Principal’s Update – 28 November 2019

In my final Principal’s Update today, I farewell the Santa Sabina community with love, respect, and gratitude for the support I have received during my seven years in the role. Santa is an exceptional school, and an exceptional community for so many reasons. I have included some of my speech from last night as my expression of deep appreciation for all members of our community. 

Leadership is an incredible privilege. Certainly, it is challenging, as it should be. It can be described in the words of Charles Dickens as ‘the best of times, the worst of times’. If you don’t have doubts and uncertainties as a leader then you probably shouldn’t do the job. It is often lonely because you are the holder of so many confidences that simply cannot be shared. It is exciting because you can achieve things you’ve aspired to do throughout your career. And it is hope-filled because you appreciate the capacity, generosity and talents of those around you. In our context it is joyful because we work with children and young people, and are reminded each day of possibilities. And of course leadership lets you give and receive. The Santa Sabina community is very generous and as I reflect on my seven years as principal, I’m overwhelmed by the many gifts that you have given me.  

These gifts are metaphorically wrapped in the black and gold colours of our 125 anniversary celebrations. The Golden Thread has run through the Dominican family for over 800 years, connecting communities of faith that are otherwise diverse in history, language and culture. We chose it as a very appropriate symbol for our 125th anniversary as we reflected on our history, traditions and Dominican charism. Our particular history at Santa Sabina is symbolised by the orange tree. The story of the orange tree links not only to our Australian history but also to Santa Sabina Rome (the headquarters of the Dominican Order). A cutting from the orange tree in the gardens of the basilica was brought to Australia and transplanted in the grounds of Santa Sabina Strathfield. The orange tree is a symbol of our story and traditions, and I thank the Dominican sisters and past principals for keeping that tradition alive – literally in the form of the orange trees at Santa – but also in the rituals, symbols and language more generally. Thank you for allowing me to carry the story forward. I particularly thank the Dominican sisters for the gift of my own education at Santa Sabina.

Over the last seven years I have received many messages from members of the Santa community – parents, staff and students. The following few are representative of those messages. From a staff members who says, ‘Santa is family to me. I love working here’, to a student who writes ‘Santa Sabina teaches students to not be scared and give everything a go and to persevere through even the most difficult things’, and a parent who writes, ‘Santa is family. I wish I could have gone to school here. Volunteering is my chance to give back’, the consistent theme is one of belonging and community.

Thank you to all parents for the time you give us in volunteer efforts – we’ve just seen a great example of that with last Saturday’s fair. But we see it throughout the year with the P&F’s leadership of a number of events, including the College Dinner which they share the organisation of with our ex-students. Our parents also assist us with working in classrooms, being mentors to students and providing exciting and interesting opportunities for students beyond The Boulevarde. Our ex-students are also invaluable in what they give back to the College – whether that be as special guests on occasions such as this or through career advice and mentoring, or in returning to share celebrations like the Golden Girls and Boys event each year. 

Community is also about the future, and the ongoing conversation between what now and what next. Our new College Strategy to take us into that future – the strategy is a combined gift from the College board, staff and students who all made a significant contribution to its creation. We engaged in many workshops, lots of discussions and then some very serious writing and great graphic design that was all done in-house. A perfect example of collaboration, creativity and expertise. 

I am thankful for the colleagues who I’ve worked with, particularly the leadership teams. I thank them for leading with justice and compassion, and for being committed to excellence for both students and staff. May they remain Veritas people and continue to walk alongside staff and students.

The growth of an exceptional music program at Santa Sabina has been evident throughout the year again. From our 125 concert at the Town Hall to last night’s speech night which was truly joyous, I thank all of the music staff and students for this great gift of music to the College and wider community, as we aspire to be that centre of music excellence.

The presence of Sr Sheila Flynn OP at Speech Night to present her eponymous award was a great surprise and delight. We hear regularly from ex-students about the impact of immersion on their lives well beyond school. I thank the College and Sheila for the opportunity to experience immersion in 2015. Like many staff and students I experienced what it means to do an immersion rather than a tourist trip. So why do we pursue immersions as part of the educational opportunities at Santa? What is the nature of this gift? We are a Catholic school, and immersion allows us to experience God in a real and personal way. It stretches hearts and minds enabling us to critically and prayerfully ask profound questions around justice issues in the context of the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalised in a global context. We are changed by this experience. Hopefully we also have a positive impact on the lives of others in South Africa. Each year, students raise money for school uniforms for their peers in South Africa – a condition of them attending school. And each year we receive words of appreciation. 

Our first IB Diploma Programme Graduates – our trailblazers – were acknowledged last night and what a gift the IB has been to them and to the College as a whole. We are now an IB World School. The introduction of the Primary Years Programme and the promotion of the philosophy of the IB through the IB Learner Profile mean that all students are indeed IB students. 

Santa Sabina has always valued sport as pivotal to a well-rounded education. Whether sport be played for high-stakes competition or for fitness and fun, sport has room for everyone. Many thanks to the ex-students who coach, the parents who support, and the teachers who lead the sporting program throughout the College.

Tallong has been part of Santa Sabina for 21 years now, and in that time many students have loved their outdoor education experiences there, as well as their retreats. Tallong also comes to Strathfield to help prepare our younger students for their later camp experiences. Our outdoor ed student leaders have shared their gifts each year assisting students from St Lucy’s School, and also assisting younger students from Santa Sabina. Thank you to our outdoor education and Tallong staff for the care you show staff and students, and for re-energising the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program. This year we have a record number of 71 Bronze recipients and, as the audience saw last night, five Gold Duke of Ed recipients. 

Finally, I want to acknowledge the gift of Mary Bailey House that I have been given each year. It seems fitting to end with the youngest of our students. Mary Bailey House really represents much of what we value at Santa Sabina College. Inspired by Sr Judy many years ago as a centre to support staff returning from Maternity Leave, we have seen many of our staff’s children (as well as those in the wider community) truly nurtured and educated in this excellent centre. The care and commitment of staff at Mary Bailey House is beyond compare. As educators, we are constantly reminded of the capacity of even the youngest children when they have the right environment. And that is an environment based on respect for each little person, and belief in their intrinsic God-given gifts. Some of those Mary Bailey House graduates are here today as Year 12 graduates, and so their journey is indeed lifelong. 

The gifts of Santa Sabina students are many and diverse. Last night we acknowledged the achievements of students in particular areas, and celebrated them. Throughout the year many more of you have shared gifts of kindness, empathy, friendship, leadership and personal bests in your subjects, sport or other chosen areas. While you may not have been up on stage last night, your gifts are equally valuable and have not gone unnoticed. I encourage all of you to continue to nurture your gifts, share your gifts, and happily receive the gifts of others. These gifts cannot all be wrapped up and put in a box, but they are captured in the symbols and the values represented in all of these gifts given to me as Principal. So I finish my time as Principal by asking our leaders to repack these gifts – not for me to take home and store – but to honour our new Principal Paulina Skerman by passing them on to her, so that she too continues the unfolding story of Santa Sabina College, supported by our great community. 

Thank you and farewell.

Dr Maree Herrett