An abridged version of the Principal’s address given at Speech Day, Thursday 21 November 2019.
Speech Day allows us to gather as a community and celebrate the year that has been. Each year passes at break neck speed and the chance to stop, reflect, celebrate achievements and learn from mistakes seems to be fleeting. Today, I would ask you to join me in a minute’s silence in memory of two of our students who passed away in 2019. Year 9 student Erin Kennealy (’22) and Year 8 student Mitch Grigg (’23), both who left their families and our community far too early. Our community rallied around the families in support as we all struggled to come to grips with losing two such wonderful and unique young people.
With the School nearly 60 years old, our founding students and staff are ageing. Unfortunately, this means that we, as a community, are now seeing the passing of our founding teachers and some founding students. The loss of any student or Old Scholar will always have an impact on a community as connected and tightknit as ours. However, in these trying times, the strength of our community shines through as we rally around each other to offer care, support and empathy.
We began this year with our first Commencement Assembly where, as a whole School community, we inducted both our Senior and Preparatory School Leaders and shared this year’s theme: GRATITUDE. The theme was summed up very succinctly by our Head of Business and Entrepreneurship, Ty Cheesman, as GREAT + ATTITUDE = GRATITUDE. In our society, we often forget how fortunate we are, becoming consumed with thinking about and yearning for what we don’t have. Our staff are very grateful that you have made the time to be with us today to share in the celebration of the year that has been. Likewise, we are all grateful to the parents, guardians and families who have chosen Westminster for their child’s education. We hope that we are helping your child achieve more than they thought possible.
Perhaps Speech Day should be called something different - maybe Appreciation Day or even Gratitude Day. After all, it is a time we celebrate and show our gratitude for the achievements of our community and students, reflecting outstanding success in their endeavours. Growth is very personal and the neuro-plasticity and maturity levels of our students mean that they all grow far more quickly than those of us over 25 do. For some of us, we may have just grown a little older, a little wiser, thinner or balder! We are also very grateful for the sacrifices and contributions made by so many to allow every student to have the opportunities that a Westminster education affords them.
Each year, my wife Susan and I personally give the departing School Captains a small gift, such as a socket set. I look for the very best and most versatile kit that I can find within my budget. Being a bit of tool aficionado, I try to buy the best quality tools I can within my budget. Why do I choose a tool kit? Apart from the fact that I love receiving tools as gifts, it is my belief that every student who graduates from Westminster should be leaving here with a tool kit. Not only do our graduates need to have a tool kit, they need to know how to use the tools they have at their disposal to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them. Tools are used to fix, maintain and build things and, of course, put together IKEA furniture! They are also your tools and, as such, provide a degree of independence and self-reliance. Of course, at times you might need to borrow tools or add more to your own collection. School begins a student’s learning journey and your first tool kit is the start, not the end, of acquiring tools for life.
In our modern age, we are becoming more and more reliant on utilising the services of others rather than showing our own independence and lateral thinking. I have asked the Year 12s if they know how to change a tyre on a car or check the oil, water and brake fluid. The solution most of them have involves their telephone, an app and a yellow van with a three big letters on the side - RAA - or their parents!
What does a student graduating from school in 2019 and beyond need in their life tool kit? Unlike when most parents in the room left school, when we might have been told by an opinionated careers teacher or, worse still, our parents, what we needed to do, youths of today have international bodies like UNESCO and the World Economic Forum researching the skills needed and then informing the world of what we need. The skills that students need now encompass foundational literacies, competencies and character qualities, including:
The cynics among us may suspect that the School Leaders were given real tools so they can help with the building projects! As those who have been watching would know, the project, at times, has moved very slowly. As with all building projects some intricacies do not reveal themselves until the work has started. The Inquiry and Innovation Hub is well underway and construction seems to be rapidly building momentum.
Our School community has shown remarkable fortitude and cohesiveness. As a community, we have faced a lot together and our sense of community and belonging has shown through. Our Fun Fair and, more recently, our Giving Day have highlighted this. Where after a remarkable fundraising campaign, led very ably by our Marketing and Advancement team, headed up by Tanya Jarman (’89), we have also managed to raise the funds needed to allow Council to approve the development of our new Sports Pavilion. We will hand the site to the builders at the end of this month, enabling that project to commence in a very positive manner. This, in turn, will allow us to commence decanting for the third stage of our building work behind the Murray Centre.
Having great facilities is meaningless unless they are being utilised by students and there is great teaching and learning taking place within them. In 2019, our teaching staff have shown a tremendous degree of collaborative professionalism as we collectively work together to ensure that our teaching is evolving as rapidly as our students. This has been highlighted by the terrific work of our Pedagogy Coach Angela Phillips, her reflection and sharing with staff has seen the development of the Highly Accomplished and Lead Teachers Group with some 40 staff involved, voluntarily, in this group. In 2020, to allow for further growth in the Preparatory School, Sharon Darrell has been appointed as Deputy for Teaching and Learning. The response of our teaching staff to these new initiatives has been fantastic. This year has seen the introduction of a new Learning Management System (SEQTA) that allows us to develop a more detailed student profile. It has opened the door to continuous reporting. This means we can give our students feedback in time to help them improve rather than at the end of a term or semester when it is too late. The introduction of SEQTA has seen our teachers be role models of modern learning, having to unlearn, learn and relearn with new technology. Collectively, staff will continue to work with collaborative professionalism to ensure all students at Westminster achieve more than they thought they could.
Often the staff behind the scene in schools can be forgotten. Today, as we acknowledge the teaching staff, we should also acknowledge all the staff across the School - from the Property Services and Grounds team, to the Admin and the Finance teams. I ask you to join me in thanking all of the staff across the School for their work in 2019.
This year, we hosted the annual Intercol against Pembroke where we won Netball, Badminton, Girls’ AFL, Soccer and, in the most spectacular of manners, the Boys’ Basketball. When we host Pembroke for Intercol in 2021, we will be able to welcome them to the Dragon’s Lair, our new Sports Pavilion. Long-time Pembroke parents commented on how well-run Intercol was this year and what a great day we hosted. The dedication of our staff and parents’ underpins Intercol, as well as our entire co-curricular program, and we thank them for their support.
We saw our Performing Arts program continue to flourish with fantastic Drama, Dance and Music productions and we will soon end the year with another, the Junior Play (Years 8 to 10). Music Night proved to be a highlight when Old Scholars connected with our current musicians for one special night in a terrific initiative led by Director of Music Mike Degenhart and the Music team. Another highlight of the year was the reintroduction of the School musical where our students sang and performed in a highly professional manner. Great leadership by Director Kat Elliot saw a highly polished production of Annie send us into the term break on a real high. Again, our musicians were on show and performed exceptionally well in a brave move to have a live band. Anniegave our whole Performing Arts program a fantastic opportunity to showcase the capabilities of our students. Planning for the 2021 School musical is already well underway.
In 2020, we will welcome the Year 7s into the Senior School. This move will allow our students to further develop and grow, especially with increased access to specialist teachers. Teachers from across the School have worked tirelessly to develop a new curriculum for Year 7 that is highly reflective of the education that they will need while providing them with student agency around their learning.
A Westminster education, as we all know, extends well beyond the classroom and this year there were tours to Japan, China, India, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and all around South Australia for Music, Languages and Outdoor Education and the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. There were also some amazing opportunities for Round Square exchanges all around the world. Beyond the School gates, we provide our students with plenty of opportunities to develop their soft skills, developing all the tools they need for success.
This year, the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award recognised our 30 years of involvement in the scheme while Head of Outdoor Education Gordon Begg received a medal in commemoration of his 30 years of service. Given that over 20 of our students and Old Scholars achieved their Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award this year, we could humbly attest to being the most successful Duke of Edinburgh’s School in South Australia, and amongst the best in the nation.
I hope this brief snapshot of the year has provided you with some insight into the incredible opportunities our students enjoy. Thank you for the sacrifices you make to allow your children to make the most of what is available to them, and celebrating in the achievement of our students.