Director returns to where it all began

TPS principal Donna Reeves, Harry Hill and Michele Bruniges.
TPS principal Donna Reeves, Harry Hill and Michele Bruniges.

DIRECTOR-GENERAL of Education and Communities, Michele Bruniges, took a walk down memory lane on Friday as she returned to the two local schools where she commenced her educational journey.

In town to visit both Tumut Public and Tumut High Schools, Mrs Bruniges spent time with staff, students and community members and enjoyed a special chat with ex-principal and local historian, Harry Hill.

Before visiting TPS to meet Mr Hill and watch the senior students run through their fitness regime along with being privy to a sneak preview of the school’s upcoming end of year performance, Mrs Bruniges also spent time meeting with the Blakeney Miller Foundation.

Sharing a passion for education, Mr Hill and Mrs Bruniges swapped stories of their experiences within local schools and opinions of the important facets of education.

Although generations apart, the pair’s ideals for the current learners in schools today was very similar.

“Schools are all about learning and caring with a focus on teacher inspired learning,” Mrs Bruniges said. “I am proud of the teachers within our schools.

“Along with learning resilience, students need to learn to develop the capacity to love learning.”

Mr Hill agreed but said in his early days of teaching, he was thought to be a little odd due to his modern view on educating a child.

“Asked once what I expected teachers to do, I replied their main job was to provide an environment for the children that made them happy,” Mr Hill said. “They thought I was most odd. But if the children are happy then they will learn.”

Discussing the changes in education over the years, the two educators from worlds apart talked as old friends.

Talk started with jelly-pads and type writers and the bare minimum of supplies that were provided to schools in Mr Hill’s blackboard days. Moving through the years to the current complete funding of schools, the brand new Resource Allocation Model and even issues such as bullying, which Mr Hill said has been present since schools began, there was never a quiet moment.

Mr Hill provided plenty of old photographs and books for Mrs Bruniges to view, some even featuring the Director-General as a young lady in her Tumut High School days.

“My mum rode a horse to school in Lacmalac,” Mrs Bruniges recalled. “Her father had a soldier settlement property. I remember as a child picking blackberries and collecting feathers to make fishing flies and catching grasshoppers to use for fishing as well.

“All those early memories of a place still resonate within in. Driving into Tumut on Thursday was amazing, it is a beautiful valley.”

Principal of TPS, Donna Reeves, said it was a great morning for the school, a real blast from the past.

“It was so lovely to show the children that with hard work you can achieve anything,” Mrs Reeves said. “Michele Bruniges is a wonderful role model and example for the children. She clearly possesses a fond love for Tumut.”

Mrs Bruniges portfolio is broad and she is currently responsible for a quarter of the state’s budget, a whopping $14.2 billion.

With three ministers within her umbrella of responsibility, she is tasked with looking after all state public schools and TAFE institutes, as well as early childhood education and care, sport and recreation, Aboriginal affairs and veterans’ affairs.

She admits it can be challenging but her enthusiasm and passion for what she is doing overshadows the difficulties that couple the position. The cumulation of hard work, following her dreams and her unwavering passion for education have all led to Mrs Bruniges’ latest position.

“I do the best I can and see it as an honour to contribute back to public education after it served me so well,” Mrs Bruniges said. “There are a lot of great things going on in education at the moment including funding based on need. It is a significant change and we are proud of it.

“The use of technology in schools is something we are working hard on to ensure staff are professionally prepared and we are using virtual links so remote and rural schools have access to a broader curriculum.

“We are addressing the achievement gaps.”

Another educational reform that Mrs Bruniges views as a positive move is the shift in power that gives school principals greater responsibilities and greater authority.

“There is a shift from 10 per cent to 70 per cent of the allocated budget

being in schools for them to decide how to spend it. We believe principals are in the best position to assess and direct resources.”

After bidding the staff and students of TPS farewell, it was off to Tumut High School for another raft of reminiscing and delivering the message that even students from country towns can achieve great things.

“As a child my parents and my teachers encouraged me to reach for the stars,” Dr Bruniges said.

“They insisted nothing was impossible.

“That’s just as important a message now for the students sitting in the classrooms at Tumut Public and Tumut High as it was then.

“Follow your passion.

“The high quality education you gain and the caring, nurturing commitment you receive from local public schools is a great platform to reach for the stars.”

Despite her sound track record as an education administrator for three education departments, Dr Bruniges feels most at home in classrooms.

“That’s where the real action is,” Dr Bruniges said.

“Being able to engage and inspire students and develop a love of learning is so important.

“I always feel at home when I walk into a classroom.”