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The super principals fixing underperforming schools

Mar 27, 2017 by

When Gail Major arrived at Scoresby Secondary College the fences were covered with graffiti and weeds sprouted from the garden beds.There were even bigger issues in the classrooms.

NAPLAN and VCE results had stalled and students had disengaged with the school’s outdated “chalk-and-talk” approach to teaching.

Families in the eastern suburb had lost confidence in their local school. The state school in an area with a booming population was losing 100 students a year.

 

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The Education Department had to act, and asked Ms Major, a principal at the high-performing Mount Waverley Secondary College, if she would take over the struggling Scoresby Secondary College. She agreed.

“I could have sat comfortably at Mount Waverley, but I had more to give,” she said. “I knew I could make a bigger difference here.

Ms Major is among the current crop of 19 “super principals” who have been head-hunted to transform the state’s underperforming schools.

Now the Andrews government is considering expanding the initiative which was launched in 2008.

These executive principals receive more money than their peers but have a proven track record of lifting academic results, improving school culture and building connections with the community.

Scoresby Secondary College has improved significantly since Ms Major arrived in October 2014.

The weeds are gone, the fence is painted, and Year 7 enrolments are up by 30 per cent. This is expected to rise.

Last year, the dux received an ATAR of 97.8, and students recorded two perfect study scores of 50 in specialist maths and physics, and 40 and above scores in maths methods and legal studies.

The school has been taking students on excursions to universities, and this year every student was accepted into the tertiary course of their choice.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority recently identified the Scoresby Secondary as one of the country’s most improved schools based on their NAPLAN results.

Ms Major attributes this transformation to having high expectations of students and teachers. “We are focusing on excellence now,” she says.

“We believe that every child has the ability to reach their best. We have had to rebuild confidence.”

The school has changed the way it teaches students.

At the start of every class, teachers write down a “learning intention” and “success criteria” on a whiteboard. This means students know exactly what is expected of them.

In English, it might be developing writing skills and completing a draft text response essay. In woodwork, it might involve designing and building a clock.

Classrooms have also been divided into three sections, with students free to move around depending on whether they want to learn in groups, independently or receive direct instructions from a teacher.

Students read for 10 minutes at the start of every English class, and take part in “journalling” where they can write creatively without the pressure of being marked. Ms Major said this has boosted student’s literacy skills.

“The students are happy and engaged,” Ms Major said. “They want to come to school.”

Principals can have a profound impact on a school.

Research by the University of Melbourne’s Dr Mick Coelli and Mike Helal found that principals significantly boost their students’ grades if they set goals, promote professional development and encourage interaction between staff.

It found that students with high-quality principals were up to two months ahead of their peers in other schools.

“Leadership is extremely important,” Dr Coelli said.

Education Minister James Merlino agrees.

“All principals play an absolutely critical role in children’s education,” he said.

“Executive Principals are proven leaders with the passion and drive to make a lasting impact on the communities they serve.”

Source: From weeds to high ATARs: The super principals fixing underperforming schools

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