Our History

Waitaki Girls’ High School has a proud history. Our school has been educating young women in the North Otago area since 1887.

1887- Two local politicians T.W. Hislop and Samuel Shrimski persuade Parliament to establish a high school for girls in Oamaru to serve the North Otago region. Planning begins and arrangements are made to use alternative accommodation until a suitable site is identified. Mrs. Margaret Gordon Burn (at age 62) appointed Lady Principal 1st October.

School opens on 17th October 1887 with a roll of 9 students.

Miss Annie Forbes (first woman in Otago to graduate MA with Honours and former OGHS pupil of M.G. Burn) appointed the first assistant. Joined a year later by Miss Alice Little to cope with growing roll (49 pupils). Music, physical drill, and sewing introduced. Mrs. Burn hires piano at her own expense.

1892- Boarding facilities investigated and pursued but lack of demand brings a halt to this. Economic depression sinks in and roll shrinks to 29. The second assistant had to leave. In 1892 Mrs. Burn resigns for health reasons. Her organising ability and dedication had laid the sound foundation on which her successors would build. Miss Forbes resigns to marry.

Miss Catherine Mary Ferguson MA (25 years old) appointed new Principal with Miss Crosby appointed the first assistant. Miss Ferguson enjoyed playing sport. Her favourites were golf and tennis. The Reed Street Tennis Club permitted the girls to use their courts and the game becomes very popular. For the next 8 years, the roll remains relatively stable. Motto Dulcius ex Arduis adopted.

1904 to 1908- Two possible sites for the ‘new’ school identified as being either Severn Street (where the Garden of Memories is now) or Trent Street. The debate about which site should be used continued for three years! Finally block of land bounded by Thames, Trent, Ouse, and Reed Streets was decided upon. J.M.Forrester was appointed architect. The new building formally opened on February 10, 1904 – entrance being from Trent Street. Roll in 1904 is 45. Miss Ferguson takes leave to visit England for one year in 1908.

1911 to 1919- Roll in 1911 was 75. Developments made in science education for the girls, a new science lab added to the southwest corner of the site. A domestic course added to the curriculum in 1911. The emphasis of the school was academic. Waitaki Girls’ Old Girls Association formed in 1915. In 1918 the Old Girls’ Association set up the Isobel Clarke memorial essay competition to commemorate the first school war fatality when Nurse Clarke drowned in the Marquette disaster. Miss Ferguson retires in August 1919 and spends the rest of her 80 years in Dunedin. Miss Ferguson has been the Principal at Waitaki for 26 years. Miss J.B.Wilson (aged 35 years) announced as new Principal (chosen from 9 applicants).

Property purchased in 1919 on Ouse Street to be used as a Hostel establishment – Waitaki House Hostel opened in 1921.

1920 to 1924- The first three prefects appointed in 1920 and in 1924 one girl was chosen by the Principal and staff as the head prefect. Prefect board set up in the assembly room. Yearly editions of a school magazine begin under J.B.Wilson’s principalship. Music is encouraged and a piano is purchased from the proceeds of vigorous fundraising!

1925 to 1928- Junior High School established in 1925 and the magnificent Junior High School building officially opened in 1928.

1929 to 1930- In 1929 J.B.Wilson traveled overseas for work-related reasons. Miss Mary Victoria Gibson (ex-principal CGHS) appointed Principal in Miss Wilson’s absence. Unhappily Miss Gibson resigns due to illness and Miss M.Macauley takes over as Acting Principal. Miss Gibson dies of pneumonia in September 1929. On Miss Wilson’s return, House system introduced. The swimming pool opened on March 4th, 1930.

1935 to 1938- School song established in 1935. Miss Wilson receives a Coronation medal in 1936. Jean Batten visits in 1936. Golden Jubilee held in 1938 (Janet Frame is a Third Form girl during this year). More land purchased in 1938 and Wilson House built to accommodate senior boarders. During the war (WW2) the school hires its first typist – although there are also typing and physical education classes to be taken by this staff member (Miss Madge Robertson)

1943 to 1949- More property purchased in 1943 as a result of extra Hostel demand. The existing property on this land renamed Orbell House (named after the Chairman of the board at the time). At this stage, almost the entire block bounded by Trent, Thames, Ouse, and Reed owned by the school. The hope was to own the entire block. School leaving age raised in 1944 placing extra pressure on the school. Miss Wilson awarded MBE for services to education in 1946. Roll in 1947 is 381 girls. Miss Wilson announces her retirement at the end of 1949 at the age of 63. She had been the Principal for 30 years. After her retirement, Miss Wilson marries and lives the rest of her life in Oamaru.

Miss Mary Kathleen Dunning appointed the new Principal. She would be the Principal for 13 years. She was a keen sportswoman, excelling in hockey. Her brother was a NZ cricket representative. On 1st February when Miss Dunning took over as Principal, the roll was 339 senior school students and 116 junior school students. There were 116 boarders.

1956 to 1976- By 1963 the roll had jumped to an astonishing 829. Wilson Park pavilion opened in 1956. The new science block (now A-Block) opened in 1958. The new administration block opened in 1961. Closing of the Junior High School at the end of 1962 – it was goodbye to the girls in the light grey uniform! Long-serving staff member Miss Iris B. Romans retires at the end of 1962. 75th-anniversary celebrations in 1962 labeled a success by over 1200 ex-pupils. A new school hall is planned. Orbell House will need to be demolished to accommodate it. The new hall will be named after Miss Dunning – The M.K. Dunning Hall. Miss M.K. Dunning died in Auckland in 1976.

With a distinguished teaching career behind her, Miss Joyce Jarrold BHSc accepted the position of Lady Principal at Waitaki in 1962, although it was not until May of 1963 that she was able to take up her responsibilities. Hockey introduced in the sports programme after a very long absence. Inter-house drama competition introduced. Inaugural competition won by Ferguson House. Instrumental and music theory classes introduced in 1964. At a cost of $76 068, the M.K. Dunning Hall is finally opened in 1967.

1970 to 1978- A school council was formed in 1970 to encourage student voice. 1970 also sees the introduction of two separate prize givings – one for seniors and one for juniors, and the hostel’s J.B. Kirkness Wing is opened. Hats were made optional for pupils in 1972. Two major building projects were completed in 1973, the Junior School basement (to be used as a lunchroom) and a language laboratory. For the first time in history, WGHS and WBHS combine to present a drama ‘HMS Pinafore’. A new uniform was introduced in 1973 and controversially this included a blue summer dress. The annual Leavers Ball with the Boys school (open to 4th and 5th Year students) introduced in 1974. Miss Jarrold’s resignation came in 1978 (although she did lead the school through the first Term of 1979). She had been the Principal for 16 years.

1979 to 1986- Mrs Joyce Mayhew appointed new Principal. Mrs Mayhew was ex-Principal of St.Hilda’s Collegiate in Dunedin. She had made an appearance at the school more than 40 years earlier, having represented Otago Girls’ H.S. in basketball as a Year 9 student versus Waitaki Girls’ High School. In September of 1979, the Tyson and Orwell Street houses were demolished and levelled for landscaping. The oldest existing building – the Senior School building – is demolished in 1980 after much debate. Mini-house ‘vertical’ form groups first introduced in 1980. A new summer uniform introduced in 1981 with the blue skirt being replaced with a school colours red kilted version. A new library was opened in 1984. The J.J. Jarrold Library was named in honour of the former principal who had begun raising funds for the new building before she retired in 1979. On the final day of Term One 1986, Mrs Mayhew was farewelled from the school with a surprise ‘This is Your School Career’ assembly. She had been principal for 8 years.

1987 to 1994- Waitaki’s seventh Principal, Mrs. Jeanette Aker, took up her position in May 1986. Certificates of Merit awards introduced in 1987 for students who deserved recognition for their good work. A major cycle tour fundraiser is undertaken in January 1987 to raise money for the centenary. The International Baccalaureate diploma course introduced the beginning of 1990. Mrs. Aker resigns the end of Term One 1994 and the Board makes a new appointment – Miss Linda Cowan. Miss Cowan came from the position of Assistant Principal at Dunstan High School in Alexandra. Miss Cowan takes up her duties at the beginning of Term Three 1994. In May 1994, 12 students and three teachers visit Japan. A trip to Disneyland was included! That year, the Waitaki High School’s drama production was Dracula Spectacula. To quote ex-student Sharyn Mitchell, “The final result was a very professional and most enjoyable performance!”

1995 to 2000- In 1995, the Junior Block is refurbished at a cost of $2.45 million. On August 29th, 1996, the then Minister of Education, Wyatt Creech, unveiled a plaque to mark the refurbishment. Controversy in 1997 after a Review of Education recommends a co-educational Forms 1 ~ 4 Middle School and a co-educational Forms 5~7 Senior School. Also in 1997, Alex Paisley (Head Girl) participates in Youth Parliament 1997 and chairs the Social Services Select Committee. A new swimming pool opened by former Principal Mrs. Aker at the end of 1998. In 2000, the administration area was redeveloped and modernised.

2001 to 2004- NCEA assessment system introduced in 2002 with Level One replacing School Certificate. 2003 is the year of an ERO audit – the school performs very well needless to say! In August we have 28 students visit from Wakayama High School from Southern Japan. Mr. Brian Papps (Assistant Principal) retires at the end of Term Two 2003 after 27 years of loyal service to WGHS. At the end of 2003, staff and students participate in a Victorian Fete. Dressing up in Victorian attire for a day was fun! 2004 sees WGHS involved in an ICT PD programme along with the two other Oamaru high schools. This programme is a three-year one and promotes the integration of information technologies into teaching and learning. In July 2004, the school has a visit from Chiba High School (Japan). Also in July, the Future’s Trust holds a very successful quiz to raise money for the Trust. In September 2004, three students Rihi Salter, Courtney May, and Nicki Millin are all chosen to row for Otago at the Interprovincial Rowing Championship at lake Karapiro.

2005 to 2006- The M.K. Dunning Hall is extensively refurbished in 2005 after being damaged over the years by water. In March, the P.T.A. run a fundraiser with an evening of cooking ideas and laughter with Annabelle White. In April the school holds a workday, with proceeds going towards funding common rooms. Also in 2005, Miss Cowan embarks on a ten-week sabbatical in Term Three for professional development and knowledge gathering. Long-serving staff members Bob Avis and Gill Dalloway both retire at the end of 2006. Mr. Avis was instrumental in introducing the very first computers into the school back in 1981. The Waitaki Combined school’s production in April 2006 is Oklahoma! In June 2006, the reading room adjacent to the library is re-named the Janet Frame Room in honour of the famous ex-student. Also in 2006, the staff muster a netball team and call themselves ‘The Dulcies’. They compete successfully at the 2006 Masters Games. The A Netball squad travel to Australia for games against other school sides. June 2006 saw a big snow dump, the school closed for a day!

2007 – The beginning of 2007 sees the very first presentations of Excellence Awards for NCEA academic achievement. The awards will be presented yearly from 2007 onwards. Miss Cowan announces her retirement, effective from Term Two 2007. Miss Cowan worked tirelessly for Waitaki through the advent of NCEA and several ERO visits, establishing good relationships with students, staff, and the community while always encouraging the students to strive for excellence. Ms. Lynlee Smith (appointed from Geraldine High School) is appointed the 9th WGHS Principal and takes up her duties from the start of Term Three 2007. Memorable school 120th-anniversary celebrations take place with nearly 900 people attending at Labour Weekend 2007. Visitors came from far and wide (including countries such as Canada, the US, England, and France). Also in 2007, the Future’s Trust undertakes to raise funds for a ‘friendship path’ by selling scripted bricks. Small bricks are sold for $75 and large ones sold for $150. As a result of this fundraiser, the school receives a new paved pathway outside the art block and library.

2008 to 2010- An ‘Over the Tunnels’ recreational bike ride and walk are introduced by the PTA and Future’s Trust in 2008 as a major school fundraiser. The event proves to be a very popular and successful yearly event. In 2008, the combined Waitaki High Schools’ production is Oliver! The actors, musicians, sound and lighting technicians pulled off a magnificent production. A film club is also introduced for the first time in 2008. Ferguson House wins the annual House Dramas Competition. 2009 and 2010 are busy years for refurbishments with the Special Needs area, Senior Block (Science areas), Information Technology classrooms, and Hostel administration area all refurbished. In 2009 WGHS designs a new website, it goes live in September of 2009 and by April 2010 has received approximately 3800 ‘hits’. Also in 2009, the school purchases a new 12 seater van with brilliant sign-writing on it. 2010 sees the introduction of a new black jersey, replacing the red jersey. In March 2010, Megan McPhail comes first in the U16 100m and 200m sprints at the Secondary School South Island Athletics Championships.

2011 – Inaugural Arts week held, with enthusiastic student participation across a range of activities. House Dramas were re-named “Theatrix”. The school timetable was changed to place emphasis on morning learning. Student initiatives raised $12,000 which was shared between our sister schools in Christchurch in the aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquake. Several boxes of new school jerseys which were no longer uniform were sent to Avonside Girls. Four Ministry prefabs no longer in use were removed to Christchurch. Students wrote supportive messages on the whiteboards before they left.

2012 – Principal Lynlee Smith was farewelled at the end of Term One to take up the position of principal at Fiordland College, after four and half years at Waitaki. During her time, the Student Leader selection process changed and student-led assemblies were introduced. The new principal, Tracy Walker arrived at the start of Term Three. The school hosted the third annual conference of Girls’ State Schools. 125th anniversary of WGHS was celebrated with a cake shared with members of the Old Girls’ Association. The production was ‘Footloose’.

2013 – PTA organised a Twilight Gala, the first for some years. This was to become a bi-annual event. Year 12 students took part in the pilot programme “Loves-Me-Not” with the Sophie Elliot Foundation. Work was started on converting the former Food and Fabric Technology spaces into a new Library with refurbished classrooms upstairs. Long-serving staff member Lyn Macdonald retired.

2014 – Parents Portal allowed parents to access learning information for their daughters on-line. The production was ‘Footrot Flats’. Dual Pathway programme was introduced which enabled senior students to attend one or two-day vocational courses through Aoraki Polytechnic in areas such as Hospitality, Beauty, Hairdressing, Agribusiness. Long-serving staff member Maxine RakiRaki retired.

2015 –  School-wide Positive Behaviour for Learning was introduced with the core values of the Waitaki Way – Respectful, Responsible, Resilient. The Dulcie card was used to acknowledge students who displayed these expectations. The new library, Whare Mātauranga, House of Learning, was opened. Tracy Walker joined with other principals on a 3 week trip to China and following this we welcomed the first of our Mandarin Language Assistants. Mike Ferguson left at the end of Term One after 20 years teaching Maths for a post in Auckland. A large piece of tapa cloth was donated by the family of Head Girl, Naomi Saulala. Adrienne Lambeth resigned from the position of Deputy Principal which she had held for 26 years but remained as a part-time teacher for a further two years. Glenn Potter resigned as Assistant Principal after a number of years where his role had focussed on the development of our digital platform.

2016 – Students were able to bring their own electronic devices for classroom use. Some shared classes began again with Waitaki Boys. 100th anniversary of the Oamaru Branch of WGHS Old Girls’ Association was celebrated in October with the unveiling of a memorial plaque to honour Isabel Clark. The production was ‘Charlotte and the Chocolate Factory’.

2017 – The school joined with other Oamaru schools from Early Childhood through to Secondary, in a Ministry initiative, (Waitaki Kahui Ako) to aid the transition of students through the schools. Glenda Meek left the School office after 20 years in administration.

2018 – Student Enviro Club was formed. The Waitaki Way Captain joined the Student Leadership team. Lynne Hamilton retired after 29 years in various teaching roles. The production was ‘High School Musical’.

2019 – The Enviro Club invited members of the community and other schools to discuss climate change issues. Principal Tracy Walker left at the end of Term Four to become Principal of Palmerston North Girls’ High School after seven years at Waitaki Girls. Sue Johnson left to join the Waitaki Kahui Ako group, after 31 years of teaching, the last 19 years as Head of English.

2020 – The impact of Covid-19 meant that online learning became a reality for five weeks as staff and students faced the challenges of this new learning. A key focus for staff throughout the year was the redesign of the junior curriculum. Margaret Williams remained as Acting Principal until the arrival of Elizabeth Koni at the start of Term Four. Paul Selbie resigned after 31 years teaching Physical Education.