ASSOCIATION SPOTLIGHT

Yass Teachers Association

Number of members: 99
President: Phil Armour
Secretary: John Duncan

Where and when do you meet? The Yass Teachers Association meets on the second Monday of the month at different locations in the Yass area.

How would you describe your area and community? The Yass area is one of contradictions: we have more millionaires per percentage of population than Vaucluse but 30-40 per cent of our students come from the lowest socio-economic quartile. The discrepancy can be explained by the saying: “You can’t pay the bank manager with a square metre of the farm”. We are one of the fastest-growing regions in NSW, about 40 minutes from Canberra which supplies employment opportunities for off-farm income as well as “tree change” federal public servants. We are reasonably represented in State Parliament by Katrina Hodgkinson (Nationals) who recently visited our school with the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli. Our high school, which has about 500 students, was built 52 years ago for a maximum student population of 350. It has two feeder primary schools in Yass itself, and half a dozen small rural primary schools which range from one to three-teacher schools.

What issues and challenges do you face? Our recent big challenge came when an accidental fire in the high school industrial arts block in 2013 destroyed our woodwork, metalwork, computer, textiles and two kitchen classrooms. This was a devastating blow but with a recently-minted principal in Sandra Hiscock the whole community rallied amazingly well. In the immediate aftermath of being locked out of the school site for several weeks, the local primary schools supplied learning spaces for our senior students who returned the favour by mentoring primary students. Junior students engaged in community activities. The students’ attention quickly turned towards designing our ideal new learning space.

It didn’t take long for the local community to swing into action behind the school in recognising that this was a great opportunity to replace our river of demountable classrooms with a new learning space. Well, you would think that, but the State Government did not, and the last 18 months has been a roller-coaster ride with uplifting support from the local community and politicians on the Yass Valley Council. In the end, a compromise has been reached: an additional portion will be added to the damaged building to allow for the replacement of just under half of the 16 demountable classrooms we had pre-dating the fire. The new building should be completed by the end of term 1, 2015 and we can’t wait to try out our modern learning space.

What are the demographics of the teachers? Our teacher population is typical of most NSW government schools and we are on the cusp of a generational change over the next five years with about 60 per cent of our staff approaching retirement. This, of course, allows for great opportunity for new leadership and direction. At the same time we can’t afford to allow our experienced teachers to go softly into the night. Our Secretary, John Duncan, works in a faculty which has lost more than 130 years of teaching experience in the past four years.

What are your meetings like? How is attendance? Like most organisations, there is the regular 20 per cent that does the work for the remaining 80 per cent but it is nice that that 80 per cent comes out to play when we hold significant events such as the “Putting Students First” BBQ held in a local park last year.

What are you focusing on? At Yass High, Yass PS and Berimba PS as well as our smaller schools we are constantly searching for new ways to meet learning needs, attempting to extend capable students as well as lift those students who are struggling or disengaging; making do with what we have and not losing sight of the magical goal: engaged, capable caring members of the community who are able to go and do as their heart and soul desire.

What does your executive structure look like? We have President Phil Armour, Treasurer Heath Wade, Secretary John Duncan, Minutes Secretary Cassandra Blake and Women’s Contact Adrienne Zandona.