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ATTENDANCE AT MINYERRI SCHOOL, NT

Minyerri School is a very remote school with attendance over 90 percent.

SCHOOL:

Minyerri School (also known as Hodgson Downs-Minyerri) is a Preschool to Year 9 school near Roper River in the Northern Territory, located approximately 270 km south-east of Katherine. All of the 175 students enrolled are Indigenous.

INFORMATION FROM:
Neil Gibson, principal

ATTENDANCE:
For over seven years, Minyerri School has maintained a 90% average attendance.

2008 - 92.8%

2009 - 93.3%

2010 (up to May) - over 95%

"I think an important thing at Minyerri is that we don't see the attendance rate as being anything special," Mr Gibson says. "It is just an expectation in everyone here that the kids are meant to be at school."

There are certain factors favoring attendance, including the physical positioning of the school in the middle of the community so that few students have to travel more than one kilometer to attend. However one of the biggest advantages is the relationship the principal has to the community. Mr Gibson has been principal for nine years but has worked in the local area for 21 years. He finds that many of the students he first taught when he arrived in the area are now parents of current students. "There is a lot of trust and respect in both directions," he says. "There has been relationship-building for 21 years. The people know me on a lot of levels: teacher, principal, mate, relative, teammate." He played football for the Minyerri Tigers for many years and subsequently coached the team. (It plays in the Katherine League and there is a 600km round trip for matches.)

Establishing excellent attendance patterns has many positive spin-offs. "Teachers see the same kids in front of them every day. In some schools you might have 15 students in the class, but many of the 15 are different each day. When you have a consistent class it means as a teacher you can see the fruits of your labour. Watching students improve and achieve inspires and motivates teachers, and it also motivates parents. Solid attendance allows us to build a strong school culture from an early age, and a set of behaviour expectations. Our NAPLAN results are okay, with a general improvement in literacy and numeracy although we still have a way to go. Once again, if students are always at school there is a much greater opportunity for them to learn."

The school has 12 teachers, two of whom are Indigenous. One - Mr Gibson's wife - is from the local community. The assistant principal has been at the school for seven years, two senior teachers have been there for five years and staff turnover is lower than at many remote schools, although there were four new staff at the start of 2010. "Part of my job as a principal is to build relationships with teachers and build bridges between them, the community and the students," Mr Gibson says. "It is not holding people's hands, but it is providing guidance for them to build relationships in their own way. There is no right way to build a relationship, it always takes time, but once our staff feel a part of the community it is a major positive for all involved.

"As a remote school principal I find the key thing is to get out of my office and meet people in their own context. I have an open-door policy, but this goes further. It is a matter of not waiting for people to come to you, but being out there actively seeking contact in the community," Mr Gibson says.

POST-YEAR 9 PATHWAYS:
Minyerri senior students are spread far and wide in boarding situations. It is not drawing a long bow to suggest that their capacity to study at other schools is linked to the learning, discipline and continuity engendered by strong attendance in the first 10 years of formal schooling.

The closest option for Year 10-12 students is Katherine High School; students stay at the 40 Mile boarding facility. Six students are at Geelong Grammar on academic scholarships. Two are at Rostrevor College in Adelaide. Six are at Yirara College in Alice Springs. Others are boarding in Darwin and attending Marrara Christian College, St John's College or Kormilda College.

MORE INFORMATION:
www.schools.nt.edu.au/kathgs/minyerri/minyerri.htm or (08) 8975 9972

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