New Marian College principal has great expectations

Carmel Barker was appointed principal of Marian College at the start of the year. Picture: BEN KIMBER

MARIAN College’s first female lay principal is convinced her secondary school students can perform better and one of her main priorities is to ensure they do.

Carmel Barker was head of teaching and learning at the school for three years before she was appointed principal at the start of this year.

Prior to that Mrs Barker had lived in Queensland where she was deputy principal at a large school and acting principal for a time.

Mrs Barker said she and her husband, who grew up on a wheat farm north of Ararat always had the desire to return to the region. It was just about finding the ‘right time’.

“I love the area, both my husband and I have strong connections to this area,” she said.

“We lived in Queensland for 20 years and we always had the desire to come back it was just about being the right time.”

Mrs Barker has brought a renewed push for improved tertiary entrance scores and focus on self development at all levels.

“I suppose in any school, it’s about setting high expectations and helping the students to believe that just getting through is not always okay, if they’re capable of better,” she said.

“It is about making sure that students don’t accept that ‘I am only this role’ or ‘only this person’ and that the opportunities today are really endless, the world is their oyster to a degree.”

Mrs Barker said the more than 600 students enrolled at Marian College have two pathways, VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education) or VCAL (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning).

“We don’t want to just improve VCE results we want to start right from year seven and say to every year level we need to set the bar higher,” she said.

“If it is not good enough, it is not good enough. If you’re not working hard enough then what can we do to try and motivate you better.

“We’ve got two pathways here at the school and we’re saying which ever pathway you choose, you be the best you can and don’t accept that it’s okay to just get by.

“You need high expectations if you want an apprenticeship, because you may want to own your own business one day, and to do that you will need the skills to be able to communicate and converse with people, lead staff and be role models.”

Mrs Barker said today’s crop of students face a multitude of distractions unparalleled in past generations.

“The challenges for students are always going to be those competing outside interests,” she said.

“There is just so much going on in their world, I think more than compared to us when we were going through school.

“It is always a challenge with work and their social life and other outside influences, but what we are saying is ‘no, knuckle down, it is just one or two years of VCE or VCAL and you are through’.

“It is really about maintaining that focus and realising that those other things can wait.”

Mrs Barker said improved learning outcomes are as much about the teachers, as they are the students.

“I’m hoping to empower those around me, that’s my greatest vision,” she said.

“It’s not just about looking at the students, it’s also about looking at the teachers.

“We are being very self reflective, spending a lot of time working together and developing what we need to do as far as making sure we’re life-long learners.

“Learning should be seen as a priority over the teaching, because at the end of the day you can teach a beautiful lesson, but if the kids aren’t learning anything it’s a waste.”

Mrs Barker said the attitude of the students from year seven through to 12 has always struck her as positive.

“They just have a very nice way about them, I think that struck me a lot when I came here, how friendly they are, both here and out on the street when you run into them at the supermarket,” she said.

“We have really friendly students here and I think, in large, part that is a reflection of their families.”

Mrs Barker said she hopes to collaborate with student leaders, as they are key to continued growth and development.

“One of my goals this year is to have very close ties to our student leaders here at the school,” she said.

“I think it is really important to support your student leaders and to help develop their ability to feel like they have some ownership over what is going on and to ensure they build a profile in front of the other students.”

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