An electric guitar would seem an unlikely instrument for a school principal to be proficient in, yet that is very much the profile of the new principal (currently acting) of St John’s Catholic School in Mullumbimby.
Tim Bleakley has been assistant principal before, but never principal, and it’s all been ‘a steep learning curve, just working out which keys go with which doors, and which kids go with which parents’, but the steep curve has been made smoother because ‘everyone in this close-knit community has made me welcome’.
And the move to Mullumbimby has been a kind of homecoming for Tim, who left the big smoke in the early 90s to teach first at St Finbarr’s in Byron Bay and then at St Joseph’s in Alstonville, and while he admits to still being a bit of a city boy at heart, he says that these days a trip to Sydney sees him not able to get out of the place quickly enough.
Tim has a vision for the small school whose pretty grounds sit beside the Brunswick River in Mullumbimby, beneath the shelter of Mt Chincogan.
“My plan is to restore confidence in the place,” he said, “for over the years the numbers have dropped, and particularly now there are so many options for schooling, and higher housing prices have meant a changing demographic.
“I seek to promote the image of the school as a school for the 21st Century, as a place of excellence, and I would like to get people to come and have a look.”
He cites the school’s great facilities and the increased one-on-one attention that a small school permits, and the government’s stimulus package has meant a covered play area for the children as well as an upgrade for the hall.
An added attraction is the school’s faith-based approach – an approach Tim is quick to point out is a very long way away from the ‘punitive God’ style that many parents of the 60s and 70s who attended Catholic schools still smart from.
“I’d like to think we’re talking about a God of love, a God of forgiveness,” he said.
“Prayer time may focus on a little prayer table with a candle and some incense, where we get children to reflect, to be more peaceful, and hopefully this flows out to the playground.
“We have children of many faith backgrounds here, and we do units of work where we look at other religions, and look at how we can all get along and respect each other’s beliefs.”
Tim will continue the very successful ‘Junior Johnnies’ program – an oral language program for pre-schoolers that guarantees no more tears from kindergarten students – and he is also keen to extend the excellent music program run by Alison McKay.
“At Alstonville I had a rock band with the Year Six students,” he said, “and as soon as I looked at the hall I thought we can get some concerts going here.
“A rock band is particularly good at engaging boys who are at a bit of a loose end looking for something to do, boys who may not be getting accolades at sport.
“I would love to see something like that happening.”
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