Principal’s report for 2020.
Hello and thank you for attending the 2021 AGM. It is great to see you all here and I thank you for your support. I would like to particularly thank the school board for their support and assistance. 2020 was an extremely difficult year and the Board were excellent in the way they supported some of the quite difficult decisions we had to make during the year. The board also continued with the important work of strategic planning and funding. Knowing that I have the support of a team of very capable and efficient people allows me to maintain my focus on the ongoing operation of the school and the achievement of our goals.
I would also like to thank our Business Manager, Karina, for her hard work throughout 2020 and beyond. It was a very busy year for Karina with grant applications, bank changes, and the financial effects of Covid-19. Karina is extremely efficient and is a great support.
2020 was a year that will certainly not be forgotten in a hurry. As with all other schools and many other businesses we were deeply affected by Covid-19 and the impact that it has had on not just our community but the entire globe. It was perhaps the most challenging time I have experienced at Giant Steps Tasmania in the 16 years that I have worked here. When the virus started to make its way through the world and lockdowns and restrictions were put in place we ended term 1 2020 with very few students on campus and most students working at home. The beginning of Term 2 was very much a similar story with our students being provided a variety of online and remote learning resources to work through in their homes. Some students began to return to the school through necessities, such as having essential workers as parents, or that it simply was unmanageable for the child to be at home.
Our teaching and support staff were simply amazing in the way they adapted and developed resources to support our students. The workload was immense, and it was quite a steep learning curve. By the end of term 2 we had most of our students back and with restrictions slowly lifting, some form of normalcy returned. It was a hard time for our casual staff members with work opportunities limited and it was wonderful to be able to welcome them back as the year progressed. However, as with most of the community, there are still many changes in place that will be with of us for some time. Such things as increased cleaning regimes, QR code check-ins, hand sanitiser and increased vigilance on colds and flus help to keep us safe and maintain our preparedness if we are to experience an outbreak again.
Our students have very individual requirements, and the delivery of our programs is very individual and quite intensive. We work with very high student-to-staff ratios and try to provide strong structure and routine to help our students. With students working from home there was much we needed to adapt to help our families deliver these programs in their own homes. Supporting our families became, perhaps more than ever, of vital importance. We must consider the needs of our families and they should all be commended for the positivity and willingness they upheld throughout the enforced home learning period. We must all stay safe, and these methods of isolation were necessary, but for Special Education it created challenges we had never envisaged. The isolation and stringent rules on arrivals to the state created an exceptionally difficult environment for some of our families and staff members with family members or partners who work in a fly in fly out system. We have a passion for what we do, and these challenges will serve to strengthen us and there will be many positives that come from it.
If there were silver linings to the pandemic it was seeing how people rose to the occasion in many ways and in different areas. As I mentioned our staff were spectacular and adapted so well. As essential workers, we must keep working in these times and help our society to continue to function. It is not just our teachers but all aspects of the organisation. Our reception and admin staff, our cleaners, our teacher aides, and Allied Health professionals, all worked as a team to provide for our students. It broke our hearts to not have them on the campus and we were overjoyed to return to a semi-normal service. The students have also been tremendously resilient, much more than we would have ever expected. As the school year went on these students saw more and more reduction in activities, we were no longer able to go shopping in the community, we had to close our pool, we could not walk down to the river. They took all this very well, there is no doubt that the collective stress of the community was wearing them down, but the students made us so proud. They took to online learning beautifully and we were seeing some great progress from many students. For others, it was a massive challenge, and we will be working on ways to help alleviate this should the need arise again.
2020 continued the steady rise in enrolments and we were able to build on the strong end to 2019 where we had a very healthy census number of 33.3 full-time equivalent enrolments. This rose to 35.8 in the 2020 census and numbers this year are higher again, with several students on a waiting list. The increase in students is excellent and we are pleased to be able to offer opportunities to more students. It does, of course, put pressure on our existing facilities, and this puts more importance on our planning for the future. In 2020 we were fortunate to be able to purchase 33 West Church Street and this has given us some great options for space. The future of this property is not yet definite, but it was a golden opportunity too good to miss. In 2020 we were successful in our application to the State Government for Capital Works, and they will be granting us $200,000.00 toward Stage 1 and 2 of our building plans. This will result in the building of 2 new classroom buildings and the refurbishment of the Tower Hill Cottage in 2021.
Staffing our program is sometimes challenging and as we grow larger it becomes more difficult. We hope to attract dedicated and suitably qualified individuals to our team, and it is always a shame when we lose a team member. The position of Speech Pathologist is proving a most formidable challenge with the added stress of Covid-19 making it harder to recruit internationally. As a result, we spent 2020 and up to now without a Speech Pathologist on staff. We are working with external organisations to receive some advice and consultation. This may well be the approach we need to take in the future.
Heidi Bush, our Education Administrator continues to drive and adapt our school curriculum to best meet the needs of our students. Her careful and dedicated work with the teaching staff is serving to constantly improve upon our service and make for an individualised curriculum for each student that is appropriate but challenging.
Throughout the challenges of 2020 we were able to experience many great things. Our Sporting Programs were interrupted but we were still able to keep some swimming and experience football and basketball. Our sports day was its usual success, and we were all so happy to resume walking around our community. Our movie makers expanded their skills with Claymation challenges and knowledge and our talented children wowed us with their skills in our end of year celebration. A new Fuso Rosa 25 seater bus was another highlight of 2020. The purchase of this bus, made possible through support from the Rotary Club of Deloraine, allowed us to greatly simplify and streamline our bus service by not having to run multiple smaller buses on the Launceston or Devonport route. This makes a big difference to staffing and creates a more efficient and consistent service for the students. In 2020 we received many wonderful donations and gifts. As always, I am amazed by the enthusiastic nature in which the community supports Giant Steps Tasmania. The Deloraine based Golden Opportunity Shop continues to support several students and it is simply amazing what this small volunteer-run shop does for us. They really are local heroes. The Deloraine Community Bank/Bendigo Bank was generous enough to grant our school$36119.60 for the purchase and installation of a new playground fort. This organisation does a great deal for the Meander Valley Community and we are so grateful for their support. The Blackstone Christian Centre once again donated over 20 Christmas Food hampers to our families and this year they were better than ever! They even went to the trouble of creating some gluten free options for families on limited diets. The many Service clubs and groups that support our school and the generous individuals all help us to deliver our programs and allow us to strive to do the best for our students.
In conclusion, we have faced many challenges and arrived at the other side stronger and with a good knowledge of what we may do in a similar situation. Our school is in a strong position with enrolments and our curriculum and program are a constantly evolving quest for excellence. I am grateful for where we are and I am grateful for your support.