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In 2021, we're celebrating 10 years of the Public Education Awards.
Read about some of our past winners and the impact the awards have had on their lives.
I really believe positive stories of engagement need to be shared so we can all learn from each other.
2017 Community Engagement Award winner Lauren Jew – who at the time of winning was the Community Development Coordinator at Aldinga Beach Children’s Centre – said the opportunity to work with her colleagues, local council, service groups and neighbouring schools to implement a Giving Garden was incredibly special.
‘We were having some issues with children coming to preschool and school without food, and limited access to fruit and vegetables,’ she recounts. ‘So, we established a Giving Garden which grows fruit and vegetables on a verge.’
‘It was the first of its kind in the Onkaparinga Council area and made a real difference to our students – from the early years right up to year 7.’
‘We wanted to continue to further strengthen connection and belonging across the site so applied a restorative practice framework to assist us to foster a common language and shared agenda.’
Reflecting on her award win, Lauren said that celebrating the work she and her colleagues achieved and the difference they made has been a career highlight.
‘I really believe positive stories of engagement need to be shared so we can all learn from each other,’ she said.
‘The Public Education Awards are not only about the individual or the site, but the people we service. They showcase the models of great practice occurring in our system.'
The award helped point me in the direction I always wanted to go. It put steps in motion for me to continue my career and formalise my role with supporting and engaging with students. I’m loving it!
It’s not just teachers who play an integral role in the lives of students. Nuriootpa High School’s groundsman of 7 years, Trent Heneker, has left a lasting impact and legacy upon many.
‘Being a finalist for the School and Preschool Support Award really affirmed the role I play at the school, and to win was just mind-blowing,’ he said.
‘It felt like such an accomplishment. Being able to establish connections and impact on students’ lives through my role as a groundsman has been incredibly rewarding and to be recognised for it was momentous.’
Trent’s role at the school is more than meets the eye. On top of looking after the facilities, he also works with students in the Inclusive Education Centre and on outdoor landscaping projects with at-risk students. Since his Public Education Award win, he’s also been able to gain recognition of prior learning to achieve his Certificate IIII in Youth Work and start a role in 2020 as a Youth Worker with the school.
‘The award helped point me in the direction I always wanted to go,’ Trent revealed. ‘It put steps in motion for me to continue my career and formalise my role with supporting and engaging with students. I’m loving it!’
Sharing his words of wisdom for aspiring future applicants, Trent said, ‘never underestimate the impact you have – no matter your role within the education system.'
Being part of the Public Education Awards has given me some great opportunities to share my leadership experiences, mentor others and importantly learn from colleagues and leaders around South Australian and more broadly.
Receiving the 2016 Leadership Award was humbling for Dan Jarrad. The former Elizabeth Grove Primary School Principal says being able to represent the work of his team and colleagues at Elizabeth Grove was incredibly fulfilling.
‘I was somewhat surprised when I heard my name at the awards ceremony being called out,’ he said with a laugh while thinking back to 2016. ‘It was an absolute honour to receive the award and show appreciation for our school community and staff team.’
The principal has made an impression on many he’s worked with over the years, from early career teachers to students.
‘Working in a complex role such as that of a Principal is really rewarding. To be able to positively impact the journey for a child in an education setting, and to also lead a wonderful culture within the school community, is very special.’
Dan was 3 years into his tenure at the school when he won his award and said the awards are important in recognising and acknowledging the many great things that are happening in our public education system.
‘My advice would be to always say “yes” before you say no to opportunities,’ he said. ‘Being part of the Public Education Awards has given me some great opportunities to share my leadership experiences, mentor others and importantly learn from colleagues and leaders around South Australian and more broadly’.
To be recognised by your peers and educational leaders for the sheer amount of effort and energy you put into your role was something I’d never experienced in my teaching career.
To be judged by your peers and recognised for the work you do and what you bring to your school and students is a feeling 2017 Innovation in Practice Award winner Scott Dirix said is difficult to articulate.
‘At the time of the award, I was Senior Leader of Alternative Programs at Salisbury East High School. We were doing a lot of work keeping marginalised kids connected to school sites, rather than off-site models, so we started looking at flexible, innovative working options,’ said Scott.
‘When that program started, it had 16 students involved. In 2020, there were over 120.
‘To be recognised by your peers and educational leaders for the sheer amount of effort and energy you put into your role was something I’d never experienced in my teaching career.’
Scott said the research trips he was able to undertake with his award prize money was invaluable in helping to develop the program further and assist other sites to explore flexible learning options. These research trips also assisted Scott significantly to build a strong professional network across the wider Australian education fraternity.
‘I would really encourage anyone who is thinking about applying in the future to put in an application,’ he encouraged. ‘The small amount of time you spend doing your application versus what you, your students and community can get out of the Public Education Awards is worlds apart – just do it!’
What started as offering yoga to staff has progressed to include students. Staff now run weekly sessions for the kids – it’s something they absolutely love.
For Westport Primary School and Preschool Principal Rebecca Huddy, applying for a Public Education Award was about acknowledging those who took the time to nominate her and sharing wellbeing initiatives with her hard-working team.
The recipient of the 2019 Teacher’s Health Leadership Award said her win was a reflection and celebration of what everyone at her site had achieved, and for that, she wanted to ensure they were supported to be their best – so their students could be too.
‘I’m nothing without my staff,’ she said. ‘Investing back into my team is really important to me.’
Rebecca said in her experience as a principal she knows the importance of staff wellbeing, a positive school culture and the links to student outcomes. Following her award win, she implemented proactive wellbeing measures for staff which have evolved to student-focussed initiatives, such as yoga.
‘What started as offering yoga to staff has progressed to include students. Staff now run weekly sessions for the kids – it’s something they absolutely love.’
‘I’m so grateful to the community that inspires me.’
It really started a fire in me to look at our system and to try and build a system like they have in Scandinavia, where the students really value what we as teachers do in the classroom.
Sam Moyle was a passionate STEM teacher at the start of her career when she won the 2014 Early Career Award, with the accolade inspiring her to make innovative teaching a cornerstone of her practice.
Sam – who was in her second year of teaching as a science and technology teacher at Brighton Secondary School at the time – said winning the award was a turning point for her career. She used her award win to help fund a trip to visit world-leading Scandinavian schools in the science and technology space, tapping into their learnings.
‘It was fascinating to see their school system in action, the structures and learning methods they use and how their society perceives education,’ said Sam.
‘We have such a sporting culture here in Australia, so it was interesting to see how much society’s view of education informs what the students think and how they behave – and how they feel about their learning.
‘It really started a fire in me to look at our system and to try and build a system like they have in Scandinavia, where the students really value what we as teachers do in the classroom.’
The connections Sam made on that trip are still standing today. The much-loved teacher regularly connects with her colleagues from across the globe to workshop ideas, see what they’re doing in their classrooms and discuss the innovative ways technology can be used in the school setting.
After the awards, I remember I had colleagues from all over approach me, wanting to chat about Aboriginal education and the Centre. That was very rewarding.
Shining a light on the Workabout Centre and what they do for young Aboriginal people was an unexpected benefit of Natasha Chisholm’s 2017 Public Education Awards win.
‘Winning the award really validated not just the work I was doing, but also the work happening in the Aboriginal education space in the department more broadly,’ said Natasha, who started her career at the Centre when it began in 2009 and was the Training Transition and Employment Officer at the time of her win.
‘I think it gave the program more exposure and definitely helped increase awareness within the department,’ she said. ‘After the awards, I remember I had colleagues from all over approach me, wanting to chat about Aboriginal education and the Centre. That was very rewarding.’
The Workabout Centre is an innovative, integrated model connecting young Aboriginal people with pathways that lead to sustainable employment. These include pathways to post-secondary training, higher education and other approaches that help young Aboriginal people to find successful employment.
Natasha urges anyone who may be considering applying for future Public Education Awards but feels hesitant, to push the fear aside.
‘Sometimes a lot of what we do goes unrecognised and a lot of it is community-based,’ said Natasha. ‘So this is such a great chance to showcase what we do for our community and the connections we build.’
My passion is early years learning. To have the opportunity to extend your professional development in an area you are interested in was incredible.
Being recognised for her community-based work in early years and winning the 2011 Primary Teacher of the Year Award opened up a world of opportunities for Tamra Harvey-Mardle – and for her students.
‘At the time I was a teacher at Gumeracha Primary School and was doing a lot of work around phonics, working with community groups and building strong links to understand the benefits of outdoor learning,’ Tamra recalled.
‘I wanted to use my award prize money to participate in a project that would help others and my colleagues, as well as my teaching. My colleague and I went to Reggio Emilia in Italy to participate in a work study tour that focused on the image of the child and connecting children to their environment. That was inspirational to our thinking about early childhood learning.’
Tamra said the experience and professional development opportunity had a profound impact on her development as an educator and inspired her to pursue leadership.
‘My passion is early years learning. To have the opportunity to extend your professional development in an area you are interested in was incredible,’ she said.
‘Being part of the Public Education Awards gives you affirmation that people really care about what you’re doing. The opportunity is there for all department staff - I would encourage people to consider applying.’
Personally, the awards allowed me to pursue some really high-quality training and development to really grow myself.
Winning the 2013 Early Years Teacher of the Year award took Mitchell Ollington out of his comfort zone and put him on the path to leadership.
Mitchell was a teacher at Fisk Street Primary School in Whyalla at the time of the award and said being recognised by his community and peers was affirming.
‘As well as being acknowledged for the positive impact you’re having in your student’s lives, I’d have to say the networking opportunities that opened up after the awards was great – being based regionally, that’s really important,’ he said.
‘The Public Education Awards take you out of your shell and comfort zone and allow you to meet and learn from others from across the system, and apply those learnings at your site.’
Mitchell started on his path to leadership not long after his 2013 win, first as a principal and then principal consultant before returning to a principal role, and believes the awards were pivotal in this.
‘Personally, the awards allowed me to pursue some really high-quality training and development to really grow myself,’ he said. ‘It took me on a journey interstate and overseas and allowed me to see how to work with students from all different backgrounds to really make positive change.’
Public Education Awards
Phone: 8463 4985
Email: PublicEducationAwards [at] sa.gov.au