Hello to all of the members of the Giant Steps Tasmania family and in particular those of you who were able to attend this year’s Annual General meeting. Thank you very much for your attendance and continued support. I am very proud to be in the position of Principal in this our twentieth year of operation. Giant Steps Tasmania has come a long way since 1995 and we have provided a service to many different people over the years. I hope that we have made a positive impact on the community and that we continue to provide quality, caring and high standard services to those living on and with the autism spectrum.
With the twentieth anniversary upon us there will be some exciting events planned for later in the year. We hope to catch up with some old friends and make some new memories whilst reminiscing about the old. We will of course be contacting you all with details as they are finalised. Over the last twenty years we have received tremendous support from the families and friends of Giant Steps Tasmania, many of you have worked tirelessly to fight for funding, support and to raise the profile of not only Giant Steps Tasmania but the autism community in general. We have always had close ties with Autism Tasmania and have enjoyed support from many different Rotary, Lions and other service clubs, church groups and organisations throughout the state. It is however the Deloraine and Meander valley community that we owe the most to. I am often humbled and amazed at the amazing support given to the organisation by the local community. We seem to hold a very special place in the hearts of many people and I believe that the community is proud to have such an organisation in their area. Whether it be as simple as a kind face and a chat out on the street or a generous donation. We always feel at home in Deloraine and welcome.
Looking back on the year we have had many exciting and interesting events and occasions that are worthy of mention. Recently Giant Steps Tasmania was able to hold our first “Day Out”. This was a tremendous family fun day that was organised for us by the Rapid Relief Team. This organisation helps out the community in many ways often supplying food and beverages to emergence personnel in times of crisis. In May it was out turn and what a day it was! Food and drink were supplied free of charge to those who turned out for the day from our organisation and beyond. Activities, Face Painting and visits from all local emergencies service vehicles made for a day to remember. It was a great gift to our community and the fact we were able to share it with others made it even more special. This year Giant steps Tasmania participated in the Deloraine ANZAC Day march. A student and staff laid a wreath to honour the contribution made by those in the armed forces. It was great to be involved and an honour for our school to be able to say thank you to the many men and women who have served.
Giant Steps Tasmania continues our focus on developing strong links with other organisation connected to our own. This includes visiting other schools and service providers to share and expand upon our knowledge of our clients. We know the importance of consistency and continuity and we hope to help provide a high level of service across organisational boundaries. Examples of how we may help out in our educational and care communities are by providing training and mentoring to those who work with our students. Next month we will be providing an informal training session to the North West Department of Education swim instructors to help them improve how they work with and adjust their own practice whilst working with our students. All of our students and clients deserve a high level of care and respect and we can help to ensure this by making sure we are actively involved in their lives.
Parents, carers, guardians and families are the most important link in these chains of communication and we hope by providing a variety of ways for families to contact and connect with the school we can keep communication, open, honest and effective. We not only help families with strategies and tools for improving the quality of home life and learning but we stand to gain much knowledge form them as well as the true experts on their children. We started in 2014 to organise and to provide meetings in both Launceston and Devonport where we supply care and supervision to students, clients and their siblings allowing the families and carers to relax and talk with our staff and each other. It makes for a very enjoyable but effective parent staff conference and is much easier for families to manage.
In the interests of not only improving our means of communication but improving how we send out our message to the community and potential clients we have commissioned the development of a new website. Walkers Design in Launceston will be working closely with the school other the coming months to develop a dynamic and exciting new website that will provide information for new and existing parents as well as giving avenues for interested community members to find out more about the organisation and what we do. Having a quality presence on the internet that is clean, fresh, smart phone and tablet friendly and easily negotiated is so important for us to be able to continue assisting those in the community who may need our service and for portraying the right image to the community.
First Steps – In the Early Intervention area we have seen a healthy increase in clients this year after a small slump towards the end of 2014 with many clients turning seven and moving on. The numbers are currently at 17 clients (a new one just today!) who are accessing around 37 sessions a week. This year we have managed to attract a new batch of clients and in many cases our active Facebook page has been the first point of contact for families. Keeping involved in community events such as the Autism Tasmania family fun day have also been of benefit. Families are often very emotional at the beginning of accessing services and we have had some beautiful moments this year already with children making great progress. The First Steps team is wonderful and their work is of great value to families.
In the school area of Giant Steps Tasmania we continue to work on and develop our curriculum to best suit the individual needs of our many and varied students. We continue to work with the Melbourne University on our SWANS project and we have also been participating in some projects with Independent Schools Tasmania and have been involved in a very interesting look into Professional Conversations with the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL). Giant Steps Tasmania was also one of a very small number of schools to participate in the Continuous Quality Improvement Project. This project aims to improve the data collected in the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability which aims to provide Australian schools, parents, education authorities and the community with information about the number of students with disability in schools, where they are located and the adjustments they receive. School numbers are at 24.4 full time enrolments up from the start of the year at 21.6. We also have a new student starting full time as of next term.
In other fantastic school news we hosted the schools registration board in October last year for our 2015 review. This was a much different visit to our last and the school has been given registration until December 2018. It was a wonderful achievement and a great pat on the back for the whole organisation. The school owes a lot to the supreme work ethics of Vanessa Harvey (Curriculum Coordinator), Heidi Bush (IST Curriculum guru) and Karina Johnstone (Business and Administration Manager) and the board for their hard work that allows such success at these registration meetings.
Over in the Next Steps area our adult clients have been enjoying a fantastic program with a wide variety of activities and experiences to keep their days entertaining, informative and meaningful. Recent activities have seen the Next Steps crew selling coffee grounds for fertilizer through a garden store working on designs for dog pillows using donated hessian sacks and a continuation of their brochure delivering duties. With some of the money the group has made from these enterprises they have recently bought a water fountain and have created a nice calming place to sit with a rock garden and fountain. It is not all work over there however with many fun excursions mixed in. Recent trips have been to Hollybank, Sheffield, the Bluff, The academy of the arts and the V8 racing cars. The group has a superb atmosphere and the clients and staff treat each other with a very high level of respect and admiration.
As is often the case we have received some fantastic donations and grants this year to enhance and develop our programs. The Tasmanian Community Fund granted $21000 to purchase and install outdoor fitness equipment. This has been of incredible benefit to all areas of our organisation, the equipment gives an option to our older clients in the playground but the small children love it as well. They are a great addition to the school and a wonderful way to encourage a healthy lifestyle through exercise. We must also give thanks to Brian Chapman from Island Recreation for giving us a super deal that allowed us to buy more equipment than expected. Last year we received some money from the MyState Foundation to purchase sewing machines. These have been used to create sensory aprons. These aprons will be donated to students in need of such items and over time the design will be perfected to perhaps create an enterprise activity for the school. We have also received a grant from the Meander Valley Council to work collaboratively with local schools to paint our new fence. Weather permitting, this will start tomorrow. We have recently purchased a new 25 seater bus, we are looking for sponsors for this awesome machine and we can already thank the Deloraine Rotary Club for a generous donation. The new bus has allowed for more clients to participate from the North West coast.
The staff of Giant Steps Tasmania continue to do magical and inspiring work here at Giant Steps Tasmania and of course without them it would be impossible to run our program. The atmosphere of Giant Steps Tasmania is often so calm and the staff are so attentive of the children that visitors are often impressed and leave with a very positive image of life here in our organisation. They deserve great thanks each and every one of them.
To finish of my report of the year I would like to give my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all the members of the board. The board is a huge support to me in my role as principal and it is very reassuring to know that there is a team of people there to support the organisation if need be. The board members spend many hours a year helping to plan the strategic direction of the school, manage the finances and provide support. This year we also say goodbye to a long standing board member in Tim Biggs. Tim has been a highly valued member of the board and I will personally miss his input into board discussions along with the intelligent and well thought out responses to my emails and questions.
Thank you all once again for your interest, it is much appreciated.