Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Ku-ring-gai Electorate Public Educators

Alister with Bronwyn Wilson

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 19:40 : 06): I pay tribute to two extraordinary public educators in Ku-ring-gai whose impact on students in our community for more than a generation has been profound and whose lasting contribution cannot be overestimated. It is impossible to talk about Gordon West Public School without mentioning Jim Huckerby, who was appointed principal of the school on 30 January 1989. Mr Huckerby's history in our public schools began on 2 February 1965, more than 50 years ago, teaching at schools including Talbingo Public School and Sherwood Grange Public School prior to his appointment as deputy principal at Niland School for Specific Purposes and Tregear Public School. He also has experience teaching in Canada.

To meet Jim is to instantly recognise a strong and energetic advocate for public education. His disciplined approach, including an insistence on strict adherence to behavioural rules of individual responsibility and the principles of the school, might be seen by some as old-fashioned. But on my visits to the school it has been obvious that the students respect his authority and that their parents very much appreciate his reinforcement of the values that they have sought to instil in their children. However, any suggestion that Mr Huckerby has not changed in his ways since the 1960s would be a regrettable misstatement. Jim is an authentic lifelong learner, and he is quick to embrace the latest research and reforms in education where he believes they make a difference to student learning. Jim is justifiably proud of what has been built at Gordon West and of the outstanding academic results of its students, but he could never be accused of resting on his laurels.

At an age when most people in his position would be contemplating retirement or have already retired, he has an unquenchable desire to continue improving the school at all levels. In that regard, he proactively mentors his teachers and sees it as his mission to provide leadership opportunities for them, believing that he has a responsibility to encourage the best of his young teachers to develop into future-focused educational leaders, not just at Gordon West but across the State. It is no surprise to me that Jim's director believes him to be one of the most positive and enthusiastic principals that she has ever worked alongside. He frequently calls her to report something exceptional that has happened at Gordon West and often finishes his story with the words: "I love coming here. This is so much fun!"

It clearly is fun for Jim Huckerby to be in charge at Gordon West Public School, but he is first and foremost a school leader who is dedicated to the serious art of teaching and learning, with the wellbeing of the community at the heart of his philosophy. Every day Jim appears at the school crossing on the busy Ryde Road, making sure that his students have had a good day and that they arrive home safely. His care for them is obvious and their affection for him is equally unqualified. There is never any lack of belief in their oft-repeated refrain, "Gordon West is the best".

Less than 2.5 kilometres from Gordon West Public School, another educator of 40-plus years has calmly and successfully steered the ship as principal of West Pymble Public School since 29 January 2003. For Bronwyn Wilson, West Pymble is only the most recent stop in a teaching journey that since 1973 has taken her to Auburn North Public School, Forestville Infants School and Warwick Farm Public School as a classroom teacher, to Liverpool Public School as an executive teacher, to Lindfield Public School as an assistant principal and to St Ives Public School as its principal. Like Jim Huckerby, Ms Wilson has a strong commitment to motivating her teaching staff to become leaders, to keep pace with current research, to constantly update their knowledge about how children learn and to improve ways to teach. She is known for her wealth of ideas for making West Pymble a more exciting, vibrant environment, with a strong focus on student wellbeing and social awareness. The range of programs and opportunities for children at West Pymble is exceptional.

However, the distinguishing feature of Bronwyn's tenure at West Pymble is that she leads a true community school where parents and staff work effectively as a team to provide a caring and progressive environment. She involves herself in all aspects of the school with the same drive in 2017 that she brought to the role 14 years ago. Just this year I have witnessed the way she and the school parents and citizens association, with the assistance of a New South Wales Government Community Building Partnership grant, made the dream of a new outdoor learning area at the school become a reality through her vision and her belief in the value of the project for the children. Her determination to make the school a better place is set to continue for some time. Bronwyn has several projects planned and initiatives under consideration, and she has no thought of passing the mantle. Recently she said:

Why should I retire? I love coming to work here. I am surrounded by great teachers and wonderful children and there is so much still to do.

Much is said and written about funding for schools and the Government has an important role to play in providing the resources necessary to enable schools to deliver the quality of education that our children deserve. However, money alone does not guarantee success: It takes exemplary principals like Jim Huckerby and Bronwyn Wilson and the teachers that they lead to establish the appropriate standards and deliver the desired results. They are respected by their peers and loved by their communities, and we are fortunate to have them in Ku-ring-gai.

Mr MARK COURE ( Oatley ) ( 19:45 :32 ): I thank the member for Ku-ring-gai for bringing to the attention of the House two outstanding principals—Jim Huckerby from Gordon West Public School and Bronwyn Wilson from West Pymble Public School. We are blessed to have marvellous principals and teachers in the independent, Catholic and public school systems in Sydney. My wife is a schoolteacher and I know full well the great work that teachers do, including the out-of-hours work on weekends and during school holidays. They do a great job in our community as educators and they are educating the leaders of tomorrow. I pay tribute to Jim Huckerby and Bronwyn Wilson. Long may they continue to be principals at those two outstanding schools.