Thank you for taking the time to read the Principal’s report that will reflect on the 2017 year, a year that held many challenges for Giant Steps Tasmania. It was a year of change and difficult decisions that have had quite an effect on Giant Steps Tasmania as an organisation.
The biggest challenge that Giant Steps Tasmania faced in 2017 was the difficult decision about the future of our Adult Program. Over a period of almost two years the board and organisation management had been working on possible solutions to keep the adult room open and viable as a service whilst being faced with a situation that was not financially viable. Many different options were explored and discussed and due to the strong emotional attachment to the clients and the staff of the service, many of whom had grown up alongside our organisation, it was an arduous and sensitive task.
It was clear that we could not maintain the high-quality service we had created and run it successfully with the current funding on offer for the NDIA. The decision to close our service at the end of the 2017 operational year was made in June and parents of the service were notified the next day along with staff who would be affected. As much notice was given as possible to provide all concerned the most time available to look for other services. The weeks and months that followed were some of the most challenging times I have faced as leader of this organisation and the anguish and emotional reactions to the closure affected us all deeply.
Giant Steps Tasmania immediately set about the task of finding alternative services for our clients and doing our best to try and provide options for families, clients and staff. A forum was held in Deloraine with all relevant service providers in the North and North West of the state invited to attend. Many meetings were held on and off site and by the end of the year all our existing clients had at least the basis of a 2018 program. Some staff were offered redundancy packages and we said a sad farewell to some long-standing staff. Other staff re-integrated into the school. The media, although I am sure well meaning, created additional distress and emotional damage by getting many aspects of the story wrong and creating the impression that the whole organisation was to close. This took a tremendous amount of work to rectify and in some areas this information is still rattling around members of the community.
It was a very hard time, but I can see that there will be some future positives. Giant Steps Tasmania can now concentrate on the increasingly complicated business of being a registered independent school providing a unique and well-regarded service to our wonderful cohort of students. Former clients are exploring new horizons and other new and specialised services are being created in new and interesting ways to provide individualised, targeted services for these clients. There is much work to do still and we need to prepare our students to enter the adult world where they can make their mark and choose a path that allows them to contribute and participate in society at the highest level possible.
The school year of Giant Steps Tasmania created a whole different set of challenges and difficult decisions. A strong and steady increase in enrolments saw our full time equivalent of students up to a record high of 31.2 made up of 46 individual students. This created some pressure on our existing class groupings. Various ideas were trialled but eventually the choice settled on creating a new group. This group was to be called Orange Room and would be made up of students between the grades of grade 6/7 to grade 8/9, effectively a middle school group giving an extra step between the upper primary group Red Room and the high school group Blue Room. This meant a new teacher and some change for existing students. It was not always a smooth path to this new system but by the end of 2017 Orange Room and Blue Room had a separate identity and we had uncovered a gem of a new teacher in Danielle Whatley. In 2018 this system is working exceptionally well.
Staffing created some challenges in 2017 when our wonderful young Speech Pathologist Paige left us for new adventures at St Giles. The hunt for a Speech Pathologist was long and quite frustrating. It is very hard to attract people to Tasmania and through discussions with Paige we had decided that we had to really support the next Speech Pathologist as a sole operator in a school. Along the journey we discovered an excellent service provider, Hr+, this is a government funded service that provides free help with placement along with funding for relocation and training of new professionals in the health area. We also discovered two new Speech Pathologists. Terri and Nupi were so good we found a way to hire both and we are ever so pleased we did. Nupi is at the very start of her career and is enthusiastic and highly intelligent. The children love her sessions and she is a great professional. Terri is a practitioner of many years experience and brings a wealth of knowledge and insight that is priceless. Together they have revolutionised our delivery of Speech Pathology and along with our Occupational Therapist Siaren and the newly appointed OT Assistant Shiela we have created a great Allied Health team.
The school is in a great position and we are constantly striving to improve our curriculum and delivery of service. Increasingly we are looking to not only other special schools but to the mainstream for ideas and our students are given every opportunity to perform and flourish. Chris Jacobsen continues to be a valuable resource and as Education Administrator helps guide our staff in policy and service delivery in a highly professional and efficient way. Staff use a variety of online and concrete resources to tailor lessons to each individual student. A high level of differentiation goers into each lesson plan and staff must consider the learning and emotional levels of each student. Behind the scenes the admin staff do a great job and Karina Johnstone, our extremely capable Business Manager, keeps our financial matters under control with great skill and precision.
Professional Development of staff is a high priority and some achievements in that area have been getting almost all staff qualified to a level in the Predict Assess & Respond To Challenging/Aggressive Behaviour (PART™) Course. PART is a proactive response approach to the prevention and management of aggression resulting in positive outcomes for all. Siaren and I are now qualified to train this and we are tremendously pleased with the way in which this course has helped staff to work more effectively and compassionately with our students. Our allied health team started to deliver afternoon training session to staff in 2017 and these are a great way to share and expand the knowledge of staff. Staff have also been completing courses such as bronze medallions and swim training. This helps to keep our students safe and again expands the skills of our staff.
As is thankfully the case each year we have been fortunate enough to be the recipients of several very generous and exciting donations and gifts. It is impossibly to thank everyone here but I assure the members of the Giant Steps Community that we thank and give the upmost respect to all who give to our cause no matter how big or small their gift. This year notable donations have come from Brian and Wendy Faulkner who continue their fantastic support. The Golden Opportunity Shop in Deloraine continues to amaze us with their support of our children. Mr Brian Kirkman yet again gave a considerable donation to the end of year party. The Cityview Christian Church dug deep into their parishioner’s pantries and hearts and donated a hamper to 20 families at the end of the year to help with the holiday season. The list goes on with many individuals, service clubs and organisations helping us with their generosity.
A thankyou to all the families and carers of Giant Steps. Your continued support and efforts help us immeasurably and we recognise that you are the experts on your children. We are committed to finding new and efficient ways to communicate and share knowledge with you and in 2017 we expanded upon our use of the Storypark system. This great system allows us to record and communicate learning as it happens via photos, video, audio and observations within a secure online environment. Families and staff can receive instant feedback and plan new ways to extend children’s unique interests and abilities. It is also proving very useful for inter staff communications and messages. All our staff should be congratulated on how they have embraced this new system and Bianca Kenney in particular should be thanked for taking the lead on this and providing staff with the training they needed.
I will end this year’s report by thanking the board of Giant Steps Tasmania. 2017 was a particularly challenging year to be a board member and the decisions that had to be made have been, as mentioned previously, emotional and not taken lightly. I am immensely grateful for the respect and help of the school board and feel supported in all my work. I mention it every year, but it needs to be said that the board devote many hours a year to Giant Steps Tasmania for no monetary gain. There are no public awards or celebrations of their work, but they do it with a positive attitude and with a desire to do some good in the community. During the year we happily welcomed Peter Griffin to the board. We have also said a sad farewell to Dianne Bambridge and Michael Breen. We thank them for their many years of service and wish them the best of luck.