31 January 2024

Pioneering days for students and staff at Canberra's newest high school, including phones switched off

| Ian Bushnell
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woman and two teenage girls in fornt of a school

Shirley Smith High School principal Leanne Pearce talks to students Aurora Bailey and Ifrah Ahmad about their new school. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Excitement levels were running high for both students and staff at Canberra’s newest public high school on Tuesday.

Not only was it the start of a new school year for students and their journey through high school, but they get to do it in a brand new modern facility and have the opportunity to set the tone for those who will follow them.

Shirley Smith High School in Kenny welcomed 81 Year 7 students and eight specialist teachers who will be pioneers in the new campus, which will eventually cater for up to 800 students in the growing area.

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Principal Rebecca Pearce may be no novice in the top job after previously leading Belconnen High but she was aware of the significance of the occasion and the responsibility of taking charge of a new campus.

She admitted to first-day nerves but was raring to get started.

“The beginning of a brand new school is something that not many people get to have an opportunity to lead in their career and I’m very excited about that,” she said.

“I’m most grateful for the support that I’ve received from the community around me.

“I also am really excited that our young people not only start their very first day of high school, which is an amazing day in itself, but they get to do it in a brand new facility with teachers who are super passionate about making sure that we meet their needs every single one of them.”

Students Ifrah Ahmad of Throsby and Aurora Bailey of Gungahlin were feeling the big day.

“I’m just really excited to be in this new school because it feels like we’re the first people bringing culture to the school,” said Ifrah.

Aurora was looking forward to making new friends and doing new activities.

But it is a big school, and the sheer size of it was a little daunting for them.

“We might need maps to figure out where we’re going, but other than that, it’s cool,” Aurora said.

Both of them will be able to have input into how the school will operate, part of a philosophy of allowing students to have a voice and engage.

“We haven’t made lots of big decisions around things like house groups or, you know, like an animal or something that might represent us and we really want students to engage in that process,” she said.

“There are lots of things that we will develop alongside our students as we move through this year and in coming years.”

two high school students sitting in a classroom

Students Aurora Bailey and Ifrah Ahmed are in a new classroom. The mobile phone ban won’t be an issue for them. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

One thing students won’t be having a say on is the use of mobile phones in class – they are now banned across ACT public schools.

But that shouldn’t be a problem for Ifrah and Aurora who have taken the change in their stride, although Aurora said she wasn’t sure about her mum.

Ms Pearce said phones must be switched off completely and stowed in their bags.

She said the ban was about supporting learning, which would include lessons on the appropriate use of mobile phones.

“I think teachers have really welcomed this as an opportunity to move away from the distraction of mobile phones,” Ms Pearce said.

“If we talk through the reasoning behind decisions like this, our young people will understand that and will be able to come on board.

“It’s a process where we work together. We work with our families; we work with our young people to get it right. It won’t be perfect today. But we’ll keep working on it.

Education Minister Yvette Berry said the schools would phase in the management of mobile phone use over the term to iron out any issues.

“That will be challenging for some students, it will be challenging for teachers and it will even be challenging for some parents as well, even though the response back from parents is that that the initiative has been welcomed,” she said.

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Teacher shortages are plaguing other jurisdictions, but Ms Berry said a successful recruitment program based on providing some of the best wages and conditions in the country had put the ACT in a good position.

She said there were 266 new teachers this year, but still 26 vacancies, 15 of them permanent.

“We have a continuous recruitment program to make sure that those positions are filled and as vacancies arise that we can fill them as well,” she said.

Last year, Ms Berry launched an inquiry into numeracy and literacy standards to deal with ongoing concerns that they were slipping in ACT public schools.

She is yet to be briefed on its status but said all interviews and investigations with professionals, families and other contributors had been completed, and she expected a report early this year.

“We wanted to get it over and done with pretty quickly – short, sharp, concise – so that we can act really quickly on what the recommendations are,” she said

Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on Riotact.

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