Dear colleagues, parents and friends of Catholic Education,
A warm welcome to new and returning staff in Catholic schools and offices across Western Australia.
After the many challenges we faced during 2020, I hope that the holidays were a time for you to rest, recharge and spend time with family and loved ones.
At the outset of the 2021 school year, it is important that we reflect on and acknowledge the events of 2020. It has been said time and again that the onset of COVID-19 brought with it the most extraordinary challenges for all of humanity. For educators, parents and children in our Catholic schools, 2020 was also a year that we gave witness to our Gospel values.
Our lived experiences in operating schools within guidelines and restrictions advised by health authorities, as well as having moved teaching and learning to a remote model, albeit for a brief period of time, exemplified the professionalism, agility and excellence that Catholic schools are known for. But of greater importance was the sense of community that rippled through and across our 163 school communities.
Having seen the remarkable efforts and shared commitment of our school communities in action, I am confident that we are well prepared to support our students in their learning, faith formation and wellbeing in 2021.
While we are all grateful that WA has fortunately avoided the devastating effects of COVID-19 that other states and countries have suffered, the start of the 2021 school year will be an important time to re-establish COVID-safe vigilance in our schools. To this end we have developed the ‘Safe Hands, Safe Schools’ campaign to assist schools across our system to promote COVID-safe hygiene messages that will help us to do our bit in keeping Catholic schools open and safe for all.
2021 is a significant year for Catholic education in WA, and also nationally. This year we are celebrating 50 years since the beginning of the state-wide CEWA system as we know it today with the establishment of the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia (CECWA). Of course, Catholic schools across the State cooperated and supported each other in the mission of Catholic education since much earlier, but this is a significant commemoration of an event that laid the foundations for a great deal of improvement in Catholic schools across WA over the last five decades.
We are also joining with the National Catholic Education Commission in 2021 to celebrate 200 years of Catholic education in Australia.
There will be a number of ways to get involved in celebrating both of these milestones, and I look forward to sharing more as Term One progresses.
Another significant calendar date in Term One is the WA State Election in March.
CEWA is the second-largest school sector in the State, and it is of great importance that we can work in partnership with the State Government, and alongside public and independent school sectors, to provide high-quality education and care for children and young people in WA, as well as stable and fulfilling employment for educators and other staff. To draw attention to the invaluable contribution Catholic schools make to WA communities, CEWA began reaching out to State Government ministers, members of parliament, political candidates, and community and business leaders to outline what is needed for our system to continue helping students thrive into the future. This engagement focused on three pledges that are being sought from State Government:
- Capital funding support to meet the needs of our students and support educational choice for families.
- Increased funding for psychology services to meet the mental health and wellbeing needs of students.
- COVID-19 disruption relief in line with that available to public schools.
This information and engagement campaign Every Child Counts will be expanded in the lead up to the election, highlighting the importance of our system as a provider of high-quality education, a major employer and contributor to our State’s economy, and the support we are seeking from the incoming State Government.
With COVID-19 delaying the original timeline of the Plenary Council, 2021 will again be a year when much important work will take place as part of this process. The first Assembly of the Council is scheduled to be held in October, and in the lead up to this event the Instrumentum Laboris (Working Document) will be published, delegates will continue to prepare for the Assemblies, and the Plenary Council Agenda will be announced.
The Plenary Council is a truly grassroots process, inviting all members of the Church to be involved, with the potential to contribute in a meaningful and tangible way to the future of the Church, and the partnership between the Church and Catholic education. I encourage you to visit the Plenary Council website, explore the submissions and responses, and look for ways that you can engage in the Plenary Council themes in your school community.
The collaboration that now exists across our system in professional development and learning is a real strength of Catholic education. Many expert staff members have long been committed to professional development in our schools and offices, and in recent years our digital transformation has facilitated new opportunities and greater levels of connectedness across the State. After our fundamental commitment to partnership with families as first educators, it is the care, expertise and professionalism of staff that makes the most difference to the learning, growth and faith formation of students. There will be many excellent opportunities to continue to invest in your knowledge and expertise this year, and I encourage you to make the most of these.
As we set out in the Year of St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, I thank you for your commitment to your school community, for being a part of our Catholic education system more broadly, and for your dedication to the learning, formation and wellbeing of our students. This year we will have the opportunity every day to reflect the love of God and the example of Jesus as we commit ourselves to our work.
I wish you all a safe and fruitful 2021.
Dr Debra Sayce