The SSTUWA visited Northam SHS as part of Midlands visit late March.
There was a great turn-out at morning tea, with a wonderful welcome from the Principal and long-term union member, John Pisan, as well as union rep. Guy Salvidge and DP Ron De Boer.
We were shown around the beautiful, historical building by Chaplain Deon, who explained that the school is the oldest SHS outside the Metropolitan area, having been established in 1921.
There is a lot happening at Northam SHS, as explained by John when we sat down to chat.
There are many excellent programs, including excellent and award-winning Indigenous school-based ones such as Follow Your Dream, all necessary given the 45% Indigenous student population.
John’s varied history includes being Principal of Distance Education and also a secondment to Fiji. He said that, when he came to Northam SHS, he didn’t come “...without prior knowledge.”
“ In some ways, this isn’t an easy school. But I will tell you that one thing I found out about the school here is that the kids are just fabulous and I think that, if I can leave anything behind here, it’s that I don’t think that you can ever do enough for these kids because a lot of them live in poverty. For a lot of them the best thing that ever happens to them is that they actually come to school.
“We’ve got them in school uniform now (we’ve clothed a number of our students and put shoes on their feet), if we need to feed them we have breakfast in the morning (through Foodbank). Deon our Chaplain is a wonderful person and he is ‘God-sent,’ if you pardon the pun. He organises all that.
“And the parents that send their kids to this school, all they want is the best for their kids, like any good parent does.
“The staff is very, very dedicated here. We’ve taken them through a lot of PD, whether it’s been curriculum-based, or classroom management, or dealing with poverty.
“Racially, we have a zero-tolerance: very little happens and, if there are any issues, we fix it straight away. We get the parents involved. These kids play sports side-by-side, netball, basketball, football...there are few issues and we are looking at getting a Clontarf Academy here.”
What John is most excited about is the new Trade Training Centre.
“It’s a $4.2million building, part of the Federal Stimulus BER. It is a bridge between high schools and TAFE, and what can be done at the local level.
“It’s aimed at hospitality and includes a restaurant, commercial kitchens and outside decking.
“We did have an issue, initially, as these buildings here are Heritage Listed; the original drawings were submitted and, originally, rejected by the Heritage Council as the whole site is listed, not just these buildings. However it’s all sorted now and I understand that it will be completed by Dec 2010/Jan 2011.
“We chose hospitality because, over the last couple of years, there’s been a swing away from the traditional D&T, and more towards the hospitality area. When the opportunity came up, we spoke to staff, parents and kids. And, what we decided as a school community was that hospitality was probably the thing we needed most.
“When they finish here in Year 11 or 12, they will finish with a Cert. 3 in Hospitality, and TAFE will come down here and auspice that, as our registered training organisation. TAFE will also ‘borrow’ the building to deliver its Cert 4.
“We will also staff it with our own teachers as, at the moment, we have exactly the teachers we want and need: it was really the teachers here who drove this.
“We also looked at the town and what it’s geared towards. A lot of work in this town is hospitality-based, one way or another. There’s only one place in this town that has a commercial kitchen, even though we have hotels and cafes, and that’s the hospital! So the kids leave Northam to get a Cert. 4, they go to Perth and we never see them again. With this we can actually train our kids, from Cert. 1to 4, they don’t have to go to Perth and we will be helping the local businesses who are screaming for kids who have some sort of qualification in hospitality. All local schools have a vested interest in this and it was with their support that we were successful with our plans.”
Best of luck with the project, and thanks to John for the hospitality.