ASSOCIATION SPOTLIGHT

Wingham Teachers Association

Number of members: 92
President: Gary Dunbier
Secretary: Carmel O’Brien

Where and when do you meet? We meet in the Board Room, Wingham Services Club, on the third Thursday after Council.

How would you describe your area and community? Wingham is situated on the mid-north coast, part of the Greater Taree City Council. It has a town population of about 5000, with a large hinterland. Historically, Wingham and the Manning Valley have been well known for quality timber, especially cedar. Machin’s Mill is still an important employer. Wingham HS has an impressive and successful school farm and agriculture faculty. The Manning River is a major attraction and both Wingham High and Wingham Brush PS border Wingham Brush, a large rainforest with a substantial colony of flying foxes. This is depicted artistically on our Association banner. Our community supports the schools and teachers although the area is a National Party stronghold. Stephen Bromhead is the local State member; David Gillespie is the Federal member. We never see them. They are strong supporters of the private schools. Wingham Rotary, a conservative group, supports our students and schools extensively. We get support from the local newspaper, the Wingham Chronicle.

What issues and challenges do you face? Our biggest challenge is changing demographics and falling student numbers. Consequently, teacher numbers are falling and our Association is on the stand-alone cut-off. We’re proud of our history and involvement in the union so we want to continue without amalgamation. Ensuring all teachers are members is the priority. Related to this we face strong challenges all over the Manning from the private/religious schools who have been aggressive in building their numbers. Like elsewhere, middle-class parents are choosing to send their children to private high schools.

The vicious cycle is in place. Wingham High currently has a student population of 650, down from 830 only a few years ago. Its Family Occupation and Education Index rating is rising, currently at 124 [the FOEI is a school-level index of educational disadvantage related to socio-economic background ]. Wingham Brush Public has 290 students, down from 396. Wingham Public has 290, down from about 500. Some outlying small schools, thriving in the past, are close to closure.

What are the teacher demographics? Teachers in Wingham come from all over the Manning Valley. Some travel each day from places such as Diamond Beach and Forster, about 40km away. Many obviously live in Wingham or the outlying areas and many live in Taree. Most teachers are experienced, with many close to retirement. Young teachers are starting to come through but for many of them larger centres such as Newcastle hold more attraction.

What are you focusing on? Obviously Gonski. I have given presentations at P&C meetings and received positive feedback. We have an increasing number of students with special needs, so additional funding is imperative. We will be active in the lead-up to the Federal election.

What is the best thing your association has done in the past five years? I think our role in staging our Sesquicentenary event in September was probably the best thing we have done. Without the funding from the Public Education Fund it would not have been so successful. Carmel O’Brien and Merilyn Kendall (Women’s Contact) did extensive and wonderful work before and during the event. Teachers are fantastic event organisers. It’s something we take for granted, but when you are working with community members you realise how good teachers are at these things. In May this year we hosted our inaugural joint dinner with Manning River Association and it was very successful. From the meeting we submitted a motion to Annual Conference, but it was important for both Associations to get together in a social setting. As LSLD begins to bite, Associations working together, planning joint action, will be critical to our success. I envisage we will have delegates from both Associations with funded relief, coming together for a day to plan activities. I’d like to see Lake Wallis Association join this initiative so we have a cluster (bad word) to make local action even more effective.

What are your meetings like? How is attendance? Unfortunately our meetings have small numbers — usually about eight — but I think the meetings are relatively effective. We often send a motion for Motions from Associations at Federation Council and we have a good strike rate. Because we are a small association we have a small bank account, limiting what we can do.