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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Looking outside the school

Jenny Pyke and Mike Hobbs
Mrs Jenny Pyke is Acting Principal, Kuranda District State School. Mr Mike Hobbs is Principal, Bwcgolman Community School and former principal at Kuranda.

Look outside the school is the message from the following winner of a 2003 National Literacy and Numeracy Week award for outstanding achievement in improving literacy outcomes for their students.

This school has established partnerships with outside agencies to assist it in developing programs to improve literacy achievement. For interagency strategies to work, all participants must own the strategy, share the same vision and feel equal partners in the work of improving learning outcomes for students.

Kuranda District State School

Kuranda District State School is situated in a small town, just west of Cairns. The school community is rich in diversity of language, culture, socio-economic status and lifestyles. The total enrolment is 290 students, 39 per cent of whom are Aboriginal. Most of the Aboriginal families identify with the Djabugy culture, and the Djabugy language is taught as a LOTE in the school. Over one-third of the students speak 'Aboriginal English' as their home language; this has implications for their achievement in Standard English.

Systemic data from the Year 2 Net and Years 3, 5, and 7 tests confirmed what the school knew from internal data: that the literacy learning needs of some children, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, were not being met. The school decided to put reading 'under the microscope' and attempt to refine their pedagogy in reading by paying attention to important details, carefully examining best practices and consulting local networks.

The school recognised that improving pedagogy was important but not the whole answer. There were external influences on achievement. These included nutrition, general health and attendance. A committee was established, chaired by the Executive Director (Schools) of the Cairns and Cape District, to address the broader issues and to conduct action research into ways of improving student achievement. This committee included the principals of the primary and secondary schools, local police, social justice groups, home liaison officers from both schools, Ngoombi Co-operative representatives and representatives of other agencies within the area.

The objectives of the group were to consider the difficulties some children and families face in getting to school and accessing learning; create a presence in the school of local Aboriginal people working in administration, or as part of support and teaching staff; and develop a whole-of-government approach to coordinate better learning outcomes for students. The committee met regularly to draft a coordinated plan, set targets and timelines, and to delegate responsibility to appropriate groups or individuals.

As a result of the work of the committee, some simple strategies have been employed. Toast is available in the classrooms every morning, children are permitted to have a sleep as needed, the health worker calls at the school three times per week and hearing testing is carried out regularly. These strategies complement the pedagogical approaches, drawn from the productive pedagogies and the Literate Futures professional materials, adopted by teachers.

Formal survey information indicates high levels of satisfaction with school-community relations. More Aboriginal parents felt confident to approach the school, and the Adopt-a-Cop program is having outstanding results, with consequent improvement in attendance rates.

Jenny Pyke, Acting Principal, states: 'Our external and internal data tells a wonderful story of dramatic improvement in our students' literacy, over the past 18 months. There has also been substantial, verifiable improvement in our parent, staff and student confidence in the way literacy is taught.'

Jenny has identified the critical factors which led to this improvement. They include all participants (parents, staff, students and other community members) having a shared vision; maintaining the focus on the improvement of learning outcomes for children; and the 'willingness to drop everything to follow up emerging issues and concerns.'

Mrs Jenny Pyke - Acting Principal, Kuranda District State School
Ph (07) 40937201 email: jpyke3@equ.edu.au

Mr Mike Hobbs - Principal, Bwcgolman Community School
(former principal of Kuranda District State School)
Ph (07) 47700333 email: mhobb14@eq.edu.au

Originally published in Winning Snapshots, Queensland National Literacy and Numeracy Week)

Subject Headings

Aboriginal peoples
Aboriginal students
English as an additional language
English language teaching
Languages other than English (LOTE)
School and community
School attendance