Steve, you have been the Principal of Newman Senior Technical College for six years. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about Newman Senior Technical College and how it differs from other senior schools?
Newman College is a Senior Secondary College that has an emphasis on providing students with an HSC that includes vocational education and training. We are focused on skills training and providing young people with meaningful pathways to careers.
Our course offerings are truly unique, and we provide school based apprenticeships and traineeships in a large array of career areas. To my knowledge, we have the largest senior secondary cohorts in the area ranging from Newcastle to the Queensland border. This shows how popular our model of delivery has become.
Can you tell us a little about your background, and how you came to be living in Port Macquarie?
My family are in Forster now, but I was a born and bred Wagga Wagga boy. After completing my training in education in Sydney and working for a few years, I moved up here to Port Macquarie. I have been here for 17 years now and have three amazing children: Darcy, Isobel and Caitlyn, who are all benefitting from the opportunities that are on offer here in the Hastings. It is a special place to call home.
What are some of the key changes you have witnessed within the education system during your career, and how have these impacted the education system as it stands today?
There have been many changes across my 20 plus years as an educator. Perhaps the most significant and relevant to my role is the changing nature of VET education and the growing level of importance starting to be placed on practical, skills based learning in all fields of education.
Another key change is educators are spending far more time reflecting on their practice in a professional manner. There is a real awareness of the “science” of teaching, if you like, and how you can improve as an educator. I see the students benefitting from this approach constantly.
Unfortunately, as a nation we are still too focused on standards-based testing, which defines what students should know and be able to do at each level. I believe that this does very little for the development of student learning within a classroom and is something that we need to look at and consider its relevance and value for all students.
How do you think that the education system is promoting and supporting entrepreneurial thinking?
There is no doubt that entrepreneurial skills are the key performance indicators that employers are looking for. So much of the current data tells us that the jobs of tomorrow will be significantly different and that entrepreneurial skills are the constant, as they are transferable across careers. At Newman College it is seen as a central element across all of our curriculum.
You seem to exude a great passion for what you do. What is the most rewarding part about your role with Newman Senior Technical College?
Without a doubt it is that young person and their family who have flourished at Newman and achieved something that they didn’t think possible. Sometimes it’s witnessing a student gain a perfect career opportunity; sometimes it’s just that a particular student has completed their HSC. No matter what the outcome is, it’s the sense of pride and accomplishment that the student exudes, which to me is incredibly rewarding.
I also find the close relationships we form with employers and the community are something that I highly value. The business community provide jobs for our students, and it shapes our curriculum in a way that ensures we keep our training relevant and meaningful. It provides a real sense of synergy with our community.
What are some of the common challenges that you face in your role?
One of our challenges is building trust with our families in those first few months of a student’s senior schooling. This is key to our students’ success. I know that I have amazing staff at the College who achieve outcomes that very few can achieve with young people.
Also, it’s sometime a challenge to break down that devaluing of the skilled based endeavour. Our tradespeople, nurses, childcare workers and retail operators are incredibly skilled and talented people, and we believe it’s incredibly important to encourage young people into these careers. Our economy and our country needs skilled workers, and the over-emphasis on a university education has the potential to leave Australia floundering in the coming decades.
And finally, if you could invite any three business people to lunch, who would they be and why would you invite them?
Pope Francis is first. Whilst strictly not a businessman, he is someone who is leading courageously and having a big impact on our world. I know that it would be a fascinating conversation. I particularly like the way that he is challenging tradition and demonstrates a real humility.
Secondly, I would like to have lunch with Gail Kelly. From what I understand, she is a quality leader in a field that is male dominated. To understand how she navigated that mine field, I think would provide some interesting insights.
Finally, I would like to spend some time picking the brains of Brad Smith from Intuit. In terms of innovation and creating a successful business, Brad would be interesting. I am constantly seeking innovation for Newman College, so I think he would have lots to offer.
Thanks for your time, Steve.