While it is always a pleasure for me to visit each of the schools in my Mayoral capacity, I wanted to broaden and deepen the relationship between the Council and our schools beyond the annual round of special days and celebrations.
Education has been an important focus of the work of Councillors in the Latrobe Municipality for many years. Not surprising as we have five primary schools, one high School and one independent (K-12), a total of seven schools.
So ten years ago I introduced an initiative which has been well received by our schools and has created a positive relationship between the whole Council and the school communities. This initiative also reinforces that the leadership strength in any community (be it school, sporting club, service group, Council etc) is most effective if the leadership responsibility is spread across or carried by a number of individuals.
Now, each school has its own Councillor, who receives information from the school, presents prizes and performs other ceremonial duties, and meets with students and staff to gain a deeper understanding of the real life of the school. I am the Council conduit to Latrobe High School, and six other Councillors have connected with each of one of the other schools in our municipality.
As a teacher I have been fortunate to meet and work with many impressive young people and as Mayor, I then was in a position to highlight the talents of those students. Ten years ago I introduced a regular student-focused item to the weekly Latrobe page in the The Advocate, profiling an individual student, including a photo. Too often articles in the media about young people are not positive but a weekly segment highlighting student profiles over time gives a great picture of the young talent in our municipality, and gives me confidence that our future will be in good hands.
This regular weekly item is now headlined as “Emerging Leader” – because that is what our young people are! In case you haven’t spotted it, you’ll find it in the bottom left hand corner of the weekly Tuesday Latrobe page. The students now look for it and this initiative has morphed into a really positive activity connecting schools and communities in an enduring way. It is of note that this initiative has also been picked up by other Council areas in Tuesday’s Advocate as well.
In my role as Member of the Legislative Council for Mersey, I am the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Friends of Education, Tasmania, which meets at Parliament House twice a year. This enables all Parliamentarians to receive information, ask questions and discuss current issues with Members of the Tasmanian Principals Association.
As MLC I also sign and forward over 300 letters a year to students from the 17 schools in the Mersey electorate. I read all of the school newsletters that are forwarded to my office. My Executive Assistant Bonnie and I identify via the newsletters those students who have achieved in diverse and wide-ranging arenas – e.g.: leadership, music and drama eisteddfods, academic work, art, sport, community involvement etc., and I take great pleasure in writing to congratulate each of them. Students nowadays rarely receive “mail” and I have received positive feedback from recipients, parents and even grandparents about the letters. Many students file that letter of recognition and congratulation in their personal file.
As both the Mayor of Latrobe and MLC for Mersey, I’ve been able to put into practice my firm beliefs that our schools are most successful when they are actively supported by the community, and that one of the most important roles of community leaders is to be powerful champions for our schools. Community based learning is definitely a two way relationship and a strategy of engagement which I am passionate about.
As a teacher for 28 years, I am also very supportive of education in this State and in favour of all students completing year 12. But I am also wary of a “one size fits all solution” to the problem of increasing our rate of year 12 completions. We need to be aware that each community in Tasmania will have its own needs and aspirations for schooling, and each community will bring a different set of histories, relationships, skills, hopes and dreams to our shared goal of supporting young people to get the best schooling Tasmania can provide.
Close school/community partnerships, such as is fostered in Latrobe and the Mersey electorate, will provide an environment to encourage the most effective and sustainable models for the future of educational provision in our region. Let’s all get involved and make that outcome a reality!