School Assembly Episode 1: The journey so far

Thanks for downloading episode one of our new podcast series, School Assembly. I’m Zoe Kaskamanidis.

Schools are special spaces; where the affordances of physical design come together with values, purpose and culture, and where school staff work hard to set students up to lead fulfilling lives. But what do schools look like before the hustle and bustle of students and teachers on the grounds? And what is involved with building up a school community from scratch?

In this new series, we’ll 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. We’ll be touching base each month for updates and reflections on their progress as their new school, under the planning name of West Swan (Dayton) Primary School, is built in the newly developing suburb of Dayton, located in the eastern metropolitan city of Swan in Perth, Western Australia.

Today, we’ll be catching Ray on the road while he drives around sunny Dayton, getting us up to scratch on what’s happened over the past 7 months, since the journey began.

Teacher Magazine (ACER) · School Assembly Episode 1: The journey so far

Zoe Kaskamanidis: Good morning, Ray!

Ray Boyd: How are you?

ZK: Good, how are you?

RB: Chonking along, just heading into work. Fair bit of roadworks going around Dayton at the moment. Obviously a developing suburb so got held up a little bit at one of them.

ZK: Well thanks so much for joining the call this morning. We’re pretty excited to be

launching this new podcast series with you and Rachael, who’s of course your Associate Principal.

RB: It’s actually probably rather timely; we’ve got 3 other builds going on in Western Australia at the moment. I know there’s one going on in Victoria – I’m watching a chap David Williams and how he’s going with his. And Bec West, another lady I follow on Twitter, has headed over to Queensland as part of a team to do a build over there. And Andrew Smee on Twitter who I was communicating with the other day said there was one in New South Wales, so it’s probably pretty timely!

ZK: Yeah it’s pretty fantastic, I’ve seen you connecting with the other educators and other principals who are also, like you say, starting up with their new schools and it’s great to see that connection. So that’s really wonderful.

So you’ve both – you and Rachael – have been working hard this year preparing for the opening of your new primary school in Dayton, WA, in 2023. So as you know, we’ve been keenly following your journey here at Teacher and it’s been, I have to say, a real pleasure to watch as you connect with local community and navigate recruitment, develop your ethos and also to get little glimpses into your very creative note taking process, which I absolutely love by the way!

RB: A doodler from way back, Zoe!

ZK: They’re almost like artworks, it’s great to see.

RB: Maybe I’m not paying attention, it’s just my way of faking it.

ZK: No, as we know there’s all different ways to pay attention, to learn and to process, so it’s fantastic to see that behind the scenes.

We’re coming up to almost 7 months so far in this journey for you and Rachael. So what does it mean to start from scratch building up a new school, and what unique opportunities does it offer you as a school leader?

RB: Oh look, it’s pretty exciting. I’d always wanted to start a new school from scratch and use a lot of learnings I’d gathered along the way, both as a teacher and certainly as a leader. I spent 16 years at West Beechboro, made some mistakes, but it was a chance to actually take the good things – the things that I didn’t do wrong – and apply them to a new school setting but, it was just finding the right school. I’d applied for a few before and missed out and this one was closer to home, because as I said I wanted to open a school, but I didn’t want to be miles from home. So it was a chance to put my hat in the ring and I was fortunate enough to win it. So it gives us a chance to hopefully create something really special, Zoe!

ZK: Well, I can see that it’s going to be something pretty amazing so that’s very exciting.

So in later episodes in this podcast, we’re going to delve deeper into the particular steps involved with building up a new school community, which as I’m sure we’ll find out are very interconnected. But for this first episode of School Assembly, I thought you could take us through an overview some of the highlights and challenges over the past 7 or so months, to bring our listeners up to speed with your experience so far.

RB: Yeah, certainly. Obviously the biggest highlight was getting selected for the role. And then at the same time, realising ‘oh my goodness, there is such a huge amount of work to do.’ I spent the first term by myself, so chonking along. I was still bouncing ideas off people here and there.

But probably one of the first, biggest highlights initially was getting to a point, another person to work with me. I made the decision to go with an educator before a finance officer with an MCS (Manager Corporate Services). So I appointed Rachael. That gave us something to bounce off.

We ran a community café with the community. So that was certainly a highlight, running a consultation process to bring all the community together and have people actually have an input into what the school would look like in terms of the culture of the school, the tone of the school, the colours. The sorts of things they wanted to see in a school. That was certainly rather exciting.

And that’s actually become a bit of a mainstay for us (those consultation processes) because we’ve used them now – we’ve developed a steering group. We’ve got 6 parents from within the community sitting on a steering group and we’re drawing from all that information that we got out of the community cafés and that consultation process, to fine tune some of the things like school uniforms, look at the factions, look at the books, the sorts of programs we’re going to be running across the school.

This term we’ve spent a lot of time – we went out to the community as you would have seen on one of our feeds. We went out to the community to actually do a delivery drop. So we know there was 900 homes in the community. We delivered pamphlets to every one of those community members to let them know what was going on in the school. Apart from getting our steps up, that was quite interesting. We got a chance to speak to some of the locals. So that was certainly a highlight.

One of the challenges at the moment is we’re advertising for an MCS, that’s close, so we’re in the middle of the process for that. We’ve run a process (or started a process) for our teachers which is going to be a challenge because there’s a fair amount of staff in that pool that we have to work our way through. And then obviously identifying a person who’s going to sit on that panel with us and work through that which is certainly going to be interesting.

We’re smack bang in the middle of uniforms at the moment. We’ve got a uniform tendering process. So we’ll be sitting down with our steering committee to finalise that and work out which supplier that we’re going to go with. And that’s certainly been an interesting experience – working out where they are and what that involves. Coming from a school that’s established, not having to have been through that – that was certainly a learning curve for me in terms of what you had to actually do and the policy and the processes wrapped around that.

And then obviously the final one is after school care which is an interesting beast because there’s a big need for it out in this community. I’m seeing it out in Brabham where we’re based at the moment. But the issue is we don’t know how many buildings we’ll have in place and what sort of space we’ll have available. So we can’t lock someone in and we can’t offer it in the first term because it’s just not possible at this point. But we know the parents want it. So we’re in space where we’re trying to support and guide parents to various day cares and centres around, link up with some of the schools and work around in that space. So that’s really interesting, and it’s probably our biggest challenge at the moment, trying to support the community in that space while, at the same time, knowing we’ve got very little control over it.

ZK: Mm, it sounds like with a new school build, while there’s those really unique opportunities there’s also the unique challenges too, isn’t there?

RB: Yeah, and look, every community’s different – that’s the heart of it. This is a new community and we’ve got a lot of young families, so the call for day care or afterschool care and before school care is very high. In some of the older communities, not so, because the demographics are slightly older. So it just depends. And because this is a very new community out here, there’s not a lot of infrastructure in the way of day cares. We went and visited one just prior to Rachael going. And they’ve got a 6-month waiting list at the moment. So that’s the demand we’re dealing with, but that’s the growth of the community too.

ZK: It’s hard to wrap up all that you’re doing in a short conversation like this, and that’s why we’re so excited as well, to be able to have a whole series where we can unpack step by step what’s involved, coming back to certain things that are remerging, because it’s a complex process, isn’t it? So we’re very excited about that.

And of course listeners can find out more about the journey so far for Rachael and Ray. We’ll provide a link to our website, to a photo story where you can track what’s been happening so far.

To wrap up, we thought it’d be fun to finish with some overarching questions which we can come back to each month. So, Ray, you’ve spoken a bit about some of the challenges and some of the big achievements and highlights so far, but what do you think has been your key learning, your biggest hurdle, and your proudest achievement over the past month?

RB: Probably my key learning is that notion of getting consensus. There’s a chap called Dr Geoffrey Canada in the US who I’m a huge fan of. And he talks about consensus and if you ever wait for consensus, you never get anything done. I sort of got the idea of that, I understood it. But actually being involved in it now, working with a community, working with builders, you’re never going to get consensus. There’s times when I have to make a decision and I know it’ll upset people, and there’s times when the builders or the architects make decisions and it’s like, ‘argh!’ But at the end of the day, the job has to get done.

So for me, that understanding, that actual ‘aha!’ moment of, you know what? You’re never going to reach consensus on some things, and you just have to be happy with that. For someone who has OCD, that’s a little bit hard to deal with, but that’s just the way it is. So that’s a key learning for me.

Probably the biggest hurdle is the frustration around not having control over some things. Like the build for instance, and it’s no one’s fault, but with COVID and the various things that are going on, the processes tend to slow down and speed up, so it’s having to learn to be adaptable in that space and understanding that some decisions that you were going to make are now put back, and some decisions have to be brought forward. So it’s almost like you’re on edge, you’re always waiting for that, ‘okay, has this gone through or do we have to make another decision around that?’ So that capability to be able to be adaptable to the situation. And I’m pretty sure the other principals and those in their build would probably agree with that. That’s probably been the biggest hurdle for me.

The proudest achievement; well that’s actually quite an easy one. It was actually getting together with our steering committee, we got our steering committee together. And actually to get to sit down with a group of parents and go, ‘right guys, you’re helping us make these decisions for the next 6 or 7 months’ – that’s actually quite enjoyable.

ZK: Yeah, of course – that’s fantastic to hear. And so what’s next for you and Rachael in the coming weeks?

RB: Well we’ve actually got a fair bit on, we’ll finalise the uniforms, we’ll be interviewing staff. We’re, at the moment, trying to finalise a process for our various structures around doing the interviews and being a little bit adaptable in that space to make sure we get the right teachers for the right fit and they all work together. Finalise the MCS will be the next big one.

And then the biggest one for us and the most important one I guess after that will be setting up our actual bank account, because we’ve set up a special account with our host school in Brabham and we’ve got money sitting in that. But we needed to establish our own bank account, and at that point it will become more real. But that’ll be a busy time for our MCS, whoever that is once we appoint them.

ZK: Yeah, some big steps coming up then. Well, it’s been great to chat to you Ray, and we’re really looking forward to catching up next month too, where we’ll be chatting about setting short- and long-term goals!

RB: Thanks very much, Zoe. It was absolutely enjoyable. We loved our conversation the other day. And a big shout out to all the principals who are in the same spot doing the same thing across Australia!

That’s all for this episode of School Assembly, thanks for listening. Next time, we’ll be chatting about setting long- and short-term goals. In the meantime, you can follow Ray and Rachael’s socials for updates in between episodes by following the links at the podcast transcript over on our website,

Other episodes in this series:

    In this podcast, Ray talks about the notion of getting consensus as one of his key learnings – that consensus can’t always be reached.

    As a school leader, reflect on the approach you take with your own staff when working through a new change or challenge. How do you take staff feedback into account when navigating change? What processes do you have in place to work through these changes, and are staff aware of these?