John Green, Tasmanian Regional Meeting.
It seems to me that there is never a normal year at The Friends’ School.
In all my reports to the Yearly Meeting I have always been able to describe remarkable achievements by members of the School community as well as significant improvements, additions and changes to our facilities, curriculum and practices. The year 2011 has been no exception.
For me these exciting things are enhanced because they happen in the context of a school working with Quaker principles and practices.
Last year I told of my visits to Quaker schools elsewhere in the world. I described the delight I felt about not only the common aspects and attributes I found but also the positive impact those schools produce on the way their students view themselves and the way they relate to the world about them. The emphasis on the intrinsic worth of each person, the constant use of reflection and encouragement of critical thinking all contribute to the academic success of students attending Quaker schools
While I am justifiably delighted with the academic achievements of Friends’ students, I am even more proud of theway they let their lives speak.
Reports to Yearly Meeting, quite naturally, tend to be about the facts of what has happened during theyear. As such, perhaps the past is given too much emphasis. The reason I say this is that while those working in the School are informed by the past, in practice they should be more focused on the present and the future.
The Quaker belief that we should constantly be open to sources of new revelations and knowledge should guide Quaker schools towards focusing on the present. An openness to new knowledge encouraged Quaker schools to be cutting edge institutions. Quaker schools pioneered co-education as well as the introduction of subjects and practices that while revolutionary at the time are now commonly accepted in modern education.
But even today that openness to new knowledge still feeds, within The Friends’ School, a pioneering spirit and a constant desire for improvement.
On a personal level, as the year progressed, I have had to work at keeping my thoughts focused beyond2012. Only by thinking beyond 2012 can I feel more confident about making better decisions for the school’s future. It also helps me dispel the temptation of avoiding the execution of difficult decisions and reviews in favour of a more comfortable final year as the School’s Principal.
Meanwhile, the work of recruiting a new Principal is underway and I hope we will hold in the Light all those involved in the process, for I believe the task may not be an easy one.The number and range of responsibilities listed in the Principal’s employment contract is extensive. The list of skills is lengthy and the description of desired experience wide ranging. Ideally the wide range of experience includes being a Quaker, but we know the population of Quakers is not large.
I feel sure that over the last 125 years, the almost unbroken line of Quaker Heads and Principals has been a pivotal factor in the School’s success and spiritual strength. So I pray we will be able to attract applications from Quakers with the necessary skills and experience.
The size of The Friends’ School community continues to grow. We now have more than 250 employees across a number of core and non-core activities, 1,320 K to 12 students and about 2,000 parents. Any increase in those numbers puts added pressure on our administration and bureaucracy. The solution is often to relieve the pressure by increasing the administration with bolt-ons to cover either new compliance measures or overworked talents at any one time. However, ad hoc additions may not give us the optimum administration in terms of size, defined responsibilities or spread of talents.
A further level of complexity for the School administration is the need to manage a number of satelliteentities that include not only boarding houses but also health and fitness, childcare and outdoor education centres, each of which serves a large number of people in the wider non-school community.These centres provide the School with wonderfully rich learning facilities while at the same time providing us with a strong outreach into the wider community – an outreach that helps build the positive image of the School through being a provider to a wide spectrum of the community as a whole.
However, these enterprises are not minor or inconsequential activities that can be left to run as best theycan, because together their use of resources and their incomes are measured in multiples of millions of dollars. As such they need initially to be carefully and skilfully managed by the School’s senior managers and ultimately the Board.
As it has been a number of years since our last comprehensive review of the School’s administrationstructure we have decided to reassess the structure with the aim of gaining a more optimal marriage of our talents and long-term needs.
Many good things have happened at The Friends’ School during the last twelve months but I want to describe just two events that will positively impact on the long-term wellbeing of the School and its community.
The first was the official opening of The Farrall Centre in February. We started serious planning of this ambitious project in 2004 when we included in the Argyle Street master plan a school hall large enough to allow whole sections of the School to gather.At the time, given our resources and the need to first complete some serious improvements throughout the School, we hoped to have the centre in place by early 2013. Inspired by the result of an architectural competition, the Board decided to devote the School’s 2008 surplus to advance the concept plans to construction plans and instructed the Principal and Development Office to initiate a fundraising campaign for the project.
Both those processes were underway when the Australian Government announced economic stimulus grants to all Australian primary schools for building new school halls or libraries. The grant, along with many individual financial donations from members of our own community, allowed us to fast-track the project and complete the centre in late 2010.
The School was very fortunate because without having completed so much preliminary work we could not have applied the Federal grant, with its tight time frames, to such a large and complex project.
The centre with its auditorium, kitchen, music practice rooms and gallery spaces has proved a great success. Already there are ten curriculum and co-curriculum activities timetabled on a weekly basis. Since its completion 11 months ago, it has hosted 12 major school and after-school events and 15 external community organisations have staged activities in the centre. In July ABC Classic FM took advantage of the auditorium’s outstanding acoustics to broadcast four live concerts to the nation.
It will, of course, also be a wonderful venue whenever Tasmania Regional Meeting hosts Yearly Meeting.
The second significant event this year has been the establishment of The Mather Foundation. The Mather Foundation is independent of the School but its sole purpose is to support the activities of the School, particularly with financing scholarships and bursaries for those who would not otherwise be ableto attend the School.
As a large school we have been better resourced than smaller schools to support our refugee students, African Quaker scholar, Indigenous and special needs students. Obviously the number of young people that can be supported from bursaries is finite and can only increase if The Friends’ School can attract greater funds from philanthropic giving. If we fail in this task, the rapidly increasing cost base of providing quality education will make it impossible for the School to maintain socio-economic and cultural diversity. However, the incredibly generous donation by the Brice family to The Mather Foundation has already started to transform the School’s capacity to be more inclusive.
We know that The Friends’ School has and will continue to transform the lives of many.
In an ideal world there should be no economic barriers to families and students wishing to take advantage of a Quaker education, and thanks to The Mather Foundation we have taken a step closer to that ideal.