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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 50, September 2006

(by Gordon Mathieson)

Looking back from our computerised digital age of the first decade of the 21st century to that of a century ago provides an interesting study in contrasts.

Anyone from that era would be totally amazed at the material and technological advances over that century. And it is with this in mind that this study examines the scene as it was at our own well-established and oldest school in our area—Paeroa Central School, once known as Paeroa District High school.

One hundred years ago, the physical environment of the school was such that someone from that time would find only one building surviving today—the 1903 infant block. Teaching methods, too, are completely different as is the dress styles, discipline methods and a raft of other differences.

I have selected a particular year to overview this essay—1906.

The Paeroa District High School, as it was known 100 years ago, by its very definition was a primary and secondary school combined with one headmaster in control of both facilities on the site at Wood Street.

In those days, attendance was rewarded, given the difficulty some pupils had in getting to and from school before there were school buses, when horses were used for transportation. It was a major achievement therefore for Paeroa DHS to win the attendance prize as the following letter from W. Davidson, Editor, "Schoolmates" intimates:

"I have the pleasure in intimating to you that your school has won the Schoolmates Attendance Competition for 1905. If you will kindly let me know the number of families represented in your school, the required number of "Schoolmates" will be sent to you next month (April) and until March, 1907.

"The competition has been an exceedingly interesting one and I shall be glad if you will kindly convey to your pupils my hearty congratulations on their success."

This achievement was reported in the local newspaper, the Ohinemuri Gazette on Friday, March 6, 1906:

"Paeroa District High School Wins Attendance Prize.

"Twelve months ago the proprietors of the New Zealand Journal of Education, Dunedin, inaugurated a school attendance competition open to all schools of the colony, the prize being a copy of "Schoolmates" monthly for the ensuing year to every family represented in the school.

"Paeroa District High School entered for the highest grade—330 pupils and above—and word has just been received that the school has come out at the head of the list and secured the award. The average attendance for the year was 340 out of a roll of 357 or over 95 per cent."

There was also a proposal to install gas lights (in the days before electricity) and consideration for night classes in the high school room on Friday nights.

The school committee for 1905-06 was: Chairman, Mr William Marsh; secretary, Mr William Mahony; members, William Ellis, Rev John Cowie, Thomas Corkill, John Kennedy, John Heape, Thomas Dean, A. F. Brown.

The staff for 1906 was: Headmaster, Mr Frank Murphy; First Assistant, Mr Alex MacGregor; Infant Mistress, Miss Minnie Shaw; Assistant teachers, Miss Adina McCallum, Miss Maud Schroff, Miss Anne Fawcett, Mr Ronald Algie (transferred to secondary department, July 1906). Secondary Department: Mr Arthur Gatland (left July, 1906), Mr Charles Meredith, appointed in charge of the secondary department.

Extract from the 1906 annual report (April 22, 1906):

"At an early date we had the misfortune to lose the services of Mr Dromgool under whose charge the High school class had been from the time of inception. It was a considerable time before the vacancy was filled by the appointment of Mr Brown, but this was only intermittently owing the severe illness suffered by him. Then came the appointment of Mr Meredith, who has acted as relieving teacher since, backed up by Mr Gatland, who was appointed extra assistant to the High school.

"The school cadets with Mr McGregor in charge, number about 50 and are in a highly efficient condition."