Principal’s Update 2017 – 6

Our College mission to ‘educate students to achieve personal excellence’ has been reflected in a multitude of ways in these last two weeks of Term 1. Individual student achievements have included Nicolette Donofrio being named national champion 200 metre sprinter (under 16) at the Athletics Australia Championships and Bella Merlino’s 1st place in the 2017 Reelise Film Festival. This is Bella’s second successive win at this event, and again she directed, produced, wrote, edited, filmed and acted in the film.

Year 1 students ‘graduated’ from the sponge to the violin, marking an important step in their musical journey, while middle and senior years’ students collaborated to produce the outstanding musical performance ‘Once on this Island’. Congratulations to the students, but also to the music and drama staff, particularly Nicole Ellis-Windsor, Karen Carey and Luke Byrne. While I missed the live performance, at least I’ve been able to see it on film!

One of the most rewarding acknowledgements of our students in the last week was from a member of the public who ‘felt compelled’ to write a congratulatory message. This is part of her message:

I always have a chat with students who come in about their school and what they think of their school, what they want to do when they leave school, what they’re learning about etc… Her answer and the warm way she spoke of Santa Sabina made me want to fill out an application on the spot. She has the maturity of an adult, and speaks her mind. She expresses her opinion in a polite manner, and answered all my questions. There was just an element extra that I can’t describe. Maybe it was the passion she had towards the school.

I am very impressed and if all your students are like this then I must congratulate you twice.

I am not related to her, nor do I have anything to gain. I just felt that I should share this with you. It’s nice to know how your students are representing the school out there.

It is certainly very nice to know!

Year 12 students completed their term with a ‘retreat’ experience. There were three different retreat options to choose from, but each involved ‘standing up’ for truth in different contexts. One group was engaged in a Goulburn street retreat, ‘Stand with the Needy’ working with agencies such as St Vincent de Paul to support those in need. A second group undertook a ‘mini Camino’ or Tallong pilgrimage, ‘Stand at the Crossroads’, camping out beyond the main Tallong site. A third group was based at Tallong, ‘Stand for Peace’, where they explored, discussed and reflected on the different meanings of peace in our complex times. I extend my appreciation to those teachers who led and accompanied students on these retreats for the care, thoughtfulness and absolutely thorough preparation demonstrated.

‘Being 14’ was the subject of a very interesting evening on Tuesday, where journalist and author, Madonna King, launched her new book of the same name. The compelling aspect of the book is that it is based on Madonna’s discussions with approximately 200 girls across Australia, as well as with parents and school principals. I think all parents who attended felt that they gained really important insights into the worlds of their teenage daughters, as well as feeling affirmed for how they parent. Despite appearances sometimes to the contrary, the clear message of our teenage girls is that they want parents’ attention and time.

Last week I was privileged to attend the International Baccalaureate Conference in Yokohama Japan with Sharon Portlock, Head of School P-5. As we fast approach our final verification visit for the IB Diploma Programme, it was a timely opportunity to learn with, and from, the best educators around the world. As well as workshops, there were three outstanding keynote speakers. Professor Alma Harris, Director of the Institute of Educational Leadership at the University of Malaya in Malaysia, spoke about the need for leadership and innovation in schools today. Her research focuses primarily on leading organisational change and development, and she is internationally renowned for her work on school improvement. She stressed the important role of ‘middle leaders’ in schools as being vehicles of change, and of professional ‘isolation’ as opposed to collaboration as being the enemy of success.

Dr Noriko Arai is a Professor of the Information and Society Research Division, National Institute of Informatics. From 2011, she has been Program Director of an Artificial Intelligence grand challenge, Todai Robot Project (Can AI get into the University of Tokyo?). This project aims to bring a deeper understanding of human intelligence by setting a concrete goal: development of a software system which is able to pass university entrance exams.

Finally, Professor Yong Zhao of the School of Education, University of Kansas, focused on the impact of globalisation and technology on education. He was an entertaining and provocative speaker, challenging many of the accepted beliefs about what makes good education. He challenged us all to educate for greatness by eschewing the notion of ‘average’. Every student can achieve greatness but they can’t be great at all things. We have to value qualities and achievements beyond the ‘standard, benchmarked’ curriculum and test scores. In our globalised world, students can find their ‘niche’ if we help support their passions. The challenge for all schools is to nurture and value curiosity and creativity as a priority.

As Term 1 ends, Holy Week begins. Each year on Palm Sunday we reflect on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the start of what we have come to know as ‘Holy Week’. Across Australia on this day thousands of people, of all faiths and none, gather to walk for justice for refugees, those who are persecuted for the ‘crime’ of escaping violence, of trying to save their families, for fighting to stay alive against the odds. All members of the Santa Sabina College community are invited to join the Dominican Sisters at the 2017 Palm Sunday Rally as we show our commitment to Jesus’ call to justice, mercy and compassion – the heart of Veritas. Please consider starting your Holy Week by joining in solidarity with the millions who are displaced in our world as a result of conflict and persecution. As Dominicans we share the call to proclaim the Gospel … not just in words but in action. Make this event the Gospel of action.

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In the words of Pope Francis: Let us follow in the footsteps of Christ, especially by dedicating ourselves to our brothers and sisters in need.

I wish you and your family a very holy and happy Easter and a safe holiday break.

Dr Maree Herrett

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