In 1882 when the first school on Waiheke Island opened in a room of the Gordon’s house in Te Matuku Valley, it was attended by children up to the age of sixteen. Enrolments at Te Huruhi Native School, founded in 1911, included students of seventeen and eighteen. There was no provision of secondary schooling on the island until 1954.
In 1948, when the regular daily workers’ boat began in Surfdale, some students commuted to Auckland schools, giving them a 14 hour school day. This unsatisfactory situation worsened when it was revealed in 1953 that some of the school boy were playing poker, and drinking below decks. Pressure mounted for the provision of secondary schooling on the island. After a public meeting on March 20th 1953 of almost 100 parents with Mr Mountford of the Education Board, Waiheke District High School became a reality.
Waiheke District High School opened on February 1954 with 21 students, 16 girls and 5 boys, taught by the first assistant, Mr Whitworth and Miss Ponsonby, the Headmistress. A classroom was first established in Hartley’s Hall at Onetangi, with many subjects taken through the correspondence school. The beach was the playground and sports field, and recorder classes were held in a bus shelter nearby. Cookery and home craft classes were held in the Power Board building at Ostend, woodwork at Ostend school, and lifesaving at the Ostend wharf. As numbers grew the Onetangi Community Hall was used as a classroom, spreading the school out further.
In 1957 the school moved to its present site at Donald Bruce Road, where £37,000 had been spent building four and a half classrooms, a sealed assembly area, and court. The school was formally opened by the Hon.E.H. Halstead on April 10th 1957, the Principal now being Mr Whitworth, who has succeeded Miss Ponsonby in 1955. There were now two schools four miles apart, a staff of seven full-time, and four part-time teachers, and three classes from Standard 4 to Form 5. In February 1959, when a new block of classrooms was completed, the primary department was opened. The District High School now had its own Principal, with Blackpool and Ostend being independent.
Waiheke’s population decreased in the ten years following 1956, so the value of maintaining two primary schools now within two miles of the District High School diminished. In April 1969, the Minister of Education recommended the establishment of an area school on Waiheke. A public meeting was held to explain this new educational concept and a vote of parents called for. The vote passed 69 to 5 and Waiheke Area School, the second in New Zealand, was established in 1970. Where district high schools had been divided into primary and secondary departments, area schools were to be a single, unified institution with all aspect of administration, organisation and policy planned to serve the school as a whole. Staff were appointed to the school as a whole and were to make the best use of their personal resources regardless of the major age level of subject area in which they specialised. It was hoped that the area schools would work out an integrated and community based education.
All secondary teachers at the District High School were reappointed with the Head teacher, Mr John Meyer, becoming the Principal of Waiheke Area School. However, the buildings were inadequate for the 282 students and after one year no building on the programme has been completed. No new classrooms, no administrative block, no improvements in heating, sewerage, or water services. Two two-roomed classroom blocks were shifted from Blackpool and Ostend, and four dilapidated prefab classrooms were brought to Waiheke for temporary primary classrooms and another as an interim staffroom. It was not until 1974 that the library and adjoining five classroom block, the open plan classroom, and staffroom were complete. Waiheke Area School’s formal opening by Governor-General, Sir Dennis Blundell took place on April 4th 1974.
In 1975, four new reloadable classrooms replaced the battered prefabs. The local community provided money for a swimming pool, completed in 1976. In 1980, $340,000 was spent building a large multi-purpose hall-gymnasium, extending the library and staffroom, and upgrading the open plan room. Further relocatable classrooms were added every year until 1981, including a three room music suite. By 1975 the school roll had reached 391 and was continuing to climb steadily; 451 in 1980, 557 in 1982, to 727 in 1985. As area schools were never expected to cater for more than 375 students, anomalies and confusion with regard to staffing quotas, building and equipment allocations took up more and more time of successive Committees of Managements and Principals. When Mr John Meyer resigned in 1980, Mr Jim Kelly took over as acting principal for two terms until Mr Alan Bell was appointed in 1981.
In 1985, it became obvious that there were sufficient secondary students to justify the established of a Form 1 to Form 7 school. After negotiations with the Educations Department, the Auckland Education Board, the N.Z.E.I., the P.P.T.A., and public meetings, the people of Waiheke chose to have a separate High School and Primary School. Waiheke High School opened on February 3rd 1986 with a roll of 330 students, under the new Principal Mr Frank Solomon. An extensive building programme to upgrade existing school buildings was spread over the following 2 years. Te Huruhi Primary School, with a roll of 400 students was situated on the adjoining site, so a continuation of the close relationship ship between primary and secondary school students could still be had.
Waiheke High School is now the only island High School in New Zealand.