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Case Study - From Greenfields site to Established College - John Murphy

Posted on 21 October 2017
Case Study - From Greenfields site to Established College - John Murphy

Foundation Principal's Report on St Bede's Catholic College Chisholm, NSW

by John Murphy

Late last year I was appointed as the Foundation Principal at St Bede's Catholic College Chisholm, the first Catholic Secondary School to open in the Maitland Newcastle Diocese for over 40 years.  Located in a new and rapidly growing housing estate in Chisholm, not far from East Maitland, St Bede's Catholic College will open next year initially with Year 7 students and will grow one-year group at a time before becoming a full Year 7 12 of approximately 1,100 to 1,200 co-educational College in 2023.  Students from all ability levels from all religious denominations are being welcomed to apply for enrolment, with a non-negotiable support of the Catholic ethos.

After spending all but one of 34 years of my teaching career in Sydney, moving from a Deputy Headmaster/Acting Principal (2016) position at St Patrick's College Strathfield to a Foundation Principal's role of a school has been one of extreme contrast.  As all Principals have learnt from first-hand experience, there is no manual explaining how you lead a school.  No amount of compliance or strategic planning documentation or induction training or mentoring will prepare one for the challenges of leading a school community.  Each school has its own unique context and culture, its own dynamics, its own strengths and challenges and each leader has their own personality and style.  In stepping into my first full year as Acting Principal last year of a large Year 5 12 school after 6 years as Deputy Principal, I at least understood the culture and ethos of this school and knew that I had the support of the College community.  In stepping into a Foundation Principal's role, with a full year of preparation time, the challenge has changed to how to create a school community.

The basic premise of operation of the Maitland Newcastle Catholic Schools Office has been built on a collaborative team approach, through a Project Implementation Team.  Included in their methodologies have been: visits and networking of other newly opened schools, use of contemporary research, engagement of a critical friend who had previously overseen a diocese where many new schools have been recently opened, thorough tendering processes for suitable architects and builders who could design and then build a non-traditional school over a six-year period, a school design brief based on a comprehensive consultation process, and the employment of a Principal and a support staff member a full-year prior to the school opening in 2018.  Learnings from other recently opened schools have been part of an overall strategy of meticulous rather than haphazard decision making.  The building of St Bede's Catholic College will occur via a four-stage model, with four uniquely and modern designed buildings being interconnected via a multipurpose enclosed walkway that will also be used as break-out areas.  In addition, a school chapel will be built which will be the spiritual heart of both St Bede's and the adjoining Catholic primary school, with the possibility that this may also be used as a place of community worship.  The building site will also include a 'flexible learning village' located on the space allocated to the fourth and final building.  This village will include a covered play area and different sized modern air-conditioned demountables which will provide alternative and additional classrooms for the duration of the building project.

Located immediately opposite the building site, one of the newly built houses within the estate has been leased as the College Office.  With targets remaining fluent and non-judgemental, St Bede's are closing in on 100 confirmed enrolments for the start of next year, with the hope that this number will steadily increase in-line with the growing population of this area.  The key to the successful enrolment process has been the development of positive relationships with the Catholic feeder primary schools and Churches, an effective communication program in attracting applications from the surrounding non-feeder schools, and on-going community engagement via fortnightly newsletters, an active uniform committee, an open-door policy, parent information sessions and student orientation days. 

A Foundation Plan, developed via a comprehensive community consultation process, is providing a platform for decision-making and employment of staff.  Thorough tendering processes in areas such as uniforms, student portable learning devices, photocopying, and furniture are providing positive outcomes in terms of value for money commercial agreements.   Staff recruitment has been an important priority with widespread interest leading to quality applications and appointments.  With all leadership roles now having been filled, with some of these having commenced at the start of Term 4, the focus has now shifted to recruitment of additional support staff and teachers and the structuring of suitable professional development and induction programs.  With the added expertise of leaders with a real passion and expertise in teaching and learning, work will continue in the areas of curriculum and policy development, event organisation, and resourcing. 
The opening of St Bede's Catholic College at the start of 2018 will be a monumental occasion where years of planning and budgeting will finally see the foundation cohort commence the start of their six-year journey and the start of the history of the College.


School site : January 2017 School site : October 2017


Tags: CaSPA Case Study
Mark Newbury 636 days ago
Tremendous introduction to your new school. A wonderful opportunity for local children and an enthusiastic new staff. Best wishes and well done.

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