A Message from Rev. David Barrie – Chairman of Council
Over the last three years, the disruption to school events is just one of the many challenges COVID has thrust upon us. We may not have been in lockdown of late, but the effects of the pandemic were still very much with us.
The need for teachers and students to self-isolate and a widespread teacher shortage made staffing a constant challenge. Many schools struggled even to provide adequate supervision for their students, let alone an effective learning environment.
I was amazed at how well and how quickly our school managed this challenge: Funds were swiftly deployed to secure casual staff early on; existing teachers willingly took on additional responsibilities to cover for those who were sick; and those managing the logistics of staffing and timetabling worked their spreadsheet magic to make sure our students didn’t miss out!
This year's second huge post-pandemic challenge was the need to re-establish the school's culture. So much of what makes Macarthur exceptional are the strong Christian Values on which the school is built. These values are expressed in The Macarthur Way – There are nine of them: respect, integrity, honesty, excellence, learning, self-discipline, responsibility, humility and generosity.
We aim to embody these values in the school's culture at every level. A positive school culture is something that is highly prized by parents, teachers, and students alike, yet it does not easily come by.
Over many years, the Headmaster and his team have intentionally established programs, learning experiences, pastoral-care structures, school traditions, and many other strategic initiatives to allow culture to grow organically.
And not only to grow but to be passed on from one cohort to the next. Anyone who has worked with young people will tell you culture is something that is caught rather than taught. It is passed on from student to student, from staff member to staff member. From staff to students, especially senior students to those in the grades below.
The last few years of intermittent lockdowns have resulted in postponed camps and limited extra-curricular activities. In normal times, these activities facilitate the organic growth and transmission of culture.
So, by necessity, the last 18 months has been a year of rebuilding, or more accurately, regrowing, the culture of the school. I want to commend the staff for the relational work they have done in this area, with each other and with the students, and I also want to commend our current cohort of senior students, led by our 2022 School Captain, Ayva Gibbs. You have played a critical role over these last 18 months in helping the younger students catch the vision to which we aspire as a school community.
I want to remind you that the school's culture is what we make it. This community can be an incredible force for good in our lives, but each one of us has a part to play in making that a reality.
It was emotionally draining to be isolated from each other during those periods of lockdown. All of our regular patterns of social interaction were disrupted. And it takes a lot more energy to establish a new routine than to carry on with an existing one.
Some of us felt the impact of this in 2020 or 2021, but I think 2022 was the year when the pandemic fatigue finally caught up – I know that was true for me personally.
I want to commend Dr Nockles and his team for spotting this danger early. Back in mid-2021, the Headmaster came to School Council with a plan for further expanding the pastoral care capacity of the school.
He helped us see that the mental health challenges of the pandemic were far from over and that an additional investment in student wellbeing and mental health was a priority. The School Council was happy to approve that extra spending, and we have seen the benefit of this new initiative in so many ways this year.
These challenges I have mentioned were common to all schools in the State. Everyone faced the teacher shortage, everyone faced the need to reestablish culture, and every school faced the mental health challenge. However, Macarthur has distinguished itself in responding to these needs. I have never been so proud of our school and thankful that my children are enrolled here.
I think our school’s response to the pandemic is a big part of why enrolments are so strong. The broader community has seen what is on offer at Macarthur and wants that for their children.
Of course, this has created a fourth challenge – that of space – where do we put all of these new students?! Actually, we have truckloads of space – what we needed was more buildings….
2022 saw the official opening of the largest building program the school has ever undertaken. The Warren Integrated Studies HUB, a $16 million building project, is now complete! What a magnificent teaching and learning space it is!
But there has been no time to stop and bask in the glory of it. In 2023 the next building project is underway with a significant $6 million extension and refurbishment of the Junior School buildings. And God willing, there will be more to come after that.
All this building activity is reflective of the health of the school. This is not an “if we build it, they will come” strategy. These new facilities reflect current demand and the School Council’s desire to provide our students with the highest quality learning environment.
II would like to thank the members of the School Council for their hard work and diligence throughout the year. They are a very capable group of people, making chairing the meetings both a joy and a challenge.
Our job as a School Council is made much easier due to the exceptional nature of the executive staff team. As you may recall, our Headmaster undertook study leave during the first term this year. Mr. Kokic very ably filled the role of acting Headmaster with the support of the rest of the executive team.
Mr Kokic, did a tremendous job steering the school through yet another trying period. His 25 years at the school, including 13 as Deputy, have given him a depth of experience and intimate knowledge of how the School works. He is an invaluable leader and 2IC to the Headmaster.
When the flooding did hit in the first term, Mr Kokic took it in his stride, despite having Covid himself. He made the hard decisions and got the job done with professionalism and minimal fuss. Mr Kokic, thank you for leading the school with such wisdom, skill and love this year. We are all grateful for the godly leader that you are.
As a school, we are blessed to have a Headmaster of such Christian maturity and professional capacity. Dr Nockles’ educational insight, genuine pastoral concern for staff and students, operational proficiency, and godly example are evident every week.
The wonderful culture that we enjoy at Macarthur hasn’t come about by chance. Over his 14 years as Headmaster, Dr Nockles has cast a vision of what the school could be, and he has put systems and structures in place which have allowed students and staff to rise to that high standard. He has spent countless hours educating the educators and working with his executive team to improve every aspect of school life.
It is hard to grasp the sheer scope of the Headmaster’s role until you get close. The responsibilities are vast, the pressures are constant, the problems that need to be solved are complex, and the critics are many and often misinformed.
I thank God for the capacity and resilience he has given our Headmaster. Challenges that would overwhelm most of us, Dr Nockles rises to meet repeatedly; he keeps leading with enthusiasm, relating graciously, innovating with fresh vision and serving the Lord Jesus joyfully.
The Reverend David Barrie
Chair of Council