Life membership for rural education advocate

by | May 1, 2021 | Bush Voices

Mark McLay has dedicated his time in school to strengthening rural education opportunities for students and staff.

Country Education Partnership deputy chair Mark McLay was recently awarded life membership to the organisation for his decades-long commitment to rural education.

Mr McLay, who is in his sixth year as principal at Pleasant Street Primary School in Ballarat, said his passion for rural education stemmed from a desire to see all students given equal opportunities to thrive.

His work has taken him to rural and remote areas of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria, where he has advocated strongly for small schools.

“I’ve been a principal since 1998. I worked for 12 years in rural and regional Northern Territory as a teacher and principal at schools in Uluru, Adelaide River and Daly River,” Mr McLay said. 

“I was in Katherine during a major flood where the school spent the first week of the school year as an emergency centre. 

“For me it’s about giving rural and regional kids every opportunity and ensuring that their location isn’t a reason as to why they’re disadvantaged.

That’s the drive for the education side of it but I’ve always also found rural communities to be very welcoming and really want the best for their children in a holistic sense.”

Mr McLay was the principal at St Arnaud Primary School from 2005 to 2015 where he developed and implemented mental health program Right Choices, which received many awards and acknowledgements. 

“I’m proud of the work I was able to do with mental health for principals and developing more professional development opportunities,” he said.

“Another highlight has definitely been the work around creating rural school clusters and getting schools across Victoria to work together.

“Looking ahead, I’m excited that CEP is putting together a new strategic plan that will match growth and professionalism of the organisation.”

Mr McLay joined CEP in 2005 and has enjoyed seeing the organisation grow to a national entity.

“Because CEP is statewide and cross-sectorial, there’s input from people in similar but different regional circumstances and we all benefit from seeing and hearing what they’re doing and how they’re supporting rural students,” he said.

“Over the last year we’ve really seen CEP’s Rural Youth Aspiration focus grow. Watching the sometimes shy rural students who are a part of it grow into confident leaders over time is a real joy.”

Country Education Partnership is a not-for-profit organisation working  to support the provision of high quality education within rural and remote communities across Australia.