Life After Work-Place Bullying

There is nothing more catastrophic or debilitating that being bullied in your workplace.

Not only does it destroy your self confidence but it erodes both your perception of self and your self confidence. Such an experience triggers all sorts of human emotions and responses but the one that affected me most profoundly was grief.

My experience of workplace bullying was not like a death, it was a death. It was the death of my professional self. As with all deaths I found myself tossed into a raging torrent of emotions that I could not fathom let alone control. I remember writing to a friend,

"I feel like I have been dropped into the middle of the Mississippi Delta in full flood, and I am drowning and fighting and drowning and fighting. I struggle, my face whipped by the icy air as my head cork like breaks the surface. Gasping for breath, desperate for purchase there is only churning, roiling chaos. I am as far from the East Bank as I am from the West Bank and I only have one choice - to swim or not to swim."

 

 

I choose to swim.

People will often say when introduced to me, "Oh, so you were the principal at Rangiora High School. What happened?"

I don't wish to be rude, but I have moved on. My life is not defined by the positions I have held in the past but by those I create for myself in the future. So below is my last comment on, "What Happened."

In 2014 the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees and I were assured by Director of Education for Canterbury, Coralanne Childs that the disfunctional behaviour of four of our Board members would not affect the level of intervention proposed and agreed to with the Board by the Ministry of Education to manage the school's $18M in public assets, held in Reserves under the Education Lands Act 1949.

After discussions with the school’s legal team from Wynn Williams & Co and the Ministry of Education the Board of Trustees agreed that it would be sensible to engage a Specialist Advisor for Finance to assist the Board to establish a separate Asset Portfolio and appoint a CEO for r the Rangiora High School Education Trust. This was described by Coralanne Child, Director of Education for Canterbury, as a low-level intervention as was appropriate.

It was the Board’s understanding that a low-level intervention would not be gazetted by the Minister of Education. On 11 November 2014, in addition to a Specialist Advisor – Finance, the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees was advised by the Ministry of Education it would be required to contract a Specialist Adviser - Employment/Human Resources to advise them on matters of Employment and Personnel.

In 2012 and 2013 Rangiora High School participated in the New Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Teacher Work Place Survey. The results of the survey showed high levels of staff satisfaction. Rangiora High School was recognised as a safe school by the NZCER research team who at that time gifted $1000 to the Rangiora High School staff social fund to say thank you for their participation.

Rangiora High School Board of Trustees were therefore surprised the Ministry of Education escalated the complexity of original intervention, without consultation with members and voiced this concern with the Ministry of Education. The Board argued the appointment of a Specialist Advisor – Employment/Human Resources was unnecessary given there was sound evidence to show the board was meeting its statutory obligations around staffing and personnel.

The Ministry of Education ignored the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees’ view and provided members with a list of names of suitable candidates for both Specialist Advisor positions. This was unusual given the Board was supposedly a self-managing entity and would be financially responsible for the employment contracts. The Board’s view was ignored by the Ministry of Education and Mr Michael Rondel, Audit & Assurance Partner, Audit & Assurance National Leader, Binder Dijker Otte (BDO), Christchurch was appointed as a Specialist Advisor - Finance on 11 November 2015. Mrs Beverly Moore, in accordance with the stated view of the Ministry of Education, was also appointed as a Specialist Advisor - Employment/Human Resources on 11 November 2015.

Notification of Beverley Moore’s appointment as a Specialist Advisor – Employment/Human Resources at Rangiora High School was met with general consternation. Contrary to earlier Ministry of Education assurances both appointments were gazetted under Section 78K of the Education Act 1989 in February 2015.

Michael Rondell and Beverley Moore were contracted to provide their respective Scoping Reports to the Rangiora High School Board Chair, Dave Turnbull by the 14th February 2015. Beverley Moore conducted her investigation into Employment/Human Resources over a seven-day period; 27th, 28th November 2014 during the 4th term of the school year and on the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th of January 2015 when the school was effectively closed and I was the only person on site and available. Moore visited the school on the 19th of January 2015 but did not speak to the Board Chair or me at that time.

On 2 February 2015 the Rangiora High School Board Chair, Dave Turnbull contacted both specialist advisors requesting their Scoping Reports. Beverley Moore informed the Board Chair that the Scoping Reports were unavailable as they had been forwarded to the Ministry of Education and not the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees who had commissioned and paid for them. On the 13th February 2015 the Board Chair and school’s Principal were contacted by the Ministry of Education’s Christchurch office and asked to call an extra special meeting of the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees on the 16th February 2015.

On 16 February 2015 the Minister of Education, the Right Honourable Hekia Parata, pursuant to section 78N (1) of the Education Act 1989 resolved to dissolve the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees and appoint a Commissioner under section 78N (1) of the Education Act 1989. The Minister based her decision to dissolve the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees on information provided in the Scoping Report prepared by Specialist Adviser – Employment/Human Resources, Beverley Moore which had been provided to her by the Associate Secretary of Education Katrina Casey.

The Scoping Report prepared by Specialist Adviser Michael Rondell into Rangiora High School’s financial position was positive and did not identify any significant areas for concern.

Rondell’s report offered the expected recommendations for the strengthening and extension of existing sound financial management practices for the schools $18M asset portfolio.

 

Due to inherent flaws in both process and content Beverley Moore’s Scoping Report incorrectly advised the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata that there were significant concerns regarding Rangiora High School. Specifically:

  • Communications within the school and with its community
  • Inadequate board systems and processes such as school’s planning and reporting, complaint management and self-review
  • Employment Management
  • Financial Management
  • Property Management

These claims were patently untrue.

Following her decision to dissolve the Rangiora High School Board of Trustees the Minister then directed the Secretary of Education to appoint a Commissioner as per section 78N (1) of the Education Act 1989. Katrina Casey appointed Beverley Moore to the position of Commissioner on Thursday, 26 February 2015. This was viewed by the community as a direct conflict of interest.

And as they say the rest is history.

When I was unjustifiably dismissed by Beverley Moore in 2015, I thought I would never recover from the magnitude of the change to my personal and professional life. People would say often “Get Over It.” I didn’t believe I could or ever would. Everyday for 13 years I had felt a sense of pride and belonging: Tucky, Rowe, Sim, Cresswell, Strachan, Moffat, Penny, Macintosh, Allen and I am and will always be Number 10.

Time is a great healer and so nearly four years later I understand that this significant event in my life simply made me stronger. I will always be number 10. I no longer look back, I simply smile to myself and think how lucky I am to have had the opportunities I have had over the past four years. I have met some amazing new people, made some real friends, set up a successful new business and hope to undertake some lecturing at the University of Canterbury in Leadership and Equity Education. I have survived the fire and like the phoenix have risen renewed. I have reinvented myself and I am titanium.

  • My life has always been a life of service. As my father would say and expect – service before self.

Written by Dr Peggy Burrows

I am a leader and enjoy the challenges leadership offer. My leadership journey began in the classroom in 1981, saw me sitting on the Bench in the District Court for 10 years as a member of the Deportation review Tribunal, as a member of NAWAC and as a member of the Aoraki Conservation Board. For the past 40 years I have touched the lives of thousands of people in a myriad of positive ways. Through success and adversity I have lived my leadership role and believe as a servant leader I have made a difference.