In her acceptance address as Danebank’s seventh Principal at last Friday’s Commissioning Service, Dr Burgess emphasised her commitment to our girls, expressed her appreciation for our school’s founder, previous principals and rich history, and gave a glimpse at her vision for our school. Here is Dr Burgess’ speech.

Commissioning Address- 7 February 2020

Your Grace, Bishop Lin,

Chair of the Anglican School Corporation Board of Directors, Mr Phillip Bell,

Chair of the Danebank Council, Dr Richard Sharp,

Members of the Board

Members of the Council

Fellow Principals

Special Guests

Members of Staff

Parents

Old Girls and Friends of the School

And most importantly, students of Danebank.

It is a privilege and honour to follow great female Principals who have preceded me, as the seventh and newly commissioned Principal of Danebank.  I am moved and humbled by your generosity and warm welcome and am appreciative of the tremendous support shown to me, my husband Stuart and our daughters as we join the Danebank family.  Many thanks to those who have organised this beautiful service.

Early Weeks

Over the past few weeks I’ve been most impressed by our inspiring and engaging Christian learning community and abiding commitment to excellence in thinking, learning, and care.  These pillars of wellbeing and learning, underpinned by a firm Christian foundation and culture of excellence are clearly trademarks of our school.  This resonates with my deep commitment to the provision of an enriched culture of excellence in thinking, learning and care, which enables every girl to achieve her best.

I have been delighted to welcome girls and staff back to the new year, with many memorable moments including

  • Our first staff days for 2020, where we laughed and had fun together and were inspired by the opportunities that a new decade and era will bring,
  • Welcoming the girls at our green school gates- enjoying our morning conversations and fun interactions, helping Kindergarten and Pre-K girls up the stairs with their big bags and hearing all about the exciting day ahead
  • Morning teas and chats with our inspiring Year 12 Prefects and Year 6 Student Leaders, hearing about favourite traditions and their vision and plans for 2020
  • Dragon Boat Racing and the Regatta at Darling Harbour where we enjoyed Chinese New Year celebrations together in the heat where I witnessed the girls’ tenacity, grit and tremendous teamwork at play.
  • Joining the fun of Year 7 Friendship Camp
  • Visiting classrooms and joining in the wonderful learning taking place
  • Our first senior swimming carnival together where we enjoyed an amazing day of school spirit, courage and active participation. It was another very hot day and at one point I said to the girls that I wished I had brought my swimmers, although I added that that may have been too much for everyone to see Dr Burgess jumping in the pool.  Without skipping a beat, one of my new found friends said, ‘Yes, Dr Burgess, you need to maintain your dignity for at least 12 months’!
  • Meeting wonderful, engaged and supportive parents at the Cocktail Party, at Assembly, during drop offs.

It has been wonderful: I’ve discovered strong networks across generations, supportive community, engaged parents and outstanding staff.

Our Girls

Most importantly, I’ve been inspired and delighted by our cherished GIRLS.   Our girls are at the heart of everything we do at Danebank.  The girls, and indeed the ‘people’ of Danebank are my priority.  And getting to know our girls- their thoughts, desires, loves, concerns and hopes is so important.  I believe in schools being about people first.

The best schools, indeed, the greatest learning communities are those that are attending to and are driven by the people within them… and the girls, our staff and our community will be my focus moving forward.  We are preparing each young woman for her life- that she would thrive, serve and more than this, shape the modern world of the future.

Letters

Towards the end of last year, I invited the girls to tell me about themselves and what they loved about Danebank.  After reading the 950 articulate and carefully written individual letters I was enthralled and overwhelmed by the magnificent spirit of our girls.  They gave some fantastic advice for me as I begin this year…

  • Danebank is a loving kind school with a very good vibe!
  • I am completely thrilled that you are here at this wonderful school that we students call home. This is an amazing opportunity for you to experience how superior this school is!
  • I wish that we don’t make you feel worried and I know you have great plans for this school
  • Dr Burgess, a little fun fact is that I love Ruel’s music which is a boy from the previous school you used to work in- a few Year 11 girls wrote to me about Ruel!
  • If possible, could you make lunch times longer?
  • ‘Here at Danebank, we go crazy for watermelons!”
  • I want you to have a good time as principal so I’ll try my absolutely best to be on my best behaviour and put one problem off your shoulders.
  • I would like you to know that being Principal may be hard at the beginning but you will get there in no time!
  • You’ll love it here- It is very nice to wake up every-day and be happy to come to school
  • I hope you don’t stress out too much as a Principal
  • I’m really excited for you to be my principal. Danebank is an amazing place to be- everyone is really nice, everyone will be kind and nice to you!
  • At Danebank I can talk to my friends about the Gospel whenever I want to. I love the caring and Christian environment and the lunch time groups. I think Totally God is brilliant!
  • Along with very strong suggestion to give a certain teacher a raise!
    • … she has been a great teacher all year and she definitely deserves a raise or a promotion. Just letting you know that she doesn’t know about this but I would definitely consider it!

Over and over, a common thread of the Danebank narrative that was really compelling to me, was encapsulated by two Year 6 girls who wrote,

I love how Danebank is a welcoming and loving environment filled with empowering women working together… encouraging girls to be the best version of themselves’

  • A welcoming and supporting Christian learning community;
  • excellence in learning and care
  • encouraging girls to be the best they can be for their future.

I’ve discovered that this narrative isn’t unique to now or this time in Danebank’s history.  It has been a common thread or plot line, if you will, throughout our story.

Our Story:

Danebank’s abiding storyline is one of extraordinary leading women who were deeply committed to the provision of an exceptional, futures-focused, progressive Christian education that enabled each girl to flourish in every aspect of their lives.

Our story inspires us as we see leading women who consistently looked to the future and envisioned new possibilities with a sense of hope and trust in God, knowing that their labour was for Him and the girls and community they served.

Our Preface:

Our preface began in the 19th Century when Australia held a Commission into the education of girls.   Female delegates from Australia made their way to England to learn about pioneering girls’ schools, secondary schools and university colleges such as at Cambridge University which allowed young women to take degrees.  In 1880, the SMH published a series of four articles titled, ‘Girls Schools and Colleges’.  The articles (which make fascinating reading) described visitors from the ‘Australian colony’ and their findings, with multiple observations including

  • ‘(And in) England, one of the leading features has been the quality of education provided for the gentler sex’ where there was an emerging
  • ‘… fashion to drop the word ‘ladies’ and to speak of ‘girl’s schools’ and ‘women’s colleges’.

The delegates explored class sizes, teaching methods, topics and curriculum and the question of assessments.  They discovered that girls were at a disadvantage in comparison with their brothers: boys had time-honoured, world renowned Public schools, foundation schools, Grammar schools and excellent private schools whereas, there had been previously, little provision for women.

The women returned, much inspired, and established progressive and innovative education relevant to the industrial era, for girls and young women across Australia.

Roseby Family:

The Roseby family helped found this tradition and established some of the finest girls’ schools in Sydney.

Clara and Mary (Minnie) Roseby were co-Principals of Kambala. At the Women’s Club on the 8th of November, 1916 a group of eight headmistresses, one of whom was Miss Clara Roseby, formed the Headmistresses Association of NSW (today known as AHIGS).

Cousin Gertrude was Headmistress at Ascham and later bought and led SCEGGS Redlands.  Her younger sister, Miss May was Deputy Principal until their joint retirement in 1945. She spent three years in England and wrote that she was, ‘interested in the progress of education which is a thrilling subject in England at present and many wonderful experiments are being tried with regarding to teaching’.  Gertrude Roseby was a strong supporter of The Arts and said, ‘Accustom the young people to the best and they will find no pleasure in what is shoddy’.

These women were pioneers, passionate educators, strong Christians, innovative and at the leading edge of education for girls and young women for their time.  At their heart, was a desire to prepare young women for life and the teaching methods were appropriate to this.  We saw school age cohorts, whole class instruction, a focus on content and knowledge, chalk boards, rows of desks and standardized tests.

Moving from our preface,

Our first chapter was penned by Miss Edith Roseby Ball, who did her practicum at Redlands. Miss Roseby Ball was appointed as a foundational teacher by a group of parents, led by Dr John Saxon and Mrs Valerie Crackanthorp (whom in my readings, I found to be Edith’s cousin, also from the Roseby family). In 1933 Miss Roseby Ball began Danebank with five students on a verandah at 104 The Avenue, Hurstville.  She was described as ‘tall, strong and very clear in what she wanted to do’.  As she established Danebank she set out to (in her words) ‘…establish a fine Christian girls’ school’.  She founded enduring traditions, such as a sports day and the annual Speech Day… And chose the motto of Ut Prosim, That I May Serve.

She described her firm belief that schools are “…a preparation for life. The complete life is one of service.  How can we lead, follow and serve without knowledge, understanding, thinking and doing?”

Chapters to follow:

With each new Principal came a new chapter, always true to the Danebank story, mission and culture.

Each successive Principal built on the early foundations - always with a desire to offer the best in learning and care for girls within a Christian community, in order that young women would be equipped with the skills, knowledge, faith and character traits to succeed in the world of its time.

Our story tells us that Danebank is amongst those who are committed to the rich and inspirational tradition of educating girls and young women in Australia.  But more than that, Danebank is deeply committed to an education that is founded on the message of the gospel. A Danebank education is progressive, forward thinking and appropriate to the era - a passion and purpose that I share.

So, how will we build on the remarkable legacy of past Principals and the inspirational story of Danebank, to lead and serve the school in this new context and next phase of growth and development?

Turning the page

As we turn the next page… to our seventh chapter, I will ensure that we honour what exists today, build on our strengths and consider what needs to be established into the future.

The word next is hopeful, contains a question mark wrapped in potential, is upbeat and full of vibrant possibilities.  In Isaiah 43: 16 God says,

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

“Next” is in the air as we imagine best practice in girls’ education.  As we look forward to 2030 with hope for the future for our girls, at a time when real inequities continue to exist between women and men, I believe that a Danebank education continues to provide the best platform for girls, to be most prepared for life, a life of service. A girls’ education where:

  • Girls are empowered at Danebank.
  • We promote a positive, ‘can do’ philosophy.
  • There are no unspoken prejudices about subject choices and leadership is a vital part of girls’ learning.
  • Our girls see and are inspired by female role models and are encouraged to pursue their interests and passions in any area they choose; and, where
  • They achieve outstanding results and develop a strong sense of self-belief, self-efficacy and self-confidence for their future.

“Next” is full of possibilities as we find ourselves in a post-industrial, rapidly changing and in many ways, uncertain world.  Since the beginning of the 21st century, our world has experienced swift changes in flexibility of work arrangements, globalisation, automation, technology and now artificial intelligence.  These shifts shape and change the future of our lives, work and play.  For our girls, to thrive in the modern world, they will need to develop new and effective ways of thinking, interacting, working and living.

Isaac Asimov suggests that, ‘No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be’.

Schools that are succeeding in this era, have considered these societal shifts and what students will need to flourish well into the future.  From this, they have begun to establish teaching and learning practices that will give their students an advantage for life in the rapidly changing world.   They have focused on developing the character, faith, knowledge, skills, dispositions and habits of mind required for future life success.

So, how will we navigate this at Danebank as we ensure that we continue to offer an exceptional education for girls, whilst ensuring that our offering is fit for our girls’ needs into the future?

Firstly, as a deeply committed educational leader with a passion for our girls, my focus will always be on the girls and people within our school.  As Principal, I will hold myself accountable to Miss Roseby Ball’s standards and enduring traditions for girls’ education, grounding our learning and practice in the gospel.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1-2

When things are difficult, I will be encouraged by those who went before me, be strengthened by my faith in God and his promises, and be supported by family, friends and the community that I serve.

I will uphold our inspirational mission, to provide a high quality and affordable education in order to equip girls to flourish in every aspect of their lives- so that they will contribute socially, culturally, spiritually and academically to society.

Then, taking our cue from the enduring traditions established by Miss Edith Roseby Ball and each successive Principal, I will look to the future and what our girls will need and then improve, innovate and expand in order to continue to provide an excellent Christian education which, as Miss Roseby Ball stated would be a, ‘Preparation for life, a life of service’.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be exploring how we can best achieve this for our girls: investigating and expanding on key ideas related to thinking, learning and wellbeing.  We will monitor the educational landscape, explore what our girls will need in the future and then respond in a well-considered manner.

In commencing to do so, I’ll be taking time to build relationships and get to know the Danebank community.  I’ll be learning further about the nuances, history, culture and traditions of our school.  I’ll be listening and observing and reviewing feedback offered from previous and new school surveys and engaging our community in a broader conversation about ways in which we can continue to enhance our educational offering for our girls.

With the Council, leadership team and community, we will determine our position and together, begin to chart a new path forward as we form our strategic focus and direction for this next era- that we would be a vibrant learning community deeply committed to the provision of an exceptional, forward thinking Christian education that inspires and empowers girls and young women to thrive, serve and shape their world.

In closing, I wish to thank the Board, Council, school leadership team, teachers, support staff, students, parents, Old Girls and broader members of the school community for making me and my family, feel so welcome here.  I’d also like to thank my husband Stuart, daughters Isabella, Molly and Charlotte.  My family, friends, mentors and colleagues – some of whom were able to be here today.

Girls, I loved your letters, gifts, care and spirit. You said,

What is unique about Danebank is that we are not defined by what we can’t do, instead we are defined by what we can’

You wrote,

Dr Burgess, How do you see Danebank right now? From the outside, Danebank may simply seem like a pleasant school that also happens to be Anglican.  But Danebank, from the inside, is a community that is excited to have you as our new Principal. Danebank achieves its uniqueness and spirit from the tireless work of teachers, students and the administration, … I know you will continue leading Danebank forward’.

Girls, with all my heart, soul and mind, with God’s strength and through His grace, I will lead Danebank forward for you.  I will uphold the Danebank flame, first lit by Miss Edith Roseby Ball, to ensure that:

  • your Danebank education will indeed be a preparation for your lives, for a life of service,
  • so that when you go out from here, that you are able to flourish in every aspect and live lives of meaning and purpose,
  • that you would shine as a light in the world and indeed change it and shape it for the better.

Thank you.