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Have you crossed the drawbridge?

Sue Fairley

My role this morning is to extend a challenge for parents and community to become more involved in the education of their children. We don't only have a right to be involved, we have responsibility

For many years schools were like castles in the air, surrounded by a moat with the drawbridge up.

In 1989 the Education Department decided to lower the drawbridge and invite parents and community to cross. Unfortunately only a, few took up the offer and although numbers are increasing there is a long way to go before we can truly say that everyone is traversing the drawbridge. To enable this to happen we need to create schools that have a welcoming and comforting environment for all. Schools that are open and honest.

Schools must become part of the community not apart from them. We need to create a community that encourages the potential within all of us to enhance our learning and capacity to contribute. Schools must be linked to community practices (e.g. community expectations, attitudes and perceptions of literacy are often different from school practices). They must meet the needs of local students through a community based syllabus which also addresses their local circumstances. Dialogue between communities and schools is vital.

Communities and schools need to acknowledge the value of caring and nurturing provided by families and to better support the contributions made through unpaid work in households and communities and in family business and farnl1s especially by women. We should value and use the resources of families which are surrounded by informal and formal networks. These are provided by relatives and friends, government and community based services, schools, children's services such as childcare and kindergartens, workplaces, and religious, sporting and community based organisations. Well resourced families and their networks are the foundation for healthy communities.

Community support for single parents and disadvantaged families is essential.

  • "How might we address the locational disadvantages of job scarcity, few accessible community and health services, poor public transport, reduced access to education and training facilities and opportunities, limited access to childcare, aged care and disability services, which affect families in rural and remote communities?"'
  • "What are good models of community based action which validate people and build on their own resources, rather than denigrate them as "inadequate"?'
  • "How can Education in the schools, through the media and other community outlets better prepare our youth for the dual roles of caring and employment?"'

Communities and the Education system need to value and encourage effort and excellence across the diverse range of human skills and achievements. Our most dynamic and productive force in our nation right now and our most valuable r resource as we head into the next millennium is our young people.

The greatest resource in any community in Queensland right now be it rural or urban is the totally untapped potential of our youth. The Education Department and our teachers are valiantly trying to hold the line. The Leading Schools concept aims to focus on improving learning outcomes for our children and is beginning to bite. It is these elements of Leading Schools that I wholeheartedly support along with the increased opportunities for parental and community input. The success of our children's education will only be achieved with the total support and commitment of parents and the community in general.

Do not get me wrong, there are many wonderful parents getting involved in very special ways in their school communities but I believe as parents we must go beyond this and look for a means by which schools and their communities can interact in a much more meaningful, productive and cohesive way so that everyone's job be it teacher or parent becomes easier, more productive and more fulfilling for our children.

Many parents and many of you in the audience know of individual examples of positive achievements and good practices already happening. Many rural and remote communities are successfully addressing the area of Education. I can only give the Ravenshoe School case of which I’ve been personally involved. Ravenshoe is a P-12school on two campuses, 2 km apart. The secondary department is unique as it has an 80 acre working dairy farm and accommodation for 120, for camps and conferences. There are approximately 309 primary students including pre-school and 212 secondary students to year 12 from a 70km radius including the town of Mt Garnet. 50% of students travel by bus.

Ravenshoe is an extremely disadvantaged socio-economic area with agriculture, a plantation pine mill and social security for it's economic base. The latest ABS statistics showed we had the lowest per capita income north of Mackay apart from Aurukun and Mornington Island.

There is a high level of unemployment and very limited range of professional services. Ravenshoe as many of you will remember was severely affected by world heritage listing when the main industry was selective harvesting and milling of rain forest timbers. The school community however, have a number of spirited Indiana Jones' and through them I we have achieved a number of goals set.

In 1989 our P & C put together a response to the Education Department's "Have your Say" and twelve months later conducted a Review of Needs. Of the needs expressed in those papers, many have been addressed thanks to parent and community advocacy and action.

Some of the accomplishments Ravenshoe School have benefited from by community participation are:-

  • Deputy Principal -not previously allocated as a position to P-12 schools. Music Specialist - no such person existed and after teaching music on a voluntary basis for three years, I and others successfully achieved an appointment of a music specialist as a permanent position. This was originally with PCAP assistance before being taken over by the Department. The school now has a state of the art music department where students even cut their own CD's.
  • 'More than Memories' the history of 50 local pioneers was a year 5 project funded by PCAP which produced an excellent 75 page book which sold 1000 copies.
  • We effectively lobbied the government for the purchase of St Barnabas (an ex boarding school) for our secondary campus. It includes an 80 acre working dairy farm and accommodation for 120, for conferences and camps. (Not bad for a State School)
  • Tele-learning was introduced to broaden opportunities for students. This links three high schools on the Tableland to teach Japanese to years 11 and 12 and is currently looking at other areas to broaden student subject offerings.
  • Ravenshoe House, a TAFE training facility utilising surplus buildings and a New bus access road and parking area. These facilities were made possible in partnership with the local Council.
  • We conducted a Major Cluster Literacy project out of which benefits have included the employment of a Parent Literacy Liaison Officer and the setting up of a cluster Parent Resource Centre.
  • Currently a large undercover area is being enclosed for a multipurpose sports and recreation centre. This is a result of a Cooperative Community Project which includes the School P & C, local Council and Education Queensland.
  • A successful Mentor Program was run for two years preparing Year II and 12 students for the transition to work or for further study.
  • A PASS Program - (parent Awareness Skilling and Sharing) aimed at inservicing parents, especially disadvantaged parents was very beneficial.

These are just some of our achievements and I want to stress that no success is ever just one person -support is needed from others and it is a team effort. We've been fortunate to have a great team which consist of a number of very dynamic people involved including our Mayor who is definitely an Indiana Jones type character. She was also our P & C President for a number of years (very handy).

We couldn't have achieved a great number of these benefits if it wasn't for PCAP funding. (PCAP Priority country Area Program) For those of you who don't know about PCAP, I would encourage you to have a look at the display in the foyer and the brochure in your folders.

What I would like to emphasise though is my firm belief that this community based program is an excellent model of what we have been hearing about over the past 2 days on how effective community partnerships can work so well to address locally identified needs. Personally I have found this to be the most rewarding area of my involvement with education - at a local, regional and state level, enabling me as a parent and community person to make a difference and provide opportunities for not only my own children but also all the children in geographically isolated areas throughout the State. Even with all the wonderful efforts to date though, not only in Ravenshoe but in rural and remote communities in general, we still have a distance to travel. We need to change attitudes. Teachers are not the only educators. We must accept that parents (who are our children's first educators) and community members are also vital educators in the learning process.

How often do we now hear the terms "involvement" and "participation"? I'd like to share with you a little story about 'involvement' and 'participation'?

The hen came up to the pig and said "we have to provide breakfast tomorrow for the family, I'll provide the eggs and you provide the bacon. The pig said -"No way! ! ! You just have to be involved ---*I have to have genuine participation! ! ! !

The Rural Strategies Report which was commissioned by PCAP made a number of suggestions on how communities could participate and one of these is the need for - communities to introduce a process to ensure new staff and parents are warmly welcomed and included. Inclusive practices lead to effective partnerships.

Let's explore the concept of establishing community schools where you have seamless interface and shared resources between the school and the community, where parents have no inhibitions about coming into schools, where teachers and students have resources to commit to a community based education which meet their students' future needs. "In order to develop skills for the future, we must ironically look to the past and remember the Good Old Days. Memory was the most important intelligence in the past. Now we need more information retrieval, creative problem solving and strategising skills. We are in a changing society dealing with the uncertainty that change brings.'


I felt the following quotes were relevant to our theme for the workshops.

Quote from Dr Jennifer James
"We've walked on the moon, but we are still struggling with issues of diversity. We can get to China in a day and talk to anyone in the world in a minute, but we still have difficulty communicating effectively with each other. We still have to remind ourselves to stay open to the future or you will be a lost relic of the past, incapable of dealing with the issues of the now."
"Stay open to new information and tackle things in new ways. When things are changing, we need to change too."

Margaret Mead.
"Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. "

However, as you can see, there are many cases where it is obvious that:-

  • One parent can make a difference. Some parents can make a change.
  • Many parents can produce a powerful future for our children.
  • I show my children more by being a responsible, caring member of society than by leading a life that is totally devoted to their welfare.
  • We need to develop a community that encourages the potential within all of us to enhance our learning and capacity to contribute at all levels. We also need to value every resource in the community and acknowledge the whole range of skills, abilities and circumstances.
  • Finding real meaning and purpose to make a difference to the creation of a better, more vital and hopeful community is a responsibility for us all.
  • My challenge as one parent who has experienced the full scope of education from pre-school to year 12, is to say to you as fellow parents and community members.
  • Our children and their futures and lives are so very precious, we can no longer leave their development to chance in the hope that someone else will get it right, albeit that someone might be our trusted Principals and teachers, but surely it is far better for all involved if in spite of the business and the complexities of our daily lives, that we devote quality time to ensuring and enriching the crucial partnership between school and community.
  • Are you aware the drawbridge is down? Have you ventured to the edge?

Have you travelled across?

We each need to look inside ourselves and look at the future of our country and more importantly the future of our youth and our local communities and simply ask ourselves: Am I doing enough!

Points that may assist schools and communities

  • Need to value education.
  • Need to be more responsive of their responsibility to support schools and their youth.
  • Offer incentives and rewards for students positive behaviour
  • Do all to encourage achievements, student participation in community events-
  • Cater for their out of school needs. i.e. youth clubs, internet cafes, etc. Conduct Neighbourhood meetings and identify positives and negatives. Establish shared visions and goals.
  • Informative newsletter also accessible by wider community. Surveys to gauge student, teacher and parent input
  • P & Cs to become more inclusive change focus from mainly fund-raising to facilitating and advocating for parents community and student needs. Put in place a program to welcome and nurture old and new teachers and staff and parents.
  • Encourage community members of utilise their skills to broaden the opportunities for, students.
  • parent/teacher regular get togethers.
  • Social events, students, staff, teachers, parents, community. School liaison officers providing contact, support.
  • In-servicing of parents and community members. Effective school councils
  • Open days.
  • Media coverage, radio and press.
  • Good practice stories, currently some seem to be (very good at knocking kids) lets really flaunt the positives.
  • Parent rooms and resource centres (library), open door policy.
  • Informal parent support groups i.e. (class) (p-3) (parents of disabled children).
  • Community based subjects and syllabus.
  • Community input in Internet and technology usage and access. Set up things like homework hotline.
  • Work together.
  • Pool resources and share facilities.
  • Council, community and school combined projects ie. pools, halls, sports facilities etc.
  • Government departments need to co-operate more with schools. Governments need to really look at provision of equitable circumstances for families ie. access to social works, access to specialists ie. special access to work experience and work opportunities.
  • Repercussions of closing services as they have a spiralling effect in the community and fewer children mean fewer teachers and staff, therefore fewer opportunities.
  • Councils need to be inclusive of their schools and do more for their youth.
  • People will be more keen to come and stay in a community that caters for families.
  • Eliminate excuses.
  • Focus on Positives -importance of positive attitudes. Easy to criticise and complain but how many act to rectify the situation.
  • People make a difference.
  • Importance of setting standards and boundaries and of consistency. Inclusive of all. .Shared vision and standards.
  • Exclusive culture to an inclusive culture.
  • Recognise the need to do things differently in different communities to fit particular circumstances.
  • Good principal is not the only ingredient to a successful and effective school. Importance of a positive environment with the community right there with the Principal and staff and students (good teams). Same things that make good families make good communities. Make use of media (informative, inclusive) refer video on 'How to promote your School community". Timing, use kids rather than bureaucrats. Personalise stories.
  • Understand that sacrifices will have to be made to unselfishly be involved and proactive.
  • Believe in your ability to participate and you've capacity to achieve. Time out -recharge batteries and self indulge.
  • Importance of motivation of self and others. Need to care. .Good look at meetings. Currently often off -putting.
  • Generally people are more negative rather than positive about meetings, suggesting meetings are not working for most people. How can we change this?
  • Importance of team -need to experience something larger than self (many minds are greater than one) and no one person is usually responsible for a successful project.
  • The need to involve others, to delegate and share responsibilities. Power of pooling expertise, skills, knowledge and learning to co-operate, be tolerant and accepting of others.
  • Need to be change agents not change victims. This requires positive self worth/self esteem and a belief in ones ability to achieve no matter what our backgrounds or circumstances.
  • Leaders need to move from a control mentality to a connecting, sharing role.
  • Need to engage in truthful, positive conversations not malicious, misinformed gossip.
  • Provide valid information to each other.
  • Encourage parents and community members to travel away to attend conferences and opportunities to share information.
  • Many rural and remote communities need to open their eyes and minds and change their attitudes to changes in society.
  • Do all that can be done to avoid the need to travel away from our towns and communities on a regular basis-
  • Governments need to recognise that rural and remote students need to have a choice of quality education.

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