It sounds clichéd, but it was really a dream come true for Meaghan Cook when she was appointed as principal of Hastings Secondary College, Port Macquarie Campus, earlier this year. Meaghan herself attended the school as a student, and always hoped to come back one day as principal! Under Meaghan’s stewardship, the school is going from strength to strength — and there are some big plans on the horizon.
Hi Meaghan. It’s not a story you get to hear too often, becoming the principal at the high school, you attended as a student! How did you feel when you were appointed to this position earlier in the year?
I felt a range of emotions, to be honest: gratitude, happiness, sadness, excitement.
Gratitude that I was offered a position that I hold in such high regard. Hastings Secondary College Port Macquarie Campus is a jewel in Port Macquarie, and I am honoured to be one of the many principals who have led the school. Happy to have a sense of purpose. Sadness in knowing I was leaving a wonderful school community at Camden Haven High School, and excitement that we are moving into an even more innovative and dynamic era of public education never seen before.
I recall assembly at Port High back in the late 1980s, where Mr Brown, the principal at the time, would address us. I kept saying to myself, one day I want to be the principal here.
What are some of your fondest memories from attending Port High School as a student?
The senior years, 1986 – 1988, were by far my fondest memories. I was a prefect at the time, and we had a very strong cohort of achieving students who looked after each other and supported you. I flourished thanks to wonderful, dedicated teachers who inspired me to do my best.
I recall Maths with Mr Cairns (it was not my favourite subject, by the way, but he tolerated me) Mr Brooks for Geography, who I give credit to for me being able to read maps and understand climate, Mr Wiley for Modern History (don’t tell the others, but he was one of my favourite teachers), and Mrs Evans, who taught me about nutrition and fine cuisine.
Your career has taken you to a few locations – Moree, Tamworth, the Camden Haven. How do you feel your previous roles have helped you develop both personally and professionally?
My firm belief is that we all should embrace opportunities for professional and personal growth. I’ve had roles as a classroom teacher, Head Teacher PDHPE, Welfare, PDHPE Consultant supporting primary and secondary schools in implementing new syllabi, SEO2 Quality Teaching Advisor and project officer roles.
Each one of those roles has built leadership capacity, communication skills, critical thinking and empathy. My most important role is that of teaching and learning now. It is an opportunity to offer every child a pathway for success. That’s a huge undertaking and one I take very seriously.
What are some of the plans currently unfolding at Hastings Secondary College?
We are the leaders of innovation in our local area. We are currently expanding our STEM and Robotics team. All our innovative Academies (Sports/Creative Industries/LEAP) are growing, Clontarf and our Sista Speak program for our girls are showing fantastic results, along with the most valuable activity – the quality teaching and learning that occurs in every class, every day, for every child.
There will be significant infrastructure works taking place in the near future by way of the recent budget announcement.
We are currently in the second phase of the NSW My Community Grant. This project is about developing a community focus within our Agriculture program by providing access for all people to grow produce. We are also looking to redevelop our Aboriginal garden with bush tucker and outdoor learning spaces.
We recently had our canteen successfully tendered out. We asked our student population to think of a name for our canteen by way of a guessing competition. The winning name was “Lettuce Eat” by Mia Zimmer.
What do you hope to bring to your role as principal?
I hope to bring opportunities for my staff and students to engage in 21st Century learning. Stop and consider what our children will need to demonstrate by way of skills from 2030 and beyond. That’s only 11 years away.
Consider your children in Year 4, 5 and 6 now. What type of school setting do you envisage for them in a world offering so much artificial intelligence and technology?
We must ensure we have the platform to provide our students with the necessary critical thinking, innovative imagination and problem-solving skills like never before.
At Hastings Secondary College, our students have the opportunity to make selections from one of the most comprehensive offerings of senior subjects in ANY NSW school.
Under one college, our students can choose a Platinum Pathway (targeted academic program for those wishing to excel in their ATAR) an ATAR Pathway (students wanting access to University, College or TAFE), a FLEX Pathway (students who are still not sure what career pathway they want), Industry-Based Training – IBT (specifically for students who are looking to enter the workforce with both HSC and Vocational qualifications) and finally our FT2E – Fast track to Employment (designed specifically for students who will benefit from intensive support to build employability skills and workplace literacies.)
Further, we are continuing to develop a strong sense of the K-12 learning journey in public education as part of the Hastings Valley Community of Schools (HVCS).
I would like to challenge some misconceptions of the
I made a commitment when I arrived at Hastings Secondary College Port Macquarie Campus that every child is known, valued and cared for. Every staff member is the same. I know that my colleague Ian Ross, principal of Hastings Secondary College Westport Campus, shares that same ethos.
We are committed to knowing and growing every child and building a culture of students learning together and supporting and encouraging each other to do their best. We are committed to academic excellence and to the development of the whole person.
We offer a range of well-established co-curricular programs and clubs.
Our students are offered an extensive range of excursions, camps and international tours. There is an amazing range of enrichment opportunities in sporting teams; participation in debating and public speaking competitions; performances in productions and musicals; exhibiting original artwork; developing fluency in languages through overseas exchange and language programs; exploration of humanities; and developing scientific curiosity through excursions, events and our STEM programs.
Hastings Secondary College is on the journey to becoming one of the finest secondary colleges in NSW.
Interview: Jo Robinson.