their roll, having fewer students at the moment “does give us the joy of having more one on one time with the girls. It’s made a big difference to their progress and learning.”

The students are in their residential units from 3pm everyday but Sue says while it’s their home the focus is on 24-hour learning.

“The girls are assessed regularly on a number of levels as to where they are at, and it’s all treated as part of their learning.  That includes things like how they are interacting with others, how they are contributing to the chores which need to be done, and what their overall attitude and behaviour is like.”

Sue describes herself as the overview person in the unit who manages staff and liaises with the principal, but it’s clear that what really spins her wheels is making a difference in the lives of the students.

“It’s great to see these girls who were literally on the scrapheap and who had never achieved anything their lives before suddenly achieving and transforming before your eyes.  Some have never had a friend before and then you see them making friends and smiling and laughing.”

“Soon they are all going on a camp to Arthurs Pass which is something they never would have thought they could do nor have the opportunity to do.  It’s amazingly rewarding.”

As a PSA delegate Sue has also been able to make a contribution to the school in other ways. She has been a delegate for 12 years.  She says she’s from a union family and her husband is the local secretary for the Meatworkers Union.

“I sort of fell into it in the beginning because I’m always the outspoken one, but I love it,” she says.

She has been heavily involved in all the changes and restructuring at the school, working to help and support affected staff.

“As far as being a delegate goes, it’s been a challenging time but because I’ve been here such a long time people tend to come to me anyway.” Sue is also on the PSA’s bargaining team at Salisbury.

“I’ve got a lot of history and institutional knowledge which is really useful when we sit down to negotiate,” she says.


This article is from the September 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.