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Why I Joined CGA by John Morris

Read about why executive principal John Morris joined CGA to help build a new kind of school that suited the current generation of digital students.

CGA Executive Principal John Morris has seen how schooling has changed around the world over the past 40 years. His guidance as an experience educator for the past 40 years provides the foundation for CGA to progress in the future. Here he talks about his own background and why he joined CGA.

Where did you do your foundational years of schooling?

I was born and grew up in Bolton, a textile town in the North West of England. My parents were working class - my dad was a bricklayer and mum a seamstress - and both had a strong Wesleyan work ethic that influenced me.

At aged 11, I, along with all students in England sat the 11+ exam, the results of which determined the type of secondary school you went to. I passed the exam and gained entry to a selective entry Grammar school that really made me realise what a great all-round education was all about.

In many ways, on reflection, this experience helped fashion my philosophy of education because of the emphasis placed on academics and sport in the fabric of the school I attended. There was an inherent appreciation of the importance of competition and drive, and of striving to be the best you can be.

How did moving to New Zealand help shape your experience?

Our family then emigrated to NZ when I was 14 and I briefly attended two secondary schools in Auckland before we settled in west Auckland, where I attended Kelston BHS.

I was fortunate at Kelston to have had two inspirational History teachers. These two men were so incredibly motivating and encouraging. Their passion for History and their enthusiastic involvement in the wider life of the school were inspirational to me, and I decided at 16 years of age that teaching would be my career. The significance of great teachers should never be under-estimated.

What did you do after completing your studies?

After completing my Masters in History at Auckland University and a 39-year career teaching at Kelston Boys’ and Avondale College, and Headmasterships at Takapuna Grammar School and Auckland Grammar School, I set up my own education consultancy doing advisory work for Cambridge Assessment in the Middle East and Asia, and was also involved in a NZ-based think-tank as a Research Fellow, during which time I wrote 5 monographs on educational issues.

I kept my interest and involvement in education governance by sitting on three government education boards between 2012 and 2019 as well as extending my consulting to advisory and mentoring work in a number of Auckland schools, before I was approached by Jamie Beaton to do some consulting for Crimson.

What did you think about Crimson Global Academy initially?

Initially, I turned down this approach as I was busy with my own work and wasn’t sure where Crimson, as a company, was heading and what I could contribute that would make my involvement worthwhile for both myself and Crimson.

Later, Jamie asked me if I would help him gain a licence for Crimson from the NZ Ministry of Education to operate a private online high school, based in Auckland and initially servicing the domestic market.

This was a challenge that I felt was worth putting some time into but, in reality, I did not have any great confidence that we would succeed. This was because there were no Ministry regulations for setting up an online school and so we would have to go through the regulations for setting up a normal “bricks and mortar” school. In addition, the Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, had made it very clear that the existing government-owned online school in NZ, Te Kura, was the flagship for online education and any new ones would also be government-owned.

Not one to give in, Jamie and David Freed encouraged me to push on and see where negotiations went, and so followed close to 6 months of “toing and froing” between Auckland and Wellington. The Ministry in Wellington was surprisingly supportive and my contact in the Ministry in Auckland was also very helpful and understanding.

The outcome: success! In September 2019 we were granted provisional registration as an online high school by the MoE. This was an amazing result for Crimson and the beginning of something quite special, exciting and challenging.

How did you decide to stay involved with CGA?

Following the euphoria of this success, Jamie then asked me to take the role of Executive Principal of the new school, to be called Crimson Global Academy (CGA), with the directive to set up the new school and lead its development.

This new school leadership role was not in my future plans as I was enjoying doing my consulting work in Auckland schools, and needed time to think it over.

After discussions with my wife, I decided to take up the offer and set about, with Keisuke Shibata and Yuko Ebisujima (our superb administrative staff) to begin the challenging set-up process.

Jamie was keen for a February start for the school; I preferred July; we compromised on a May 2020 start.

What were some of the initial challenges?

The initial set-up challenges were immense:

  • Getting accreditation with Pearson Edexcel to offer the A Level qualification
  • Getting ‘UniversitiesNZ’ to accept Pearson Edexcel A Level as equivalent to Cambridge for university entrance in NZ
  • Becoming a signatory to the NZQA Code of Practice to enable us to accept international students into CGA classes
  • Appointing our key senior staff of HoDs, Deputy Principal and Principal
  • Writing job descriptions, school policies and processes
  • Curating and writing the resource material for the subjects we would offer
  • Researching and deciding on our Learning Management System (LMS), Student Management System (SMS), teaching tool (Zoom) and other software
  • Timetabling classes without a satisfactory timetable programme.
  • Recruiting and enrolling students into our first intake
  • The list of challenges goes on, and is continually being added to as we grow and progress the school.

How far has CGA come?

CGA opened on 1 May with 12 students, and 15 months later we have 400+ mainly part time students based in 25 countries, 60 teaching staff from over a dozen countries, and three campuses located in NZ, Europe, and USA.

Twelve months on, after a successful Education Review Office audit CGA gained full registration as a private online high school. A noteworthy achievement.

Why did you join CGA?

Reflecting on why I joined Crimson, there were several factors that influenced my decision:

  • My education philosophy, developed from my Grammar school days in England to being Headmaster of an academically renowned school like Auckland Grammar School, seemed to fit with what was being planned at CGA.
  • The possibilities of being part of a project so future-focused and innovative as CGA was very exciting and challenging.
  • Being involved in the leadership at the very beginning of this novel virtual school was a great opportunity to set the foundations for a great school.
  • The foundations needed were very clear to me: the opportunity to recruit both great teachers who were experts in their subject specialism and aspirational hard-working students, and offer to all students a demanding internationally recognised curriculum was a great incentive to join CGA.
  • It has always been my strong belief that it was great teachers who made a school great and both Mark Phillips and I were totally aligned in ensuring our teaching staff were the best they could possibly be.

My education philosophy, therefore, has been built on the provision of a strong academic curriculum, an emphasis on the importance of assessment, school leadership with a vision and the courage to work for it, dedicated and knowledgeable teachers, a school climate and ethos that is conducive to learning, a mix of students from different backgrounds, and high expectations for all students.

In summary, I joined CGA to help build a great school, a new kind of school that suited the current generation of digital students, a school driven by a common vision about education, about the school and about what the school’s programmes are for. This can only come from a group of people who have derived a collective vision together; and I am committed to being part of this collective as we move forward, grow and progress.