Australia Day honours for leading educators

Former and current Education Department staff have been recognised fo their work in the annual honours list.

26 January 2021
Sue French stands in front of a shelf with photos
Image: Sue French: 'Immense honour'.

Two Department of Education employees are among those recognised in this year’s Australia Day Honours.

A/Executive Director, Literacy and Numeracy Paul Wood received the Public Service Medal for his work in 2020 driving remote learning in NSW schools during the pandemic.

Former St Johns Park High School principal Susan French’s long career in school leadership and driving system-wide reform was also recognised with the Public Service Medal.

Ms French said it was an “immense honour” to receive the award, but added it was not hers alone.

"l have had the privilege to work with many exceptional people who have all contributed to this,” she said.

"Most notably my wonderful staff, students and community at St Johns Park High, my dream teams in High Potential and Gifted Education, in the Endeavour - Eight Days in Kamay project and my colleagues in secondary curriculum.”

She was also “very proud of my work with my Aboriginal sisters and brothers, Big Picture Education, the Invictus Games, NSW Teachers Federation and Secondary Principals Council”.

“Great teams make leadership rewarding. The best work in the world is the work of teachers,” Ms French added.

Ms French’s citation highlighted her focus on improving the performance of students, teachers, school leaders and schools as first a teacher, principal, NSW Coordinator of the Australian National Schools Network, member of the Secondary Principal's Council and Strategic Projects Officer.

“Throughout her career she has been an advocate of equal educational opportunities for all students and has been active in seeking additional support and resources for students from lower socio-economic, Indigenous, and multicultural backgrounds,” the citation reads.

The citation highlighted Ms French’s tenure as principal of St Johns Park High School, where she was instrumental in leading the transformation of the disadvantaged and diverse school community.

In 2015, with 61 per cent of her students in the lowest socio-economic quartile, with more than 90 per cent from a non-English speaking background, and with more than 100 refugees, five of her students achieved ATARs over 99, and 146 out of 170 students received a university offer.

More recently Ms French has also led the review of the NSW Department of Education gifted and talented policy.

The High Potential and Gifted Education policy, scheduled for implementation this year, will impact on every school setting, curriculum and program framework, school and system professional learning and potentially each student.

Headshot of Paul Wood
Image: Dr Paul Wood: 'Overwhelmed'.

Innovation during a pandemic

Dr Wood said he was “surprised” when he first was given news of his nomination.

“I look at the former recipients from within the department who have previously been acknowledged and I feel somewhat overwhelmed to be recognised alongside many people I admire and respect,” he said.

However Dr Wood said his award reflected across the full spectrum of staff that had responded so effectively and rapidly to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education.

“While it is nice to be honoured, it is really important to recognise that you don’t achieve these things alone,” he said.

Dr Wood paid tribute to the “incredible work” of the team that worked alongside him to support schools during the COVID lockdown and the school staff that had responded so rapidly to the learning from home experience.

Dr Wood was among some of the first recipients recognised, at least in part, for their contribution in support of Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While recognising his long-term commitment to improving student outcomes across a diverse range of leadership roles for the Department of Education, his award highlighted his work in “leading the drive for remote learning in NSW public schools”.

“As a member of the Department of Education's Continuity of Learning Taskforce he was instrumental in leading the development of curriculum units of work designed to be adaptable by teachers and applied in all learning environments whether students were school-based or learning from home,” the citation reads.

This included the design of single units of work, learning sequences for Kindergarten to Year 10 teachers, five-week learning packs for Kindergarten to Year 6 students, as well as the provision of more than 120 on-demand curriculum courses and webinars to support continuity of learning.

One of the initiatives Dr Wood oversaw during this time was the creation of curriculum-based, virtual, state-wide staffrooms.

These staffrooms were attended by more than 30,000 teachers seeking support in delivering remote learning. He also established a partnership with ABC TV to nationally broadcast additional teaching resources to complement existing learning tools.

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