Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Principal's Lines

19 April 2018

This year I will have completed three five-year contracts as Principal of the College and news of the end of my tenure is now widely known. I take this opportunity to breathe deeply and reflect a little on my time at Wesley which, incidentally, constitutes roughly a third of my life. These have been seminal years. I had no thought that, when I joined the teaching staff in 1989 to teach English and Biology, Wesley would hold my destiny. As a classroom teacher, as a Head of Senior School at St Kilda Road, as the Principal's Associate for the IB, and finally, as Head of Glen Waverley campus, all were exciting times back then. Even so, when I left in 1997 to become the Academic Director for the International Baccalaureate in Wales, I had little idea of what was ahead. But I knew and loved the school, felt I understood its ethos, and was overjoyed ultimately when in 2003, I was approached and appointed as Wesley's first female Principal, itself an honour and privilege.

As oft quoted, there is a season for everything, there's a time to arrive and a time to depart, and now is this time. It is difficult to stabilise in my head everything that I have loved about the whole experience. Above all, what has made my time at Wesley so satisfying and enjoyable has been the interaction and collegiality of our students, staff and the wider community, something frequently touched upon in this publication: that much-admired sense of the Wesley family. We are a dynamic community, open to new ideas, while holding on proudly to history and traditions, at the same time allowing our beliefs and values to accommodate new perceptions and insights about what is best for our community of students, staff, parents and alumni.

My earlier time at the school had revealed much about the precious sense of belonging we all seek in any place of work. The shared humanity has frequently been inspirational, I have always felt supported, and the pulse of Wesley's heart has been a source of energy and power through some often challenging and changing times. I have been privileged to be a part of an environment that is so creative, so inventive, critical and inquiring.

Yiramalay students

One of the most exciting innovations and an outstanding example of partnership and cooperation has been the establishment of the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School in the Kimberley. Thirty nine Aboriginal students have successfully completed Year 12 at Yiramalay. In addition, significant new Principal's lines partnerships have been established over the last decade with schools in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Madrid, and Lyon in France.

The expansion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, including the Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP), the introduction of the Senior Years Learning Framework, and specialist language programs including English language preparation for international students, and enhanced Chinese immersion for all students in PYP, have all been transformative. The culture of learning at Wesley has been so much enriched by the exceptional quality of the Performing and Visual Arts across the College and by the developments in Wesley sport.

Throughout, I have been fortunate to lead a strong executive leadership team whose members may have changed, but whose objectives for the wellbeing of the school have never wavered. The College Council, the Uniting Church, Parents' Associations and the OWCA have been unstinting in their support, and wise in their counsel.

David Prest

It is historically coincidental that, in my last year as Principal, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the introduction of coeducation. While this is written about in one of the feature articles in this edition, I would like to add a couple of thoughts of my own.

The most significant change in the philosophy and structure of the College's 152-year history has been the implementation of coeducation. In 1978, when the late David Prest, the then Principal, proposed such a momentous change, he probably didn't envisage fully what amazing transformations would ensue, and I'm sure that he looked back with a mixture of pride and some nostalgia.

The success of the well-planned development of coeducation is the cornerstone of contemporary Wesley, and it has been transformative in every facet of Wesley life. It was never simply a matter of adding girls; it was about transforming ideas and attitudes of everyone at the school, boys and girls, men and women. An authentic conceptualising of an education for all, across gender divides. Within the normalising, socialising environment of coeducation, it was primarily understood that boys would become better men and girls would be offered a first-class and equal education, preparing both more comprehensively for the world in which they would live. Now, 40 years later, Wesley is proud to be a world-leading independent coeducational school.

The introduction of coeducation in 1978 meant the imminent closing of the boarding house, to the dismay of many traditional rural boarding families. Happily, I will leave knowing that the situation has been redressed after 40 years, and that the first full year of Learning in Residence (coeducational) at the Glen Waverley campus has meant the return of boarding to Wesley after all this time. I am confident it will be one of our beacons into the future.

Finally, on a very personal note, I have thrived on the relationships with our staff in their various roles and capacities, with our students, past and present and with our Wesley and Yiramalay families, and the Wesley and Bunuba communities. I leave with a feeling of tristesse – that blend of joy and sadness when there is a realisation that a most influential time in one's life has come to a close. There is much to rejoice about and so much to celebrate, and I am honoured to have been the College's third-longest-serving Principal. Thank you all for everything over the years. 

With best wishes,
Helen Drennen

Steven Bell
Hello Dr Drennen.

Our Prime Minister today had the opportunity to comment on the question “So you’re comfortable with a school expelling a student because they are gay or lesbian?” according to an article in the Age. The response from the PM was apparently “It is existing law.” I cannot imagine how I would respond were our school to expel a young person because of who they are and how they were born. These people are often vulnerable and should be protected by schools and governments which is why I found this response from the PM so appalling. When presented with an opportunity to show some support for this often vulnerable part of our community my view is he failed.

This got me thinking then about how Wesley would respond to the presence of such a member of the school community which in a large student body we would obviously find. My perception of Wesley is that it is a caring environment that welcomes diversity which I would think would be blind to sexual orientation. I think this is a great opportunity to show support for this part of the community and for the leadership of Wesley to make a statement that expelling a pupil based on this would never happen at the school and that instead we see these young people as an important and protected part of the school community.

So, I guess my question has a couple of parts. Firstly, would the leadership be prepared to make a public statement on the topic stating that such a thing would never happen at our school? I guess as a secondary question (and if sticking necks out publicly for this part of our community is not your thing) could you assure me personally that this would never happen? I guess these might be tricky questions, but the reporting on this topic made me very angry today, and this part of the community needs the overt support and care from leaders in education. They did not receive support and care from their Prime Minister today.

Have a great day,
Steve Bell
Dr Helen Drennen AM
Dear Steve

I would like to assure you that Wesley College opposes any legislation that discriminates against students or staff on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Our core values celebrate diversity, spirituality, respect for the individual, and care for the emotional and social well-being of every student.

Wesley’s inclusive community is committed to welcoming and supporting staff and students in all their diversity. As a leading coeducational school we actively support students who have, or are, transitioning from one gender to another, and offer gender neutral uniforms for all students.

We take seriously your concerns and remain proactive in the belief that schools can maintain their religious values, beliefs and ethos without recourse to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Very best wishes

Dr Helen Drennen AM
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