NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar and other senior departmental staff have visited Armidale Secondary College this week in response to media reports about violence and other issues at the troubled school.
Speaking to ABC New England North West this morning, Dizdar dismissed the extensive reporting of the serious issues at the school by the New England Times, Armidale Express, and the Guardian, as ‘sensationalist’ and ‘unhelpful’. He said that the two hour visit, which included a tour of the school with four students and spending half an hour chatting to some year 11 students, was to get a sense of how the school was operating.
“They are very, very proud of their school, and they point out that there has been some unhelpful media, some sensationalism on that front, with some incidents that have occured, and they say to me ‘Mr Dizdar some of these instances go back more than a year ago and these are not fair representations of our school environment’.”
Mr Dizdar rejected the suggestion that anything was going wrong at the school, and rattled off a list of students and teachers he met with and the learning spaces he inspected.
“I saw a lot of good teaching and learning in action.”
“I was impressed, having been a teacher and principal in the system myself, with the level of calm I observed in the school.”
“I am not saying that there hasn’t been incidences at this school, there has been, and the leadership has walked me through those and how they have dealt with them.”
“But we need to put it in context here, a school of 1100 anywhere in the state will have incidences that happen from time to time. It’s how they deal with those incidences, get kids back on track, support families, support kids with their learning.”
“They are assessing and refreshing their positive behaviour for learning approach.”
Mr Dizdar explained that they have changed the policy around discipline and reintroduced suspension and expulsion procedures that will come in to effect from Term 4 this year. He spoke to staff about these changes.
“That will also assist to curb any instances, which are totally unacceptable in our system, of violence.”
Mr Dizdar acknowledged the staffing shortages at the school which he says are not an acceptable level, and was concerned enough to call the human resources team in the Department from the airport in Armidale to make it a “priority recruitment school”, meaning there will be a case manager assigned to help with filling at least seven immediate vacancies that he was told about.
When asked by ABC New England North West breakfast host Kristie Reading what guarantee he could give to the Armidale Secondary College community about the future of their school, Mr Dizdar again claimed to be quoting student leaders in dismissing the reported incidents as being old, infrequent, and sensationalised.
Bridget, the parent we spoke to for story 10 in our series, say the Secretary’s comments are deeply offensive and he should apologise.
“That is so insulting, I’m screaming!”
“My son is in Mackay now, not here in year 12 as he should be. My daughter is pregnant now, not a year ago.”
“These stories are not easy to tell. It’s painful and re-traumatising to dredge back through the timeline, looking at old text messages and emails, trying to find proof to support your story.”
“I’d be happy to meet with him personally to discuss privately in detail. But to openly lie when he hasn’t even bothered to talk to me to get the facts?”
Another parent that we have spoken to for a story not yet published claims that all of the student leaders Mr Dizdar were hand picked by the embattled Principal Bree Harvey-Bice.
“Of course they’re saying what she wants them to say. Bree runs a deliberate program of intimidation, and will target anyone who crosses her.”
Another parent messaged that Mr Dizdar should should resign, as well as Harvey-Bice.
“If the fish rots from the head, and this fish is definitely stinking, then perhaps we need to look at both the head of whale and the little fish in its belly.”
Minister for Education Prue Car was asked if she felt Mr Dizdar’s dismissive comments were appropriate but her office did not respond by deadline.
This story is part of a series the New England Times is working on about Armidale Secondary College. As the school’s leadership works on ‘codesigning a new vision’ for the school, reports of violence, bullying, and other issues within the school are not dying down. We want to hear your stories – the good and the bad – whether you’re a student, parent, teacher, or other interested member of the community.
Some of the content in these stories is distressing. If you or anyone you know needs help, please contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890