A school that recently abolished its library has been recognised as one of The Age's Schools that Excel, with Siena College principal Gaynor Robson-Garth attributing the success to constant innovation.''We have always been open to trying new things and taking risks,'' she says.
This year, the library at the girls only Catholic college in Camberwell was replaced with a ''learning centre'' where students can discuss ideas and learn technology, such as 3D printers and robotics.''If you think about it, you don't need to go to a library to do research and you don't need a librarian to talk to you about interesting literature or books.''
Librarians have been replaced with ''change adopters'' who host discussions with students and teach ''soft skills'' such as ethical and creative thinking. ''It's an experiment, we're trialling it,'' says Ms Robson-Garth, who will retire at the end of this year.The neatly groomed school, founded by the Dominican sisters in 1940, has consistently scored average VCE study scores of 34 for the past seven years, contributing to its place among the Schools that Excel. VCE study scores are out of 50, and a score above 30 means students are above average compared with the rest of the state.
Scores of 40 or above put students among the best in Victoria, and over the past decade a growing proportion of Siena College students have been achieving these stellar results.Last year the school did particularly well in English, and about one in three year 12 students there were high achievers in this subject. The college is not selective, and annual fees reach about $15,550, placing it in the mid-tier price category for private schools in the area.
The school is named after the 14thcentury mystic and theologian Saint Catherine of Siena, a ''real woman of action'', according to Ms Robson-Garth. ''She challenged people in power during the 14th century, a time when women had no place in society.''The saint is one of the many female role models the school celebrates, alongside Michelle Obama, Julia Gillard and many former students (notable graduates include Susan Alberti and Magda Szubanski).
''There is a sense that Catholic schools should service the poor,'' says Ms Robson-Garth. ''But we're not in an area where there are poor, so I have this view that the role here is to educate the women who will be the leaders of the future to address the root causes of injustice.''Using a "data-driven approach", teachers use surveys and interviews with students to better structure lessons.
Instead of typical punishments for bad behaviour, teachers have conversations with misbehaving students to get them to understand the impact of their actions almost like a workplace performance review. ''If someone is late to class regularly, the conversation would be about what impact that is having on your learning or the learning of other students and what you can do to remedy this.''Meanwhile, in a north-eastern suburb of Melbourne where fewer than 67 per cent of the population finish high school, East Doncaster Secondary College will also receive a Schools that Excel Award for raising average VCE results over the past few years. Between 2012 and 2015, the school's median study score improved from 30 (which put it level with the statewide average) to 32, and it has maintained those results every year since.
The Age's analysis of VCE results data found non-government and state schools in Melbourne's east recorded the most consistent performance year on year, so in a strong field, Siena College and East Doncaster Secondary College stood out for managing to drive up their median scores.The school's blue and yellow flags feature photographs of students captioned by the school's seven values: curiosity, fairness, respect, resilience, teamwork, excellence and compassion.
Principal John Roberts explains these values are plastered on posters that feature in every classroom and are regularly drummed into the students. ''I have new teachers who say they've never been thanked for a lesson before,'' Mr Roberts says.In the 16 years Mr Roberts has been at the school, the number of non-English speaking students has more than doubled. The school has adapted, supporting these students by providing documents in a variety of languages and setting up an English Language Centre. The school also offers an exchange program where students can travel to sister schools in Italy and China.
This week is multicultural week at the government-funded secondary college and international students from a variety of countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia, will showcase their cultures to students.
''One of the best ways that a school can embrace international students is to culturally embed them within the fabric of the school,'' Mr Roberts says.
From: The Age 26 March 2019
By Charlotte Grieve.with Craig Butt
|Tags: Catholic Secondary Principals Australia|