School Assembly Episode 5: Building a new school

Thanks for downloading Episode 5 of School Assembly. I’m Zoe Kaskamanidis.

In this series, we follow Principal Ray Boyd and Associate Principal Rachael Lehr as they navigate the exciting and challenging journey of building a new school community from the ground up. Each month, we touch base for updates and reflections on their progress as their new school, Dayton Primary School, is built in the newly developing suburb of Dayton, located in the eastern metropolitan city of Swan in Perth, Western Australia.

Last month, we spoke to Ray and Rachael about how they have connected with the community throughout the process of building up a new school. In this episode, we talk about the thought processes behind the physical build of the school, as well as the significance of the location itself. Let’s jump in.

Zoe Kaskamanidis: Hi Rachael and Ray, how are you both?

Rachael Lehr: Hey there, how are you?

ZK: I’m good, thanks!

Ray Boyd: Howdy!

ZK: So as always, before we jump into this episode, I wanted to take a look back at some of the big tasks you’ve undertaken over the past month, since we spoke last.

And firstly, on LinkedIn, I saw that the leadership team, along with a representative for the Steering Committee attended a presentation ceremony conducted at the Leadership Institute in Western Australia last week, where you received a recognition certificate of Dayton as an Independent Public School.

So, congratulations on this really important recognition which I know is really key to forming the school’s identity and ethos.

RB: Thank you! That was one of the big ones we discussed during our Communication Cafes. So that was really good, good to get that across the board – officially recognised. We’ve been operating as one when it comes to staffing and a few things, but it’s nice to be able to have that recognition and to be able to share that with the community.

ZK: Yeah, that’s great. And Rachael, after you spoke a little last month about the upcoming recruitment of your Education Assistants, it was great to read a little more about your process using Lego Serious Play, in the interview you did with our Deputy Editor Rebecca Vukovic – and I’ll link that in the podcast transcript for listeners to take a look at too.

So, you’ve obviously made huge strides in recruitment since we last spoke, and I wanted to check in about how you’re going now with recruitment coming up to the end of the year?

RL: We, yeah, we certainly have, Zoe. So, since we last spoke, we had our second Lego Serious Play session with Joel Birch and that was for our Education Assistants. We combined our mainstream and our special needs Education Assistants in that process and brought them all in together. And then since then we've actually now got 3 signed contracts for our mainstream Education Assistants to start the year with us.

We haven't announced them out to the community yet, but they have signed on the dotted line. And then also Cathy, our MCS (our Manager of Corporate Services), has been working hard and recruiting around school officers and cleaners and a head cleaner. So, we've had 3 other processes that Cathy's been overseeing. So, there’s been lots going on in that space.

ZK: That's fantastic. It's really great since speaking to you, kind of at the beginning of all of this, just seeing, you know, the team evolve and develop and hearing about what Cathy, for example, is doing in terms of recruitment and how you're working as a team around the thoughts around this is really exciting.

RL: Yeah and we've had some complexities in our staffing because we've actually had a few teachers who'd sign contracts and then were offered permanent positions in their current school, or somewhere that suited them better, so we've actually had to go through a few processes where we've had to put on another teacher. So that added complexity.

And then one of our teachers that we've got on permanently is pregnant and so we're going to have to be covering them fixed term from very early in the year. So nothing is ever as smooth as you imagine it to be, but we’re certainly having lots of fun in the process.

RB: And the good thing about having a team – well, I mean, it's a good thing and a complex thing at times. I managed and oversaw that the staffing one, Zoe, so I had access to that on BigRedSky. Rachael was doing the EAs (Education Assistants) but then because we've got our MCS there – Cathlin – she is doing the school officers and our cleaners. So each of us has access to different things.

So occasionally you go look at something and go, ‘Oh, I don't have access to that one ‘cause it hasn't been opened yet.’ So it’s just jumping around and sharing that information. But it makes the workload a lot easier in that space as well because each of us while we’re all working on the staffing, each of us heads up those different variables which makes it so much easier.

ZK: That's great. And the final thing we touched base on last month leads us quite nicely into the topic for this episode, which is about the physical build and location of the school. And Dayton is, of course, a new suburb, gazetted only 11 years ago in 2011. How has that impacted the development of the school? And how has it impacted decision making in other areas?

RL: Well, Dayton’s been interesting because as a suburb it was established before Brabham which is the neighbouring suburb where we're located currently at Brabham Primary School. But, Dayton has been a little bit slower to develop. And so there's a lot less in Dayton. There's not a lot of community services and, you know, restaurants, shops or anything like that and there was obviously no school.

But this nearby suburb of Brabham has just really flourished and it's a huge growing area. And on the other side there's another suburb called Caversham and that has actually gone quite far ahead with their development and that has a school.

So Dayton was sort of left behind. So I think it was really time for something to come to Dayton and I know that families have really talked about how they are so happy to have a school in the area and I think it will become quite a community hub for the community because there's not a lot there yet. So that's an exciting aspect of it.

RB: And one of the things that it did – when Rachael and I walked around in the early days and worked out that there's 900 homes here, we looked at Google Maps and looked at our intake area and then had to consider, ‘Alright, which of these can be developed? There's a lot of vineyards so we wouldn't expect them to be ripped up at this point.’

And that was part of the reason we went for a teaching pool initially because we could see that there was growth and development going on in the community and we needed to be able to be proactive in that space rather than reactive. So, by setting up a pool early it enabled us to have staffing or a list of staff for a group of staff that we could draw on and we did the same with the Education Assistants and special needs.

So that was probably the biggest influence. In terms of the build and everything else outside of that, there's no impact in terms of what's happening with the community other than getting feedback from the community and understanding that it may change as it goes. But the biggest influence that it has had, as I mentioned, Zoe, has been on staffing and the way we structured our staff.

ZK: Yeah, fantastic. I think it sounds like there’s, like you’ve said, some things that are quite different in starting up a school in a new suburb like this, but other things that, you know, kind of tick along as per usual.

But I think what you said there Rachael too, about the school becoming a bit of a hub in this new community and growing community is something really special I think, about the context of your school and starting up your school in this suburb. And I can tell from previous conversations we've had that it does seem like the community really feel like this is something special to them as well. So it's really exciting. I can't wait to see it come to life next year too.

RL: Yeah, it’s actually a place to bring together the families because one of our family members on our Steering Committee has actually already gone on to the Dayton Community Facebook and put up, ‘Are you going to be going into Dayton Primary School next year? Let's meet at the local park before we go to school.’

So it's already started connecting the families that may have not had any reason to meet together in the past, no commonality, so before we've even opened, we've actually started to bring together some families and make those connections which is awesome.

ZK: You can't see, but right now I have a big smile on my face. It's really lovely to hear. And of course there’s so much planning you’ve already done around what kinds of features the school will have in terms of the build itself. So can you take me through what some of these features will be?

RB: Yeah. Well obviously one of the most striking features we’ll have is as you come in the main entrance, will be our splashback which Razor Eye’s developing at the moment to go on our letterbox. So that'll be that'll be the first introduction to the school.

Once you step through the gate, there's a corridor that will have these artworks, and we’ve spoken about the artworks before, Zoe, so you have these rather striking artworks that are representative of seedpods and the seasons as per the Aboriginal description of how they see the seasons in Western Australia.

And then you go around the corner and that opens up into a rather large space which has the play areas. And further on you've then got a rather big conversation stick – another striking piece of artwork – and that's before you get into the classrooms. There's very much a flow through the school from when you come into the school to when you actually get to your classrooms.

ZK: Mm, sounds incredible. And I read a statement you had published on your SchoolsOnline page, I think it was a couple months ago maybe, where you’re talking about the planned indoor and outdoor learning spaces, describing them as being ‘carefully designed to inspire connection, creativity and an appreciation of the natural environment.’

And, Ray, you mentioned those outdoor sculptures, and I’ve seen some photos of them which I’ll link in – I think you posed them to social media as well. So it’s really exciting seeing that vision coming to life, and I was wondering if you can tell me a little bit more about this particular vision in the build more broadly as well?

RB: I'd love to take credit for that, but I can't. That's the brainchild of the landscape designer who worked really closely with Christo. So the previous architect has since retired, Bruce Robinson and Andrew from Fourscapes got together and they tried to create this sense of seamlessness in moving from a classroom environment to an outdoor environment.

The Science area’s probably the best example of that, where Science can be a very outdoor – all learning can be outdoors, but Science can be a very outdoor type of activity, particularly when you start to look in the biological fields. So that ability for the teacher to be able to move the kids from the classroom into a learning environment or into a space outside where they can access that.

And the Art area is the same. So we can actually move the kids from the Art area out into this sort of outdoor classroom in the sense that it’s got a loose wall, but then that extends and flows on out into the rest of the school. So it gives this this connection between outdoors.

It's probably not dissimilar, Zoe, to when people say, ‘We've got a big window in our house or a bifold door so you can open these doors and then the living becomes, you can't see where the outdoors and indoors begins and ends.’ And that's the sort of feeling that the architect and the landscaper wanted. And fortunately for us we've been able to tap into that make use of it.

RL: And another aspect, Zoe, is the playgrounds. So, whilst they do have, you know, the plastic and metal aspects, a lot of it is the natural timber and you know, the really sort of earthy looking natural elements.

And I was really excited when we visited last time to discover they’d had to chop some trees down for whatever reason (they were in the wrong place). But what they've actually done is they’d treated those trees and then they’ve put them around the school for the kids to climb on.

So there's a lot of really natural rock and tree elements around in the play areas and it’s sort of creating that space for the kids to take a bit of a safe risk in the playground and get out of their comfort zone a bit which is really exciting.

RB: And being in Morley, out this way has always very much been bush. I mean it's an old farm site that we're on, so it's really nice to feel that bush element – that that's the environment that it's encapsulated within. So, even if we move beyond the classroom and the school itself, there's this seamless connection between the open space next door and what is our school grounds.

ZK: Yeah, I think that's a really great point, like drawing that connection back to the history of the land you're actually on I think is really fantastic for, you know, just connecting to your environment but also in terms of learning like you said.

And we've – I know I've had conversations with people in the past about the benefits of outdoor learning for things like STEM and there's a lot of research there, too. So, it sounds like you're really hitting the nail on the head with a lot of the designs of the outdoor and indoor spaces.

RB: You’ve touched on something there too, Zoe. One of our catch phrases is ‘honouring the past in building a brighter future’. So we're honouring the past with the area and that it's a bush area at the same time enabling kids to progress and move forward. So again, there's that strong sense of connection with everything that we do.

ZK: Mm, absolutely. So last month I remember you mentioned that you were about to meet with the Education Department’s Project Manager at the building site to take a look at the buildings and to think about what the school grounds will look like as Dayton opens its doors to families next year. So what was it like to actually be back on site? And can you give our listeners a few, maybe visual descriptions of what the build looks like at this point in time?

RL: Well, it was 2 things: it was both exciting and a little bit worrying to say the least. It was exciting because we've seen a lot of progress. It was, you know, the carpets were going in and fittings and things like air conditioning, so we could start to see it taking shape.

But it's a little bit worrying because there's at least 4 buildings that aren’t going to be done. So, you're looking around and you've got a very clear construction site. So, our concern now is, what is going to be ready for us to take handover in and when? So there's still a lot to do unfortunately.

RB: I mean, Peter Hamilton talks about empowerment, this locus of control. So for us, we’ve walked around the site and gone, ‘This is wonderful, there's so much to be done.’ And then it's a matter of, ‘Okay, what can we actually focus on that we have some control over?’

We know our Early Childhood block is finished and they're just putting the final touches to that. So that's all tickety-boo which is fantastic because our littlest charges will have a space there. But then it's about us, ‘okay, what if we got that we can control and work within?’

The library’s a fall back for us. We don't think it’ll have to be used, but the chance to also see some of the other spaces being finished like the paving, the front entrance. So there was a lot to celebrate, but as Rachael said, sitting in the back your head is, you’re just looking around going, ‘Oh my god there's still so much to be done.’

ZK: Yeah I can imagine with everything going on you know, that's kind of – seems like maybe the anchor of it all you know, that you do need to have the buildings. And I remember last month as well you were mentioning that you needed the space, at least, to sort of have a place to store the certain things that you were ordering in like books and that sort of thing. So do you feel like you've got that kind of going on now, like you've got a space to put things?

RL: We don't actually have a space, Zoe, but it's been really good. So we’ve worked with a couple of key companies in terms of ordering resources, and they've been really good. Even our library books are being held by that company and they’re just saying, you know, ‘Let us know when you're in.’

All of our teaching and learning resources, we've gone with one main company so that they can just all come together on pallets. So, we envisage a very frantic late January of unpacking and getting everything into the classes. The Department will be involved with the furniture so that's, I believe, already ready, but it's a matter of when can we get it in? And they'll be only bringing the furniture for the buildings that we have access to.

So there’ll still be a lot in storage until we get handover of the remaining 4 buildings. So we're just having to be a bit creative in terms of where we're putting our specialist classes like Art and Music and Science, and, you know, it's not going to be ideal, not everyone is going to have their own space, but hopefully it won't be very long until we have all the buildings and everyone can set up their own areas.

RB: And we've got this, as I said before, (a few episodes back) there's 4 other principals who are doing builds as well. So we know we're ahead of some, but we're behind others. But that network of principles, that enables us to have conversations and share our frustrations and our celebrations as well.

So we're not unique in the situation we're going for. And there's a couple of builds I'm watching over east where they’re having the same sort of situations, same sort of dramas, but also going through the same process of welcoming the community. So it's interesting, the complexities of other people’s builds and realise that you're not alone, you're operating in the same space that many others are experiencing at the same time.

ZK: Yeah, and I think that's so invaluable and you've talked about that before. And I know looking at our podcast schedule we've got an episode coming up on that actually down the track so it will be great to really delve into that a bit more as well. And so everyone working in education I'm sure at the moment is acutely aware of the end of the year fast approaching like you've both said. So what will this mean for the build in terms of everyone going on leave or taking a break?

RB: Well, I mean, at the end of the day it's business as usual, we’ll just keep tropping through. There is what I tend to call – it’s the tradies week, so from January the 1st or December the 31st until about January the 6th, most of the trades shut down. So I'm assuming that the same situation we’ll have on the build, but I can only imagine given the pace that the Christo and the team out there, Makorsky, are working at, that they will just be going hell for leather. But from our perspective most of my team will probably take a week somewhere along the line.

But as soon as we get the opportunity to get in, we're going be in the school. So I can't see it being a huge holiday break for much changing for us other than the… I don't think ‘hecticity’ is actually a word, but the hectic nature of the situation as we move closer to opening.

RL: But to be fair, we've had, I mean, there's been a lot to do this year, but there hasn't been that intensity that you get when you're running a school and you're in the school with the teachers and the students and the families. So, you know, the year has been at a lot slower pace than we would be within a school.

So we probably – it's time to get busy. We’re actually happy to do it and our teaches are too. I think they're all just really itching to get into the school. They’re obviously all in a position where they are finishing up in their current jobs and trying to sort all of the things out that they need to do to move schools, but I know that they'll all be really keen to get in. So I think they'll be happy to give up some of their summer holidays for that.

RB: And to be honest too, my core business is teaching and learning. I'm actually over the project. I just want to get into the classroom to see the kids and see what the teachers are doing. That’s what I'm in this gig for. So, it's just, this is tiresome to some extent, anyway.

ZK: It seems like a real electric mix of nerves and you know a different kind of – what was it… a different kind of ‘hecticity’ compared to, you know, what teachers and education staff going through at schools at the moment too. But still, like, you know, I can tell there's so much going on for you both so it's really exciting to see that you've got such a great passionate group of staff that you've got starting next year as well, reading about them I think on LinkedIn, is it, Ray, that you've been posting those staff profiles?

RB: Yeah, well everything – I do the LinkedIn one, Rachael tweets a bit, so it's a bit more friendly for Facebook and then we put it out through Twitter. So we’re just sharing the qualifications and joy of our staff really.

ZK: Yeah, and you can see it's going to be a really great team. So, as we do in each episode to wrap up, then, let's jump into our monthly check in. So what's been your key learning, biggest hurdle and proudest achievement over the past month?

RL: Well I was actually going to connect to what we've just been talking about, our proudest achievement. I mean, the proof will be in the pudding next year when we're all in the school. But I have this very strong sense that we have put together an exceptional team of educators.

We've had a Zoom meeting recently and that's the only time we've all been in the same space. But I just, you know, there's just a great team of really experienced, knowledgeable, passionate educators who really just want to be there for the kids. So I'm super excited about that. I think we've done really well in bringing them all together as a team.

RB: I’m the same in terms of proudest moment. It was only a small meeting on that thing, but people jumped in. Everyone’s flat out in their schools because they’ve obviously all got positions at the moment, so for them to take the time. We had people dialling in on their phones, I could see the phones while they're driving and they’re talking (hands free, of course, so there's no illegality around that).

But everyone was jumping on board and it's like, well, that's wonderful. Everyone’s flat out, but they’re still taking the time to connect with each other and see everyone and move forward.

ZK: Yeah it's really telling.

RL: And that kind of leads to a key learning that Ray and I discussed earlier this morning. We talk a lot, obviously we got a lot of time to talk as our team, we've only got the team of 4 at the moment (so that's Ray, myself, Cathy and Lucinda).

But we just talked a bit about that whole idea of creating a team and how important trust is and that concept of empowerment. And we have to build a team where we trust everybody to do their job and to do it well. And I think that's something that we’ve actually managed to do really well, so it's also probably an achievement but also a key learning.

Just how important trust is, and this is going to progress next year when we bring on every teacher, education assistant, school officer – everyone else, to trust them, and that trust goes both ways.

RB: And Lucinda, building on from that, Rachael didn’t mention it, but her and I joked about it this morning. We’ve got Lucinda Durnin who's leading our Early Childhood Development at the moment working with the MCS and they’ve just spent a substantial amount of money. I have no idea what that was spent on. I'm just assuming (and correctly assuming) that it was worthwhile, and there's some meaning behind it.

But again, that's that trust because that's fair chunk budget that went on… I don't know, a trip to Bali probably, but books and all sorts of things. So they’re just doing their job and getting on with it and we’re just staying out of it.

RL: And the biggest hurdle we didn't discuss, it's not really a hurdle but it's just something that's been on my mind lately and I've talked about with Ray, is just that consciousness that every single decision, even a small decision, holds so much weight right now. Because it influences how Dayton Primary School will be established, the culture we build.

Like, so, small decisions around resourcing, big decisions around staff, they're all going to impact what Dayton Primary School is like for the future. So you feel the weight of that. It's a huge privilege but it's also a very great responsibility.

RB: It's very much a case of The Butterfly Effect, that movie. So we have to be conscious of thinking how how's it going to play out down the line, this decision that we make. And it's actually quite wearing after a while.

RL: That thought that you have at the back of your mind – are we getting this right? And so we hope so, and you know time will tell. That's one of Ray's favourite sayings, ‘time will tell’, definitely. But we're hoping that we we've made those right decisions because, like I said, they will have a flow on effect as to what Dayton Primary School is like as a school and in the community.

RB: And as I presented in a talk I did a while back as a keynote, one of the key things I said was ‘excellence isn't an accident’. So anything we get right here is the result of a deliberate choice but there's the flip side of that too, is if there's a muck up that wasn't an accident –we made a decision that had an impact on that.

ZK: Yeah it's what's that saying about being retrospective…?

RB: ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing’?

ZK: That's it, yes! And so we'll be taking a break now, with our next episode to be released in the new year. But what's next for you both over the next month or 2?

RL: Well a big rock for me, that's something I've started working on is our sort of teaching and learning handbook, so to speak. Putting together the expectations around the school, the teaching and learning, the policies, the processes.

We've been focusing on so many other things that's just been sitting there in the background so really getting onto that. We've only met, like I said, with our staff via Zoom. So getting them together in person and starting some of our induction processes will be another important thing. And then at the end of the day it's really all about getting into the school.

RB: And setting it up!

RL: So, we just cannot wait for that to happen. So, not sure when it will happen but that will be our big thing over the next 2 months, we’ll obviously be just setting up our school.

ZK: Yeah great! Very exciting stuff. Well it has been fantastic, as always, to talk to Rachael and Ray, thank you for taking the time out.

RB: You’re welcome!

RL: Thank you speaking to us.

ZK: Hopefully you do get that week or so in there to kind of unwind.

RB: We will.

RL: Yes, we’ll definitely make sure we do that.

That’s all for this episode of School Assembly, thanks for listening. We’re taking a small break in this podcast series over December and will be back with more in the new year. In the meantime, you can follow Ray and Rachael’s socials for updates on their progress by following the links at the podcast transcript over on our website,

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Other episodes in this series:

In this episode, Ray Boyd says, ‘One of our catch phrases is “honouring the past in building a brighter future”. So we're honouring the past with the area and that it's a bush area, at the same time enabling kids to progress and move forward. So again, there's that strong sense of connection with everything that we do.’

Reflect on the land and local area your school was built on. As a school, how are you honouring the past of the area?