Meet the team: Inverell
In this instalment of our ‘Meet the team' series, we head to the Inverell group of schools in northern NSW to hear from Head Teacher Careers Donna McWhirter, SBAT Engagement Officer Jacinta Gorton, and School Administrative Officer Maria Egan.
13 September 2023
Within the Inverell group of schools, the Educational Pathways Program supports students attending Ashford Central School, Inverell High School, Macintyre High School, Bingara Central School, Wee Waa High School, Narrabri High School, and Barraba Central School.
We spoke with the dedicated school-based staff from Inverell - Head Teacher Careers Donna McWhirter, SBAT Engagement Officer Jacinta Gorton, and School Administrative Officer Maria Egan - about what makes their school group unique, why they chose to take on these roles, and what makes them feel supported in their day-to-day work.
What experience do you bring to the team?
Donna: I have experience as a careers adviser and vocational education and training (VET) teacher. My previous position was as a Senior Pathways Officer for NSW Public Schools- Tamworth RTO. In this role I supported a group of schools in the New England North West region with their VET and career programs.
Jacinta: My background is in business, finance and IT based roles in local government, before a career change into teaching. I am approved to teach Business Studies, Commerce, VET Business Services and VET Primary Industries, although being from a small rural town, I have been lucky enough to have taught across most KLAs at some stage!
Maria: I have been with the Department since 1989. As a SAO then a SAM for 15 years.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Donna: I enjoy the number of opportunities the students are receiving that prior to this program did not exist in this region. It has been enjoyable to witness students developing their skills in a wide range of industries and widening their view of possible career pathways.
Jacinta: I love that I can meet, support and collaborate with many amazing stakeholders across our rural communities. It is an honour to support our busy school staff, mentor students into and throughout their career path, and assist employers in developing skilled workers. Being able to regularly visit the Bingara bakery is pretty great too!
Maria: Working with Donna, my Head Teacher Careers.
Are there any opportunities or challenges that are unique to the schools and communities you are working in?
Donna: My group of schools include a number of central schools - this has created a great opportunity to combine schools to ensure all students have access to events and training without being limited by school cohort sizes. The biggest challenges are distance between my schools, no public transport, and availability of trainers.
Jacinta: One of the greatest challenges we face is geographic location and the subsequent access to trade qualifications. In saying that, however, we are very fortunate to have many local employers, RTOs, teachers, parents and students who are strongly committed to creating and capitalising on local VET and career opportunities.
Maria: We work very closely with the Armidale group of schools to coordinate activities as transport is a huge issue.
What is your proudest achievement in the role so far?
Donna: It is, as a whole, the number of programs that I have been able to coordinate for the region - with the majority of programs having maximum capacity. It is this level of engagement that has demonstrated the need for a program such as the EPP in this region.
Jacinta: For me, it is the little wins that make me proudest: finding a great student for an employer keen to take on an SBAT; a student approaching me as the first step in making their dreams come true; or the little messages I receive thanking me for my support.
Maria: Seeing students achieve in areas they think not possible.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Donna: In my 'spare' time I coordinate training and activities as the Commanding Officer of 319SQN (Inverell) Australian Air Force Cadets. Outside of cadets I enjoy spending time with my family doing something in the great outdoors.
Jacinta: I love playing sports, but my favourite thing to do is have a cuppa with my family and friends.
Maria: Spending time with kids and grandkids, and reading.
Where is your favourite place? This could be anywhere! A holiday spot, special restaurant or the patch in the backyard that gets just the right amount of sun!
Donna: My favourite place is either my back verandah or spa looking out to the bushland at the back of our property.
Jacinta: My happy place is my being on our properties, whether that is doing cattle work with my family or just going for a ride on the quad bike with my kids. I do love a holiday at the beach too!
Maria: Anywhere in our caravan.
For our binge watchers, or book readers... any recommendations of TV shows, movies or books?
Donna: I love a good book or movie that I can relate to. My recommended books are Beautiful Failures by Lucy Clark, Strange Places by Will Elliot and Tell Me I'm Here by Anne Deveson. Recommended Movies: Words on Bathroom Walls and A Beautiful Mind.
Jacinta: It is an oldie, but Kath and Kim always gives me a good laugh when I need it - even though I know every word! I have recently finished reading The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein, which I found interesting.
Maria: Yellowstone and The Crown.