It’s your School Council!

Our recent newsletter had a terrific introduction to School Council by James Penson and I thought it might be a good time to get some insights into how the Council works.

Last year Emma Rush introduced the School Council to us in her blog, A day in the life of a school councillor. I caught up with Nikki Schwarz, 2013 School Council President, and James to find out more.

Nikki, can you summarise the roles of the executive and members?

As the President, I set the agenda and then run the monthly School Council meetings, following up on any high level issues raised.  Over the last two years we’ve been involved in the school’s Self-Evaluation Report, the School Review and the School’s Strategic Plan.  I also have input into the various school plans, like the Strategic Plan before they go to School Council.

The Vice President supports the President and is a great sounding board for ideas. The Secretary takes and distributes the minutes and the Treasurer provides updates on what has been spent and how we are tracking to our budget. The Treasurer is the convenor of the school’s Finance Committee and has a close working relationship with Faye Pattie, the school’s Business Manager.SC1 Continue reading

Kew Primary School Fathers’ Association

For more than 12 months now Michael Senyard and I have been thinking about setting up a Fathers’ Association at Kew Primary. The idea came from a friend who runs a similar association at his children’s school. When I discussed the idea with different groups and individuals within the school community – and people outside – they all thought it would be a great benefit to the school. The Association will be open to all fathers, grandfathers and carers.Rodney 2

The aim of the Fathers’ Association is to bring people together socially, to support the school in its various activities, and help with fund raising. It will also provide an opportunity for social and business networking. And I want our children to see the benefits of Dads supporting each other.

Other schools with this type of association have guest speakers, activities with the kids, working bees and fund raising events. For now, we are focused on our first event which will be barefoot lawn bowls at the Richmond Union Bowling Club on the 27th of Feb at 7pm.

Our new Principal, James Penson, will also be joining us. To register your attendance, please sign in here: It will be helpful if we can have numbers in advance, but you’re welcome to turn up on the day as well. Continue reading

Shelley for Gold!

A week ago I heard a delicious rumour wafting around the playground. One of our teachers, Shelley Ware, had been nominated for a Logie! A quick Google search when I got home revealed the details. Marngrook nominated for

Shelley is a Yankunytjatjara and Wirangu Aboriginal woman from South Australia and teaches the Literacy Intervention Reading program across the school and Grade 6 one day a week.

But in her other life she is a presenter on the Indigenous footy show, Marngrook, which airs live on NITV and again SBS on Thursdays at 7.30-9.00.

I had to find out more.

Jacqui: So tell me about Marngrook and being on the telly.

Shelley: Marngrook is a family footy show where we talk all things football from an Indigenous perspective. Our main hosts are Grant Hansen and Gilbert McAdam who are hysterical and very insightful about football Continue reading

Welcome new parents and baby Millar

In today’s blog I’d like to welcome all the new members of the Kew Primary School community. If you’ve found your way to the blog it means you’ve read the newsletter (well done!) and are now hooked into ‘our fantastic blog’ (thanks for the plug last night James!).

This time last year I asked a few parents who’d been around a while to cast their minds back to their early Prep days when everyone was just a teeny bit emotional and our children seemed so incredibly small. We came up with: Top Ten Tips for Panicked Preppie Parents which will tell you everything you need to know about starting at KPS. Well, not quite everything, but it’s a great start:

This week I’m also going to introduce two guest bloggers and welcome the newest – and most gorgeous – member of the KPS community.

Katrina Whelan has four children at KPS and writes her own (fantastic) book review blog: booksaremyfavouriteandbest. After my interview with James Penson last week, I asked Katrina to write something positive and uplifting for this week’s post; something fun and interesting that would really impress all the new parents. This is what Katrina sent me. Cheers, Kate.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty

There was a time, about four years ago, when I had whooping cough and as a result tore the ligaments between my ribs (a level of constant pain that was extraordinary). It coincided with my husband being interstate for work for an extended period of time. It also coincided with moving house. The point is, I was shattered. I didn’t think things could get any worse. And then they did.


Our first case of nits. And those little blighters just about tipped me over the edge. But I’m in a better place now and I can talk about nits without scratching my own head (mostly) and without breaking down in tears of frustration (mostly). Here’s what I’ve learnt after having kids at primary school for six years.

1. Conditioner is not a nit treatment (unless you’re prepared to comb your kid’s hair with a nit comb every day until they’re 21).

2. Some kids are nit magnets. You know how if you’re outside in the evening with a group of people and one person gets covered in mozzie bites and everyone else is spared? Nits are the same. Although they don’t discriminate, it seems some kids have more scrumptious scalps than others.

3. If we all checked our kids’ hair regularly, we would save a forest every year. Hey? Nits equal nit notices from the office. Think about it.

4. A change is as good as a holiday. The chemist has an aisle of nit treatments. Give that aisle a work-out. When nits visit us, I pull out my arsenal of treatments and carefully select my weapon. I change my ‘weapons’ regularly, keeping the nits on their toes. I’m like a nit-attacking version of Dan Ackroyd in Ghostbusters.ghostbusters

5. Be alert but not alarmed. Vigilance is the key but remember, nits don’t discriminate and there’s no need to feel embarrassed if your child has them.

6. How do you ‘do’? Boys with buzz cuts and girls with braids so tight that it makes your scalp hurt just looking at them usually belong to parents who are at the end of their nit rope. In all seriousness, nits move from head to head via direct contact so hair that is loose is the equivalent of a nit welcome mat.

7. Remember to laugh (or you might not stop crying).  How I laughed when the first nit notice this year arrived home on day three. Day three! And even the kids joined in the fun when we played ‘Nit Bingo’ last year (if all four of my kids bring home a nit notice on the same day, we yell ‘Nit Bingo!’). Yes, nits are time consuming, can get expensive to treat and can seem to be a never-ending problem but if we all stay on top of it, I might finish 2014 saying ‘Nit Bingo? That is sooooo last year.’

For actual useful information about nits, see: Tackling a perennial problem.


Alex St Claire is a communications consultant and has a son, Jake, in Grade 5 and a daughter, Isabelle, who’s just started in Prep. Alex is originally from Adelaide, but moved to Melbourne to work as a journalist before heading to Dubai for seven years. She’s switched from running in heels through Emirates Palace after TV crews to chasing kids through the playground and coercing them off the monkey bars.

Will you be my buddy?

As parents, the first day of school presents a heady mixture of joy and sadness.  Joy that they are beginning this wonderful journey with confidence and sadness that they aren’t our little babies anymore.

Watching the preps go in to their classrooms for their first day, it’s amazing to see the smiling faces and watching new friendships form within just a few minutes. But, as all parents know, there is a lot of preparation that has gone into those first steps into their new classroom.

Last year they enjoyed orientation sessions with the specialist teachers in art, PE, French and performing arts and even experienced a classroom session with their class and new teacher. This comprehensive transition program also extended to the local kindergartens with visits from the prep teachers to watch the kids at play.

It’s been such an easy transition that I can’t help but compare it to our first day at Kew Primary School three years ago. Moving from overseas and beginning the school term half way through the year presents a lot of challenges.

When my big Grade 5 boy mentioned his first day last week – remembering sitting alone in the schoolyard at his first lunch – I recalled the awkwardness I also felt, scanning the crowd for a friendly face. So, I was delighted to see the welcoming of these new parents in the new guidelines for class representatives.

Another great initiative that begins this year to further enhance the integration of prep families is the new prep buddy system. This partners exiting families with new prep families so they can provide advice and friendship. Our new Principal James Penson handed out the registration forms to the 55 new prep families when they arrived for their first day. If your child is new to the school, either starting in Prep or in Grade 1 to 6, then you are welcome to join the parent buddy program. I’ve heard a lot of positive comments from parents about the program so please pick up a form from the office.


He aha te mea nui i te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata

What is the most important thing in the world? It’s people, it’s people, it’s people.

(Traditional Maori Proverb)Millar 2

One of the things that really struck a chord with me on my first day as Casual Relief Teacher at  Kew Primary School back in 2010 was the way the staff were so friendly and open. I felt less of an outsider and more of a valued colleague.  All staff made a real effort to welcome me into the school and to take the time to talk with me. As someone new to Melbourne, this was something I truly valued and it really left a positive impression on me. In fact, this initial experience was so positive that I decided, even back then, that I wanted to teach full time at Kew Primary.Millar 3

It goes without saying that a real strength of KPS is the way staff treat and value each other and I’m proud to say that my wife, P.A., and I have made some really great friendships. I have also been fortunate to have met some fantastic parents. So it’s with immense pride that I share with the wider school community the birth of our daughter on the 2nd of January this year.Millar 1

We have named her Millar Anne Wood and needless to say, I’m a very proud husband and Dad. I’m absolutely loving my new role as a father and as much as I love coming to Kew every day to teach your children, I love going home each night, even more, to spend some time with our beautiful daughter. We are hoping to bring Millar to the upcoming Peppercorn BBQ, to introduce her to the staff and the wider community, a community we are very proud to be part of.

Andrew Wood, Lead Teacher and 603 Class Teacher

Jacqui Tomlins

Introducing…The Piano Man

Jacqui: What makes a good school?

James: (Laughs) Great start. A good school is a school where a student can achieve their optimum; where they can get everything they need to be the best they can.  So a school that supports students’ needs, recognises their skills and attributes and encourages and extend them;  a school that gives them every opportunity to deliver on their potential.

That’s the short answer, but what makes that is high quality teaching and the way members of the school community engage with each other and how the students connect. Pride and ownership of the school all contribute to that.

It’s a partnership between parents, students and teachers all working together with a common understand of what’s important. It’s about those three voices being powerful and having an input into how the school runs.

So students being responsible for their learning as they move up into the higher grades, and being self-directed and curious. Learning is fun and it’s natural and we are born inquisitive and often school squashes that out of us. My role – supported by the teachers and the community – is to ensure kids want to come to school and that they see a value in it and thrive.P1060865

Jacqui: I know you’ve only been here a very short time, but what are your priorities for Term 1?

I have two priorities. The first is to assimilate myself into the school and learn as much as I can about the school and the community. I’m a big believer in not changing things just for the sake of it, but I subscribe to the continuous improvement process and believe we can always get better. I want to learn as much about the school and see where we want to go.

I also want to focus on developing different techniques and strategies for different students; that might mean a different learning style,or a different scope for a learning task. And I think it’s really important to get some consistencies across classes from the very beginning so kids in different classes in the same grade are learning the same things. Easier said than done, but that’s my focus.

Jacqui: What’s your favourite book?

James: (Laughs) Great question. I’m an avid reader, but finding time to read is hard. I’m in the middle of a book by the historian Paul Ham about Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War which follows a book I read last holidays about Kokoda.  I like books about war history. Fiction? I think the last fiction I read was Ice Station by Matthew Reilly.

Jacqui: Communication has been an issue for the school in the past. What do you think you can do to create effective communication in the school?

Have processes in place where people know what’s expected and what sort of communication needs to go out when and why.  Giving people feedback about the decisions I make via the newsletter, blog or assemblies and by having conversations with people – getting my message out as many different ways as I can. I’m a great believer in conversations with parents and the ripple effect that has.

Jacqui: Yes, the playground is very good for that ripple effect!  Are there any good initiatives or practices from your old school that you’d like to bring to KPS?

James: (Laughs. Again.)  There’s a stack. The personal development program was a big one for staff and the community. We called it Yarrambat kids are gold and we had a value of the week and a focus topic and we did a lesson and provided material for families as well. For example, standing up for yourself, or thanking people, or smiling. I see that as educating the whole child I think that’s an important part of learning. We have a good CARE program here and I’d like to see that extended and used really effectively.

Teaching protocols are really important so, for example, a teacher knows what a good maths lesson looks like: the content, the language used, the outcomes for students.

An expectation of teachers using data about our students so they plan around the students’ specific needs using the results of testing and  devising programs for particular groups of students.

I’m pretty passionate about teacher professional growth so teachers observing each other and getting honest and critical feedback.

Jacqui: My daughter (Scout, Grade 3) wanted me to ask you this: What would you be if you weren’t a teacher?P1060866

James: Growing up I really wanted to be a vet because my father is a vet, but I probably didn’t work quite hard enough in school and then maybe a musician. I have a music degree and that naturally led into teaching. I studied piano right through university and used to play at a restaurant.

Jacqui: That’s very cool! I think the PTA might be interested in that!

James: Having said that I love being a teacher and I know I’m the Principal but I don’t see myself as a principal who’s detached from teaching. I’ll be looking to have an active teaching role, something that’s structured and in the timetable so it’s regular and keeps me in touch. 

Jacqui: That would be great for the kids; they’d love that. I’ll declare my own bias here;  I was a teacher a long time ago and I think our teachers are our most important and valuable asset. How do you plan to support the teaching staff?

Working on their professional growth is the first thing; targeting some key improvement areas as a whole staff and as individuals and thinking about where we want to go as a school.  I want to offer a really rich and relevant professional learning series for them and value their professional input.

For me what’s important is to trust their judgement and build that level of trust and positivity and optimism. To value their work and trust them to work hard and do their very best and support their students and I will support them in any way I can.

Jacqui: What is the most important thing we can do as a parent community to support you and the school?

James: Be really, really positive about everything. Talk with students as they come home every day and say: Tell me three great things that happened today.  Don’t get bogged down in some of the negative things. There might be a really small thing that happened during the day and the student talks about that and then the helicopter moves in and it turns into a massive big thing and mum and dad come up to school to solve it for them when the student needs to fight their own battles a little bit. Obviously the parents are there to support, but trust us too.

Be involved and come in and have a chat. Come forward with any ideas or suggestions and be solutions focussed. Be as positive as you can and if you are unsure about things ask questions so you don’t fill in the blanks with an incorrect answer. Go to the source and get the information you need.

Jacqui: We have 31 nationalities in the schools. What’s your favourite country?

James: That’s fantastic. Great question. Probably Belgium. Belgium and Ireland would be my two. I travelled for 12 months my first year out of uni mainly in Western Europe and had a great time in Ireland; the atmosphere, the countryside and the people. I had a ball. And I loved the history in Belgium, stepping into buildings that were a thousand years old, and the European dining culture and the pubs.

And if I won some money I’d go and watch the Tour de France, get a white van and follow the teams. I watch the tour religiously. I just think it’s fantastic coverage of a sporting event, the commentary and the logistics. That’s a big goal of mine.

This one is for you, James.

This one is for you, James.

Jacqui: How do you know if you’ve had a successful day?

I guess the main pointer is listening to the voice of the students so if you see them walking out at the end of the day and they’re keen to tell mum and dad something that’s happened or you can see a smile on their face, I think that’s a successful day. And mostly they are.

I can’t think of a bad day at work. Even though I might have had some bad moments, I don’t think I’ve ever had a day that I thought was a bad day. We have a great job. It’s hard, and it’s challenging, but jeez it’s rewarding.

Jacqui: What are you looking forward to most in your new role?

James: There’s so much. My last years at Yarrambat were really successful and I look at Kew and there’s so many things…(long pause).

Jacqui: It’s okay. We know there are a few things that need attention so you won’t get into trouble for saying that!

James: I’m looking forward to the opportunity to shape a school and deliver some key educational outcomes and some key success measures over a period of time. That’s a real priority.

Jacqui: So you think we can do that?

James:  I do. Absolutely.  I see huge potential in this school. Massive potential. I got a sense of that on my first day and even before I started. The general culture, and the level of commitment from everyone in the school is fantastic.P1060873

Jacqui: So there are things you can implement that will put us in a different place in two years’ or five years’ time?

James: Yes. I’m confident of that. (Laughs.) It takes time, but yes.

Jacqui: So what might a different KPS look like in 5 years? Better grades? Happier teachers? Higher enrolments?

Student outcomes definitely are massive. You’ll see a lot more value add. I don’t think we push our students enough so I’m looking for a far higher academic standard, more structures around curiosity and learning, a greater student voice, more student controlled learning and more student connectedness.I think we can make the curriculum far more rigorous, engaging and challenging – and more modern and relevant.

Jacqui: I’m sure lots of parents will be happy to hear that.

James: I think if you have a positive and trustworthy relationship between the groups  you have optimum learning conditions. I know trust comes with communication and that’s built up over time and part of my role is to build that trust and you do that by following through with your actions and being true to your word and being honest and transparent and that’s what I intend to do.

I guess it’s about being really clear about where I want to see the school and where the community wants to see the school. I want to outline the vision I have to parents, communicate that effectively and bring them on board, shaping it as we go.JP4

Jacqui: Thanks James. I think I can safely safe that your arrival has generated a good deal of excitement and optimism in the playground and that we’re really glad to have you.

Jacqui Tomlins