King’s birthday honours for outstanding NSW educators

Four outstanding NSW educators receive awards recognition for their service to public education.

Head shots of two principals. Head shots of two principals.
Image: King's Birthday Honours OAM recipients Ken Barwick and Mechel Pikoulas.

Exceptional educators from the NSW public school system are among Australians recognised yesterday for their service to the community as part of the King’s Birthday Honours.

Bathurst High School principal Ken Barwick and Strathfield Girls High School principal Mechel Pikoulas both received an Order of the Medal of Australia (OAM) for their service to education.

The Public Service Medal for outstanding public service was awarded to:

  • Denise Robens of Regentville Public School for her outstanding public service in classroom teaching

  • Paul Hughes, Principal of Rosemeadow Public School, for his leadership in the public education system

  • Dr Ann Daly for educational innovation in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

NSW Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said he was delighted to see the outstanding work of public school educators from both the city and country recognised.

He said the public education recipients had demonstrated extraordinary service in the classroom, leading schools and in supporting students from some of our most disadvantaged communities.

“Ken, Mechel, Paul, Ann and Denise represent the incredible commitment staff across NSW demonstrate every day in supporting our students to be the best they can be,” Mr Dizdar said.

“They are all remarkable professionals who go beyond the job description to make a positive difference to students lives. I congratulate them all on their well-deserved honours.”

Mr Barwick, who has worked for three decades in secondary education, said he thought he was being scammed when he first received the news.

“You get this short email and it says ‘Honours’ and asks you to click on a link. We all know you don’t do that,” he said.

“I found a Canberra phone number and called them and they told me the ‘email is real’.”

As a young boy in Bathurst, Mr Barwick was forced to leave home at age 11 to escape a difficult home environment.

He received support from numerous people in the community to stay at school, among them his high school maths teacher to whom he vowed he would one day return to Bathurst High School as principal.

It is a vow he kept, now entering his seventh year leading the western NSW high school and surprised to find himself on the King’s Birthday honour list.

Mr Barwick said it was “humbling” to receive the award.

“I feel like I owe the system, because of what it did for me when I was a kid,” he said.

“Teachers don’t get a lot of accolades, but this award tells me there are people who appreciate what we do on a daily basis.

“A lot of teachers don’t realise the impact they have on young people’s lives, so I see this as recognition for all those teachers who put a lot of time into the kids they teach and the families they look after.”

Ms Pikoulas has been a high school teacher for the past 30 years and a principal for a decade. She led Cumberland High School, where 70 per cent of students speak a language other than English, through the pandemic.

Now principal at Strathfield Girls High School, she told local media she was proud to receive the award.

“I’m feeling very humbled and privileged to be recognised in this way, when all I have done is what I love to do—and that is help young people and inspire hope,” Ms Pikoulas told The Greek Herald.

One of her first memories of wanting to be a teacher was at the age of four, but it was her year 9 history teacher who inspired her to follow that dream.

“As a migrant girl from a migrant family, I didn’t have that self-belief. It was the words of my teacher that inspired me to pursue my dream,” she said.

A principal surrounded by dozens of students in costume with their arms outstretched. A principal surrounded by dozens of students in costume with their arms outstretched.
Image: Paul Hughes received the Public Service Medal for his leadership in the public education system.

Mr Hughes, at Rosemeadow Public School, said he was “very humbled” to receive the award.

“It’s an acknowledgement of all the great staff I have worked with over the years that have gone above and beyond to provide a wonderful learning community,” he said.

“The opportunities that public education has provided myself over the years has been outstanding. I feel very privileged to be a principal in a great system.”

Principal Jenny Thompson said Denise Robens was an outstanding member of the Regentville Public School team, where she has worked for more than 20 years.

"Most teachers in the system finish their distinguished careers in their 60s. Denise continues to make a difference to the learning outcomes of children into her 70s!" Ms Thompson said.

"She keeps abreast of the current trends in education and is a role-model to other teachers in her use of technology."

Ms Robens is accredited as a Highly Accomplished Teacher and a Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher Assessor.

"Denise is a much-loved member of our school and we are delighted to have her recognised by receiving a Public Service Medal," Ms Thompson said.

Dr Daly said her research and work with others was what continued to drive her.

"My research was inspired by the work of people such as Lynette Riley and the late Cindy Berwick in the 2004 Report of the Review of Aboriginal Education," she said.

"I am still working for the Department, but they moved on to greater projects. Cindy Berwick at the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group developed great programs for working with Aboriginal communities and Dr Lynette Riley developed the Kinship Module at Sydney University.

"It was wonderful to see Dr Riley received an AO for her work this year."

Dr Daly said she was humbled to be awarded the Public Service Medal.

"Receiving the Public Service Medal inspires me to push even harder to include more Aboriginal content in online reading assessments and develop language assessments that are suitable for Aboriginal students to support the online check-in writing assessment," she said.

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