Bad Apple Bullies

Bad Apple school principals and departmental officers bully classroom teachers into ill health and out of work.

The Walgett Community College story.

Walgett is a northern New South Wales community of about 2300.

More than 98 per cent of Walgett Community College's primary and secondary students are indigenous.

More than 90 per cent of the students come from the poorest and most disadvantaged families in Australia.

Assaults at Walgett during 2013-2015 have been committed at a rate of more than 2063 per 100,000 people - the highest rate in New South Wales.

The region is racked by s-xual assaults, alcohol and drug abuse, property damage and theft.

Domestic violence, too, has occurred at an astonishing rate during 2013-2015, more than 1399 assaults for every 100,000 people.

Suicides have shattered the community in recent years, including one in August 2015.

NSW Health Aboriginal health education officer Andrew Carroll, a Walgett man born and bred, says there have been about 15 suicides in his 14 years in the job.

Attendance by the High School's 110 students is amongst the lowest in Australia, averaging 64 per cent.

Academic results at the high school are among the worst in New South Wales.

Older students face agonising choices : to stay in town and attend the public high school or go elsewhere.

Taneisha Fernando, 11, will be sent to Newcastle, 160kn northeast of Sydney, because violence at the high school has made her parents doubt what good can come from her attendance.

"The kids there just want to pick fights, there are a lot of agro students," Taneisha says.

"It's not the school's fault but that's the way it is."

The high school is segregated by default as relatively more well-off parents of non-indigenous students send their children absolutely anywhere else.

Of the 107 students enrolled at the high school, 102 are Aboriginal.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour', Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

After decades of trouble, push to empower puts twinkle in their eyes, Rick Morton, Jessica Rapana, P.1, The Australian, 22-23 August 2015

Fields of dreams in a broken town, Rick Morton, P. 19, the Australian, 22-23 August 2015

Early 2011 : the O'Farrell government was elected in New South Wales.

Adrian Piccoli was given the Education portfolio.

2012 : the Connected Communities Strategy was launched in 15 of the 'most challenging' schools in NSW. Walgett High School was one of these 'most challenging' schools.

The 'Connected Communities Strategy' aimed to develop these 15 'most challenging' schools into community hubs.

Education, health and community services would be integrated.

Hand-picked executive principals would be appointed on high salaries to oversee the combined services and build relationships with the local community.

Walgett High School was one of these 15 'most challenging' NSW schools.

 

Disgust at NSW indigenous schools system , Justine Ferrari, The Australian, 26 September 2013

January 2013 : Richard Rule arrived at Walgett Community College as the new executive principal.

Richard Rule had retired as principal at Asquith in Sydney's north.

But Mr Rule was lured out of retirement to become executive principal at Walgett Community College.

 

When Mr Rule arrived at Walgett he could not believe his eyes.

"I'd never seen a school in such a poor state of decay."

 

Mr Rule had worked at some of the most challenging schools in NSW, but what he saw in Walgett shocked him.

"I had worked in Green Valley and Blacktown, but I had never seen children so wilfully disobedient and violent" he said.

 

Walgett community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

Disgust at NSW indigenous schools system ,  Justine Ferrari, The Australian, 26 September 2013

25 September 2013 : NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said Walgett Community College was the worst school, physically, that he had ever seen.

On 25 September 2013 Adrian Piccoli invited people to "hound him" about the situation at Walgett Community College.

He named Walgett as the "worst school physically I've seen", in an "appalling condition" with "disgusting toilets", exposed wiring, disconnected downpipes and a hole in the roof that had been unrepaired for about a year.

Most of the school looked derelict.

 

The school had been built for 500 students.

But Mr Piccoli said only 30 to 50 students turned up on any given day.

 

Disgust at NSW indigenous schools system , Justine Ferrari, The Australian, 26 September 2013

(presumably) 2014 : the town's only supermarket was burnt down.

Walgett's only supermarket, the IGA, had been burnt down.

Mr Rule consulted with his staff, many of whom were indigenous, about the possibility of allowing the IGA to use the primary school hall.

His staff told him that this was something that they would be willing to do.

They thought that it would be for the greater good of the community because the IGA was the only supermarket in the town.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour' , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

August 2014 : Walgett Community College's advisory committee met.

The minutes of this meeting reveal fears that the school had become a breeding ground for violence and criminal activity.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour' , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015.

Late 2014 : Walgett Community College Principal Richard Rule resigned.

Principal Richard Rule, who "achieved so much in a short time" was allegedly forced out of his position by some in the Aboriginal community.

 

There had been complaints that Mr Rule was not delivering the Connected Communities Strategy.

Walgett's Aboriginal Education Committee's Consultative Group president Anne Dennis had written to NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli claiming Mr Rule had repeatedly ignored opportunities to "consult, collaborate or provided feedback".

Ms Dennis alleged that Mr Rule had failed to consult before agreeing to allow the IGA to use the primary school hall.

Mr Rule denies this claim.

 

Other members of the community, including the mayor, said that Mr Rule brought about much needed improvements in discipline, results and behaviour.

For example, suspensions at the High School dropped from 52 in the first term of 2014 to 15 in the second term.

In the primary school suspensions dropped from 26 in the first term of 2014 to 5 in the second term.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour'  , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

2015 : the Walgett Community College school year began again.

Some Walgett Community College teachers had now served under 14 different principals.

The school has been unable to retain principals for much longer than 18 months, staff turnover is high, and most of the leadership of the school are acting in those roles.

 

During the first few months of 2015 police attended Walgett Community College almost daily.

 

Members of the Walgett Council complained that the the situation at the school was affecting the whole Walgett Community.

For example, it was impossible to retain council staff who had children of High School age.

These families left Walgett to find a better school for their children.

 

Early in the 2015 school year there was an escalation in violence at the school.

The ABC featured phone footage of a 13-year-old being beaten up by other students.

The attack came after months of bullying.

The girl was so distressed she moved to another school in Dubbo, almost 300 kilometres away.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour' , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

Walgett school crisis : Adrian Piccoli agrees to urgent meeting with teachers , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2015

Police stationed inside troubled Walgett school, Philippa McDonald, ABC News, 6 July 2015

February 2015 : a Walgett Community College deputy principal and a long-standing female teacher were both attacked at work.

In February 2015 two female Walgett Community College students attacked a long-standing female teacher and a deputy principal.

The deputy principal was unable to return to work for nearly a week.

 

The attack on these two teachers prompted a complaint was to Danny Lester, the NSW deputy Ombudsman with responsibility for Aboriginal affairs.

"Today there have been two more assaults on staff in the high school and no action," said the complaint.

The complaint detailed -

 * fights outside the school,

 * children jumping on and damaging staff vehicles and properties,

 * and breaches of the school's safety regulations.

The complainant refused to be named because of fears of retribution in the small town.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour' , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

Walgett school crisis : Adrian Piccoli agrees to urgent meeting with teachers  , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2015

23 April 2015 : A Walgett whistleblower seems to have leaked a range of documents to Fairfax Media.

A whistleblower has quietly collected documentary evidence of the situation at Walgett and leaked a range of the documents to Fairfax Media.

This seems to be an example of effective whistleblowing.

Members of the Walgett community, including the local Country Women's Association, have written to the Local Member and Premier about the "tragic failure" of Walgett Community College.

One document described the school as a "political time bomb".

Documents detail "chronic" absenteeism by teachers and students, repeated suspensions of students and a high turnover of teachers.

 

Walgett Community College a hotbed of 'violence and criminal behaviour' , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 2015

Friday 24 April 2015 : Adrian Piccoli agrees to meet the Walgett Community College teachers.

On Friday 24 April 2015 the NSW Teachers Federation called for an independent investigation into community issues that were negatively affecting the Walgett high school.

The Teachers Federation's deputy president, Gary Zadkovich, said it was "unfair and unreasonable to expect teachers to shoulder the responsibility for rectifying and resolving conflict, tensions, complexities, problems and divisions in a local community like Walgett that go back decades". 

Mr Zadkovich said the NSW Teachers federation would push for an evaluation of the connected communities strategy across all of the 15 schools.

"There is no quick cure, but unless somebody grabs it by the horns and starts making decisions, without worrying about getting scared or moved on, it will never be solved. You can't just have a revolving door of principals," he said.

NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli has agreed to hold an urgent meeting with the Walgett Community College teachers to discuss the ongoing crisis at the school.

Walgett school crisis : Adrian Piccoli agrees to urgent meeting with teachers , Julie Power, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 April 2015

July 2015 : Walgett Community College is the first school on New South Wales to have police stationed inside the school gate.

Police have been stationed inside Walgett Community College in  attempt to stop the violence.

The NSW Education department recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding to have a Police Citizens Club (PCYC) operate at the school.

On an average day, two police officers will operate at a centre that has been erected next to the school hall.

Acting Superintendant Tony Mureau from the Castlereagh local Area Command said the early signs were encouraging.

Superintendant Mureau described the role of police as "hands on with the kids, building self-esteem and confidence, getting them active, taking their minds off the troubles that were here earlier on".

There are now 100 students at the school, with attendance rates running at about two thirds of pupils, abut 7 per cent lower than the same time last year.

 

 

Sources close to the school have told the ABC that four Walgett teachers resigned in the last weeks of the school term.

 

 

Police stationed inside troubled Walgett school, Philippa McDonald, ABC news, 6 July 2015

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