Photo story: Building a school community from scratch

Schools are special spaces; where the affordances of physical design come together with values, purpose and culture, and where staff work hard to set students up to lead fulfilling lives. But what do schools look like before the hustle and bustle of students and teachers on the grounds? What is involved with building up a school community from scratch?

Principal Ray Boyd and Associate Principal Rachael Lehr have been navigating this journey for the past 7 months, and have been documenting the progress of their new school, West Swan (Dayton) Primary School (planning name), as it’s built in Perth, Western Australia.

In today’s photo story, we share some of the key moments from Ray and Rachael as they reach their milestones, overcome hurdles and build a school of growth and possibilities.

The process so far

In late-January, work begins on the new school in Dayton. With lots to do, sights are set on building a school that the local community will be proud of.

Still in the early stages of planning and development, on 30 January, Principal Ray Boyd prints Google Maps images of the local area, arranging them together to visualise the catchment area for the school. ‘Looking at this, combined with my ride around the suburb, I am suggesting numbers will be high [and] grow quickly,’ Boyd writes on Twitter.

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Image credit: @RayBoyd007/Twitter

At the beginning of February working from Brabham Primary School, where he has a dedicated space to work while his school is being built, Boyd continues through early planning stages, drawing up a large plan of the ‘Evolution of Development’ for the future school, including different goals, values and frameworks.

Image credit: @RayBoyd007/Twitter

In mid-February, the school’s online presence is established with the launch of the Facebook page for West Swan (Dayton) Primary School (planning name). By 15 February, all the school’s social media accounts are active and the official school profile is posted to the Department of Education’s SchoolsOnline information site.

On 25 March, Rachael Lehr, leader in Digital Technologies and STEM and advocate for girls’ education, is appointed Associate Principal. ‘Mrs Lehr brings a wealth of knowledge to the role, both theoretical and practical sense,’ Boyd writes on LinkedIn. ‘Mrs Lehr will be an outstanding leader within our school community supporting us in “Honouring the past in building a brighter future.”’

While Boyd and Lehr build up to the advertisement of staff positions, the school’s prospectus is launched in late March. ‘The prospectus forms the heart of everything that is developed across and within the school in future years,’ writes Boyd on LinkedIn. The prospectus sets out the vision for the school, with the acknowledgement that it will evolve to reflect community members, future staff and stakeholders as the school develops.

Three Community Conversation Café sessions are held across 21 and 22 April at the Dayton Community Centre. The sessions, run by Boyd and Lehr, open up a collaborative space for parents and community members to have a voice in the planning for the new school.

In late-May, Boyd and Lehr spend a morning printing off and neatly folding 500 enrolment brochures to deliver to the school’s intake area. The brochures include information about the new school, and details for enrolments as they open up for the 2023 school year.

Well, what have you done all morning?
I folded 500 brochures to go and deliver in our @DaytonPS intake area.🥹 I’m now giving up on the rest so we can get out in the sunshine and deliver them… 📬

— ✨Rachael Lehr✨ (@rachaellehr) May 20, 2022
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Image credit: @rachaellehr/Twitter

The next day, Boyd and Lehr head out into the Dayton community to drop flyers into local mail boxes, the old fashioned way. They manage to deliver to 500 homes, leaving the final 445 for the following week. ‘Great to talk to some residents today as we made our way around the streets,’ writes Boyd on Facebook.

On 31 May and 2 June, Boyd and Lehr run the first round of prospective staff information sessions at their host school, Brabham Primary School. The information sessions give Boyd and Lehr the opportunity to share their purpose and vision with prospective staff in the lead up to opening applications for teachers and education assistants. More information sessions are held following the first round, with over 240 prospective staff attending at least one session.

Fuelled by plenty of coffee, Boyd and Lehr select furniture for each part of the new school in early June. The furniture orders are meticulously checked to ensure all the correct items arrive before Term 1 starts in 2023.

‘Leaders are readers!’ writes Lehr. Reading and research is a big part of Boyd and Lehr’s planning in the development of the school’s ethos and the teaching and leadership styles of staff. Pictured below are Boyd’s ‘to-go’ books on display for the final prospective staff information session.

A bit of light reading… 📖 @RayBoyd007 has all his ‘go to’ books on display to share with prospective staff at our final information session for @DaytonPS this morning… Leaders are readers!

— ✨Rachael Lehr✨ (@rachaellehr) June 11, 2022
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Image credit: @rachaellehr/Twitter

On a sunny day in late-June, Boyd and Lehr visit the school site to install new signs advertising enrolments for 2023. While they’re there, they take the opportunity to meet with the site supervisor to discuss how the build is progressing.

The image below shows the development of the school site, a few days after signs are installed on the curb side. Enrolments grow as the walls of the school buildings continue to rise with them.

As our enrolments continue to rise, so to do the walls of our buildings. Work continues on our school's site & it is exciting to see. Have a great weekend everyone

— Ray Boyd (@RayBoyd007) June 24, 2022
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Image credit: @RayBoyd007/Twitter

On 30 June, it is announced that the school will be using the Seesaw app as a key platform for communication with families, and for students to share their learning with family members. The invitation to join Seesaw is sent out via email to families who have had their application for enrolment approved.

The first stage of recruitment commences on 5 July, as Boyd and Lehr post the first job advertisement online for the 2023 appointment pool including teachers from Kindergarten to Year 6, with permanent and fixed term, full-time and part-time vacancies to continue opening up into the 2023 school year.

On July 22, the new school in Dayton reaches 150 enrolments. Numbers are climbing quickly as word gets out about the school, and the school community continues to grow well before the doors open.

🤩We are so excited to have 150 'in area' students enrolled to attend our school in 2023!🤩
We can't wait to meet them all and are looking forward to reaching our next target of 200 students.
Watch this space... 🤩

— West Swan (Dayton) Primary School (planning name) (@DaytonPS) July 22, 2022

Boyd and Lehr embark on a road trip to Watheroo Primary School in Moora, Western Australia on 25 July. There, they meet with Principal Marita Henry to collect books and sports equipment.

Another road trip with @rachaellehr Headed out to Watheroo PS to pick up some sports equipment & a few books from the principal Marita Henry. Such a beautiful little school 🏫 & a wonderful conversation with Marita. Also a former staff member of WBPS in its foundation year.

— Ray Boyd (@RayBoyd007) July 25, 2022
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Image credit: @RayBoyd007/Twitter

Communicating the ethos and approach of the new school is an ongoing process, with these messages embedded across communications from the very beginning. In identifying an instructional framework for the school, Boyd writes, ‘We will be a school that utilises the appropriate teaching strategy at the appropriate time in order to ensure a greater level of mastery and a deeper level of conceptual understanding for the kids that attend.’

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Image credit: @Ray Boyd/LinkedIn

For Boyd and Lehr, professional learning is another ongoing process. In late July, they attend a professional learning event hosted at Guildford Grammar School by the Association for Philosophy in Schools, and was designed to provide educators will the skills to help students think critically, creatively and collaboratively.

By 28 July, the administration building at the new school has begun to take shape. The construction continues while behind the scenes, Boyd and Lehr continue taking enrolments, working on recruitment, organising school uniforms and more. ‘There is always plenty to do and life is certainly never dull,’ Lehr writes on LinkedIn.

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Image credit: @Rachael Lehr/LinkedIn

Building a school community from the ground up provides many opportunities to bring experience and innovation together in new and exciting ways. Many of the ‘steps’ in the long journey preceding the opening of a new school can happen in a non-linear fashion, just as they have for Boyd and Lehr, creating opportunities for growth, collaboration and thoughtful development along the way.

Stay tuned: we will soon be launching the first episode of a new podcast series, School Assembly. Monthly episodes will provide updates on Ray and Rachael’s journey as they bring us insights into what it takes to build a school community from the ground up.

Until then, you can follow Rachael and Ray’s progress through their social media accounts, linked in this article.

As a school leader, consider how the values and ethos of your school reflect your school community. How can you work with teachers to ensure strong values across the board?

As a teacher, what professional learning opportunities are available to you at your school? Who can you talk to, to find out more?