Australia Day honours for NSW educators

The exceptional work of NSW Department of Education staff has been recognised.

a school notice board wearing a mask a school notice board wearing a mask
Image: Disruption: The work of educators through the COVID-19 pandemic has been recognised in the Australia Day honours.

NSW Department of Education employees have received national recognition today for their service to the community as part of the Australia Day honours. 

Three department employees Glenn Downie, Suzie Matthews and Nicholas Magriplis were acknowledged for their outstanding contributions in the education sector with the Public Service Medal.

Tempe High School relieving principal Sheree Bourke was also acknowledged, receiving an Order of Australia for her service to education.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar extended his congratulations to this year’s recipients.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was the greatest disruption to education since World War 2, but thanks to the outstanding leadership of people like Glenn, Nick and Suzie we were able to provide continuity of learning and wellbeing support and care to our most impacted communities.

“I have worked alongside all three of these exceptional NSW public educators and know they are driven by a passion to make a difference in the lives of our students.

“They are worthy recipients of the Public Service Medal and exemplify all that is great about the NSW Department of Education.

“Congratulations also to Sheree and all the other educators across the independent and Catholic systems who have been honoured today.

“Sheree epitomises the incredible devotion teachers have to expanding the horizons of their students.

“In her work in schools across southern Sydney and in sharing her passion for agricultural education she has opened the world of agricultural shows to city-based students.”

Challenging times

As Executive Director, Asset Management - School Infrastructure NSW, Mr Downie regularly finds himself dealing with significant multi-faceted challenges.

In this role he led the operational response for some of the worst and unabating natural disasters NSW has witnessed, including bushfires, smoke impact on schools, damaging storms, threatening floods, a mice plague and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Providing strategic leadership for a team that looks after one of the largest portfolio assets in Australia – and the fifth-largest education system in the world – Mr Downie consistently strikes a balance in providing expert advice with a human touch.

He receives his PSM after a 30-year career with the department.

Support through a crisis

Mr Magriplis, who has dedicated 30 years of service to public education across the state's most disadvantaged school communities in south-western Sydney, was also recognised for his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His PSM honours his support for schools, staff and students in the Liverpool and Fairfield local government areas that were under the strictest stay-at-home orders and tightest learning-from-home directions in the state.

Through 34 weeks of learning from home across 2020-2021, in his role as Director, Educational Leadership, Mr Magriplis coordinated efforts to acquire and distribute 4G internet dongles and printed learning packs so that all students could continue their learning regardless of technology access.

During and post the pandemic, Mr Magriplis worked tirelessly to support fractured families and communities, initiating interagency support for families enduring financial hardship and in need of wellbeing support, using schools as centres for triaging family support, and rebuilding community stability after extensive lockdown periods.

Exceptional leadership

Now Executive Director, Skills and Pathways (Education and Skills Reform) Suzie Matthews was recognised for her exceptional leadership in supporting the NSW Education sector’s transition to ‘COVID-normal’ and flood recovery.

Throughout 2022, as the executive director of the COVID-19 and Crisis Taskforce, Ms Matthews and her team worked closely with NSW Health to design and implement a COVID-19 policy for NSW schools.

She balanced relationships at a political, strategic and tactical level for the department, leading a small team to develop a plan for the 2022 winter respiratory virus season.

This plan, which included the ability for the department to implement ‘circuit-breaker measures’, reduced the number of temporarily non-operational schools and ensured normality after two consecutive winters with state-wide learning from home.

In addition to her work with the department’s COVID-19 response, Ms Matthews also played a significant role in supporting school communities impacted by the Northern NSW floods and the Western NSW floods.

Bringing the country to city kids

Ms Bourke moved into the relieving principal role at Tempe High School last year after two years as Deputy Principal.

As a science teacher at Menai High School (1994-2014) she inspired many students to take on an interest and eventual career in agriculture and also brought this passion to Alexandria Park Community College where she was deputy principal and head teacher, science and technology.

Ms Bourke is also an establishing member of the Junior Agricultural Judge Coaching Program for The Royal Agricultural Society of NSW, Coordinator of School District Displays Competitions (a current position) and was an Easter Show champion (2016).

Former Kotara High School principal Barbara Whitcher also received an OAM for her services to her community through various local organisations.

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