There aren’t many 24-year-olds who can tack the role of ‘principal’ to their CV, but up in Far North Queensland, Ritchie finds herself at the helm of Radiant Life College after just four years in the system.
The magnitude of her appointment is certainly not lost on the long-time lover of education.
“It’s been a bit shocking, I guess, because it’s not something that I thought would happen for a very long time in my career…” Ritchie muses.
“But it’s something that I’m really excited about because Indigenous education is my passion and I guess [it’s good] knowing that I have the opportunity to make such a big difference…
“I think it’s something that I’ll look back on and think that these are the best years of my career, so I’m very excited!”
Although Ritchie always knew she was born to teach (“since I was six”, she notes), it was during her first placement at St Mary of the Cross School in Brisbane that her special interest in Indigenous education developed.
“That school changed everything for me,” Ritchie shares.
“I had elders who were my teacher aides and they invited me into the culture and I found out about the stolen generation in more detail and from their perspective, as well.
“And the kids taught me so much about their culture and how they celebrate it and we became like a little family, so that to me was a really big motivator…”
Now as the head of a new ‘family’, and one with a 98 per cent student attendance rate, the principal says the entire Innisfail community has welcomed her with open arms.
“I guess no one has got the answers to Indigenous education and closing the gap, but I definitely think what our school is doing is helping close that gap,” she says.
“Our big focus this year is literacy and numeracy, so I’ve implemented a learning support program where we have the ability to pull out students and work with them one on one and implement programs to help boost their levels…”
Social and emotional support is aided by a school psychologist and speech pathologist, in addition to breakfast and lunch programs and a door-to-door bus service.
The prospect of having to mentor and support staff who are a few years older than her might be a daunting one, but Ritchie credits Matthew Beacroft, principal of St Mary of the Cross School, for much of her tenacity.
Beacroft, she says, has been something of a professional muse.
“His leadership was incredibly inspiring and he helped mentor me and helped mould me into the type of teacher that I am today … I definitely channel him when I’m having to make decisions and things like that.”
School leadership is certainly not a path Ritchie wants to tread alone; this year she intends to forge an even tighter rapport with the school community.
“[Beacroft] said to me ‘you always need to make sure that people are being heard and that you are listening to them’.
“And ‘you are not a leader unless you have a good team around you’ … I’m making sure that I’m asking for advice and listening to them and making sure that I’m supporting them as much as possible.”
Education, Richie says, is one of life’s greatest levellers.
“I guess being so young, I want the children to be able to see me as someone who, it doesn’t matter what age you are, that you can achieve your dreams no matter what; no matter how old you are or where you come from.
“I just want to be someone that believes in them to help them achieve their dreams.”
Ritchie is now intent on spreading the word about her extraordinary clan.
“...To be an Indigenous school with 98 per cent attendance is absolutely incredible, so we are very proud of that.
“[The kids] have their own challenges, but at the end of the day they are the happiest kids and they love coming to school because its such a family-orientated environment.”