Meet Karen, our Acting Principal

Thank you to middle school students Annabel and Tilly for interviewing Karen Overall, our Acting Principal (spoiler alert: regarding footy, there’s yellow and black in the answers!).

Where were you before you came to Kew Primary School? I was the Principal at Belmore School. This is a school for children who have physical disabilities and health impairments. Continue reading

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It’s question and answer time

Thank you to our reporters, Caity and Patrick from 3/4C for this week’s interviews with two very important people at KPS.

Caity and Patrick spoke to Mr Penson – Continue reading

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

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

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