Principal’s Update 2017 – 13

The first stage of the Siena Senior Centre – the landscaped amphitheatre – is ready to be “unwrapped”. While the lawns and new planting will need some protection for the next six weeks, the amphitheatre itself will be ready for use by the end of next week. Stage 2 of the Centre – the redesign and refurbishing of the ground floor classrooms – will begin immediately with demolition work to be completed before the HSC exams. We are very positive about the ground floor classrooms and common room being ready for use by the beginning of 2018.

The development of the new College uniform is continuing apace with the projected implementation date being earlier than we first expected. The uniform committee has approved the final choice of fabrics which will be milled off shore and should be back in Australia by November. This means that we might be ready for implementation in Term 2, 2018, with the winter uniform, following a launch in Term One. I will keep the community informed about the timeline, and ensure that there are opportunities to display uniform options as soon as we have samples in the chosen fabric. We will have a formal launch when all samples arrive. While we don’t want to mix’n’match old and new uniforms, it will be possible for all students to wear black shoes; and black bags have been ordered and will be available for sale in Term 4. We have good supplies of the current summer uniform (both new and second-hand) and they will be available at a reduced price to assist all parents coming into 2018 to ease transition. Parents are helping one another with the sale of uniforms online which is wonderful as well.

We received exciting news of the success of our students from Kindergarten to Year 8 in the NSW State Maths Competition. Overall, we received eight first places, two second places, and six merits. Congratulations to the students and staff involved – this was a wonderful result. Congratulations also to the Year 9 and 10 Science students who participated in the recent University of Newcastle Engineering Challenge. Competing with students from a range of schools, Santa students scored first place in two of the challenges, and were third overall on their day of competition. This was a significant achievement given that first and second place went to students from selective schools. As well Santa was the top girls’ school. As their teacher and mentor, Ms Rachele Rugiero commented, “they all showed exceptional collaboration, problem-solving and persistence, as well as creating very innovative designs”.

Term 3 is typically the period of staff recruitment across all schools, as teachers make decisions to either retire, step up to new positions in other schools, or take a change of direction in their professional or personal lives. At Santa Sabina, we have appointed Ms Julie Harris to be the International Baccalaureate Diploma Coordinator, replacing Ms Helen Bitossi who will be taking maternity leave from the beginning of Term 4. Ms Harris has had extensive IB experience at the United World College, Hong Kong, including significant experience as an IB marker. Mrs Karen Carey will step down from her full-time role at the College but will remain as the Emerita Artistic Director, to inspire and assist her successor. Karen has had such a significant impact on the development of music in the College, and the continuity of her vision of music excellence will be fostered by the new Artistic Director who will be announced shortly. Finally, we congratulate Mrs Lynn Long on her appointment to the role of Director of Pastoral Care at Loreto Normanhurst at the beginning of 2018. This has been a difficult choice for Lynn as she has spent almost 27 years at the College. However, she is modelling to her colleagues and her students that it is important to step out of her comfort zone, take a risk, and begin again. Lynn was the recipient of the College Board Teacher Scholarship in 2016, and that has enabled her to undertake the Flagship Leadership Program at the AIS Leadership Centre. She is also completing her Masters degree. It is a cliché but true in this case – our loss is Normanhurst’s gain. Lynn will be on Long Service Leave in Term 4, so she will be farewelled by students and staff at the end of this term.

The promotion of teachers either within or beyond Santa Sabina reflects the investment we are making in their professional growth. Every staff member at the College undertakes annual professional growth reviews that constructively evaluate progress against goals, and support for ongoing growth. Part of that growth includes the faith or spiritual dimension of our lives and careers. To that end, the College provides various opportunities but our “Spirituality Day” this Friday has been a constant in the professional development calendar over many years. On this pupil-free day, both teaching and non-teaching staff immerse themselves in learning more about their own faith traditions and that of others. As well it provides a rare opportunity for deep reflection away from the busyness and intensity of a normal school day. It is an opportunity that staff really value, and that we believe is important as an example to students of our values as Catholic educators.

I include here – in the week of NAPLAN results – a very timely and interesting perspective on education for our immediate and future times. It is an extract from “Education: Future Frontiers”, an occasional paper written by lecturer and futurist, Richard Watson, for the NSW Department of Education. It is accessible on “Google” if you wish to read more.

“THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA

Every time a freshly caffeine infused official is put behind a desk there seem to be panicked cries to move forward (or sometimes backwards) to compete with countries towards the top of the PISA global education rankings, namely: a) Singapore b) China, c) South Korea or d) Finland.

This is a little odd because a) while Singapore is good at memorisation it has an issue with creative problem solving, b) so does China c) ditto South Korea, which by the way has a mental health epidemic largely caused by the pressure of a somewhat binary examination system. d) Finland, was a late developer educationally speaking, so it’s fairly easy to dazzle from a distance and demonstrate high gains from a relatively low base.

Finland also unintentionally games the PISA system by doing well across a narrow band of conventionally academic subjects. If you measure student happiness in Finland, for instance, the country is at the bottom of the class. Youth suicide is high in Finland (as worryingly elsewhere) and economically the country is one of the weakest in Europe.

PISA, like its namesake tower, looks distinctly wobbly.

The OECD claims that PISA tests assess whether students have acquired key knowledge and skills that are “essential for full participation in modern societies.” They would say this because it’s the OECD, but the tests have little or no regard to cultural or regional context and, more importantly, do not assess how individuals perform or feel about themselves across the whole of their lives.

THINK ABOUT HOW YOU’D DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY IF YOU WERE BUILDING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM FROM SCRATCH – A NEW SYSTEM WITH NO LEGACIES OR LIABILITIES WHATSOEVER. These tests are largely a snapshot of economic preparation, not a measure of lifetime happiness, mental wellbeing or physical health.

So my first suggestion to anyone involved in education in Australia or anywhere else is simply to stop. Stop with the endless proclamations, denigrations, exemplifications and modifications and allow the dust of any recent educational reforms to settle. And ignore PISA…Only then should you start to think about what education in Australia might look like in the future and how it might serve society in the broadest and most useful sense.”

In acknowledgement of the Feast of the Assumption I leave you with this prayer:

Mary, Queen of Peace,
we pray for the the gift of peace in our lives;
peace of mind and of spirit, peace that comes from deep within.
Mary, Queen of Peace, outpour the gift of peace on our world;
especially where there is fear, division and violence.
As you brought Christ to the world,
may we also bring his message of love of neighbour
to every situation of our lives, especially in difficult situations.
As we celebrate this feast of your Assumption,
help us to have the courage you showed in your life.
Like you, may we always aspire to truth
so that each day the world will be transformed for good.
We make this prayer, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Dr Maree Herrett
College Principal

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