Since 1919, Calrossy Anglican School has been educating young ladies of secondary school age in the warm planes of rural Australia. However, its history is not a singular one. It has strands to it and tells a tale of growth and integration. From its humble beginning as the ‘Tamworth Church of England Girls’ School’, the institution grew strong and connected, and in 2006 amalgamated with subsequent schools that had developed within the community of Tamworth. It welcomed into its fold a primary school and a boys’ secondary school, facilitating students of all genders and ages to prosper in education and life. Calrossy now offers a unique “diamond school” model of education, with a co-educational primary, single sex Secondary Girls and Boys in Year 7 to 10, before the students combine together in classes in Years 11 and 12. It allows Calrossy to still offer a one-stop shop for parents, that can target its teaching to best suit each gender, before they come back together as more mature students for the reality of a co-educational world beyond school. Calrossy calls it the “diamond school advantage.”
It is a model that is working. The number of boarders has grown from around 40 to 50 pupils in the days Principal David Smith was a young man in Tamworth, to the present day range of 230 young girls and boys. Boarders from Year 7-12 are spread out over four campuses, and make up almost a third of the schools’ secondary students. Indeed, certain years even have a waiting list for boarding, no doubt spurred by not only the school’s excellent academics, but the ‘unique experience’ it prides itself on providing to its young scholars.
Calrossy unquestionably has a major role to play in helping to raise this cohort of rural boarders. After all, these kids grow up within its walls from Monday through to Friday, if not all seven days of the week during the most impressionable era of their lives. So then, what is this ‘unique experience it provides’? And, what steps does it take to accommodate these kids the best it can? What of the culture and support it provides to help assure their future?
We spoke to Mr Smith alongside the school’s Head of Boarding, Courtney Coe, to gain some understanding and insight into the operations and values of this religious regional school. We explored how the school connects its boarders with a keen sense of self, and instils in them its Christian values, so that they may flourish academically and personally to prepare for the roads ahead. The diverse perspectives of the Principal, who joined as recently as a few months ago, and Mrs Coe who has a longstanding history with the school, has paved the way for a fresh outlook as well as a learned interpretation of the aspirational institution.
Brains on sticks
“Kids are more than brains on sticks,” Mr Smith exclaims. And while this statement is teeming with hints of the absurd, it also goes straight to the core of what stands out the most in the assertions of Calrossy’s new Principal and its Head of Boarding.
Whilst the school’s academics are by far the best in its part of the state, for both boarding and day students, there is something more it implants in them.
“We want them to be citizens of the world, compassionate, caring,” says Mr Smith.
Mrs Coe avows one of the school’s focuses being to look at the unique need of each child:
“Be it from getting them on programs for activities they love, to understanding and accommodating their individual learning needs. We acknowledge all individuals as just that, individuals.”
With performance related stress and pressures facing all students, the school is very careful of measuring a child’s worth, solely by how well they do at school. Instead, as well as their raising academics, it helps its kids to define their special passions, strengthen their interpersonal connections and grow their independence.
The ties that bind
The school’s approach is four fold in terms of interlocking a strong community culture, Christian values and an understanding environment. It strengthens the bonds with not only its students, but also with their families and the Calrossy staff appointed to watch out for them. This is in addition to strengthening its presence within the community.
“One of the things I’m focusing on in my time as Principal is to listen, and hear and learn,” says Mr Smith, and indeed, he asserts great importance on getting to know the students and understanding things from their perspective before making any ensuing changes. Such a remarkable and rather adaptable attitude is a stark contrast to the stereotypical rigidity that comes with the old fashioned image of boarding schools.
Furthermore, unlike many boarding schools, Calrossy maintains a system where no child stays in the same room each term. A strong move to entrench advanced social skills in students, and indeed a great way to help them to enjoy a varied social circle, much outside of the cliquey mentality – the school’s value of inclusivity coming strongly into play.
Academically, and for Year 12 boarders in particular, individual rooms are provided for studying, further supporting the intellectual advancement many of them so feverishly seek.
The bonds Calrossy holds with the students, the bonds so closely linked to the success of the boarding programme, include staff whose main and sole focus is the boarders and their wellbeing. These staff nurture that crucial close and understanding relationship with boarders to ensure their welfare and that their needs are met. The essence of family is undeniably strong and the staff bask in the mealtimes that resemble a family dinnertime of sorts. This familial feeling comes to life in the light chatter of spirited children, and the moments taken to show appreciation for all that they have. Even the rooms are less dorm-like, and are moreso spaces for the young residents to make their own.
As for the community at large, the school absolutely encourages and indeed enables its kids to integrate into the surrounding town.
“We don’t have a school-centric sort of view,” explains Mr Smith, and as such, many kids take part in community sport. In addition, the school enables kids to indulge in their particular interests through town classes (archery anyone?) and many of the older students even have external part-time jobs. In a rural area like Tamworth, the spirit of networking and connecting with the community is already strong, which is nothing short of providence for Calrossy, a school which values inclusiveness at all costs.
The school’s wellbeing program, that Mrs Coe works on with the Leader of Wellbeing for boarders, combines the child’s individuality with the prospect of what the child can offer to the wider community. The program looks at the needs of each age group and gender, and provides them with a specific value for them to focus on each term. This includes values like resilience or service, and aids in bolstering the students’ ethics and ideals. Some examples include kids knocking on doors for Red Cross, raising the money to sponsor children in Uganda, and more locally, being involved in fundraising for a local helicopter organisation, a service that has irrefutably been a great asset to the community in the wake of natural disasters and bushfires.
Within the smaller ecosystem of the school’s community, the boarders are part of mentoring programs to younger students, they also partake in a buddy system and even give some face time through serving breakfast to the youngsters.
Being part of a rural community, the school even has its own cattle club and equestrian program involving the grooming and training of animals. Many of its students do after all have a highly rural background and potentially, a rural future. This way, the school can ensure they train them with the experience they need. “Honestly though, this is enjoyable for most of our kids. Our future lawyers and doctors love these programs just as much, and from this they learn the art of caring and patience,” says Mr Smith.
Alongside the relationships with the pupils and the community, the school strives to keep families involved as much as possible. “We know there’s nothing like real family and so we try to keep these links strong,” Mr Smith maintains. Each term, the school has a leave weekend where the kids can go home. Also, unusually but inspiringly, the school sometimes makes every effort to attend events in some of its students’ hometown, as a lot of the time, parents cannot afford the time to attend events at the school itself.
In boarding they maintain contact with all families on a regular basis, understanding the massive commitment these families make in leaving their children in the hands of Calrossy. All boarding staff are hugely accessible, and are available to contact throughout day. This no doubt gives that essential peace of mind to concerned parents.
“That’s been a nice part of the boarding situation here – the time we have for people,” Mrs Coe tells us.
Calrossy employs 240 staff, where half are teachers and half are in support and operations roles. A good number of these support and operations staff are involved with boarding, while many of the teachers kindly volunteer their own time to provide afterschool tutoring to many of the students. Calrossy’s staff are likewise part of the tight-knit Calrossy family, where their wellbeing is as important as the wellbeing of the students they watch over.
The school also makes sure its staff are given extensive training to broaden their personal and professional development to ensure competency and growth. One example? Calrossy is a part of the Australian Boarding Schools Association and requires its staff to complete the association’s “Duty Of Care” certificate.
For what lies ahead
As a Christian school, Calrossy is keenly aware of the need to maintain its relevance in an increasingly secular western world. Technology is one of the things at the forefront of maintaining this relevance. Calrossy students have been virtually connecting with the local Mayor and even with museums in Europe to gain an interactive and wider worldview.
“We’re changing practice away from the norm of the teacher at the front sprouting information to the uninterested. We’re helping children to access a whole, exiting world of information,” states Mr Smith.
But there’s also the challenges that come through dealing with real people and navigating real interactions. As such, the school endeavors that its boys and girls know how to interact maturely, to make levelheaded decisions, and to act with integrity and caring.
“These children need to be wise as well as smart,” opines Mr Smith. “Our goal is to have happy, resilient, rounded adults at the end of it all. Thoughtful caring people, who are responsible towards the world at large, and towards each other.”
Calrossy’s staff realise that the world they grew up in is disappearing rapidly. Research says that the children of today are going to have three or four different careers. This is in addition to the national if not global crisis of depression amongst younger people. With these boys and girls facing the usual life challenges, as well as the challenges of an incessantly changing future, Calrossy upholds the weight of equipping pupils for the outside world, and certainly, to become active members of it.
“Together with academic excellence, the key point of difference is the school’s personable and caring nature. As a Christian school, this is something we hold dear,” says the Principal. “That personal care and connection is deeply important. Our affordability and the flexibility of our boarding are simple added benefits.”
And as for how Mr Smith expects the school to keep growing and attracting talent, which for a rural school, it has already done remarkably well:
“We try to build awareness through regional magazines, but we’re not going to splash hundreds of thousands on TV ads etc. It is satisfied parents who are our most effective marketing.”
It is clear to see that Calrossy provides its students with ‘roots’ if you like, a framework that’s incredibly supportive and uplifting. It gives its student the tools to be happy and fulfilled. Everything the school does is not for its own advantage, not for making waves on the league tables (which it does anyway), but for the advantage of the students themselves, to give them the smarts and the strength for the life that is unfolding for them.
“We’re really passionate, and that’s one of the reason why our students are passionate too,” states Mr Smith.
And how does he feel after coming back to Tamworth following two decades spent in Sydney? He informs us hilariously:
“We had to buy a new ram recently. This is a bit out of my comfort zone, but that’s a part of the fantastic uniqueness of our situation here. Working in a great school, in the country, is a huge privilege!”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Calrossy Anglican School
WHAT: Single sex day and boarding for Secondary Girls and Secondary Boys from Year 7-10, with Coeducational classes for senior students.
WHERE: 140 Brisbane St, East Tamworth NSW 2340, Australia