Barney Ellevsen, incoming principal of Menai High School, is ending the year on a high.
His school was the top performing comprehensive school on the HSC’s higher level English merit list, taking out fourth place.
It was only beaten by selective schools James Ruse and Sydney Girls High and the independent girls' school Abbotsleigh.
Ellevsen said the ability of students to take ownership of their learning via the school’s personalised learning plans was a major factor in their success.
“All of our students have personalised learning plans that are updated twice a year. This process allows students to set, reflect on and review learning goals giving them ownership of their learning,” he said.
“The learning plans not only have input from the students but also their parents and teachers. Personalisation of learning is further facilitated by the school’s Learning and Support Team.
“The key to maintaining high standards is to never become complacent and to ensure that high impact practices are sustained,” he said, adding that professional reflection was an important part of this process.”
Ellevsen said his team, including deputy principal, Ekbal Sayed-Rich and relieving principal, Raelene Allen, work relentlessly with teachers across the school to ensure assessment tasks are accessible for all students, allowing every student the opportunity to succeed. No assessment task is issued in the school unless it has first been reviewed by the Learning and Support Team.
“The school has also developed extremely effective relationships for learning with the community. This includes very positive relationships between teachers, students and parents,” he said.
Another factor to positively impact on this year’s cohort of students was the school’s #NerdHerd program, which began with a conversation about reinforcing the importance of “quality professional discourse” in schools.
The program was adapted from a National Partnerships initiative from Fairfield High School where a senior study space had been created to support the academic achievement of students in the school.
“The concept of the ‘Nerd Herd’ was adopted by the 2015 Menai High School Year 12 Year Advisers and the #NerdHerd initiative became specific to Menai High,” Ellevsen said.
“Every student in Year 12 has a photo and a positive affirmation about study or academic achievement posted around the school. This initiative has built a culture where learning is valued and has instilled pride in achieving, encouraging students to be confident and believe in themselves.
#NerdHerd has made these values visible throughout the school which reinforces a culture of learning and achievement.”
Looking towards 2016, Ellevsen said his school will continue to be committed to implementing best practice in teaching and learning.
“The school has a culture of setting new targets and milestones each year that are designed to build on past performance,” he said.
“This is supported by a very collaborative, collegiate culture of in school professional development designed to build teachers collective capacity.”
He added it was the building of this professional capital across the school and within each faculty that enabled his teachers to increase their knowledge and ensure their skills are current from year to year.
“The value of the collective and impact of teacher collaboration on student outcomes cannot be underestimated,” he said.
“The other thing to remember is that every year group is different so the approach needs to be tailored for each cohort.
“The key lies in knowing the students well and providing learning experiences that meet their needs. This is something Menai High School has become very adept at doing.”