Years of dogged activism has paid off in the Riverina with the Government announcement of the demerger of Murrumbidgee Regional High School, along with measures to attract teachers to the region.
Federation members have welcomed the announcement by Education Minister Prue Car during a visit to Griffith, where teachers and the community have been protesting since Wade and Griffith high schools were amalgamated in 2018.
Ms Car used the visit to reaffirm the Minns Government’s election commitment to demerge the school and revert two standalone high schools with their own principals and dedicated staff.
Organiser Brett Bertalli said Federation members welcomed the decision, having called the merger “a mess from the beginning” after teachers held a well-publicised stopwork meeting in December 2020, the first of the rolling staffing crisis campaign.
“Members of the Griffith Teachers Association have been pursuing a resolution to the issue caused by the one school-two sites experimental model of secondary education for some time,” Mr Bertalli said.
“Unfortunately, concerns raised by teachers had fallen on deaf ears with the former minister for education Sarah Mitchell.
“Our members welcome the announcement of the return to investing in the proven and successful model of secondary education, that is a 7–12 comprehensive high school.”
Ms Car met with school staff to ensure the demerger will cause minimal inconvenience to the students, staff and wider community, and will also speak with parents about the potential impact of the process.
The Minister stated that upgrades are underway for the two sites and has instructed the Department to proceed with demerger plans as quickly as possible so that staff, parents and students can plan for the future.
Griffith Teachers Association was also instrumental in putting local staff shortages on this state election agenda, with Murrumbidgee Regional High School starting the 2023 school year with 14 vacancies.
Ms Car has also asked the Department to review specific rules that currently penalise teachers who live and teach in Griffith, and therefore receive lower entitlements than those who live in Griffith but work in nearby towns.
Griffith Teachers Association President Jenna Woodland thanked the Minister Prue for listening to teachers, community and students and “making the right decision for our students and all the students to come”.
“The Minister has ensured this process will be collaborative, transparent and the least possible disruptive to students and staff,” Ms Woodland said. “She acknowledges the trauma this model has caused staff and students and will not let that happen again.
“We are feeling positive in moving forward with the support of the Minister and Helen Dalton, our local MP, who has been working tirelessly over the past five years. We are grateful to her for demanding a better model of education for our students. Finally, she has a government to work with that is willing to put the needs of our teachers and students first.”
Mr Bertalli said members welcomed the commitment to continue infrastructure builds at the two schools as well as the decision to review and improve incentives to attract and retain qualified teachers to the Griffith area.
“It is wonderful to have a government and a minister who listen to the profession and act in the best interests of teachers and students,” he said.
With plans axed for the Murwillumbah mega-campus and now the Murrumbidgee demerger, Deputy President Henry Rajendra said Federation was confident it had seen off the previous government’s cuts by stealth.
“Members of the Griffith Teachers Association and the community must be thanked for their hard and long-fought activism in this matter,” Mr Rajendra said.
The Minister said planned upgrades to both school sites are progressing with a development application due to be submitted for approval within a month.
Stage 2 of the school upgrades will see multipurpose halls built at both the Griffith and Wade schools, as well as refurbishments of the school library at the Griffith site.
Pending approvals, construction on the Griffith site will start by the end of 2023, while work will commence on the Wade site early 2024.
The Department is working on the concept designs of the upgrades, and as part of these, will be reviewing the final location of the Wade site’s hall in response to school community feedback.
Ms Car said: “I have heard loud and clear that Griffith wants two quality standalone public high schools rather than a merged one.
“We have a unique opportunity here to address the community’s concerns and find the right solution. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes made by the previous government.”