Case study: JJ Cahill Memorial High School
When it comes to supporting students, this school takes a joint approach with their P&C Association.
JJ Cahill Memorial High School – Building positive school and P&C partnerships
Ralph David [Principal] When you took on the role we were both novices. I didn’t really know or had worked a lot with P&Cs. I remember sharing the vision of the school and I could see that it really gelled with you.
How did the partnership develop?
Daniel Girling-Butcher [P&C president] The good thing about the P&C that we’ve got is that we’re all like-minded people. Nobody is out with any particular agenda accept to assist the school and it’s made everything quite easy to deal with at the meetings which are quite informal and quite good fun.
Ralph [Principal] Your connection with other parents and going up and tapping them on the shoulder I thought some of those where we were getting more people involved, I thought that’s something I couldn’t have done.
Ralph [Principal] The thing that really blew me away was when you approached me about your idea for the partnership with the universities and the possibility of involving the kids in being a part of developing the gardens at the front. People noticing the school, people seeing that there’s interest in the school.
Why should parents and carers get involved?
Ralph [Principal] We do it jointly. It’s not just the P&C raising funds. We actually do it in partnership so there are staff and students and parents there together.
Ralph [Principal ]The mistake in this is that we think, okay they’re in high school, they’re okay they don’t need us anymore. Highlighting that well, they’re the years, they’re the noisy years, they’re the challenging years and that’s when parents need to step in and be more engaged because that’s where young people are coming up with greater challenges to know who they are to develop into adulthood.
What are the benefits of a strong partnership?
Ralph [Principal] The benefit of having a strong partnership and a positive relationship with the parent body and a P&C, the lines of communication are open, and it provides that positive, proactive framework for coming together.
Daniel [P&C President] I think it really connects the school with the community - through the executive, the staff, the children and their parents. I think it’s a great bridge that gels it all together. It has been very successful here.
Developing the partnership
As principal Ralph David says, ‘we focus on community, we are thinking beyond the school gates.’ They’ve had families involved in the past, but not in a formal way. Now the P&C is incorporated, writes grants to support the school and is increasing its membership, all with a focus on supporting the school and students.
P&C Association President Daniel Girling-Butcher said he liked Ralph’s openness and confidence from the first time they met on a school tour and believes many parents are attracted to the P&C because of Ralph’s vision. Parents appreciate what the school offers and as part of the P&C they’re there to assist the school. ‘It’ a collaborative approach, we approach everything together.’ said Daniel.
When they started working together, they were both novices. Each used their strengths for a collective goal of supporting the students and school. Daniel has community connections, so he invited other parents to get involved. They started with 3 or 4 people and now have more than a dozen parents regularly attending. They create an inclusive and welcoming environment and families can join meetings in person or online.
Why parents and carers should get involved in their high school
Data shows families who feel they are working in partnership with their child’s school can be more likely to engage in practices to support learning at home.*
Ralph says that parents are often very active in their child’s primary education then take a step back once they reach high school. He believes those are the quiet years for students when they tend to do okay. He highlights that high school can be challenging years. 'That's when parents need to step in and be more engaged, because that's where young people are coming up with greater challenges to know who they are to develop into adulthood and make some challenging decisions,’ he says.
Daniel wasn’t involved in his children's P&Cs at their primary school because there were already a lot of people involved. Despite his inexperience he approached the role with fearlessness and energy that has proved very beneficial. With the school and P&C Association's support, he is using his building and architecture background to start a new garden landscape initiative. He is working on partnering with local businesses and the University of Technology Sydney to create a more visually welcoming environment to complement the amazing learning and teaching happening inside.
Benefits of a strong relationship
Ralph says having a strong partnership and a positive relationship with the parent body and P&C, means the lines of communication are open.
Ralph’s comments are backed up by research, which finds ‘two-way communication (that is, communication that flows both ways from school staff to families, and from families to school staff) has been shown to improve students’ social-behavioural competency.’**
As Daniel says, it's not a huge outlay being on the P&C. In just a few hours a week, you can make a huge difference to the school's trajectory. ‘It's not just the P&C raising funds, that we actually do it in partnership. So there are staff and students and parents there together at the stores working side by side. It's not just one group. And I think that that's where it is a success. And I think that kind of captures our meetings as a P&C, that it's very collaborative. We're sharing ideas, we're listening to everybody,’ he says.
The school and P&C Association hope to complete the garden project over the summer holidays in 2024. Watch this space.
* Smith et al. (2020) as cited in Australian Education Research Organisation, Engaging with families to support student learning in secondary school (2021).
** Smith et al. (2020); Sheridan et al. (2019) as cited in Australian Education Research Organisation, Engaging with families to support student learning in secondary school (2021).