My name is Karl Anthony Vasau and I am a NZ born Pacific Islander of Niuean, Samoan, Tongan and European descent.
I live with my amazing partner Geneva, and we are the proud and loving parents of a 6 year old son, Karl Jnr (Karl Tote) and we currently live in Takanini Auckland. I have been in education for 25 years and started my teaching in 1998. I have been a principal for 16 years in both the State and Catholic School systems and I am currently the Principal of Rowandale School, a Decile 1A school in Manurewa with a current roll of 656 year 1-6 students.
I was born at St Helens Hospital in Mt Albert and grew up in Grey Lynn, Central Auckland. Everyday I count my blessings at being the oldest of 3 Children and the very proud son of some amazing parents. My father is Karlvon Graf Ukutufi-Vasau and he was born in the village of Alofi in Niue. His family came to NZ in the 1960s and settled in the Ponsonby area. My mum is April Ngarie Agnes O’Dwyer and she was born in the village of Vailima, Apia, Samoa. Her Dad moved to NZ from Samoa in the 1930s to join the war effort and was a decorated and proud World War 2 veteran. He met my Nana after the war and they both moved back to Samoa and started a family. My mum's family moved back to NZ in the 1960s. Both my parent’s families moved to NZ for better opportunities for themselves and their children.
My childhood was a very happy one because we grew up in Grey Lynn and everything we did revolved around being able to get there by foot. Most of my family and friends lived in the area too and so we were able to develop close bonds and pretty much all the kids in the neighbourhood played together “outside”. I have some really fond memories of my education and I was fortunate to have been taught by many Pasifika Pioneers in education. My desire to become a teacher was something that started at a young age. I enjoyed playing make believe with my younger siblings and as the oldest I always got to play the lead or flash characters like teacher, policeman, doctor or superhero.
When I got to high school I was introduced to a Saint called St Marcellin Champagnat. He was the founder of the Catholic Religious order, The Marist Brothers, who founded and set up a number of Primary and Secondary Schools right across NZ and throughout the Pacific. Something that I have really embedded in my beliefs and motivation in teaching is something he is said to have said to the members of his order in France in the 1800’s. “If you want to teach young people, first you must love them and you must love them all equally”. This quote has had a profound effect on my journey because for many like myself, this is a real challenge and something that ensures we treat all our students equally and work hard to help them reach their full potential because we love them, and love them equally.
From the moment I started my training at Teachers College I have always wanted to be a Principal. I was focussed right through my early teaching career on learning as much as I could about how schools worked and then working at building my knowledge and skills to stand out as a potential leader. That was the plan but as most Principals will tell you nothing is that simple and alot of our job is learnt while in the hot seat. I was fortunate to win my First Principals position in a decile 1 Catholic School in Porirua which was the perfect place to build and strengthen my leadership and understanding of what makes a good Principal. This was made easy because of the amazing staff and community and their belief and support of me. It was here that I was introduced to the concept of schools and its whole community being like one big family and the importance of teaching and learning in a family-like context. This allows for stronger connections and trust and ensures that everyone plays their part, a bit like a village I suppose.
When I first became a Principal there weren't too many that identified as Pasifika in Wellington, or in NZ for that matter. It was very hard to attend meetings or stand up and speak and feel like others in the room shared similar cultural backgrounds or knowledge as I had and so it was often that I left those at the door and entered and interacted as someone different. When I did meet or work with other Pasifika Principals it was so uplifting and special because we understood each other, and were able to relate because of who we were and how hard we at the time had to work to get to where we were. Fast forward 16 years and the climate and environment is very different and the number of Pasifika Principals across NZ has steadily grown. My experience and that of others, operating as a lone Pasifika Principal, gave fuel and rise to the establishment in 2007 of the New Zealand Pasifika Principals Association (NZPPA)
NZPPA is a regular participant at all high level education forums and our voice and opinion is sought after and respected. NZPPA is made up of 70 plus Principals with some Principals experience spanning up to 4 decades in the NZ Education system. NZPPA has over the years continued to develop and become a respected voice in Pasifika education and this is evident with us setting up a Professional Learning Arm - Tautai o le Moana. Tautai is responsible for the roll out of targeted Principal PLD supporting Principals to build and grow their Pasifika Capability and Culturally Responsive Practice. We also hold another contract to support a number of schools with the implementation of Tapasā. All of these allow us to interact and share in a way that means that no longer do we need to forget our Pasifika at the door but bring it through the door and use it to strengthen others.
I am who I am today because of so many who believed in me and supported me in my leadership. Let's be honest not all of them were Pasifika or had similar backgrounds to me but they treated and loved me equally which I will be forever grateful for. I am a firm believer that the best teacher or leader for Pasifika children is the "BEST teacher or leader". But if that BEST Teacher or Leader is Pasifika then it's nothing but Nek Level! I absolutely love my job and enjoy carrying out my role as a Principal. What our children need is more quality and competent teachers putting their hands up for leadership positions in schools. Our children need positive role models and they need to see, hear and feel themselves in the schools they attend.