School doors open and a dream comes to life
The principal at the new Oran Park High School has spent his life committed to south-western Sydney.
It is a rare treat to be handed the keys to a new school, but for principal Brad Mitchell it is dream he achieved this week when he welcomed the first intake of Year 7 and 8 students into the newly built Oran Park High School.
"I was relieving as a director about six years ago and I went to the opening of a new public school and I remember thinking it would be amazing to have that opportunity," Mr Mitchell said.
"It's been a dream for me so I feel very lucky."
The school, in the fastest-growing region of south-western Sydney, will eventually accommodate 2,000 students but opens with around 270 Year 7, Year 8 and support unit students.
Oran Park High School is one of seven new and 17 upgraded NSW public schools that will open in Term 1, 2020, catering for more than 20,000 students. The school features 90 learning spaces, fitness and performance studios, a senior learning centre, hospitality cafe, maker spaces and a hall to accommodate two basketball courts.
Mr Mitchell is pure public school and south-western Sydney pedigree, having grown up in Green Valley and educated at Busby West Public School and what is now James Busby High School.
He embarked on his career in teaching driven by a sense of giving back to his community and has spent all his 35 years' teaching working in south-western Sydney.
"I was from a working class background and my parents strongly believed in education as the way to achieve more than they had," he said.
"I had great teachers who really encouraged me and I just love the idea of giving back to the community and I think we can do that through public education."
Although Mr Mitchell was appointed to the principal's role in April last year he had already had more than three years' involvement with the school as the principal's representative on the Project Reference Group.
"I've seen the school grow from being a design on a piece of paper to seeing the first bulldozers come on site," he said.
Mr Mitchell said preparing to open a new school had been an interesting experience.
"Starting a new school from scratch is very different," he said. "When you come into an established school it has its own history, its own culture, its own way of doing things.
"The challenge is you are starting from the ground up, trying to create a positive culture from day one while also doing all the other things such as establishing processes and procedures and liaising with builders."
As the principal at neighbouring Mount Annan High School, Mr Mitchell already had strong connections to the Oran Park community, which proved vital in getting ready for day one.
"As soon as I was appointed I realised we would need to get cracking on things like uniform design, school colours and logo. I asked via our feeder primary schools for a parent representative body and have consulted with them throughout," he said.
Mr Mitchell has had to bring on a new executive and teaching staff, who toured the school together last week for the first time.
He said the design of the school allowed for great flexibility in the learning spaces and would encourage teachers to "experiment a little and be innovative in their approach".
"They [the staff] were blown away and some of them commented how much it looked like a university campus," he said.
"We were like kids opening presents on Christmas morning and it was so exciting to share that with them."
As part of the development a footbridge has been built linking Oran Park Public School and the new high school - a physical connection Mr Mitchell plans to build on.
"Our plans are to have monthly executive meetings of the two schools and have a real focus on transition with a middle school program for Years 5 to 8," he said.
Mr Mitchell said through the new Oran Park High School he hoped to give students the chance to be the "best they can be" and expand their horizons by offering opportunities they would not normally have.
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