September 20 - 26, 2020: Issue 467


Ian Bowsher

In August 2020 Ian Bowsher, Principal of Barrenjoey High School, announced he had accepted a position closer to his home. Ian has been appointed to the role of College Principal at Sydney Secondary College based in Balmain, effective 12th October 2020 (just ten minutes from home), which means his final day at Barrenjoey will be the end of this term and the end of this week, September 25th.

''I have absolutely loved my tenure at Barrenjoey and thoroughly enjoyed watching the school develop into the wonderful place of learning that it is today. When I arrived in 2008 I had plans to stay for six or seven years and then move closer to home, however, the Barrenjoey community got under my skin and together, we created so many great initiatives I just couldn’t leave.'' Mr. Bowsher said in making the announcement.

''Barrenjoey truly sits in the centre of a fabulous community and together we have overcome many challenging times in the past thirteen years. I feel very confident that no matter who is next to take over the reins at Barrenjoey, the school will continue to thrive thanks to the outstanding staff who provide unparalleled leadership and care for the young people who attend.''

In Friday's BHS weekly newsletter, the 'Peninsula Press' Mr. Bowsher tendered his farewell to students, parents and staff, deferring with characteristic focus on what he thinks should prevail, to this week's Year 12 Graduation Ceremony in their last week of High School. One excerpt reads:

''As you already know, I'm taking up the College Principal position at Sydney Secondary College. This will be a vastly different role for me and a chance to keep challenging myself. It’s an opportunity to work with 3 school communities to develop a lighthouse college with some of the things I’ve learnt from Barrenjoey. This is something I've wanted for several years and when the opportunity arose it just ‘felt right’.

My wish for you (especially the students) is that you too, follow your dreams. Challenge yourselves and always keep developing and pushing your own comfort zone by learning new things and setting aspirational goals.

I am going to miss you all. You've been part of my journey for a long time. I wish the students and their parents all the best for the great years ahead.

Thank you and farewell.''

Mr. Bowsher's reference to a 'lighthouse school' is of particular relevance to 'Barrenjoey' High School; it's in the school crest which features the Barrenjoey lighthouse building, a seahorse and dolphin; symbolising a unique connection to a unique place. Those joining the school in Year 7 commence their first year with a bonding trek to the lightstation atop Barrenjoey Headland, while those graduating Year 12 have a walk to greet the sunrise in their final week from this eyrie. 

There's more to it than that though. A lighthouse serves those at sea at night as a navigational aid and assists in the passage to safer waters. The places they are built provide a high birds eye view of the world to all horizons while remaining firmly part of the earth. Their purpose is to allow light to beam through the dark and illuminate what may have been hidden so it may be clearly seen, commencing this 'work' at dusk and continuing until dawn.

They are beacons. 

Our schools provide all of us, at one time or another, with 'lighthouse' moments - it may be primary school when 'a light goes on' as we finally figure out cursive writing and how single letters can make words - it may be university when we research and pursue threads until these coalesce into simply being able to express what was found - or it may be finding out about wind directions in high school science and applying that to kicking a goal on Saturday or knowing where the swell will run from and which banks will have the best waves. These moments inspire us to shine a light on darkness ever after and pursue a lifetime of illuminations. These moments become part of us, grant an unforgettable certainty that we can figure something out because we know we have done so before - all we need to do is find what skills or knowledge is missing and pursue them.

Our schools are also cores or hearts of our communities - they are where we find out what we're really interested in and what interests others - what a wonderful finding out. They are where we meet people who may become friends forever - BFF! - whether we're 4 years old and starting kindy or a mum or dad or a grandparent or carer turning up to the school fair, end of year concert and dance, working bee or canteen duty. They create, express and reflect community.

Thanks from the community and tributes have been written, spoken and posted in online community forums this week to celebrate all Ian Bowsher has done for the Barrenjoey community. 

Some examples:

“Ian exemplifies how multifaceted the role of a modern high school principal is.

“During his time at Barrenjoey, Ian has overseen the introduction of significant educational, student welfare and infrastructure initiatives, and has certainly earnt the respect and admiration of the school community.

“There are some very big shoes to fill – but Ian has positioned Barrenjoey well to continue providing high quality educational and student support opportunities into the future. – The Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater

My daughter was lucky to attend BHS whilst you were at the helm. I have nothing but praise for your leadership and clear vision. Thank you and best wishes for the future.

Thankyou Ian,

Our family will be always indebted to you for the tender loving care you have held for our family. You are truly one in a million. The inspiration and commitment you have shown our school community will ring through the halls and classrooms as long as Barrenjoey exists. You have indeed been foundational to its now outstanding reputation. I hope they know how lucky they are to be led by such an extraordinary visionary. We wish you every personal reward and success.

There are simply no words for the difference you have made in so many young lives. Thankyou with all my heart.

Thank you Ian Bowsher for your leadership and dedication to teaching - wishing you every success in your future ventures.

A few insights into the gentleman's vision for Barrenjoey High School:

Why did you get into education and in particular, public education?

I was a product of public education so it was always important to me; I loved my own schooling. I think it’s important that the school is a part of the community and I think you can meet that and even better meet that within the public school system with the kids coming within kilometres of the school rather than travelling all over Sydney to attend school. 

You have gone above and beyond just teaching though in taking on the role of Principal which has quite a few requirements, especially in the public system; there’s Leadership expectations, student welfare, teacher welfare, the list is all-encompassing – why Principal?

I think the beauty of being a Principal is that even though there are a lot of requirements is that once you take on that role you can really determine what the community needs out of the school – every school has its own nuances, they’re all different, every school represents the community differently and vice versa. So you get to target what’s needed; welfare if that’s required, and that in essence becomes the essence of the school, what runs through its veins.

For me that was what was most exciting about it – to try and make the school as good as possible. Teaching in a classroom is fantastic, but being a Principal means you can affect a lot more people; students, teachers and community members just to generate what you think are your great ideas. 

You have in fact done a great deal for Barrenjoey High School and its community, there have been a lot of initiatives founded under your stewardship. The Avalon Youth Hub is among the bigger of these – where did that stem from – why did you decide the community needed that?

I think, as we all know, communities have tragedies with them, and Barrenjoey wasn’t without its tragedies. After a number of youth suicides it was important to try and do something. The Avalon learning community felt that clinical services by and large were a long way away and quite difficult to reach. So, after doing a lot of research, I thought it was quite important to push for our own centre so that students could access the best help available when they needed it. Through Avalon Youth Hub the Burdekin people along with the local MP, Rob Stokes and the Northern Beaches Council came on board so we had non-government along with the local government supporting and realising we needed to make available a range of services and all helping me realise what the school and the community stated what was needed.

Lily Davis, Ian Bowsher and Justene Gordon at the opening of the Avalon Youth Hub - A J Guesdon photo

The other BIG one for many is the Barrenjoey Performance Space that the kids have been calling out for for so long – Events like the Winter Markets, which featured past alumni members and Buy a Brock campaigns were fabulous – but what else was involved and why was this so important?

Why it was important is that this community is incredibly creative and very passionate about all the Arts. There wasn’t a really purpose-built centre for this – everything is flat; flat halls, flat open spaces in the parks and flat stages – you have to travel a fair bit to get a quality performance centre with the right acoustics and tiered seating etc., so it was great to try and push for something within the school. Communication with parents, past parents, parents who are architects – a conversation I had with Richard Cole, who is a parent of a student, about the possibility of building something that is specific to these needs and could be accessed within their area so it is a part of their normal lives and could do extracurricular activities in that area without having to go elsewhere. There was just seeing this as a great aspect of Education, but also core to this was making it part of the community; it was always meant to be a shared space and resource. Once this Covid and the safety response and measures to that have passed we hope that is realised and people can not only visit projects the students place there but also visit when others are using the space to showcase works, music, theatre – whatever it may be. This was always meant to be for the community and a legacy I wanted to leave for the community – that they could have this fantastic specialised building that creative and performing arts could access and that they could see that as their right to do that and be empowered to continue to develop their interests and skills in the creative and performing arts.

The Hon. Rob Stokes, MP for Pittwater and Ian Bowsher at Opening of Barrenjoey Performance Space. Presented by Avalon Architect Richard Cole, the plaque reads 'Go out and create that new and bold world with a positive purpose'. Ian Bowsher, Principal - photo by Michael Mannington

BPS Committee: Richard Cole, Cilla Cole, Ian Bowsher, Kalinda Hawson, Christy Bishop, Kim Hoggard - photo by Michael Mannington

Ian you have also worked to make the school part of the community in other ways – for successive ANZAC Day Services you are seen at the Dawn Service as well as the 11am Commemorative Service hosted by Avalon Beach RSL and BHS School Captains have given the Address on Remembrance Day while the BHS Band provides the music for Hymns during these Services. Why has it been important, top you, to have the school student body engaged in these community activities?

Look I think if you’re in a community then you need to live that community, and the reason I came here 13 years ago was that I thought that the Avalon community was one of those types of communities that is close-knit and really worked well together. Whether it’s the Dawn Service or the ANZAC Day Service or whether it’s me representing the school at Youth Forums or at Council, there is quite a lot of things I’ve done along the way. All of these have been to promote the school and also the learning environment of our area and this area being important. I don’t think we should ever look at the community and the public school system as a second-class system when there is this continuous development and adjustment to all circumstances to make the school the best school it can be. 

To coin a phrase I see this as ‘the Lighthouse School’ for all sorts of different things and because it is the centre of a community. As the Principal I think you need to represent that and be a strong advocate for this. Over my time here that’s certainly what I’ve aimed to do.

Ian Bowsher at ANZAC Day Dawn Service hosted by Avalon Beach RSL Sub-Branch and Club - A J Guesdon photo

Your approach has been multi-generational though; connecting upcoming generations with inspirational ‘doing it’ adults – once again the Winter Festival served as an example of this. Past alumni turned up to share some insights into the stars out above this that night but also the message coming out without being enunciated is ‘you can do/achieve whatever you want’ and ‘ it’s ok to just be whoever you are’ as well as that message of continuity. These past alumni and the community elders willingly turn up to share insights into history or contemporary knowledge and how to get into that field - but why has it been important to develop that as well?

The principal involved throughout is involvement in the community, not just when you’re here at the school, but past those years after you have left as well. The importance that shows through the night festivals or the 50th anniversary of the school is that it’s important to bring back the ex-students and ex-parents. Even on the Barrenjoey Performance Space Committee there were parents that had left but were willing to come back and spend a lot of time applying for grants and helping out with that process. This happens because they have a love for a school that they have helped develop and still have a lot of passion for helping develop.

It’s not just these instances when there are big projects being worked on. Another example would be the after school tutorial program we’ve developed to help current students – and there again it’s ex-students that have come back. Whilst they’re at university they’ve done particularly well in a course and are now tutoring our current students in a particular subject, chemistry or maths or whatever it may be.

So we want to use the skills that are local and available to model, as well as help the current students. I think that is generating the culture of improvement and betterment no matter where you are currently at.

Barrenjoey High School has developed a wholistic approach on focusing on the individual as well – whether its allowing students to develop Arts interests or surfing in school comp.s, obviously being a ‘school on the beach’ helps with that, but the shift away from cookie-cutter education is producing outstanding scholars in all fields with real passion for whatever subject they pursue that are also wonderful citizens for any community. Was that the plan before you commenced at BHS or was this something that has been developed in response to student needs?

No, I definitely had that idea to do this prior to beginning. One of the things I’d experimented with before was Individual Learning and how to plan and support students through it. Rather than recognising a quarter of the kids here are fantastic at surfing while some of them are really good at surfing, or sporty or great musicians, it was about recognising that they can do that and still have learning at the heart of the school as well.

We started on a journey immediately to identify where students were at and what was getting in the way of them learning, what was getting in the way of them becoming the best they could, and what they needed, as part of the journey, to remove those barriers.

What to you is the ‘spirit of Barrenjoey’?

It’s difficult to define that in a definitive statement – it’s many things. Once you have spent some time here you begin to understand the culture that is present. The students and the parents wish to maintain and keep the uniqueness of this part of Sydney – so this is a balance between the a great lifestyle, caring for the environment, friendships, inter-generational communication and maintaining all these. People may throw in comments such as ‘it’s isolated, it’s beyond the Bends’ and ‘no one wants to go anywhere and there’s a peninsula mentality’ and these may be true in a way but more and more people that go away are coming back because they realise how important this place is – it’s a bit alike an old community (country?) town – a lot of the skills, wants and desires are here, parents and students really do value what they have in this part of Sydney – but that uniqueness doesn’t preclude them all from doing well or striving to achieve. They can live inside the Bends or beyond the Bends and still do well. 

For me it’s been all about encouraging them to do well wherever they are, doing whatever they want. My message has been ‘do whatever you want to do – whether it’s a plumber, a welder, a hairdresser or a nuclear scientist – I don’t mind what you’re aiming at – you can achieve those things regardless of where you live and still value your environment and the importance and uniqueness of this part of the land.’

Limiting it to just 3 – what are your favourite achievements during your 13 years at Barrenjoey?

The overarching culture is important to me and modifying the culture so academic improvement is possible and achieved equally to other forms of achievement. I think access to opportunity is also really important and that’s exampled by welfare opportunities if assistance is needed. Or the performing arts opportunities in the challenges we throw to the kids when that’s needed – that’s something I’m proud of – there’s a lot of things that the individual kids can now achieve.

The other thing I’m really proud of is the team of the teaching staff I’ve had the honour to work with during my time at Barrenjoey.  The team we’ve developed here, and the executive team, and the support staff – this is a second to none unbelievable team – this place runs like a really nice machine. I think that’s why it has improved year in year out; because everybody knows what they’re doing and they value what other people are doing – the efficacy of the team just works really really well and I’m really proud that we’ve got this to perform so nicely.

Yes – but we’re losing a much-valued member of that team. Will you come back and visit us?

I think so. I think it’d be hard to keep me away; you may see me at events and functions as well! Hopefully I don’t step on the toes of whomever takes over my role – but I think it’s in such a great place now that whoever comes in and takes on my role will be able to take it to the next level.

Any sign off words for the students and community sir?

Thanks for the journey!

IB - pic by AJG

Aerial/drone photo of BHS in 2017 - courtesy BHS P & C Committee