Intro From Chair of School Council

As a foundation parent and School Council member, Leonie Coombes is in a good position to comment on changes that have occurred at Hills Grammar over the past 35 years. Here she concentrates on the intangible assets we have retained from our very earliest days, which are just as important as buildings and equipment.

Let’s step back in time, briefly. It is easy to sentimentalise the early years at Hills Grammar but actually it was pretty rugged from 1983 to 1986, particularly for junior school kids and teachers. The local state schools were resorts by comparison. Yet there was something so stirring about the pristine bushland setting, something so promising and personal about Hills Grammar that parents shrugged off the whole fiasco of clammy demountable classrooms and fields of ankle-deep mud as a fleeting inconvenience. We foundation parents never lost faith that our kids were in a superior place, even while trying not to get bogged.

Needless to say, that belief paid off. A prestigious, well-equipped school has emerged from the mire. But I hope you agree that the personal nature of the school has endured, probably because of the intimacy provided by its size. We are not a big school and it was never intended that we should be. Much of the original vision encompassing who we are and what we believe has remained intact, but with an expanded sensibility that suits the present day.

So how has this been achieved? The answer resides in good governance, which has kept the school on a course that embraces the future but respects the past. Successive School Councils, always diverse in composition but with a strong representation of parents, former parents and alumni, have worked in lockstep with four committed principals to maintain those ideals that the school’s founders literally took to the marketplace, and which we still hold dear.

For some of you this begs the question, what do we hold dear?

What was gold in 1983 and is still deeply valued?

The name of the school says a lot. Specifically, we are a grammar school, indicating a certain standard and style of education. We promise a rigorous, traditional curriculum that will provide a strong foundation for further study or vocational training. We turn out well-educated, well-rounded graduates. So it was in 1983. So it is still.

Excellence never grows old. For 35 years the word has formed part of our School’s motto and remains a daily inspiration to students. And we have built on that. The more aspirational ‘extraordinary education,’ which is in our vision statement, challenges the school’s leaders and teachers to make the Hills Grammar experience an exemplar to others.  

Priority enrolment for siblings of current students was a big draw card in the early 80’s. The intent was to see whole families on one campus, undivided by gender or age group, all able to complete their entire school education at Hills Grammar. For many current families this policy retains the same practical appeal. The new ECEC is an endorsement of our commitment to it.

Going back 35 years, the beguiling promise was made that all students would achieve their full potential by being enabled to progress at their own pace. For some of us this conjured up an image of junior school geniuses periodically moving to higher classes to pursue their interest in kinetic particle theory. It didn’t work that way. What we got instead were exceptional teachers who stretched all the children in their care in a variety of ways. In 2017 enabling every student to progress at their own pace is still an imperative for our highly skilled staff. Thanks to huge leaps in the science of teaching we are infinitely better at achieving this objective today.

Non-denominational education was rare in the private system when Hills Grammar welcomed its first intake of students. It is still uncommon. Parents of the early 80’s regarded this founding principle as a breath of fresh air, and current parents share that sentiment. Freedom from the strictures of religion has encouraged a broadminded, multi-cultural community to our doors, enhancing our global outlook and promoting mutual respect.

Collegial. I like that word. Strictly speaking it implies students and staff of a college working with a shared purpose. The expression was used very early in the life of Hills Grammar to describe our informal, quintessentially Australian atmosphere as being conducive to friendly interactions between students and teachers. That shameless expansion of the Oxford Dictionary definition still describes our school perfectly.

Uniforms can be contentious. So it was in 1982 when the design of the uniform was undertaken solely by the wife of a school council member. Utilising colours drawn from the local bushland, Mrs. Hood fashioned garments exclusively from cotton and pure wool, possibly putting a smile on the face of a primary producer or two. The end product looked so smart that sceptical parents were mollified. Tweedy munchkins in itchy argyle jumpers attracted admiring attention, boosting enrolments. Last year the uniform was revamped but distinctive features were carefully retained. Despite the subversive presence of synthetics our uniform remains a strength, embodying our history and celebrating our location.

The Music Showcase this week was a timely reminder that the fine and performing arts have always been highly prized at Hills Grammar. Increasing resources in recent years have been allocated to boosting our sporting offerings and facilities, providing essential balance. A great number of students contribute to both areas of school life, and are richer for it.

Someone once said that we do not change as we grow older, but become more clearly ourselves. That applies beautifully to our school. The years have added depth to the vision of 1983 and we know better than ever what we should value: our high academic standards, our diverse community, our environment and our collegial atmosphere.

Leonie Coombs | School Council Member