Principal Sue French with students Meraflor Montepolca, left, and Mera Fe Montepolca, at St Johns Park High School in St Johns Park. Photo: Janie Barrett
Principal Sue French knows disadvantage well.
At her school in Sydney’s south-west, most students come from low socioeconomic families and many struggle with basic literacy and numeracy before entering the school gates.
There’s Lazar Lazar, who fled to Australian shores with his family from Iraq in 2009.
St Johns Park High School students, from left, Damien Lie, Simon Hua and Tommy Le.
St Johns Park High School students, from left, Damien Lie, Simon Hua and Tommy Le. Photo: Janie Barrett
Despite not being able to speak a word of English five years ago, Lazar has high hopes of nailing the HSC he has just started.
His 16-year-old classmate, Paramy Ratsabouth, whose mother and construction worker father migrated to south-western Sydney from Laos a decade ago says schools in the area “aren’t given enough credit”.
“Everyone thinks that that we are bad schools, this school shows our potential.”
At their school, St Johns Park High School, more than 90 per cent of students come from a non-English-speaking background, while more than 100 of them are refugees.
“Yet for the HSC last year we had five students with ATARS over 99, 15 over 90, and 146 out of 170 students received a university offer,” Ms French said.
The school will become one of more than 30 recognised on Sunday for their overachievement by the NSW government.
According to a report from the NSW Department of Education’s Centre for Statistics and Evaluation, the schools had “outstanding growth in student outcomes”.
Their exceptional results provide an insight into how others might be able to achieve similar success with modest means.
The research found that successful schools with NAPLAN results that far outweighed their peers’ used more data, technology,and teacher training.
Surprisingly, those schools had less parent involvement than worse performing schools.
Inside the school walls the researchers found that successful schools broke down “classroom silos [to lead] to a culture where staff aren’t competitive, they are collaborative”.
Among the other success stories at St Johns Park is Leon Nguyen, the dux of 2015, whose parents spent nine years in refugee camps before coming to Australia. Last year Leon got an ATAR of 99.6.
Lazar, 17, of Greenfield Park, hopes to follow in his footsteps.
“This school makes me feel really good, it makes me feel smart,” he said.
Ms French said the key to success was bringing the morale of the whole class up in unison.
“It’s not just about those high-flyers; it’s about how do you make the best for every student,” she said.
“A Kurdish girl from Iraq came when she was in year 9 as a special needs student. Her older brothers where translators for the US army in Baghdad, they had to flee when the US forces started pulling out.
“Because of her disability she had never attended school in her life. We took her in and gave her one-on-one teacher’s aide time.
“Four years later she can understand conversations, she can manage her personal care, she can buy things from the school canteen.”
The school’s early intervention via one-on-one interviews was integral to identifying children’s needs, while the bonus of the first four years of Gonski funding had certainly helped, Ms French said.
Bragging about HSC results is great, but the most important thing is getting students to build agency, she said.
“It’s about building resilience and their ability to express themselves, so students can take opportunities and run with it. That has been the key,” Ms French said.
Other schools highlighted by the report include Macarthur Girls High School, Cherrybrook Technology High School, Madang Avenue Public School and Casino Public School.
NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli echoed Ms French’s sentiments.
“These are schools that take children the furthest in their learning,” Mr Piccoli said.
“James Ruse is always going to have the best results in the state but for some schools, which have children that didn’t even go to preschool for example, they achieve much more than one year of growth for one year of learning.
“Parents want to know that their kids are growing at school, they are not just worried about an end score.”Submit any breaking News, campus Filla , Event Promotion or Advertisement ,or Inquiries on Any of our Publications to Education.email@example.com or via our WhatsApp Number 0506440219 For Publication