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Campus principals respond to accusations of school violence

By Madi Chwasta

Greater Shepparton Secondary College leaders deny there is a violent culture at their school and have assured parents their children are safe.

All four principals said fighting inside school grounds was about the same as before the four government schools were merged into one and spread across three campuses earlier this year.

That's despite parents and students voicing their concerns about increased violence after video footage of fights emerged on social media this week.

McGuire campus principal John Sciacca said the reports were "out of touch with reality".

He said there had been problems at the school but they were no different to what he had seen in the past.

“We've had a merger, and we've seen issues,” he said.

“But they're not different issues.”

He said "issues" happened when adolescents were brought together, which had been made more difficult by recent world events.

“We’ve merged four schools, we’ve had COVID-19, there’s issues around the world that have impacted us like Black Lives Matter – which does affect each and every one of us,” he said.

“Even the issues with what’s happened in Melbourne recently (with violence at the shopping centre).

“You’ve got a backdrop where it’s not hard to be a little scared.”

But he said despite these challenges, students were safe.

“This is an opportunity for us to reassure everyone that we have got our processes right, that we do care for our students, that we do want everything right for them, and we’re working so hard to make it happen,” he said.

While there was no magic solution to make the situation easier, he said the payoff would be much larger in the years to come.

“Our commitment is around making sure we give the opportunity for our students — through our staff and our community members that are involved with the college — to really create a harmonious productive community,” he said.

“If we deny that opportunity to our students, we’re not as progressive and inclusive a society that we are in Australia."

Mr Sciacca, who attended a public school in Shepparton as a first-generation Italian Australian, called on the community to support the efforts of staff at the college.

“What is happening is that we need to work together to deal with (these issues) as a community,” he said.

“It’s bigger than our college – it’s a community responsibility.

“So when we see these comments, we ask: are you a part of the problem, or part of the solution?”

Wanganui campus principal Ken Murray said he was proud of staff at the school, and acknowledged the challenges of being a teenager.

“We live in a complex world and we speak to a lot of parents who are struggling being a parent of an adolescent child,” he said.

“It's not easy to do, and part of our role is to help them through that.

“Ultimately we're here to help develop members of our community who go on to be active members and co-operative members of society.”

He said it was "frustrating" there were a small number of parents and community members who were "not willing to work with us".

Mooroopna campus principal Stephen Bolton said he was also committed to developing the "soft skills" of students, not just "reading and writing".

“As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child,” he said.

“The programs we've got in place make sure that when the kids leave school in the years to come, they'll be able to fit in a society, they'll be able to be tolerant, and they'll be respectful.”

He said processes in engaging with students were being “constantly reviewed”.

Wellbeing and inclusivity director Nick Bamford said there were a number programs in place to ensure students felt safe, including a learning mentor curriculum four times a week which taught "respectful relationships", among other things.

Mr Bamford said respect was also taught through positive examples from the staff.

“We teach kids how to learn their skills of being respectful of each other and value individual differences,” he said.

He said suspensions were sometimes necessary because the school had zero tolerance for violence.

But he said efforts to teach students mediation were achieved through "restorative practice", which encouraged students to talk through their issues.

“It's certainly not that (students) go away and come back and nothing else happens — there's a whole lot of work that goes in."

He also said because of the "economies of scale", the school had more resources than ever to deal with internal issues and connect with outside opportunities.

He also invited families to come and talk to school staff or the wellbeing team if they had concerns.

“We want to work with people,” he said.

“Come and talk to us about it, so we can do something better.”

FOR MORE STORIES ABOUT GREATER SHEPPARTON SECONDARY COLLEGE

Violent culture emerging from Greater Shepparton Secondary College

Parents and students speak out about fights at Mooroopna and Wanganui campuses