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Regional Vic principals up-skill in Adelaide to to take on unique challenges

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A cohort of school leaders from rural Victoria attended a program at SA’s Flinders University which aims to help rural and regional principals to overcome the challenges of their location and harness novel opportunities to benefit students.

Developed with input from Emeritus Professor John Halsey – who conducted the 2017 Federal Government’s Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education – the Master of Education (Rural Leadership and Management) provides a combination of tailored face-to-face and online learning with a clear rural focus.

The 2019 intake kicked off on 8 April, with a one-week intensive at Flinders’ Bedford Park campus.

Twelve Victorian rural school leaders are participating in the current program through a scholarship funded by Melbourne’s Bastow Institute of Educational Leadership, which chose the Flinders program to build rural Victoria’s educational leadership capacity.

In welcoming the Masters students, Halsey spoke about the challenges in managing a regionally located school within an educational model built on a metropolitan, one-size-fits-all framework.

“Coming from a rural or regional school it’s important that leaders know how to disturb and disrupt the dominant flow, which is sustained by a whole set of assumptions that often do not apply in a rural context,” he said.

“Over the course of the Master program, you will learn powerful ways to chip away at the dominant metro-centric discourse, engage with others who don’t possess knowledge and experience of the local context, and consider possibilities and solutions in new ways.”

Among the complex challenges faced by rural and remote schools are issues in attracting and retaining quality staff, reduced funding and resources through lower student numbers, ensuring the curriculum is relevant to their communities, and maintaining student motivation and hope for the future amid declining rural populations and the associated fall-off in local job opportunities.

As a result, significant disparity exists in educational outcomes for young people in rural communities in comparison to their city counterparts.

Halsey said while conceptual tools won’t make the problems go away, they can empower school leaders to shift discussions to their perspective and give them the language and tools to advocate for their schools.

Assoc Prof Jim Davies is the course coordinator and says educational leadership is critically important for rural schools and the wider community.

“Vibrant and productive rural communities are integral and essential to Australia’s sustainability, and these communities want leaders and teachers who want to be in, and be attuned to their communities,” Davies says.

“School leaders are charting new directions and nurturing the potential of youth in these communities.”

Belinda Hudak, Principal of Mildura Senior College, won a scholarship place on the program and is keen to build her skills in engaging with potential partners to provide opportunities for her students and community.

She says leading a school in a regional setting, which is often the hub of the entire community, has many more dimensions to that of a metropolitan school.

“Being a school in a regional community means you have an enormous responsibility to different aspects of your community.

“In regional communities there can be amazing goodwill, so being able to broker and bring organisations together is important in providing our students with opportunity beyond the scope of the curriculum.”

Damien Keel, Principal of Yarrawonga College in country Victoria completed Flinders University’s inaugural Master of Education (Rural Leadership and Management) program and says the experience “was some of the most practical and useful learning that I have taken part in over the past 20 years as a principal.

“It helps you to think deeply about your specific community and how to best meet the needs of your students, families, teachers and the broader community.”

The federal government released Halsey’s final report into the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education in April 2018. It identified four priorities, 11 recommendations and 53 actions to improve the outcomes for students living in rural and remote Australia.

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