This week, SMGS staff, students, parents and the extended community said their farewells to Mr Andrew Bell, the Principal of SMGS for the past five years.
As the last of the school events for 2016 came to a close and Andrew addressed the student body for the final time during Speech Day, one could not help but contemplate the impact of leadership and the legacy that a Principal leaves behind when they move on to other ventures.
Legacy, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”. Without a doubt Mr Andrew Bell will leave behind a legacy at SMGS. Mr Michael Jones, Chairman of the Board, echoed this sentiment in his address to the Bell family during Speech Day, saying, “It is only in the farewell that we now realise the greatness of Mr Bell, who he is, and what he has achieved. Whilst this is often the case – that we do not know what we have in our midst until they have left – as a school community we will not fully understand the significance of Mr Bell’s work until the years ahead unfold.”
During his five-year tenure at SMGS, Mr Bell has assembled an impressive list of accomplishments, a list that he credits to having occurred “fundamentally, because we have members of staff who care greatly for our students, our school and our local community. Without our dedicated staff, none of those important opportunities for our students would have been achieved.”
In true Andrew Bell style, his introduction of these accomplishments was very thoughtful. He said, “These are just some examples of growth and evolution over more recent years in the school’s journey, demonstrating our holistic approach to education.”
In brief, during the last five years under Andrew’s leadership, SMGS has:
- Created a new strategic plan to guide future direction in educational approach and delivery.
- Introduced a T&L framework with professional collegial feedback.
- Completely re-written all subject work programs to be in alignment with the Australian Curriculum as it has been phased in.
- Strengthened academic administrative procedures that support learning, assessment and reporting with significant improvements.
- Introduced explicit and structured sequential teaching of phonics in K/1, a staged reading program, improved spelling, comprehension and numeracy approaches and strengthened academic learning outcomes in Junior School.
- Created Let’s Explore – an extensive and comprehensive Kindergarten orientation program with unprecedented interest in the program this year.
- Completed a major overhaul of technology infrastructure and design including updating related software to build a reliable and stable network to aid learning and teaching.
- Introduced a BYODT (a laptop) program for Senior School and paired that with providing a suite of e-text books, and further addressed the implementation of a comprehensive Learning Management System for student, staff and parent access. Our school has been recognised as an exemplar school and one of Australia’s leading schools in the use of Canvas.
- Introduced a full Apple learning space in the Junior School, with new iPads, wireless keyboards and Apple TV recently purchased.
- Commenced the introduction of contemporary flexible learning spaces with more collaborative opportunities to share learning.
- Added an independent high speed data facility to improve onsite internet access and wi-fi capabilities.
- Introduced the Academies of Excellence elective program. After three terms there is still a need to further refine the program; however, it has the potential to be one of the most innovative educational programs in this country. In fact, we have already been recognised for this as one of Australia’s most innovative schools in 2016. The innovative work in technology has been a feature, as have opportunities to engage in broad areas of interest.
- Diagnostic testing in learning was introduced in 2012 for all students, and we continue to increase the data we collect and track on student results and use that data to improve teaching and learning.
- As part of that initiative, all students from Year 2 upwards now sit ICAS tests, which assists in giving us clearer external validation of academic achievement compared to internal results, among other benefits.
- A 1:1 mentoring program for Year 12 students now occurs, better guiding students in their final year.
- Our Education Support department was bolstered substantially a number of years ago to further improve support for students in learning and continues to remain a crucial part of our approach.
- Community has been an important feature of growth at SMGS, with creation of events like:
- The Junior School family camp-out; and
- The introduction of Grandparents and Special Friends Day.
And further involved parents in:
- Learning in Action initiatives, such as Literacy and Numeracy Days. These have been introduced to highlight the importance of learning but make it enjoyable at the same time.
- The creation of Cultural Days in both Junior and Senior Schools to improve our awareness and tolerance of various cultures and practices around the world.
- The implementation of Mini and MultiLit Specialist Intensive Reading Programs to catch up those students whose reading was well below peer age, and from which students have had great results.
- Academic Honours and increased recognition of academic performance have been added to balance the co-curricular Pockets/Colours
- We now have a powerful new website with social media facilities, regular blogs and this is still evolving, with more improvement to
- A Student Representative Council has been established and continues to evolve as an additional avenue for student voice and idea generation.
- Parent reader volunteers now come into the Junior school to assist.
- We now have a rigorous Student Leader process to elect Prefects and have included House and Academic Captains in this group.
- Information evenings for parents with children going into Kindergarten or Year 7 or joining Year 11. Additional curriculum information evenings in Junior School have been implemented to better inform students and parents in preparation for the year ahead at significant milestones in education.
- A lunchtime Technology Club has been created – including the Young Women in Technology group, who learn to code and gain other skills.
- Surveys are in place to ensure student perspectives in learning are captured in academics, wellbeing, boarding and now in the Academies of Excellence.
- We have introduced the new Elite Snowsports Academy (ESA) program offering substantially greater support for athletes during a most demanding period in Term 3 or while overseas training.
- We have created Snowsports and Equestrian committees to ensure the ongoing longevity of those very important activities at SMGS, with Board Members as Chairs and involving staff and parents.
- Inter-house opportunities have also been created to build house and school spirit, including:
- A House Shield which provides an overall Champion House for events including sport, arts, and academics.
- Inter-house debating now exists, and now inter-school virtual debating.
- Inter-house chess and inter-school chess, again in virtual competitions and hosting competitions onsite.
- The introduction of house shirts, adding great colour and spirit to carnivals with strong and active house cheering now part of our culture.
- In the Junior School, we have also started:
- A vegetable garden club and waste audits.
- Class blogs in K/1, keeping parents updated with class events.
- Lake Light Sculpture entries facilitated by parents.
- Shared leadership roles in Year 6.
- We have also benefited from excellent business and financial governance and management of the school, which has enabled:
- A building program that has seen eight new classrooms.
- New ski and wax rooms.
- New bathrooms for students in both Junior and Senior Schools.
- A major renovation of the whole boarding house, the biggest we have ever undertaken.
- Renovated teacher staff room and staff common room facilities.
- New playground and handball courts.
- New shade structures, chilled drinking fountains, seating, house lockers, landscaping, and we are about to add a beautiful new granite BBQ area thanks to the P&F and Class of 2016, who have joined together to create this for the New Year.
- The very early stages of a new master plan for future building and development is soon to begin.
- This financial prudence has also enabled us to create new positions within the school of:
- Full-time IT Manager
- Full-time Executive Assistant
- Part-time Marketing and Public Relations Officer
- 4 Heads of Faculty roles
- Director of Teaching & Learning, which then became the Director of Curriculum & Academic Development role.
Andrew was quick to point out that this list comprises ONLY those NEW initiatives from the last five years and this brief description does not do justice to the work invested by staff into these, and does not include everything by any means. He said, “We have certainly not been sitting idle. Instead, our staff have constantly aimed at making the learning environment, and whole educational experience, even better at each opportunity.”
In his reflection on his accomplishments over the last five years, Andrew said “Good schools, great schools, healthy schools, grow and evolve consistently and responsibly, just as life itself is about growing and evolving. To stand still would be to stagnate, to fall behind and constrict opportunities for our students. That certainly has not occurred and, again, I thank our staff for creating, enabling and fostering all of these.” Yet another instance of his careful and thoughtful selection of words and narrative.
Earlier in Andrew’s address to the SMGS community during Speech Day 2016, he recounted a moment during Speech Day rehearsals whereby a number of students got up on stage to dance to a number the band played…completely ad lib and unplanned, and he said “I am certain in many other schools those students would have been told to sit down and be quiet. But most importantly to me, they felt comfortable to get up, dance and simply enjoy the moment after we concluded, quite appropriately. In doing so, it was a reminder that you can be yourself here, feel comfortable in your own skin, and be supported.”
Andrew then chose the next moment to address the students and to pass along one last piece of wisdom:
The first message is to GET INVOLVED…in different events, activities and opportunities…in school and in life. Getting involved is a core ingredient to building self-esteem, something that cannot be bought, nor given. You can only earn it for yourself and you can only do that when you DO something. This then flows on to be your habits, which will serve you well now and into the future: participation promotes discipline, perseverance, tenacity, GRIT, humility, as just a few benefits.
The second message is once you get involved, GIVE IT YOUR BEST. Your very best. Doing something half-heartedly gives you half the fulfilment, half the worth. If you are going to do a job, do it properly. If you make a commitment, fulfill it. Otherwise you will always be left wondering “what if I had really tried…”
The third piece of advice to you is to TREAT each other with great dignity and respect; there’s NEVER an excuse to be rude and demeaning to others; care for each other and be tolerant. Let tolerance turn into acceptance. Understand that another person’s perspective is likely to be different from yours. And that’s OK; in fact, that’s necessary to promote diversity in a community and the wealth of benefits that stem from diverse thinking…when accompanied by acceptance.
My last piece of advice to you students is…worry less. Specifically, worry less about what you think other people are thinking about you. If you make choices and decisions in life, based on what you think others will think of you (i.e. including peer pressure), then it will be tough going. It gets harder during teenage years, then it gets easier again in adulthood, but give yourself permission NOW to be an individual, make YOUR choices your own based on what you know is right for you and the right thing to do. Otherwise, you are shackled. I see so many individual students at this school who seem comfortable with who they are. I admire you greatly to be so at your age. Encourage others to join you. It will be the best gift you can give to yourself and others.
Many schools have larger student cohorts, and some have extensive buildings and facilities, but they don’t have that special and unique something we have here, and no amount of money can buy it. Overall, I want to thank you students…and all of you from Kindergarten to Year 12, day and boarding, for making the experience most rewarding and enjoyable indeed. I wish you the very best for 2017.”
There were four guests in the audience that Andrew personally addressed – his family – Zac, Sophie, Blake and Melissa. He acknowledged their resilience and the unwavering support they have given him. The audience in attendance that day all felt a wave of emotion from Andrew’s words of appreciation that he imparted to his loved ones.
There will never be enough words to articulate the impact of Mr Bell’s time at the helm of Snowy Mountains Grammar School. Andrew’s honour and integrity that was felt daily in every facet of the school community and, of all the things for a principal to leave behind at a school, these two qualities are at the top of the list.
Chairman of the Board, Mr Michael Jones, was thankful of everything Mr Bell has done for the school, and which we will continue to see in the legacy he has left. Mr Jones said, “In farewelling Mr Andrew Bell as Principal of Snowy Mountains Grammar School at the end of 2016, I wish to acknowledge the incredible ownership and sense of responsibility that he has demonstrated in his love of, and care for, this school. He has put the school ahead of his own personal needs and benefit. The manner in which he has stretched, grown and challenged staff to a fresh way of thinking and approaching the children in the classroom, on the ski fields, at the gymkhana and on the athletics track, is one that is rare, and we have had the benefit and privilege of his commitment and contribution in ways that we will only begin to understand in the years ahead.
We remain committed to the leadership and enrichment of education for the benefit of the community and the surrounding region.
The school song echoes the rugged and nurturing character of the mountains and the similar nature of the staff and students of SMGS.
Because – it is the students that Mr Bell and his staff care for, and they build incredible vertical and peer support in amazing teams across all ages who care for one another like a family of brothers and sisters.
The school has supported and grown many teams of champions and, more importantly, many champion teams, in the diverse academies and programs through which the school works with parents to educate and raise children in preparation for adulthood.
The school honours and thanks you, Mr Bell, from the depth of all our hearts.
Mr and Mrs Bell – you will always be welcome as guests at SMGS.”
We wish Mr Bell and his family all the best as they embark on new adventures in Queensland.