Home' Teacher : May 2010 Contents OUTSIDE THE SQUARE 71
it exists; and quality teaching programs can
and do make a real difference.
'I also understood that change takes
time, and while I knew that new approaches
were needed, I sat back to get a feel of what
the school was really all about. I didn't want
to be one of those principals who makes
change without knowing what really needed
'What became clear very quickly was
that the school was in crisis,' she says. 'I
needed to change the attitude of the staff,
of parents and of the community, as well as
the attitude of the children.
'I had a sense of what I needed to achieve
with the children and changing the attitude
of the student body was quite exhausting. I
introduced the principles of restorative jus-
tice and made all students responsible for
their own actions. Some conversations were
had over and over again, but the children
needed to see that I was serious about them
and wanted them to learn. The message
was constant, you are responsible for your
actions, and if you only know one way of
behaving, I will teach you a new way and
give you a new bag of tools, and then I
expect you to use them at school.
'Changing the attitudes of staff, parents
and the community was much more chal-
lenging, but identifying my support net-
works and finding those who would help me
over the hurdles kept me strong. They often
helped me to think about things in a different
way. When you're in it, you can become so
absorbed by the little things, that you need
time and perspective to see the big things too.
'I met with every single family in the
school and asked them to support me as the
decision maker. Most accepted that proposi-
tion and that was the start of a long proc-
ess,' Bridge says. 'I was feeling my way. It
was a case of "Fake it till you make it," but
ultimately the com munity did back me and
we seem to be coming out the other side.'
Bridge says the school now receives
good support from many in the commu-
nity, but adds that it's important to remem-
ber that Kalgoorlie is a mining town and
racism is common.
The problems have by no means all been
fixed. Poverty is a very real issue and trans-
port to and from school is a daily problem.
'To some in the community we're not a
real school. They don't see the value in what
we do, but there is also a lot of good will and
support. You just need to find your allies
and sell your message.
'This is particularly true among those
who see the distinction between "upper class
black fellas and lower class ones." We fall
squarely in the latter category. Many of our
students live in real poverty. You'll have a
conversation where you're told what a good
job you're doing, but the same person will
say they wouldn't send their children here.
That's okay because it's all about choice, but
we provide a service for a real need in the
community, and we make a big difference.'
Bridge recognises, however, that 'it's up
to us to change people's opinions and to
show them what we are all about.'
One of the first projects she undertook
after the Stronger Smarter Leadership Pro-
gram was to change the school logo and its
motto. The logo now features a returning
boomerang and black and white hands,
and the formal motto is 'Respect and
Responsibility.' The promoted motto is
'Deadly and Smart,' which celebrates being
'Young, Black and Deadly,' and the school
undertook a strong marketing campaign to
explain it to the community.
'Being deadly means that you're proud
to be Aboriginal and that you can achieve
whatever you want to achieve. The smart
part is about doing things smart, being
as smart as every other kid in every other
school, achieving your potential and mak-
ing the most of the opportunities you've got.
'While our kids don't necessarily fit in at
other schools, they certainly feel valued and
proud here at East Kalgoorlie.' Their pride is
reflected in attendance figures. 'Attendance
for some students has risen from less than
50 per cent to 70 per cent, and that's a huge
shift,' Bridge says.
'Because of their circumstances, many of
our kids come to school already disengaged
from school. We have 25 kids enrolled in
Years 4 to 7 and only three of them have
been with us since 2006.
'It's our job to get them engaged. We do
this by encouraging all children in Years 4
to 7 to be role models. They see themselves,
and we see them, as leaders. Every child in
Years 4 to 7 is given responsibility and we
expect them to fulfill those responsibilities.'
The same is true of the school council.
The community realises that it has a voice,
and community members now participate
and support the school. They're keen to
develop a school community agreement to
ensure that their voice continues when there
is a change of leadership.
'Stronger Smarter helped me find my way
again and focus on what I really believed
about being Aboriginal and learning suc-
cessfully at school,' says Bridge. 'It helped
give me the strength and sense of purpose
to navigate a way through what seemed like
impossible obstacles to become recognised as
a Dare to Lead nationalschool ofexcellence.
'It taught me that when you always have
a moral purpose to your leadership you'll
always succeed in the end because you're
doing things for the right reasons. I no
longer want to quit, I love my job, my school
and the kids. East Kalgoorlie is a great place
John Roubicek is a freelance journ alist and
feature writer. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published by the
Stronger Smarte r Institute in the Stronger
Sm arter Stories section of its website.
Reproduced with kind permission.
Donna Bridge, East Kalgoorlie Prim ary
School and the Stronger Smarter Leadership
Program were highlighted a s a case study in
the Prime Minister's 2010 Closing the Gap
For a video interview with Donn a Bride
or for more Stronger Sm arter Stories, visit
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