Schools It takes two

Spensley Street Primary School principal Anne Nelson and assistant principal Gerard Molan with students in the playground. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

The woodchipped playground of Spensley Street Primary School is a fitting symbol of the achievements of recently retired principal Anne Nelson and assistant principal Gerard Molan.

Five years before embarking on a 10-and-a-half-year leadership ticket, they assembled a parent volunteer force to design and build this legacy.

“From engineers, to the people who put the poles in the concrete, to the planting, this was all done by our parents,” Anne beams. “We had something like 14 working bees in one winter.”

Beloved by the pupils swarming around them, Anne and Gerard are also held in high regard by their staff and a highly engaged parent community. Retiring at the same time, they’ll be sorely missed.

Anne first came to this leafy outpost nestled next to Yarra Bend Park in 1986, working for about five years before her service was rudely interrupted by then Premier Jeff Kennett’s mass sacking of teachers. Returning some five years later, Gerard joined her in 1996.

“My daughter started here in ’95 and we were blown away when kids took us on a tour,” he recalls. “They were so articulate and self-confident, and I thought, ‘If my daughter could be anything like this by the time she got to Grade 6, it would be magnificent’.”

“And she was,” Anne interjects of the young girl who has since joined the teaching cohort at Spensley Street.

“The more I saw the school during that year, the more determined I was to get a job here,” Gerard continues.

In just over a decade, Anne and Gerard have built an incredible partnership that has inspired everyone around them, as well as a rock-solid friendship, with their families sometimes holidaying together.

“I’m very task oriented, while Anne’s the visionary,” Gerard says.

“Gonski funding was great for education generally, but could have gone much further. NAPLAN has made schools very competitive, unnecessarily, and narrowed the focus in a lot of ways.”

For her part, Anne says Gerard is “the most loyal, hardworking person you could ever work with. He’s also extremely kind. He’s gone out of his way to support our teachers and to make their jobs better.”

Ardent supporters of the AEU, Anne and Gerard, both members, encouraged participation. “It’s always been our priority to make sure we listen to teachers,” she says.

As Gerard sees it, their time at the coalface helped. “The teachers knew us before we took on leadership roles, so we were just part of the team.”

That respect carries through to the broader community. “There’s a strong buy-in from parents,” Anne says. ”We spent a lot of time getting our policies right and communicating them well. Everything we do we integrate with the philosophy of the school, which is about being child-centred.”

Looking at major changes during their time at Spensley Street, Anne says the Rudd government’s BER funding was excellent. “All schools did very well to get extra buildings and great facilities.” Gonski and NAPLAN have been less successful, she adds. “Gonski funding was great for education generally, but could have gone much further. NAPLAN has made schools very competitive, unnecessarily, and narrowed the focus in a lot of ways.”

Anne was finally able to join Gerard on the Year 6 camp he has championed. “I’ve never found time to do that and felt pretty happy there, watching Gerard with the kids,“ she says. “That’s one of his strengths. He worked tirelessly to lead our camping program, so it was wonderful to finally have that opportunity.”

    * mandatory fields

    Filed under

    Latest issue out now

    In the Term 2 edition of AEU News, we celebrate our members' professionalism and commitment to their students, their union, and to public education.

    View Latest Edition