Rural schools up for awards

by | Jun 16, 2021 | Bush Voices

Rural educators have been acknowledged in the latest list of finalists for the Australian Education Awards for 2021.

Fran Waterman, principal of Yarrunga Primary School in Wangaratta, Victoria is one of those recognised. She joins a number of other rural educator and school nominations including:

  • Snowy Mountains Grammar School in Jindabyne in the Primary School of the Year and Regional School of the year category
  • Kangaroo Island Community Education in South Australia in the Regional School of the Year category
  • Renee Lathan from Tarrington Lutheran School in Victoria in the Primary School Teacher of the Year category
  • Sophie Sharp from Tarrington Lutheran School in Victoria in the Education Rising Star of the Year category 

Fran, who is also a CEP Board member, has been the principal at Yarrunga for four years, having taken on the role after five years as a teaching principal at Whorouly Primary School. She was nominated by members of her staff as a way of reflecting her contribution towards education. 

“This award is not just a reflection of me; it’s recognition of our school community and our young people,” Fran said.

“We are very student focused at Yarrunga and every member of staff is working collaboratively for the best interests of students at our school.”

The school has a strong therapeutic ethos to support its 160 students at their point of need and build strong partnerships with their local community. 

“We are working on the Yarrunga model. I’m not here to serve the system. We certainly take aspects from other models but if it’s not appropriate for our school and our students’ needs we don’t blindly implement it,” she said.

“There’s that juxtaposition of public perception of our school, which is historically poor, and the inclusive and collaborative approach our staff take to everything they do.

“We have an Indigenous language program and we were fortunate to get permission from Uncle Freddie Dowling to have a white person, Michael Jenkins, teach it. 

“Twenty percent of our students are Indigenous and 20 percent are in out of home care. So we’re always working on not just meeting the needs of our students but also reflecting the needs of our community.”

For Fran, joining up with Country Education Partnership was an opportunity to “champion little towns to maintain their schools and be a proud education option in their community.”

“It wasn’t until I was acting principal at Thoona Primary School (prior to Whorouly Primary School) that I heard about CEP and knew what the organisation did,” she said.

“I went to a CEP event and the conversations I had were the most genuine I had ever had in education. We were able to share our stories and listen to other fabulous stories from schools around Victoria.

“Now that I’m at Yarrunga the importance of emotional, social and physical wellbeing and taking the approach of ‘concern first and reactions later’ is very important. We can now share our model around our area and across the state through the network of people we have within CEP.”

Fran’s teaching career spans 18 years including work in metropolitan, regional and rural areas.

“Working in Melbourne was dynamic and there was much more diversity at schools and within the community but I always knew I would come back to a rural setting,” she said.

“I grew up in Rossbridge, in the west of Victoria, where my dad was the teaching principal and he was my only teacher from Prep to Year 6. Our school lives were spent as members of a tight-knit community, many of whom remain good friends. I was really blessed to have this be the foundation of my education and upbringing.

“The experiences that we had and the belonging we felt at school were really important. I don’t remember the literacy and numeracy as much as bike rides, bush walks, learning local history and the community events.”

Fran is one of eight nominees for the Government Primary School Principal of the Year Award which will be formally awarded at a ceremony in Sydney on August 27th.

A full list of award nominees can be found at the Australian Education Awards website.