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Case Study - 20+ Years as a Principal - Br Paul Conn

Posted on 13 July 2018
I began my Principal Journey in January 1993 when I took over the leadership of Nudgee Junior College Indooroopilly, a day and boarding school that catered for wealthy students from Brisbane's inner west and quite damaged and fragile boarders from a wide range of social settings.  I did not apply for the position as in those days Christian Brothers were transferred to an appointment if you were perceived to be the best person for the job.  I was very happy in my previous role in North Queensland (where I grew up) so my whole job interview was the Provincial saying, "Paul you can say yes now or I can ring you tomorrow and you can say yes then."  I was very grateful for his determination as I totally enjoyed the experience.

My greatest learning about school leadership is that the key to its success is knowing when to manage or instigate change always within the context of Right Relationships that are developed within a faith filled community that is not afraid to share this faith and act on it sensibly and decisively.

At Nudgee Junior change was needed urgently.  An outdated model of Boarding School was being perpetuated in substandard facilities.  A well-managed change process closed the Boarding Section of the school after 56 years with very little fall-out from old boys.  Boarders were relocated to Nudgee College where their needs could be better addressed and the school was then reinvented as a contemporary day school with an emphasis on effective pastoral care and a modern approach to teaching and learning.

From here, I was appointed as the Director of St James Practical Education (now St James College) Spring Hill.  The school had been in a precarious position with enrolment numbers.  It was one of the earliest schools to fully embrace the Vocational Education agenda with an emphasis on providing multiple, equal status learning pathways that included a wide range of Vocational experiences as well as a rigorous academic program.  Once again, changes had to be managed carefully as after 125 years as a single sex school, the School welcomed girls for the first time.  It was very rewarding to see the School reach its capacity enrolment of 550 students.

My next appointment was to my Alma Mater, Ignatius Park College Townsville.  Once again, enrolment numbers were an issue and the whole school community was calling for change.  My greatest learning from this experience was a school's need for a cohesive and effective College Leadership Team that was able to articulate a vision for the school community and then implement it, ensuring that all stakeholders were moving in the right direction with you.  A new College Leadership Team, with one experienced remaining member of the previous Leadership Team was able to provide a clear and confident direction that was embraced by the school community.

For the next five years I was a member of the Christian Brothers Province Leadership Team.  Once again, managing significant change was the order of the day.  Whilst I missed the energy and relationships of a single school community greatly, I did enjoy working on the group that established Edmund Rice Education Australia, a Public Juridic Association that would provide civil and canonical trusteeship for all the Christian Brothers' Schools in Australia.  This was very important for me as it meant the future of the Charism of Edmund Rice in Catholic Education in Australia was assured by way of an independent authority.

Once EREA was established, I was offered the opportunity to move back into a Principal's role, an opportunity for which I was very grateful.  Since January 2008 I have been Principal of Christian Brothers' High School Lewisham, a multi cultural school of 1350 students in the inner west of Sydney.

At CBHS Lewisham I have enjoyed the challenges that providing for 21st century teaching and learning provide as well as the development of a whole school, integrated spirituality and formation program that works seamlessly with our vertical pastoral care approach.  The school is justifiably proud of our Aboriginal Program and our Edmund Rice Education Beyond Borders Peru Justice and Peace Immersion Program.

1993 was pre email days.  Today, mountainous piles of written correspondence and cheques are replaced by endless emails and other electronic transactions.  Other significant changes over the time have been the compelling need for school leaders to address the ever increasing number of mental health issues our young people have and the enormous pressure they endure due to social media, cyber bullying and increased secularism.

The greatest reward for me over my time as an educator has been the privilege of journeying with young people in their great adventure called life.  Young people now are more in touch with their spirituality than ever before.  One of the most urgent and confronting challenges we face as faith and educational leaders is the challenge to give them a model of faith, spirituality and church that avoids the traps of an abuse of power and safeguards them from the sin of clericalism.  As leaders, we need to provide an alternative model of leadership that is not dominated by hierarchy and control.  Our young people need to be empowered to create for themselves a future whereby they know they are truly loved and accepted for who they are, regardless of their race, gender, colour of their skin or their sexuality.

Tags: CaSPA Case Study

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