The Pyrenees region of the state has established a strong cluster approach across a group of small rural schools to ensure that their students are provided with a high quality education into the future, and their staff have access to quality professional conversations with their peers.
In existence for over thirty years, the Pyrenees Cluster has evolved over time, to become a cluster that is founded on the basis of common needs, shared vision and collegiality.
However, despite a long history, it has only been within the last five years that the Pyrenees Cluster has become truly dynamic; by re-imagining, designing and enacting a shared education vision for their respective communities.
Strong student outcomes and education is central to what we are doing here, but it’s bigger than that. For us as school leaders, we know that our strategic planning and creative delivery can ensure our local communities are sustained. In fact, we know that they can not only survive, but ultimately, thrive.
Comprising seven small schools: Amphitheatre, Elmhurst, Landsborough, Moonambel, Natte Yallock, Navarre and Trawalla, the cluster has a combined enrolment of 64 students.
Three of the schools share a Business Manager, based on the premise of continuity and the fact that it is easier to offer employment to someone on the basis of three days per week as opposed to one.
In a similar fashion, the Japanese teacher is employed across the cluster and most curriculum areas are designed and in some way, delivered in this way, cross-cluster.
The initial focus of the Pyrenees cluster has centred on curriculum leadership and learning ensuring that not only is there a diverse and engaging curriculum able to be delivered to all students within the cluster, but teachers are also able to support each other in their professional growth through this cluster approach.
To achieve a strong cluster approach, it draws upon their pool of staff expertise and subsequently have developed a whole-of-cluster plan for leading key curriculum areas. For example education leadership roles have been developed with some including,
- Helen Morris, principal at Landsborough Primary School, with her expertise in the English curriculum has developed a whole cluster plan for literacy.
- Lloyd Kennedy at Natte Yallock P.S has a passion for science and technology which has seen him guide the cluster across these curriculum areas and ultimately, enter a cluster team into the annual Energy Breakthrough program (with the Pyrenees cluster team placing Runners Up in 2016).
- Sue Slater, Principal at Navarre P.S, assumes a role within the cluster of graduate teacher support. With the cluster schools being predominantly two teacher schools, comprising a teaching Principal and a graduate teacher, the cluster identified a need to mentor and support their graduate teachers and aide them in meeting their VIT registration requirements, provide high quality professional learning, provide strong mentoring, supporting quality teaching and learning conversations, amongst other things.
- Cindy Veitch, principal at Moonambel PS, has an overall teaching and learning leadership role focusing on maths, providing valuable support for staff across the cluster.
- Katrina Morcombe, principal at Trawalla PS provides a cluster wellbeing and professional learning leadership for all the staff of the cluster.
To support this, the cluster has made a commitment to facilitating three student cluster days each term. Rotating school locations, the students meet and spend time focused on particular subjects and projects. Whether it be student-based research projects for an upcoming camp, P.E lessons whereby students can formulate teams with age appropriate peers, or a science lesson where students further refine their cluster-based Energy Breakthrough program, these days are an important opportunity for staff and students to provide a greater depth to their already rich education provision.
Kathy Parmenter, Principal at Amphitheatre P.S notes
“Secondary school principals have commented that the students transitioning from our cluster always integrate quickly and function well. There is a common misconception that students from small schools are not well prepared for a larger environment and are not as socially adept. In fact, we find that our students are quite adaptable and resilient based on the way in which they have had to be flexible in working both within and beyond their own immediate school population”.
School camps are shared, Grade Six t-shirts are cluster designed and when an Acting Principal was appointed in one of the schools last year, the six other principals within the cluster made it their job to support her.
The cluster approach is not only reliant on lots of good-will and a shared vision, but is underpinned by a Memorandum of Understanding.
As Kathy explains,
“All of the school councils and communities support and endorse this agreement. As a cluster, we decided that we didn’t want to risk our work if there were a number of staff changes in quick succession. We have all been eager to make a commitment for the benefit of our collective students. We don’t compete with each other”.
Last term, three of the seven school principals within the cluster were on leave, and the cluster did not slow in it’s work, or progress.
In fact, one of the strongest indicators of their cluster success is that staff indicate that they feel strongly supported in their roles by education leaders, and their communities across all schools.
This can be partly explained by the once-a-month cluster meetings of staff and the cluster’s collective commitment to ongoing professional development, addressing the professional isolation that can often be experienced in small rural education communities.
Going forward, the Pyrenees cluster is able to readily outline the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Student enrolments across the cluster do fluctuate, which can cause headaches and in any given year, up to 25% of students may come or go, based on a somewhat transient population.
To ensure there is an accurate picture of student performance across the cluster, the Pyrenees cluster ‘pool’ their NAPLAN data together to get a better picture of their impact.
Streamlining paperwork by doing their Annual Implementation Plan together and then ‘tweaking it’ for their own school, the cluster principals are determined to minimise their administrivia thus allowing for a greater focus on student learning.
Going into a review year in 2018, the cluster remain committed to their work and are eager to measure their impact and to further ensure that not only are each of the school’s future’s bright, but that the student outcomes ensure that the future of the youth within the Pyrenees Cluster of schools is bright too.