AGM Board President Report - 29 May 2022
Thank you all for attending the 2022 AGM for Carmel School and its associated entity. You have done yourself, your family and our community a great service by investing your time to be more connected and engaged with Our School.
I will start tonight by introducing my fellow board members and a few the School’s Senior Leaders, who will wave or stand when their name is mentioned:
- Dr Julie Harris, our new Principal
- Louise Barnett, Chief Financial Officer
- Vice Presidents: Jonathan Schneider and Rael Bricker who is not here tonight as he is traveling
- Secretary: Simon Moen
- Immediate Past President: Debbie Silbert
- Governor: Rabbi Justice Marcus Solomon
- Board Members: Dr Stephanie Chetrit, Alana Delcanho, Hadassa London and Jessica Barrett
- Special thanks to Janine Myers, Julie’s executive assistant and board minute secretary who assists us all immensely.
I haven’t forgotten our Treasurer: Gary Louis whom I want to single out for special thanks. While all board members invest a lot of time, Gary’s role goes above and beyond. Ensuring that Jewish families who share the School’s values and are prepared to make a meaningful financial investment in their children’s education can attend Carmel is a very difficult and sensitive job. Gary, Nancy Romeo and Louise Barnett alone manage the confidential fee assistance program and work very closely with the parents to ensure that a rigorous, respectful and fair process and outcome is achieved.
This is not a once-a-month job, almost every day there is a fee assistance or financial distress matter to manage. Doing it properly and fairly, as Gary and his team do, is at the heart of Carmel’s core purpose of Am Yisrael Chai – the continuation of the Jewish nation and our community in Perth. Special thanks to Gary, and Nancy and Louise.
I thank the entire Board for your wise and generous counsel, engagement sharp intellect and often wit and the many hours you devote to improving our School. We have a strong and varied team that combine to ensure we can arrive at the best decisions for the future of Carmel.
This is my first President’s report at an AGM and it covers the past 12 months, and I have been President for 11 of them. I recall at the last AGM an underlying anxiety from our parents about the future direction of the school and perception of a too high turnover in staff and loss of students.
I want to let you know that the Board listened, in many areas shared your concerns and, in my report tonight I will outline what steps the Board is taking and will take to increase the Community’s confidence and our enrolments. I will also touch on the many other achievements of the School over the past year.
We are aware that we need to look deeper into what the School offers, how open we are to the changing face of the Jewish community and listen more to our current and prospective Jewish families to understand how we can improve the loyalty and commitment that will sustain Carmel School for many generations in the future.
So as a Board, what are we doing to ensure that we are strengthening our commitment to the Perth Jewish community, living up to our side of this long and mutually beneficial relationship?
As I mentioned earlier, our community is changing. It has become both more and less involved in Jewish practices and we have more mixed families whose engagement with Judaism and expectations from the School are varied. So, we need to get to know each other better, to understand the diverse perspectives, needs and concerns of our community. With this in mind, the Board took two important steps mid last year:
Firstly, we recruited some exceptional people to the Board who have unique voices that were not previously represented on the Board. We were very pleased to welcome to the Board three OKCs:
- Alana Delcanho
- Hadassa London
- Jessica Barrett
In the short time they have been on the board they have already made significant contributions to improve the School and I am looking forward to working closely with them in the coming years.
Secondly, we started Parent Consultation Groups – each board member was assigned three year groups and sought out a representative that puts them in touch with the diverse views of the parents, what is happening in the school and a group of people they can consult with.
There is much building to do of the PCGs and a deeper engagement is required but it is a start and provides an additional forum to understand what is happening and to listen, listen and listen.
In this short period of time, which has been greatly impacted by COVID, what have we learned and how has the Board responded?
- School rules and standards are for every student and family and should be enforced, enforced equally and fairly. For example, uniform standards and attendance rules are critical to fostering respect and pride in our school amongst students and parents.
- The facilities needed more maintenance and upgrading: we have invested significant sums in the maintenance of the school for example new carpets in the ELC, air-conditioning units, blinds and speakers in the classrooms, and our social media viral hit, the new and I stress brand new, big school bus. The investment in keeping our grounds in good condition and engenders pride, will continue.
- Enrolments have declined which has social and financial consequences. I have been very active in speaking to parents, particularly those selecting other schools for their children and while we have had some retention successes, not enough, in my view. Dr Harris has been very active engaging with year 5 & 6 parents to provide them with opportunities to see how wonderful our High School is and discuss the educational needs of the students. We have a dynamic group leading the engagement program for 0-4 year olds to increase the enrolments into Kindy and Prep. We re-introduced scholarships for current and new students and along with PHC, MDS and MZH we have launched a social media campaign to attract families from the East States, SA and UK. You may have seen the videos we produced together and led by the School. We have a comprehensive plan to increase enrolments from current 407 to 500 by the start of the 2025 school year.
- Our core differentiating product – the Jewish Life & Learning Program, has been cited in parent surveys and other interactions as not meeting the diverse needs of our community as much as possible. We are announcing this week a major review of the JL&L Program including a wide-ranging engagement process to ensure as many members of our community can be heard. We have a very diverse Jewish community that the School must cater for and ensuring that the education we offer is educationally strong, engaging, impactful to the students and their family and worth paying for, is vital for our future.
On Sunday evening June 12 we are organising an information and social event to update the community about all these plans as well as having a drink, some food and an opportunity for to ask questions. Please put it in your calendars and encourage others to attend. [Please note this event was postponed].
Every President’s report comments on the ATAR results of the most recent graduating class, in this case the 40 students of 2021.
As a board and as parents of students who have or will sit ATAR, we are all very conscious of the nuanced and comprehensive factors that determine success at the end of Year 12. I would like to share with you how Carmel School measures success and how we work very hard throughout the students’ time at Carmel to give them the best chance of success.
- Every child who wants to strive for an ATAR score can – last year 95% of students studied for an ATAR, this is 20-30% higher than comparable schools who exclude weaker students from ATAR courses which increases their school’s ranking in the league tables published in the newspaper.
- Every Carmel student who sat ATAR is accepted into a university course – which is the sole reason you need an ATAR – last year 100% of students achieved this goal.
- Were they engaged in school life, were they a strong Student Representative Council, did they make the most of their camps and other activities? Absolutely, some were stars of the Addams Family Musical you may have attended, Purim was a great success and 21 out of 40 chose to participate in a gap year program in Israel – an extraordinarily high %, when over the past 5 or so years, far fewer than 25% have gone to Israel.
- Every student received individual attention – to ensure their wellbeing was our number one priority, that they achieved their individual potential (in most cases exceeded) and that they as a class felt connected to each other and the School. We paid great attention to their mental health, social engagement and how they were contributing to the Class and School as the Year 12, leaders. Because our classes are small we know every student and uniquely for Carmel, we can personalise the educational experience we offer. The entire Carmel educational journey is organised to ensure our students are VERY well prepared to enter the world or leave the Carmel Bubble as the School Captains so insightfully and humorously called it in their valedictory speech.
The class of 2021 was a great success and as many board members had children in this class, I can assure you they share this sentiment.
The arrival of a new Principal for the 2022 school year was a momentous event which should have featured higher up in my report. Dr Julie Harris joined us from Guildford Grammar School and has spent many years preparing for this opportunity to be Principal. I have had the real privilege of working very closely with Julie over the past 5 months and you would be hard pressed to find a more intelligent, curious, capable and empathetic leader with real integrity. The fact that she can sing HaTikvah and gave me a very interesting explanation for dressing up on Purim is only a small part of how well Julie is fitting into the School and her now role. She has a deep understanding of the value of a religious and community education, of the need to instil a strong cultural or religious identity in our students, she has an ability to build mutual respect and has expertise in teaching and learning and how to raise the standards of the school in this crucial area.
Boards do not operate schools, nor do we tell Principals how to do their job. We set the strategy, objectives and manage and review the financial and overall governance of the school. Why and What is set by the Board, HOW is determined by our CLT led by Dr Harris. As you have heard we have ambitious and well thought-through plans to improve Carmel and we have every confidence that Julie and her Leadership Team will succeed.
The past year also saw some other achievements which should be noted in my report:
- It was announced that the Shorashim trip to Israel will go ahead at the end of this year, for the year 10 and 11 class. All subject to COVID and insurance but planning is well under way. This is our signature program that connects the students to their Zionism and Israel which they have learned so much about over their entire schooling at Carmel.
- The Business Breakfast was another great success with Richard Goyder speaking and Malcolm McCusker as MC. Serious thanks to JEF Chair Jonathon Silbert and Immediate Past President Debbie Silbert for organising it.
- Jonathon Silbert notified us of his resignation from the role of Chair of the Jewish education foundation and a replacement is currently being sought. Jonathon pretty much worked singlehandedly, and we are very grateful for his achievements with the JEF under his leadership.
Carmel is led by an exceptional Board, an outstanding Principal, a truly experienced and dedicated Leadership Team and has a settled and highly professional team of educators and administrators.
We have looked very closely at the strengths and weaknesses of Carmel, we are definitely not blind to any of its previous or current failings and need for improvement and we now have plans to put the school onto a positive trajectory and make every aspect of the School Excellent!
But we can’t do it alone and we certainly can’t do it without every Carmel parent and the wider community. We need your support and what does that look like?
- Give us your commitment, trust and some breathing space that things will improve because they already are. Talk more positively about the school, focus on its strengths and be a goodwill ambassador.
- Encourage other Jewish families to send their children to Carmel or keep them here. If you don’t do that, please don’t complain to us that your child’s class is too small. It is your school, not just ours.
- Be respectful and supportive of the Teachers. They are experts in education and know your children exceptionally well. Raising a child is a partnership between the School and their parents and that relationship also needs a high level of trust and goodwill.
- Get involved – attend school functions, have your say on the JL&L review, volunteer with the P&F which is having a renaissance, ask the Board how you can help the school succeed and encourage your friends and family to do the same. At every other school you are a customer, at Carmel School you are a much-valued community member, part of the family and this entails mutual responsibilities and obligations.
Carmel School is your school, it is our School, we strive for and often achieve excellence where it matters and with your continued support and commitment we will make it even better.
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