Birth of a new school
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 2, 20 March 2020, page no.19
The beginning of the 2020 school year saw the opening of eight new state schools across Queensland as the state government invested to address growing student enrolments. However, new schools don’t just appear fully-formed on day one – an awful lot of work goes into building a school from scratch. Pete Stansfield, foundation principal of one of the brand-new schools, Calliope SHS in Central Queensland, explains.
Beginning a new school requires the appointment of committed, capable staff who are agile and flexible, because the list of preparation required is never-ending. Community involvement and interaction are also essential.
The community has campaigned for years for the introduction of a school, with students previously having to travel to and from Gladstone each day for their schooling. For families in the Boyne Valley, this travel time was even more significant. This school is a dream come true for Calliope.
Naturally, this means the community not only wants, but deserves a strong voice in the direction the school takes. The most hotly discussed topics revolved around the reputation wanted for the school. The most visible aspect of this is the school uniform, which garnered a massive amount of community engagement. During parent and community information sessions, hundreds of interested community members attended to express their views. Other topics, such as phone usage, homework, and extra-curricula activities, were also key areas of interest, and managing the community’s various attitudes and opinions is certainly one major challenge.
An additional challenge lies in setting up the school without actually having access to the building itself. Our construction company was outstanding and hit its deadlines to a high standard, but creating a culture that promotes learning is challenging without access to the environment. Organising our explicit improvement agenda, systematic curriculum delivery and developing our effective pedagogical practices all add additional challenges when they are based on a theoretical element. But most challenging is building a school without students on deck. This school is designed for them, so that every student can succeed, and while all our planning is in line with the State Schooling Strategy, without students on deck, it remains simply theoretical.
Though challenges exist, the opportunities are far more exciting. Calliope State High School does not have a reputation within the community, and the opportunity to build this from scratch, to begin a legacy, is fantastic. This is something we can leverage with staff, students, parents and the community. We have no pre-existing extra-curricular activities, which allows for fresh ideas from the student voice. This has led to the creation of a student newspaper, chess club, anime club and more. Developing a culture from scratch also enables staff to enter an environment that doesn’t require them to change anything, but instead gives them a chance to create. This is an opportunity that not too many have.
Day one was a real highlight. To see our staff and students on deck, and in classrooms learning, after six months in the role of a principal without a school, and to see everything come together was a great relief.
Of course, the work is never truly done, as our core business – helping every student to succeed – is an infinite game. The challenge never ends. Future projections indicate that students today will need to be adaptive in their knowledge and capabilities to be successful in their futures. With technological advances occurring frequently, we have a vision of creating a student body, the members of which are agile in their thinking, able to upskill themselves and be problem solvers. We are beginning to use Auslan in classrooms to ensure inclusivity across the school and maintain a calm learning environment. Our vision for the school is to establish the foundations of a truly great school that will grow and improve in the future.
When building a new school, it is important to develop a culture that promotes learning. Get the culture right within yourself, within your crew and then within your community. With the right culture no challenge is too great, and success will come. Remember, underlying everything we do as educators is the fundamental goal of seeing students succeed.