I had always planned to write a blog about our Acting Principal, Barry Archibald, when he left our school. I hadn’t thought I’d be writing it under the circumstance in which we now find ourselves – in dispute with DEECD about the future of our school – but it strikes me there is even more reason now to record Barry’s legacy to Kew Primary School.
Some of you know Barry well and will be familiar with the work he’s done in the six terms he’s been with us, but I suspect many parents out there have little idea of what he’s accomplished in that time. So I’m going to tell you.
Our school was not in a good place when Barry arrived in 2011; we were down on our enrolments and funding, morale was low and the reputation of the school had taken a bit of a battering. It was not an easy time to step in and Barry put his retirement on hold to do so.
Barry made a deliberate choice not to create a high profile for himself within the school community; he was always going to be only a temporary caretaker, and the face of the school belonged to our Assistant Principal, Robin Grace and to the staff.
He gave Robin the opportunity to grow and develop into her role and to be an Assistant Principal for the whole school. Barry encouraged and mentored other staff, too. I’m told he’d wander into the staff room at lunch time and recess, sit down with a group of staff and listen and talk. He quickly gained their trust and they felt able to share their concerns and their ideas for the school.
He encouraged people to step up and made them feel as if they could achieve. His style of leadership has always been consultative; he would gather groups together and encourage people to work as a team. He engaged all staff in discussions about the school’s strategic plan and encouraged them to become involved in determining the direction of the school over the next four years.
One of the consequences of the fall in enrolment and funding is that we had to lose staff. Barry held onto to them as long as possible and made it very clear that the school did not want to lose them. When their contracts finally expired, he and Robin did everything they could to ensure those staff secured new positions; they worked with departing staff on their CVs, gave them guidance on filling out job applications, helped them prepare for interviews and acted as referees. All of them got new jobs.
Barry was instrumental in getting the school review process set up and ensuring the establishment of a new leadership structure for the school. We now have two Leader Teachers (Andrew Wood and Sally Marsh) plus four experienced teachers who are Curriculum Leaders responsible for ICT, Literacy, Numeracy and Student Well-Being and Engagement.
He also fixed up staff contracts so, where possible, they were no longer short term, and he worked with the school’s Business Manger to sort out the finances.
I think it’s important to note as well that Barry was not engaged for six terms at the start of all this, but only on a term-by-term basis with DEECD often telling him in the last few days of one term that he was required for the next. He has put his work as a senior music examiner, and a PhD on hold to stay with the school.
Barry has done much to improve the overall management and daily functioning of the school and I’m quite sure there are other things that we parents are not privy to that have been fixed up as well. But, for me, Barry’s lasting legacy is the way he gave our community the opportunity and the means to heal; he was the catalyst for change.
As many people can attest, the school is in a much better place right now; our enrolments are back up and this year we had the highest number of Prep enrolments we’ve ever had. The staff feel listened to and supported, the parent community is engaged and involved and – the most important thing of all – our kids are happy and thriving.
I think Barry can take a lot of credit for all this; for creating an environment in which the staff felt confident and empowered and able to achieve their potential and do their job effectively. I think he’s helped create an atmosphere that’s friendly and positive which has, in turn, encouraged parents to become more involved in the school community.
As a parent, what I loved was the fact that Barry’s door was always open – literally and metaphorically. Many a time I would wander down the corridor, poke my head around his door and say: Have you got five minutes, Barry? The answer was always, ‘yes’ and half an hour later I’d leave with a question answered, a problem solved, an idea for a blog to write.
So, Barry, I’m quite sure there is a letter addressed to you from DEECD on its way right now, thanking you for all your hard work in turning the school around, and expressing their considerable gratitude. But, just in case that gets lost in the mail, I would like to say, on behalf of the parents of Kew Primary School: Thank-you.
Good luck with whatever you do next and, when you’ve finished your PhD, send us a copy and I’ll make sure everyone reads it!