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Principal reflects on win against school in defamation case.

Posted on 16 February 2019
Principal reflects on win against school in defamation case.

CaSPA is aware that in recent times a number of our principals around the country have been subject to extensive negative commentary in their school communities. CaSPA appreciates that there are always "two sides to every story", but on the surface it would seem that some of these attacks are anything but justified and verge on the defamatory.  In the light of such experience in our schools, the following story makes interesting reading:

Kambala School - an Independant School in suburban Sydney - settled out of court last month, and was forced to issue an apology to former principal Debra Kelliher [above] over allegedly defamatory emails.

In the emails, head music teacher Mark Grandison and head social science teacher June Peake, accused Kelliher of "tyrannical" leadership, "bullying" and "unethical behaviour".

Kelliher described to EducationHQ the atmosphere at the school prior to her resignation.

"It's easy for some staff who are long standing members of any institution to get into a "bubble" where they can't see beyond their limited views and confines. Values can become distorted by a sense of entitlement and ego," she said.

"The atmosphere in the school leading up to this event was one of hysteria and mob rule. It's hard to make a kind or careful decision in that atmosphere. Fortunately we live in a democracy and people don't have to accept this type of abuse.

"I certainly think women especially must make a stand when they are bullied and abused. I hope the stand I took encourages other women leaders not to accept this type of behaviour and to hold others accountable for their conduct."

The apology issued by the school states that Kambala, the school council, Grandison and Peake all "deeply regret, and unequivocally withdraw" the comments.

The statement goes on to say that the parties "apologise unreservedly to Ms Kelliher for the publication of those emails and for the harm and hurt they have caused to her".

Kelliher is unable to discuss the details of the settlement, but said that she is satisfied with Kambala's apology.

"It's hard to leave a legacy in just over three years, however my vision for the school was that students would achieve terrific academic results without a sacrifice of their own wellbeing. And we achieved that," she said.

"When I left academic results were excellent and the enrolments were the highest they'd ever been. I introduced a new focus on wellbeing and the whole student. The best schools are about a gentler, values-driven education which is much more than a results factory."

Another source of pride for Kelliher she said, was her management of Kambala's finances.

"Also, with the help of two brilliant business managers, I managed to bring the school back to a surplus and also pay down a huge amount of debt. I came into a very unhealthy financial situation and turned it round. You can't underestimate the importance of this.

"It's a basic for schools and without it, everybody's livelihood is at risk. I take the stewardship of parents' fees very seriously. The school has a strong foundation now from which to step forward and do some good in the world."

Kelliher said she hoped to return to school leadership in the future.

"I hope to lead another school. I genuinely love students and teachers. I was very sorry they saw me and other staff bullied. It was such poor role modelling for them," she said.

"I'm currently in the last stages of writing my doctorate, which is on how to build leadership capacity in young women, in an independent school. I still have a lot to give in the education sector and am passionate about young peoples' futures."

Mark Grandison was contacted for this story but was unable to comment due to Kambala's media policy.

Kambala did not respond to a request for comment.

From: EducationHQ News Team

Published February 12, 2019
Tags: wellbeing

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