Schools left in limbo by lack of principals

A LAUDED strategy to give unprecedented authority to 15 new ''super'' principals at the state's most disadvantaged schools has left communities in limbo before the start of the new year.

The state government has appointed just four of 15 executive principals who were to be hired on salaries of $200,000 a year in an attempt to reverse an entrenched culture of low expectations and poor results. They are offered a $50,000 performance bonus at the end of their contract, making them the highest-paid public principals in the state.

The program will predominantly run in schools in the far west such as Wilcannia, Walgett and Bourke, but also in two schools in Taree.

However, school communities in towns such as Boggabilla are angry incumbent principals have been removed before a permanent replacement is found.

Retired principals are among those who have been called in to serve as interim replacements.

The president of the Secondary Principals' Council, Lila Mularczyk, said it was vital for permanent appointments to be made as soon as possible.

''School communities need to be settled and everyone involved needs to know where they are going to be and what leadership is in place,'' she said.

Noel Beddoe, an Aboriginal education activist, said the state government was attempting to provide a vital community service through its new Connected Communities strategy.

Under the strategy, new principals will co-ordinate a range of health, community and early education services. Police may be stationed in schools but would report to the principal.

However, Mr Beddoe said he did not think it was wise to remove principals such as Denise Burke from Boggabilla Central School until a permanent replacement could be found.

''Denise did a wonderful job under extremely difficult circumstances,'' he said. ''We are now looking at Boggabilla having three principals in six months when what that community needs is continuity and confidence.''

Dennis Dennison, who has been involved with the Aboriginal Education Consulting Group in Boggabilla and whose granddaughter attends the school, said Ms Burke had been an excellent principal.

The NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, said all principals were given the opportunity to reapply for their positions and one, at Bourke Public School, had been reappointed.

He said many of the schools had been let down in the past because it was difficult to recruit the best staff. ''Now we will have the highest-paid principals in the toughest schools in the state.''

‘‘We have taken a deliberate approach with this strategy in making sure we have the best people possible, not the best applicants,’’ Mr Piccoli said.

‘‘We are setting the bar very high. That is why we only have four permanent [placements], of the 15.

‘‘We hope to have more in place by third term next year.’’

Mr Piccoli said principals in some Sydney schools and some in retirement, had been ‘‘tapped on the shoulder’’ to work as interim principals from the start of the new school year.

He said many of the schools had been let down in the past because it was difficult to recruit the best staff.
He said panels including school community representatives had been involved in making decisions about the selection of school principals.

"The whole point of Connected Communities is that we are listing to what the community wants," Mr Piccoli said.
"People in those communities are thrilled that the government is actually listening to them and doing what they are asking for.

"Some adult egos have taken a hit over these changes but this is not about adult egos, it's about what's in the best interest of children."

The story Schools left in limbo by lack of principals first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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