St Oran's College was founded by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand in 1958.
In the mid-1950's Queen Margaret College, the only Presbyterian school for girls in Wellington, was over-crowded with a huge waiting list and could not accept any more pupils from the Hutt Valley. The Chairman of the Board of Governors of Queen Margaret, Dr O C Mazengarb, is thought to have approached the Wellington Presbytery with the idea of founding a similar college in Lower Hutt. The Presbytery passed the suggestion to the Reverend George Dallard who was at that time minister of St Stephen's Presbyterian Church in Lower Hutt.
In 1957 Mr Dallard gained official approval from the Presbytery for a Presbyterian College for girls in the Hutt Valley. He approached Dr A M (Sam) Rutherford, a member of St Stephen’s congregation and a well-known obstetrician in Lower Hutt, and together they invited a number of men to a meeting at which Dr Mazengarb spoke, urging them to ‘get on with it’.
Initially a steering committee of three looked extensively for a site for the new school which was found at 550 High Street with main road frontage. The property was owned by an Anglican Trust and the land could not be sold. Ultimately it was arranged to buy the existing building of a disused boys’ orphanage – the former Anglican Boys Home – and to lease the land. Incorporation was undertaken and from 26 November 1958 the proposed school was known legally as the Hutt Valley Presbyterian College for Girls Incorporated.
In late 1958 a ten-member Board of Governors was formally established. All were thought to be Presbyterians and most attended either St Stephen’s or Knox Church which ensured wide parish representation in central Lower Hutt.
The board had to find a headmistress and staff, decide on a name, motto, uniform, fees and curriculum. They were unanimous in the choice of motto, but the school’s name caused considerable discussion. One suggestion, originally passed but later rejected, was Elgin Girls College. In February 1959, the name ‘St Oran’s College’ was officially approved by Presbytery.
Miss Elizabeth Robertson MA was appointed Principal, joined by a single full-time staff member, Miss Joan Wilson. The school opened with 21 pupils on 4 February 1959.
On the 15th of September 1959, Dr Rutherford, the founding chairman of the Board of Governors made a presentation of new tam o’shanters and badges. The predominant colours of the school uniform were linked to brother and sister schools. Red was from Scots College, gold from Queen Margaret College and green from St Oran’s. During the first year the girls wore whichever uniform they already had as it was a case of mostly ‘making do’ while decisions were being made on tartan and frock and skirt patterns.
The first 3 of the school’s houses were named this year by Mrs Roberton: Columba, Macfarlane and Rutherford.
In 1961 the school tennis courts became ready for use. Final resurfacing had been done by Mr H Isherwood (aided by a working bee of fathers). The hockey field was levelled and grass sown. It was ready for use from the beginning of the second term.
A prefect system was introduced in 1963 and St Oran’s held its first ‘formal dance’. Students could submit boy’s names (first approved by their parents) to the headmistress.
On the 4th of February, a special assembly was held to unveil the ‘little chapel’, which was the stage of the gymnasium. This was converted into a focus for worship at each morning assembly. An Old Girls’ Association was formed on 2nd July.
In November of 1965, iron gates were added to the school frontage. These were gifted by the Parent’s Association.
A new Home Economics/Clothing room was built in 1973 on the site of the old school swimming pool.
By 1974 the school beret (tam o’shanter) had become an irritation to students and staff alike. It was decided that it be dropped from being a part of the school uniform. The story goes that a number of tams met their fate in spectacular fashion, being flung as Frisbees across the Hutt River.
Mrs Kath Cartres officially opened Chartres Hall on the 18th of June 1976.
In 1982, the new principal, Mrs Margaret Inch recommended that the school purchase its first computer. In 1984 she inaugurated the Head Girl’s valedictory speech, which has become a St Oran’s College tradition at end of year prizegiving.
In mid 1990 the college was facing a crisis; debt was rising, the role was shrinking and there was no solution in sight.
At a finance committee meeting, the subject of integration was raised. An application by a previous Board to the Minister of Education had been declined on the grounds that 'St Oran's did not qualify'. This was because the Board leased the land from the Anglican Boys Diocese and the Integration Act stated that to qualify, the governing body of the applicant school must be a body capable of owning land as defined in the Property Law Act. The Minister, as advised by his department, took the narrow view the Board must own the land.
An investigation was done, and it was concluded that in principle there were no insurmountable obstacles to St Oran’s being integrated. The Anglican Boys Diocese said that the land could possibly be purchased in view of St Oran’s already possessing a 99 year lease. It was decided at a special meeting of the Board of Governors to proceed. A presentation was then made to parents and with their blessing more detailed negotiations with the Ministry were undertaken about the process of integration.
An obstacle arose at government level as the Education Minister at the time did not wish to integrate any more schools. Discussions were held with lawyers and the minister's private secretary, with a view that the minister had no authority to decline the application for political reasons when it met all the terms of the act and legal action would be taken if he did so.
In early 1991 notification was received that the Minister had signed the integration agreement and that St Oran’s could open as an integrated college from the beginning of the first term.
In 1993 the Chartres Hall was refurbished and the building of the Rutherford Art and Music Wing was completed. The first Parents’ Association Golf Day was also held this year and has become a yearly fundraiser.
The college’s fourth house was introduced in 1994 as the school roll had grown quite significantly. The new house was named ‘McRae’ after past principal Mrs Daphne McRae.
Vertical tutor groups were also introduced in 1994 as a way of helping the year levels to mix and to foster the friendly interaction between all students. These tutor groups are still structured this way today.
In Term 1 of 1995 a new classroom block was completed. A special service was held to honour the work of several people who had made a special contribution to the college. Specific sites around the school were named in their honour. The new classroom block was name ‘Taylor Wing’ after Mr Charles Taylor, who had played an important role in the formation of the school.
The main building was named the ‘Dallard Administration Centre’ after Rev. George Dallard. The ‘Isherwood Courts’ were named after Mr Harold Isherwood who was a member of the first Board of St Oran’s College, and was responsible for the laying of the three tennis courts which double as netball courts in the winter.
Another new set of classrooms came into use in Term 1, 1997. This classroom block was officially opened in1998 and named ‘Thomson Block’ after Pam and Jim Thomson, for the major contribution they made to the school. The Vowles Library was also opened at this time.
In 2001 the Board of Trustees initiated the request to extend the school roll gradually to 500. They believed this would allow both flexibility and a wider spread of subject options to students. At this time the Ministry turned down the application. The roll increase was finally granted by in 2006. The school planned to take in an extra class at Year 7 over the following 7 years.
The property at 546 High Street was purchased in 2007 to help accommodate the growing school. The roll at this stage was 379. In 2009, building started on a new classroom block on this site. This block, named ‘Fenton Block’ after the contribution made to the school by Colin Fenton was opened in 2010 and is a learning area for the Social Sciences and English.
St Oran’s College has now reached its maximum roll of 504 students. The size of the school contributes to a 'family' atmosphere, creating a strong sense of belonging and community amongst students. The college has established an enviable reputation as a school which promotes holistic educational excellence underpinned by Christian values during its short life. Students performances in NCEA examinations are consistently ranked among the top academic schools in the Greater Wellington area and a variety of opportunities for success in a wide range of co-curricular activities are also available.
EMPOWERING YOUNG WOMEN TO BE THE BEST THAT THEY CAN BE