After 12 months of intensive planning the day had finally come when St Bede's would be open for business. Friday 2 February 2018 would enter the history books as the day that St Bede's Catholic College Chisholm would welcome 109 Year 7 students as its first ever cohort. Not since the opening of St Paul's Booragul in 1984 had another secondary school in the Maitland Newcastle Diocese opened. With the Maitland Newcastle region experiencing unprecedented population growth and a higher than proportional increase in enrolment applications and after years of prudent financial management, the area of Chisholm within the new estate of Waterford County was chosen as the new site for St Bede's. Preceded by the establishment of an adjoining Catholic primary school, St Aloysius, where student numbers had skyrocketed past all predictions to 500+. St Bede's would commence with a single Year 7 cohort with a plan of expanding one cohort per year until 2023 where a Year 7 12 co-educational school of a 1,000+ would be fully operational.
With an initial staff of two, myself as Principal and an Office Manager (Rachel Quirk), for the first three terms of 2017, the staff was to grow to five in Term 4 with the addition of an Assistant Principal (Brett Donohoe), a Student Coordinator (Jasmine Hutchinson), and a Learning Support Coordinator (Amy Butler). With the appointment of three other Study Coordinators and numerous other staff members, the preparation during Term 4 and the weeks leading up to our opening day had to reflect the way we wanted the students to be taught collaborative, engaging and effective. Embracing a contemporary learning approach, with the newly launched CSO Learning Framework at its core, processes were strategically put into place to commence with a specially locally designed intensive four-week transition program concluding with a three-day camp before moving into an individually designed curriculum that would consist of a balance of paired subjects running concurrently with subject specific lessons.
With an unfortunate delay in the opening of the first of the four buildings, an enormous investment of funds went into what we called a 'Flexible Learning Village (FLV)' which was a number of modern air-conditioned demountable classrooms. Replicating the modern contemporary design of the four buildings, the FLV was to be furbished with quality modern furniture which could be retained in case of any future delays in the opening of the other buildings and for its continued use by the school and possibly by community groups. The completion of some significant works, such as the laying of turf, extended into the late afternoon of 1 February a day before the Official Opening.
When the big day arrived on Friday 1 February with the opening of St Bede's, I was as nervous and excited as my first day of teaching career back in 1984 which co-incidentally was the same year as when the last secondary school in the Diocese had opened some 34 years ago. Waiting out the front of the school site while the staff busily prepared for our Opening Assembly, the first ever St Bede's students started to arrive shortly after 8.00pm. To be able to individually welcome and to be photographed with each of these pioneer students and their families was an enormous honour and made the previous 12 months of non-stop planning all worth-while. The opening assembly included a welcome to people from the CSO Aboriginal Education Officer (Louise Campbell), key note addresses from our Director (Doctor Michael Slattery) and myself as the Foundation Principal, a blessing from our Parish Priest (Father Paul O'Neil). Attended by many parents and guests, the students were perfectly behaved and engaged which would set the context for a truly memorable great first day. With smiles, laughter and joy, the next hour was spent mixing with our guests and parents over a lavish morning tea while students commenced their education with an equally happy and excited staff.
Friday 2 February would not only be historical in the journey of Catholic education in the Maitland Newcastle Diocese but on a personal level would mark the happiest and most professionally rewarding day of my long teaching career.
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