Well! Not all NSW high schools are tragic dumps and wastes of space…

25 Nov

… as even the Murdoch press reports today. There is a positive story in The Australian highlighting Punchbowl High School, which in turn had been highlighted by Acting Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard.

TURNING a school’s fortunes around requires more than chalk and talk. First you have to get the students to show up.

Every morning, Jihad Dib and his staff go to the train station to make sure students arrive — and stay — in the classroom.

"It’s not just chalk and talk," Mr Dib told The Australian yesterday. "It’s about stopping the temptation to truant and hang out with undesirables." …

The results speak for themselves. The school, in Sydney’s west, has grown from 270 students in 2005 to its current total of 391. Next year’s Year 7 intake will be the biggest in 10 years.

Truancy is virtually non-existent; student retention has grown by 150 per cent in four years; and more than half of the class of 2007 went on to some form of tertiary education.

Last year, attendance increased from 82 per cent to 89 per cent, just falling short of the state average of 90 per cent.

Part of the turnaround is due to what Mr Dib calls an increase in "growth" — the development of a student’s literacy and numeracy as measured by external testing. Last year, the growth rate at PBHS was three times the state average.

About 90 per cent of students come from non-English-speaking backgrounds, with more than 30 cultural groups represented, including Sierra Leone, Somalia, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

"We put literacy and numeracy in every activity, and I always ask teachers where that component is," Mr Dib said, citing the example of food technology classes, where students learn how to express and interpret data in graphs and tables…

Crucial, too, is the involvement of parents and the community. "Everybody has ownership of the school. It never used to be like that. The community used to be disengaged.

"We have 35 parents attend our parents and citizens’ monthly meeting, which is phenomenal given the size of the school."

Under the priority schools funding program, PBHS receives about $59,000 a year plus an additional teacher. "If it wasn’t for this funding we’d been struggling," Mr Dib said. "It means we can have smaller classes and access to expert teachers."

Despite PBHS’s success, Mr Dib was unsure that a controversial school reporting program would improve outcomes.

While he agreed schools must be accountable, he feared a rating system could lead to stigma and force young teachers to favour only high-ranking establishments. Any rating system had to be a "very detailed tool". "There’s a lot more to a school than what happens in the classroom," he said.

I have strongly highlighted the end of the story because that is the part governments, bureaucrats and the media should really attend to.

Listen to the guy! Carefully!

This has been one of Sydney’s least promising schools, on the face of it. Just a few years back it was getting the media treatment for other reasons:

Adam Shand: Today on Sunday, second generation Lebanese Australians, speak of life as foreigners in the land of their birth. They tell of the growing racism they perceive, their feelings of alienation and the price we all pay for this. They explain why they are angry.

Adam Houda: I see the situation escalating. I can tell you there is simmering tension within our community and they are just sick and tired of the relentless attacks upon our people and our community.

Dr Jamal Rifi: When you have people marginalised, pushed into a corner, they are going to bite back and they are going to do it in very unpredictable ways and very unpredictable fashion.

Adam Shand: The Mufti of Australia Sheik Taj Aldin Alhilali has unwittingly revived a damaging debate about the sexuality of young Muslim men. His comments likening women to uncovered meat were widely interpreted as encouraging, even inciting sexual assault.

Prue Goward: This is incitement. He should be deported.

Adam Shand: Such views reinforced the notion that Australian Lebanese men can be mobilised to criminal action by their religious leaders — that the Koran comes before the law of the land.

Mohamad el-Assaad: I don’t think anything he said incited, I can listen to Tupac if I want to, I can listen to Nickelback if I want to, if I want to follow what this guy says, that’s up to me.

Adam Shand: And you also go to the mosque and listen there as well?

Mohamad el-Assaad: I go to the mosque, here and there.

Adam Shand: Many of these young men attended Punchbowl High School in Sydney’s south-west. The school is notorious for producing a notorious group of rapists who terrorised young women in 2000. The leader of the gang Bilal Skaf, now serving a 32-year prison sentence for his crimes, is always identified as Lebanese Muslim.

Back in 2003 The Sydney Morning Herald offered: Guns, gangs, poison: a principal’s battlezone.

This was life at Punchbowl Boys’ High School for its former principal Clifford Preece: a gang member came into the school, put a gun to his head and threatened to kill him. Students armed with knives threatened their classmates. Teachers had a toxic chemical put in their kettle, were assaulted in class and faced gang invasions of classrooms.

The school’s students were to become notorious: one was convicted of murdering schoolboy Edward Lee. Three other students were jailed for gang rapes – along with their gang leader, Bilal Skaf – who was a "regular intruder" at Punchbowl Boys’.

After five years as principal of the "Punchbowl school battlefront" between 1995 and 1999, Mr Preece says his 30-year career as a teacher ended with a breakdown.

In the District Court, Mr Preece is suing the Department of Education, alleging that it failed to protect his safety, and that as a result he has developed chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and cannot work as a teacher.

Mr Preece, 53, told Judge Christopher Robison he had nightmares when he read about former students M, who killed Edward Lee, and gang rapists Tayyab Sheikh (who was sentenced to 15 years in jail) and brothers Mahmoud and Mohammed Sanoussi (11 and 21 years’ jail)…

Edward Lee, incidentally, was once a student where I worked, and many of his associates I knew well…

My point: work out for yourself how this turnaround has happened. Note what the intriguingly named current Principal had to say. People like him have the knowledge that is needed, and I am pleased Julia Gillard seems to have noted it.

And recall this is not an isolated story, as many another NSW school in difficult circumstances is battling on despite the Murdochs of this world. And despite the previous Australian government, which killed off a very active and intelligent Disadvantaged Schools Program…

In my last years at SBHS I participated in one three year research program which also included a school very like Punchbowl Boys High – six schools were involved and are not named in the research; I saw then that real progress was being made in the way teachers were conceiving their roles and implementing them. The “progressives” of parodies of contemporary education who just “facilitate” in a New Age miasma are really quite a rare species. Teachers really do teach – or so the project found – and are getting better at knowing what this involves.

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Posted by on November 25, 2008 in Australia, education, literacy


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