DUNCAN Stalker received two pieces of good advice that helped him develop Brauer College during his tenure as principal.
The first was to never read the Education Department regulations because it was much easier to ask forgiveness for ignorance of the regulations than to get any required permission from the department.
The second was that visibility and credibility were inseparable to the role of principal.
Mr Stalker was principal at Brauer for 23 years, stepping down in 2001.
He said being seen frequently among the school’s students and parents and taking notice of their concerns was crucial to being an effective principal.
The increasing administrative workload faced by principals today was taking them away from their most important role of providing leadership to staff and students, he said.
Mr Stalker said the institution, then called Warrnambool Technical School, was looking for change when he arrived in 1978.
Students wanted the school to be something they could take pride in, he said.
The big changes that occurred during his watch were not all instigated by him and some were due to general reforms in the state education system.
“It was an exciting time in education,” Mr Stalker said. “There were all of the changes in the world on.
“I saw many of those as challenges and I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.”
Among the changes that Mr Stalker implemented were changes to Brauer’s curriculum to put more emphasis on sport, music, public speaking and debating, as well as the students’ academic outcomes.
He said he learnt a great deal about innovations in education when he was the national president of the secondary principals association.
He visited 30 different education systems throughout the world, including Sweden that was an international leader in vocational education.
“We got enormous advantage from our international connections,” Mr Stalker said.
“We got visits from Scandinavian principals. We had staff go to those countries and establish sister school relationships.”
Mr Stalker said he was impressed with Sweden’s vocational education system, which did not focus on one particular area of training but gave students a number of skills so they had a wide choice of vocations when they finished year 12.
When the Warrnambool Technical School became a high school, Mr Stalker was determined it would not abandon its technical roots.
He said when technical subjects were first incorporated into the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) it soon became apparent they were too theoretical.
The school introduced a more practical approach that made its students sought after as apprentices for trades.
The school also had success in boosting students’ study scores for university entry.
For many years it had the highest percentage of students in the Barwon South-West region to score more than 40 out of 50 in their study scores.
Another change he instigated was to build up the involvement of parents in the school, not only through parents’ associations but through working bees.
The parents’ association was influential in deciding the school’s progress, he said.
“If you are going to make changes, you need to take teachers to the parents and listen to the parents,” Mr Stalker said.
The involvement of parents in regular, large-scale working bees also greatly improved the school’s facilities.
The working bees completed significant construction work under the direction of builders, who donated their time.
Projects such as extensions to the school’s library, music room and year 11 and 12 common room, classroom carpeting and computer cabling were completed through working bees that often enabled the school to only pay for the cost of materials.
“We would have 140-150 parents at working bees, with many being skilled tradesmen,” Mr Stalker said.
That parent involvement not only gave the school better facilities but meant the school community felt valued, he said.