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.
141 O’Halloran Circuit, Kambah ACT.