25 May 2018

Celebrating Canberra Schools - Namadgi School

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Gareth Richards. Photo: Supplied.

Gareth Richards: The dedicated principal of Namadgi School. Photo: Supplied.

It’s nice to find a principal of a school who has spent his entire life growing up and being educated in the area where he now works. It’s kind of like ‘giving back’ to your own community and is indeed quite rare.

Gareth Richards, Principal of Namadgi School is that kind of educator. Not only that, but remarkably, both of his parents also taught in the local areas. So, you can understand it when he tells you that, ‘his heart belongs to Tuggeranong’. Gareth attended many public schools in the area, from Taylor Primary School to Monash Primary School, Wanniassa High School and finally, Erindale College.

Starting his career as a K-6 generalist classroom teacher in 2000, and working in several schools, he spent time as an executive leader & PE specialist, advising primary schools in the Tuggeranong network through a leadership position in the Education Directorate, which turned out to be an invaluable experience. Several years of experience at several schools were followed by his appointment last year to this new “super school”, although he prefers to call Namadgi a ‘P-10 school’, smiling as he tells me:

“We are working towards super.”

When Gareth arrived at Namadgi a year ago, he found his school was under a panel review and couldn’t be more delighted. Serendipitously, it enabled him, along with the rest of the staff, to develop a five-year plan for Namadgi, which he is quite excited about.

After the interview and a short tour of this rather large school, with 93 staff (56 of them, teaching staff), I find the school is more than well-equipped in terms of resources – and it’s a beautiful, pristine campus. Of course, we all know that education is not just about facilities alone, but at this school students have an advantage. They can gain some security and consistency throughout their primary and high school education years, moving through the same school from pre-school up to Yr. 10, and there’s something to be said for the familiarity such a “one-stop shop” can provide. There’s a sense of collective empowerment too, as the staff are professionally encouraged to be “on the same page” as their students. This was evident when we walked through the different areas of the school and I saw the same value-laden messages in several different places.

From Namadgi, most students will attend Tuggeranong, Erindale or Narrabundah Colleges, or sometimes CIT, depending on which pathway suits the needs of each individual student. Gareth tells me that the school specialises in pathways and smooth transitions to better equip the students, while emphasis is also given to equipping the staff. He explains that there is a program for the staff, where they can draw on internal skills and knowledge. In-house, a ‘Lighthouse” person can also share their expertise with other staff. There are many early career teachers here too, so such a program not only means working within the school but also cleverly utilising the skills that its staff members bring to the table.

Namadgi offers a “hub”, a pastoral care system where students who find themselves straying can re-engage with learning, and where gifted and talented students can also receive mentoring. There are programs provided by outside agencies too to enhance the offerings at the school. Such programs are offered by the Police Community Youth Club (PCYC), and the Men’s Link programs.

The school has around 100 students who identify as indigenous and there are programs which enhance indigenous education. The school has undergone an Indigenous Education Audit and thus, they are now actively seeking to engage parents and families to get involved. There’s a homework club and through MALPA there are health messages, both physical and mental, and avenues are created for paid employment for parents. Gareth sees Namadgi as a conduit, sharing cultural heritage stories.

As for the future, he remains inspired. He says:

“Everyone is a powerful force for change. Everyone in the school can contribute to this; students, staff and parents.”

After eight years of positive feedback, there is now strong student/family engagement and Namadgi has now become a school of choice. Why should students come here to be educated?

  • The school is investing heavily in STEM;
  • There is a 21st Century design in the skills developed here; and
  • The school offers a strong Arts program, particularly in dance, where students can learn dance styles like hip-hop and even find a teacher who led a team to the national dance awards!

Gareth follows the research conducted by John Hattie regarding visible learning:

“Visible Learning means an enhanced role for teachers as they become evaluators of their own teaching. According to John Hattie, Visible Learning and Teaching occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers.”

Two top priorities for Namadgi going into the future are: “Wellbeing and Engagement”, and Gareth tells me, thanks to the staff, they are well on their way.

Namadgi School

141 O’Halloran Circuit, Kambah ACT.

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I like many wanted to sell the positives of Namadgi School to encourage students and teachers to stick with the school. But my first hand experience with kids from the school and nephews and nieces tells me different.

It’s no good saying everything is Rosy when the evidence is saying the opposite.

Education Performances at Namadgi are declining each year, the schools rating against other schools in ACT and Australia has gone backwards, student enrolments have declined and behavioural incidents have increased.

Ignoring key indicators like these will not help the situation in the long term. Sometimes hard facts have to be faced head on.

The ACT Government has a track record of only oiling the squeaky Education wheel. For the sake of the kids who aren’t doing as well as others at the school, something needs to change and the Education directorate and the Education Minister needs to lift improving the school into the highest priority list (not leave it at Priority Ignore).

Taylor is only half full and will likely need to expand.
However I’m sure there will be a push to fill up Namadgi.

Urambi seemed to have the better facilities of the schools much larger than Taylor school.
I guess the deciding factor was the land value under each school, rather than the education value within.

Interesting that 100 students who identify as indigenous all go to the one school. What might be the attendance at surrounding schools?

Southerly_views11:22 am 29 May 18

Our daughters moved across to Namadgi from Urambi Primary (after it and others were closed by the govt) and have attended Namadgi since day one. They have both blossomed at Namadgi due to the dedication of different teachers over the last few years along with the many new facilities and activities available at the school.

Namadgi draws students from a very diverse catchment of suburbs and many parents in the early years did not wish to acknowledge that it takes a year or two to smooth out the inevitable issues that arise within a brand new school.

People also tend to forget the major disruption to Namadgi staff & students over the two years when the government closed Mt Taylor and moved the entire school to the Namadgi Senior School until Taylor was rebuilt. Many of the students now in the upper years of Taylor actually studied at Namadgi so the comparison is not so straight forward.

In a similar vein Natplan and My Schools results do not give a true picture and tend to reflect the greater diversity of the students attending Namadgi. There have been challenges at Namadgi but we as a family have persevered and despite some teenage growing pains our two daughters have been continually supported by Namadgi staff to achieve well above all our expectations. Their teachers have assisted them (even after school hours) and introduced them to a range of external courses and activities that have greatly enhanced their learning opportunities at local colleges and universities while still attending Namadgi.

Mr Richards and his staff are really putting in the effort and the ACT Government needs to recognise this and increase their funding and support for the Namadgi school, the teachers and the students.

Great to hear your story Southerly_views. I had had too many first hand negatives that make it a very difficult situation to manage. What I wholeheartedly agree with is the ACT Government needs to work even harder at this school to ensure the best teachers come to the school, the best teachers stay at the school and that students get the best opportunity to learn.

The social impact of closing 3 Primary schools, 2 Pre Schools and a High school in the single suburb of Kambah was massive. I don’t think the ACT Government properly factored in these impacts, particularly around how the changes would discourage young families from moving to the suburb and the ongoing demographic issues this would create.

Well said and I couldn’t agree more. My two girls are doing very well there. The staff, kids and parents are all amazing.

Look I’m really sorry to highlight this because I tried to talk up Namadgi School for the first few years to help get it started.

But the sad facts are that education performances have decreased every year, enrolment is at just 50% whilst nearby Taylor is up at 90% and too many teachers and kids are leaving the school for other public and private schools in Weston Creek and Woden.

Mr Richards needs the ACT Government and the Education directorate to prioritise this school for the best teachers available in canberra and the best discipline management.

I hear too many bad stories from students, teachers and former teachers. ACT Government closed all these schools in Kambah and just walked away expecting others to pick up the pieces.

I disagree. I see very little staff movement from this school – my kids have been going there for 4 years now. The teaching is second to none. All the parents I talk to love it there The P&C are very active. And the sense of community is amazing. I also hear the gossip about how terrible namadgi is and it generally absolute rubbish or an over exaggerated story. And the sad thing is that this gossip just makes it harder for kids like mine. It is unuseful and damages the academic confidence of namadgi kids.

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