The year in review

year-in-review-1Hi Kew,

Here is a condensed version of my review and evaluation for our school this year. The full version includes a more detailed outline of our goals that were a part of our Annual Implementation Plan (AIP) and a statement of performance for each of these areas. This is available on our school website and hard copies can also be collected from our school office.

INTRODUCTION

As I reflect on the year, I am very proud of what our whole school community has achieved. This year it has been frequently commented on by students, parents and staff that we have a renewed sense of optimism and positivity around the future direction of our school. I am also very excited about the future for Kew Primary. Over the course of this year we have been able to make some key decisions and implement some new processes that will enable and drive our future direction.

2014 has also been a very big year for our staff. We have embraced a very extensive professional learning program and implemented many changes to the way our staff functions. I thank all staff for their commitment and support and acknowledge their hard work and professionalism this year. Continue reading

A recipe for success in 2015!

This week Mr Penson tells us about getting the perfect mix in the classroom.

P1060096Ever wondered what steps it takes to build a successful school classroom and specialist structure each year? Well it is actually a bit like using a well trusted family recipe that has been handed down the generations and then adding a few special ingredients to give it your own unique flavour!

Here is what the recipe looks like: Continue reading

The results are in…

Hi everyone and welcome to our blog for this week. In this edition I unpack the results of the parent survey that was completed in the first few weeks of term. This survey has been very useful as I continue to build my knowledge of our school. The data – along with the student voice surveys and the meetings I’ve had with individual staff members – has helped to inform our direction for this year. Our school based testing data – including NAPLAN and other assessments – have also helped me to highlight where we need to target our teaching, and where we need to implement specific strategies.

Overall, 55 responses were gathered which statistically provide a very strong level of reliability.  Over half the survey sample was made up of parents who have been at Kew between 1 & 4 years. Nearly 40% of the survey replies came from families who have been at the school for more than 5 years.

The survey highlights that we have lots to be proud of, and that there’s still lots of work to do. I believe that with a consistent and focused effort, working together towards common goals and strengthening what we do well, we will start to see significant improvements across our school. Some of these improvements will be immediate and others will take more time. Continous improvement is an on-going process.P1060865 Continue reading

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

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

Comunication and Community

This week’s blog is about communication, an issue that affects our entire school community. Communication is not just about how we transfer information and keep in touch with what’s happening at school – though that’s important – it’s about how we connect with each other, about how we engage with everyone around us. I believe it’s central to how we function as a community and to how we feel about being part of the KPS community.  Over my years at Kew Primary the subject has certainly come up a lot so I thought it might be time to tackle the issue for the bog.

The school has a communications sub-committee which has recently taken off under the leadership of Julie Coleman. Julie has Ryan in Grade 4 and Damon in Grade 2 and in her other life she is Human Resources Director at Monash College (a subsidiary of Monash University) where she manages the HR issues associated with roughly five hundred staff. I’ve not known Julie long, but after talking to her for an hour, the phrase: If you want something done, ask a busy person comes to mind.IMG_6731

I thought I’d start by talking to Julie about how she sees communication at KPS and what plans she and the committee have for the future.

Jacqui: I think there are some things we do really well around communication and some things we could do better. Is that how you see it?

Julie: Yes, I think that’s true. At the beginning of the year there was discussion at School Council about the fact that parents were looking for increased – and more consistent – communication. So to start with we decided to change the structure of the committees. We took communication out of the Education and Policy subcommittee and established a new one, Funding, Communication and Marketing with the emphasis on building a community within Kew Primary School and the local area. We added funding –including grants, sponsorships and voluntary contributions – because we felt it was important to communicate how the voluntary contributions are used to fund different projects.

Jacqui: So what has the committee done so far?

Julie: Well, we’re doing two things at the same time. The first is looking at what we can achieve quickly and easily; changes we can implement that will make a small, but significant and immediate difference. The second is to develop a broad and comprehensive three year Communication Plan that will address some of the bigger, long-term issues.

Jacqui: So let’s start with those small, more immediate changes.

Julie: The very first thing we did was to work with Aisha in the office to send out notices to parents reminding them about the Newsletter and the Bulletin; about how they can access them and what information they contain.  They are both a critically important method of communication, but only if people read them, of course!

We also sent out notices inviting parents to attend Friday assembly and giving them an idea of what they could expect: curriculum updates, teachers’ news, sports results, community announcements and students’ achievements. Last week Grade 3-6 students received awards for participating in house athletics which was fantastic to watch! And the CARE Program dances are always really fun.

Jayne Campbell, one of our former committee members, has had a really good look at the school website and has done a great job of reviewing the content. Jayne and Ruth, from the office, have made a number of changes and it’s now looking really good. You can check it out here.

Photos of School Council members are now on the website so that parents can identify them around school and raise any issues of concern they may have. We’re also going to include a summary of the outcomes of each School Council meeting in the Newsletter so parents have a clearer idea of what is being discussed and decided.

The PTA has also been putting out regular notices about fundraising events and has been getting a really great response from parents keen to volunteer.  So far this year they’ve run the Flower Power Trivia Night, Mother’s Day and Father’s day stalls, the Father’s Day Breakfast, Prep Parents’ Welcome Drinks and the Peppercorn BBQ. They’ve also had a lot of interest in the Art Show they are planning for October, 2014P1060544The Building and Grounds subcommittee have had terrific success with the last two working bees lead by Stewart Waters working closely with Robin Grace and Andrew Searle with 124 people attending, along with Channel 9! The KPS Working Bee Newsletter showcased the achievements from spreading 26 cubic metres of mulch, to building a shed in the kitchen garden.1308 KPS Working Bee 012

Jacqui: I know one of the things that parents love is the class newsletter from their child’s teacher.

Julie: Yes. Individual class or year level newsletters are a really important link between parents and teachers. They ensure parents are able to keep up with what’s happening in class, and enable teachers to call upon parents for help or support where necessary. They include details about homework, excursions, curriculum, activities and ways that parents can support their child’s learning at home. The newsletters will go out twice a term for Prep to Grade 2 and once a term for Grade 3 – 6.

The Class Reps are also a really important conduit for information between parents and teachers. Nikki McConnon has developed a set of Class Representative guidelines which have been circulated to teachers and current class reps. for feedback and will then be endorsed by School Council. They should provide individual class reps with a clearer idea of their role and hopefully result in greater consistency over the different grades. We’re also making some administrative changes so that the class lists will be available closer to the start of Term 1.

Another possibility we’re exploring is setting up a buddy system for Prep Parents where we match first time prep parents with an ‘experienced’ prep parent. I think it’s really important to provide new parents with a lot of information and help them engage with school in those early weeks. The idea is that the experienced parent would provide information and show them the ropes, and hopefully overcome some of those initial anxieties that everyone has when their child first starts school.P1050814

Jacqui: I’ve had a look at the School Communication Plan which I have to say looks fantastic; really well researched and very comprehensive. You’ve done a great job there. Can you tell me about it?

Julie: The School Communication Plan was a joint effort with members of the Funding, Communication & Marketing Sub Committee and School Council. We are really keen to build a stronger school community through a more inclusive, transparent and consistent approach to our communications and we thought that a clear plan with objectives that spanned over a 1-3 year period would support that goal.

It also gave us a chance to promote the really good things that are already happening at our school while recognising there are a number of opportunities for building on those achievements. We’ll prepare a plan to address all these issues and are keen to involve the school community in that journey.

Jacqui: And what about the thorny issue of voluntary contributions? The two blogs I wrote on that subject earlier in the year generated a lot of discussion. At that stage about 35% of families had paid. Have we managed to increase that?

Julie: Yes, last term we updated the voluntary contribution letters that went home to families explaining that the school only receives around 33% of its funding from the government. Many parents were surprised by this figure. The school can’t invest in any discretionary programs – cooling solutions, running track, a kiln for the art room – without increasing our voluntary contributions. To date, just over 50% of families have paid so we have increased our contribution from 32% earlier in the year which is great, but we still need to build on that.  We’re hoping to get to 60% by the end of this year. I think 70% is a reasonable target for the future given the demographics of our school. Leo Arantes, another committee member, is building a barometer to record our progress so look out for it!

Jacqui: You recently won a grant from the Leader Newspapers; that’s a great start.

Julie: We were really pleased to receive such strong support from the Kew Primary community which resulted in our winning $1,000 towards the plumbing to connect the water tanks to the kitchen garden. This grant also resulted in a great story in the Progress Leader in July.  Plus, we recently received an IBM grant of $1,500 towards the purchase of TVs to connect to IPads for Grades 3-6.1308 KPS Working Bee 019

We’ve applied for a number of other grants including natural turf for goal ends on the oval, lighting and sensor lights to protect the CARE chairs from vandalism at night, a running track and war memorial to commemorate past students who fought in World War 1.

Jacqui: You’ve already made a number of changes and you have a great plan for the future. How will you measure whether you are on track?

Julie: We’ll look for an increase in parents subscribing to the newsletter, checking the website and reading the blog. We’ll also monitor parent attendance at meetings and school functions and involvement in the PTA and sub committees.  We want to increase the number of positive stories in local media – three so far this year! And, we hope to see an increase in voluntary contributions, donations and sponsorship received by the school.  Will continue to do parent satisfaction surveys and respond to their concerns.

It would be great if people could have a look at the Communication Plan and if anyone has comments, suggestions or ideas, please get in touch:  You can contact me here:julie.coleman@mcpl.edu.au

Jacqui: Thanks for your time and commitment to a really important issue. I think you’re’ doing a great job.

Jacqui Tomlins and Julie Coleman

Members of the Funding, Communication and Marketing subcommittee are:  Julie Coleman (Convener) Jacqui Tomlins, Claire Tanner, Leo Arantes, Janine Arantes, Jeremy Whelen, Sally Marsh and Chelsea Carmichael.

Fees and funding follow-up

Last week I posted a blog about voluntary fees which prompted a lot of discussion. I think it’s been great to start a conversation amongst the school community about something that’s really important and that affects the future of our school.

In this week’s blog I’m going to try to summarise the conversations I’ve had, and the issues that have been raised with me over the last ten days. The range of opinion is broad, as you would expect, and I shall attempt to convey that range.

I’m also going to share some thoughts and ideas about how we, as a school community, can improve the situation in regard to voluntary fees and provide an even better learning experience for our kids.

P1060401

I started this follow-up with a very interesting chat with Robin Grace about the demographic make-up of our school. While in many ways the Kew Primary demographic is similar to a number of surrounding schools, we are a little different from other school in the Boroondara area.

We are more culturally diverse than many, with over 22 nationalities in the school, and we have a slightly different socio-economic make-up. We have higher numbers of families on the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), a scheme of government financial assistance provided to low-income families.

We welcome a fairly constant flow of refugee families, families from local shelters and community housing and new arrivals to the country. We have a transient population of people coming from overseas and interstate, and we have a significant number of single parents and one-income families.

Robin estimates that these groups comprise somewhere around 15-20% of our school population. I’ll come back to this later.P1060418

It has been pointed out to me that last year many parents had to find extra funds to buy iPads and that this would have had an impact on people’s capacity to pay voluntary fees. Additional expenses were also incurred by some families who had to manage care of their children as a result of the teacher’s industrial action.

Some parents felt that it was important to acknowledge that families that weren’t in a position to pay their fees made a huge contribution to the school by volunteering for a broad range of activities instead.

A number or parents said they hadn’t paid their fees because they hadn’t got around to it/had forgotten/it had slipped below the radar and they were glad of the prompt to do so.

Some parents felt that the reason other schools had such a high contribution rate was because families at those schools were made to feel bad about not paying; that they were basically shamed into doing so. While there is certainly some support for this approach at Kew Primary, my sense is that the vast majority of people do not want to go down this path.

The low morale of the school in recent years, and a sense that the general communication between school and parents has not been as good as it might, were also cited as reason why people may not have paid.P1060407

So where does that leave us?

I think we need to acknowledge all of that and start talking about change and improvement. I think we should begin with a realistic expectation of what we can achieve. According to our Business Manager, Faye Pattie, while we have currently received about 36% of voluntary fees, in past years this has reached around 50% by December.

Let’s assume that 15-20% of families are not in a position to pay, and that another 5-10% may choose, for various reasons, not to pay. I think – and Robin agrees – that we should be aiming for collecting somewhere between 70- 75% of fees. That’s basically an increase of 25% and that may take more than one year to achieve.

So let’s start to think about how we can effect that change. I’ve come up with a few thoughts and I’d love people to comment/email with others.

  • Our new Acting Assistant Principal, Andrew Searle, mentioned that at his school information was provided to parents at various Prep information nights, which seems like a great idea.  An explanation of how the funding works very broadly could be given and some details about where voluntary fees have gone in the past and what they might be used for in the future.
  • It would be great to know on an on-going basis what the fees are being used for. The School Council President is going to put a notice in the newsletter once a term letting us know what the school is doing with the fees and how the kids are benefiting.
  • For those people who are able and willing to pay all their fees at the very beginning of Term 1, that’s fantastic; it means the school can budget and plan a little. But if not, how about you pay for your first child at the beginning of Term 1, your second child at the beginning  of Term 2, and your third and fourth, if you have them, at the beginning of Term 3 and Term 4. I think that might make it easier for some families who want to contribute, but who find it difficult to come up with multiple fees in one hit.
  • A new Funding, Communication and Marketing sub-committee of School Council, convened by Julie Coleman, has just been set up. One of the aims of the sub-committee is to look at the issue of communication and to develop a broad plan to address some of these issues. If you’re interested in being on the committee that would be great.  Just let me know and I’ll pass your name on.
  • The issue of morale is bigger and on-going and there is no easy fix. My sense of this from talking to people is that, as a school community, we are finally able to leave the past behind and move on, and that people are feeling much better about the direction the school is heading. Of course, until DEECD resolve the issue once and for all and we can finally employ a new and permanent Principal, morale will remain an issue.  But we do have a strong and stable leadership team for the time being.P1060421

I started this discussion a couple of weeks ago by confessing I hadn’t paid my fees. I am one of those people who can afford it and haven’t because I’m slack. So this week I am going to pay the four levies for one of my kids: (Library Fund, $75, Grounds and Oval Maintenance, $65, Building Fund, $100, and Technology Support and Maintenance, Levy $50). In Term 3, I will pay for my second child, and in Term 4, for my third.

It’s not an easy issue this one, and there is a broad range of opinion. For me, I know that the school can’t do everything it needs on the money it currently receives and so I’m happy to pay. I know that my contribution will go some way to improving the daily experience for the kids and that’s important to me.

I saw a great quote this week:  I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realised I was somebody. Lily Tomlin

Jacqui Tomlins

Fees, funding and our future

I have a confession to make; a proper one, a serious one. I’ve kept quiet about it until now and when the topic’s come up in the playground I’ve just kept my head down. And when the last lot of paperwork came home, I just slid it to the bottom of the pile.

But no more. I’m going to deal with this once and for all. I’m finally going to come out. So here it is: I haven’t paid my voluntary school fees. And it’s not just because I’ve haven’t got around to it yet; I didn’t pay them last year either. I used to pay quite consistently, but somewhere along the line – for reasons I can’t even remember – I stopped.

And then recently the subject came up again and it got me thinking. I haven’t the faintest idea how the funding works for our school. What we get from the government and what that covers. What the voluntary fees actually go towards. How many of us pay them and how many don’t. No clue.

So, I thought I would put on my investigative blogger hat and go find out some answers to these questions. This is what I discovered: prepare for a bumpy ride.

P1050818
The funding we get from the State and Federal government covers the salaries paid to our staff which is broadly calculated on a per-capita basis – set amount of money for each child. We also get funding for general operational expenses which cover some classroom resources, some building and maintenance and some cleaning, but there’s a shortfall in all those areas. We get some money to cover relief teachers when staff are sick, but again, not enough.

In fact – and I was pretty shocked by this – government funding represents only 33% of our operational budget. That’s all. We have to make up the rest with our voluntary fees and if we don’t, things don’t get done, or the kids just miss out.

We don’t get funding to cover any kind of staff professional development, excursions, extra-curricular activities or sporting events. We don’t get money for any kind of major refurbishment or for replacing stuff that packs up or falls down. Apparently, we’ve already spent the amount the government has given us for this year for building and maintenance.

The voluntary fees are separated into four categories: Building Fund, Library Fund, Technology Support and Maintenance Levy, Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy. Currently, we are down on all of these by pretty significant amounts:

Building Fund: -$31,000

Library Fund: -$23,000

Technology Support and Maintenance Levy: -$15,000

Grounds and Oval Maintenance Levy: -$20,000

Basically what this means is that we are currently about $90,000 short on what we need for the school to function properly in all these areas.

This problem is compounded by the fact that last year our payment of voluntary fees was our worst ever! Obviously, there’s a cumulative effect which, over time, has a huge impact on what we can achieve.

P1050814
Now, the most interesting thing I discovered is that to date 36% of the voluntary fees have been collected at Kew Primary. I wondered how this compared to other schools and did a quick check of Eastern suburb primary schools with similar fees. South Camberwell, Chatham and Mont Albert collect about 95% of their voluntary fees each year, and East Kew, about 90%. Ouch! That’s a huge difference.

The disparity between us and those other schools surprised me to be honest and I started to think about why that might be. I’m going to speculate here, but I think we’ve gotten into a kind of downward spiral, a negative mind-set; the school’s had a very rough ride over the past couple of years and I think that may have had an impact. Somehow we need to put the brakes on and start spiralling upwards again.

So where has the money gone in the past?

The old sandpit had become toilet-of-choice for the extended family of possums living in the roof of the junior school hall and was quickly becoming a major health hazard. It was dirty and unhealthy and needed to go. The cost of removing the sandpit and putting new bitumen down in its place was $26,000. The lovely new sandpit was funded entirely out of money raised by the PTA ($16,000). P1060090
The canteen was also struggling to keep up with Occupational Health and Safety standards with wonky shelves and cracked bench tops and old unreliable equipment. The canteen refurbishment cost $28,000.P1050810

The electrics in the library had long since given up the ghost and were in desperate need of replacement. The removal of walls, relocation of shelving, and painting throughout cost approximately $15,000.

And if I pay all my fees this year, where will the money go?

In the first instance, the voluntary fees will go towards making up the huge shortfall between what the government provides, and what we need to pay for the basic operational costs of running the school.

The school is doing a great job of adopting new technologies and making sure our kids are well educated in this area and equipped to meet the challenges they’ll face in high school and beyond. However, the data infrastructure of the school is old and antiquated and already can’t cope with the volume of data the school currently uses. We need to upgrade this urgently.P1050881

Last term one of the teachers told me quietly that it was almost impossible to get anything done in the afternoons because the kids were all melting like icy poles. Our new building is awesome, but there’s no air-conditioning and that’s something the government will never fund, and the PTA would have to sell an awful lot of sausages to cover it. If we could get close to collecting the same percentage of money as those other local schools, we might have a chance of funding some air-conditioning.

The data projector in the library needs to be replaced, the computers are very out of date, and there are a lot of books that look oddly familiar to ones I read forty years ago. Oh and we need some new furniture.

Someone suggested recently that it would be great to have a proper running track. Nice idea.

So now that I’ve come clean, I’m still not promising to stump up four different levies (for three kids) this week, but I’m going to make a start. I read an article in The Age a while back about how some schools are closing their libraries and replacing them with ‘technology research centres,’ or some such horror. Books and reading are important to me and I want my kids to have a great library that’s well-resourced so I’m going to start by paying the Library Fund.

Both the Building and Library Fund are tax-deductible and a few parents have mentioned to me that they plan to get those paid before June 30th.

I think our school’s in a good place right now, but imagine how much better it could be – and how much it would benefit our kids – if those of us who can, paid our voluntary fees.

Thanks.

Jacqui Tomlins

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The new kid on the block….

If you wander past the school office you will see a fresh face sitting in the office of the Assistant Principal (AP).

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Andrew Searle has joined us from Mont Albert Primary School as acting AP, while Robin Grace has moved up the corridor to the Principal’s office. Both will be in their acting positions for Term 2, and who knows after that? DEECD will let us know.

This week I popped in to see Andrew to find out a little more about him, and thought it might be a good idea to introduce him to the school community via the blog.

Jacqui: Welcome Andrew, we’re very pleased to have you at KPS. I’m told you were ‘hand-picked’ to come over and help us out and I’m wondering what you were ‘hand-picked’ for?

Andrew: (laughing) Well I got a call from the regional coordinator at DEECD who explained the situation here and asked if I’d be available to act as Assistant Principal for the next term. I asked him why he’d called me and he said he knew about my ability to connect with the community – with parents and staff – and thought that was really important for Kew right now. I thought it would be a great opportunity and challenge for me and I was very happy to agree. I’ve only been here a day, but everyone’s been really friendly and welcoming.

Jacqui: We’ve had a few ups and downs here in the last eighteen months…

Andrew: Yes, I know, but I have no history with the school – or with anyone involved in that which I think is good – I’m a new face. Mont Albert has a similar demographic to Kew Primary so I’m familiar with some of the challenges of a school like this.

Jacqui: So what is the role of the Assistant Principal exactly and what will you be doing here?

Andrew: A large part of the AP’s job is to look after the welfare of the students; that includes discipline, but it’s much broader than that. I work with students with disabilities and special needs and their parents, and the aides who support them. I also look after professional development for staff and work on the curriculum.

Jacqui: It’s hard to step into a role when you’re only here for a term…

Andrew: Yes, it is, but I’ve already had a few conversations with Robin about what I can most effectively do while I’m here. Firstly, I need to make sure I fulfil the AP role and keep everything under control and running smoothly, but I’m also hoping to look around and see if there are other areas where I can make a contribution. I really just want to identify the real need of the school right now and see what’s the best way I can help.

At Mont Albert, I’m very involved with a number of committees – Education, Buildings and Grounds and the Fare – and I also run our classroom helpers course and information evenings on literacy. I don’t want to tread on any toes here, but I’ll just be looking for areas that might need some development and maybe I can get a few things started.

I’ll be meeting with the Leadership Team this week and see what ideas they have. I’ll also be supporting Robin as she finds her feet in her new role.

My first big challenge is to get to know everyone and learn some names.

Jacqui: So are you from Melbourne?

Andrew: I was born in Cohuna up on the Murray River, but we left there after a year. My father was a Uniting Church Minister so we moved a lot for his work in the early days. We lived in South Australia and different parts of Victoria, but I’ve lived in Melbourne for about thirty years now.

I trained at Deakin University and did Professional Development to become an Early Years Literacy Coordinator. I’ve been at Mont Albert for six years, three as Assistant Principal.

My fiancée is also a teacher – at Chatham Primary in Surrey Hills. Oh and I barrack for Hawthorn!

Jacqui: Thanks, Andrew. It’s great to have you here and we hope you enjoy your time at KPS.

Have you got five minutes, Barry?

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!

Cheers.

Jacqui Tomlins