A large proportion of settlers’ children did not receive an education until a school was erected in 1888.
There were a few children scattered around the district and some took the train to attend school at Woodhill from 1882 to 1888. With the arrival of the village settlers from 1885 onwards, parents from the 19-20 families lobbied the Education Board for their own school.
The community petitioned for a school and elected a school committee (Messrs W.M. Letts, Wm Heath, George Wilkins, Edward Freeman, L. Tierney, A.C. Percy and Thomas Hunt) in October 1887.
The committee applied to the Waste Lands Board for land. Plans and specifications were prepared and tenders invited for a school building to hold 60 children.
In 1888 the school was built on the south side of Swanson Road, where the chemist shop is today. The chairman of the first school committee, Mr. Letts, supplied the necessary funds to equip the school. The Education Board finally re-imbursed the school in August 1889 with the grand sum of £3, which was an allowance for half a year.
The school opened on 18 June 1888. There was a concert and dance at a shilling a head.
The first teacher Miss Young was paid £60 annually. School funds were subsidised by parents paying quarter money once a term; standards paid 6 dime and primers 3 dime a term. School boundaries were set at two miles south and four miles in other directions from the Swanson Post Office.
The road from Swanson Creek Bridge to the school had not been metalled. The children from the area often had to contend with a sea of mud in winter, and as was the custom, all were barefooted and had to warm up by physical exercises.
There was only the open fireplace to warm the school and windows were not designed to let in much warmth from the sun.
In April 1889 the roll was 37, but non-attendance was a big problem as there were numerous reasons for children to be kept home from school.
Following the plough to collect kauri gum was one such reason and was common when a ploughing contractor was engaged. The children had to keep up with the plough to see that the ploughman did not get the bigger pieces and leave only the ‘nuts’.
In order to encourage children to attend school, each pupil was promised a prize if they didn’t miss a day of school for the next half year. This didn’t seem to work because two months later, the committee asked parents to send their children to school more regularly. When Miss Young was ill, the school would close.
The new Massey-Birdwood area for ex-servicemen brought more pupils to the school and in 1920, when Mr. Ingram started as headmaster, the school had 74 pupils and was very overcrowded. Mr. Ingram was instructed by the board “that physical drill be used as a means of imparting warmth to scholars during winter months”.
In March-May 1921 the school building was moved across and up the road to the present site. The hedges from the original site were also shifted and replanted on the new grounds. During the removal and completion of renovations, junior pupils used the Congregational church and the upper classes were taught in a marquee.
Celebrations for the 50th Golden Jubilee were held on 18 Jun 1938. The roadsides and footpaths were cleaned and repaired; planks and seats were borrowed from the railway, Swanson Hall and the church. Inside a 40ft x 60ft Marquee, helpers laid out 42 dozen cups and saucers (hired at 9d a dozen) for the great occasion.
‘God save the Queen’ was sung while the flag was unfurled, followed by silence prior to sounding the ‘Last Post’. The children formed a guard of honour and marched past. After everyone had posed for photographs, the lunch was served (in old-time picnic style) from the schoolroom.
After the formalities, children and adults took part in races, novelty events, hoopla and the ladies’ nail driving competition. There was an exhibition of photos, a visitor book and prizes for the best decorated bicycle and pram.
In March 1841 the school applied for a pound for pound subsidy of £149 15s to start building a swimming pool. Three years later the baths were in use.
With 121 pupils on the roll in July 1950, the head teacher was coping with a total of 59 children (standards 3 and 4 and forms 1 and 2) in badly cramped conditions. The emergency trainee teacher had 34 standards 1 and 2 children in a T-shaped corridor into which 6 doors opened. There was no room for movement, frequent interruptions, pool lighting and the passage to the back of the room was only seven inches wide.
The school became aware that 13 acres belonging to Mr Erickson on the north-east boundary were to be sold and asked that the board inspect urgently. Finally, in April 1951, prefab foundation blocks arrived on the proposed site and the building, erected by volunteers, was ready for occupation at the beginning of the second term.
Following a polio epidemic on New Zealand, there was a nationwide emphasis on cleanliness. Swanson School’s facilities were inadequate – in October 1952 five teachers and 170 children from four classrooms shared three washbasins and two drinking fountains.
In November 1954, Mr. Reed (the head teacher), wrote to the Auckland Education Board that the school was an “utter disgrace to the board and the worst place he had worked in”.
Parents started to object to their children attending Swanson School and about 30 went to Henderson School. Committee members said if the board expected staff and children to work in such poor surroundings, they (the committee) would not offer their services at the next election.
An internal Auckland Education Board memo upheld the complaint: “interior of old building is depressing – (the) staff room hardly warrants its name”.
A prefab was offered and declined in lieu of a new school. Approval was granted by Cabinet on 1 July for three infant classrooms, one standard classroom, headmaster’s office, staff room, boiler room, dismantling and re-erecting of shelter shed, flagpole and milk stand, new door and two new openings in old building as well as landscaping and plumbing.
Mr Cole started as head teacher in May 1954 with a positive attitude. He said he was “convinced he was going to like Swanson”. The new school buildings were ready this month and a grant was received for a fulltime caretaker.
A parents’ referendum was held on bible instruction. The result was: 13 against, 23 for instruction by clergy and 114 for instruction by the head teacher. The roll reached 201, entitling the school to another teacher, taking the total to six.
A hall fund was started and at the 1959 gala, £240 was raised towards the new hall. Two new classrooms were finished in June 1960 and another prefab supplied. An extra acre was purchased from Mr Savage and Swanson Transport and a new swimming pool constructed there.
In 1965 the fund stood at £2000, but owing to spiralling costs it was not enough to finish a modern hall. Government subsidies on halls were withdrawn until further notice because of the financial crisis. However, the school was re-roofed in 1968 and stage one of the school hall completed in 1969.
New rooms including an undersized library were completed in 1970. The original school building was finally demolished in August 1970 after 82 years. In 1973 a kitchen, cloakrooms and lobby were built onto the school hall and the first community social held in the hall.
Over 1500 people enjoyed the 17-19 June 1988 celebration. The official opening was preceded by a parade of bands and decorated floats. The parade depicted events in the school’s history and participants enjoyed an historical bus tour. In the evening, the centennial dinner and dance was held at Avondale race course. Sunday began with a church service in the school hall. This was followed by a spit roast lunch and entertainment.
To cater for the booming roll growth in the 1990s, a two-storey, eight-classroom block was built in 1997. Swanson went from being a small village school to one of the larger schools in Auckland.
The most recent additions are a administration block in 2003 and a block with 2 large rooms in 2015.
Rugged Determination, p40-48