School's ambitious agenda reaps rewards


While this year has presented its fair share of challenges for West Wallsend High School, its staff and students have also experienced some profoundly rewarding and positive events that are sure to help the school community end the year on a high.

In March, the school, located in Holmesville NSW, was recognised at the 2020 Minister's and Secretary's Awards for Excellence, as well as at the Regional North Excellence Awards, for its programs addressing wellbeing, leadership, school service and student achievement.

Indeed, the school’s transformative journey has been defined by a clear and unwavering focus on improving student outcomes through quality teaching, learning, and leading. 

Throughout a year that has seen widespread school closures and enormous changes in teaching and learning, West Wallsend High School has successfully implemented major pedagogical changes and an ambitious reading improvement agenda.

This includes the complete revitalisation of the school library into a dynamic learning space now known as ‘Sugarloaf Hub’ and the design of the innovative ‘ObLITerate’ gamification literacy program.

Below, The Educator speaks to the school’s relieving principal, Krystal Bevan, about these programs and how they have helped students and staff thrive during this challenging year.

TE: What leadership approach have you taken at West Wallsend High School during this difficult and challenging year?

Our aim has been to maintain a culture of high expectations in a high care environment. In unpredictable times, our students, staff and families needed stability, consistency and quality communication. More than ever, they needed a feeling of belonging, to feel known and cared for, whether they were on site or learning from home. Meaningful relationships and personalised support structures have remained at the forefront of our teaching and learning, to ensure that every student feels known and cared for.

TE: I understand the school has undergone significant pedagogical change through purposeful, targeted, research-based teaching and leadership practice. Can you tell us more about this?

This type of pedagogical shift comes from a core focus on professional development. At West Wallsend High School, we have implemented a model of individualised, embedded, and sustainable professional learning, building the capacity of staff and parents. This has led to a range of enhanced learning opportunities in areas of literacy, numeracy, curriculum design, gifted and talented curriculum, STEM and Aboriginal Education. In particular, key initiatives in HSC Improvement and Powerful Practices in Reading Improvement have led to a transformative upward shift in student achievement, taking our school from one of the lowest achieving in the state to one of the top schools for improved value-added HSC performance.

TE: The school has also implemented an ambitious reading improvement agenda via the Sugarloaf Hub and “ObLITerate” gamification literacy program. What are the most encouraging outcomes you have seen this year from these initiatives?

The most significant and visible change that these initiatives have gifted has been the turnaround approach to reading across the school. Slowly but surely, the focus on reading has shifted from a mindset of simple proficiency to one of genuine appreciation. In a high school setting, often there is so much focus on content and skills that a love for reading isn’t always nurtured. We’ve now become a school that celebrates reading as a lifelong skill and the impact of this has only enhanced the delivery of targeted initiatives such as our ObLITerate literacy program.

TE: Looking ahead into 2021, what are some of the key learnings from the pandemic that the school will be implementing to ensure that student and staff are supported to be their best?

Collaboration, innovation, trust and the importance of being partners in learning. These values have been fundamental in the COVID-19 landscape. As has the importance of ensuring our students remain motivated and aspirational in pursuing their educational goals. Despite the challenges the year has brought, opportunity has far outweighed the obstacles and this is evident in the deeper connections forged with our community, and the sense of efficacy staff have embraced to ensure we continue to strive for excellence for every student. It’s certainly been a year of unanticipated change – we’ve all had to learn to be critical thinkers, to pivot at a moment’s notice and to breathe resilience. But this is what we aim to teach our kids every day – to fuse the lessons in the classroom with the lessons that life presents.