When did you know you wanted to be in education, Lila?
My parents valued education and promoted it to ensure we had opportunities and choices. Whilst we unknowingly lived and were educated in a low socio-economic area, our geographic location allowed my parents to purchase a home. These two distinguishing elements (having both parents and a home) set our family apart from many of our peers. My parents’ focus on education and life opportunities strongly forged for me an understanding that not everyone had the same.
During my secondary schooling, three teachers in particular (all have recently retired) unwittingly set my career path into play. They offered learning opportunities that broadened my horizons, complementing the foundations set at home. Significantly, these three teachers gave generously of their time, expertise, enthusiasm and excitement for learning... These teachers inspired and fed my growing love of the arts and a commitment to life opportunities through education. I felt I might do the same.
In Year 12, two dear friends and I applied for a Bachelor of Education course ... Not long after we entered university my friends and I were asked by the university scholarship officer during our induction interview, “How does it feel to be from the western suburbs and to be attending university?”, [he] then deliberately and piercingly [looked] straight at me “…and you from another country”. Having just turned 17 and parented to be respectful, I responded calmly (which was not what I was internalising) with “how does it feel to be so bigoted and narrow minded?” I promptly left the office AND, well … she did teach me, I reflect on this hurtful incident to be a positive learning experience.
Is leadership innate in you?
At Heckenberg Public School (1970, way back then) I stood as a Year 5 student at the top of the stairs to declare to the school community why they should vote for me as school captain. Either I was a persuasive orator much earlier than I imagined or for other reasons I was about to assume my first elected/selected official leading role. As a side bar I very proudly spoke at Heckenberg Public School’s 50th Birthday recently (2016), the emotions for me ran high...
Your father spoke seven languages and was a graduate of the University of Warsaw, has your own background fuelled your passion for public education?
Life experiences forge part of our beliefs, engagement and in part avoidances in life. During my young formative years I confusingly witnessed people I know and/or loved be excluded, abused, or publically victimised for no apparent reason based on intolerance of someone from another country. With our family name there were issues that impacted on my brothers and myself, again for no apparent reason. My belief system was most definitely informed and enriched by numerous experiences that will remain my family memories (reflective of so many others). Our family home was always open with elegant dinner parties, where rigorous, emotive and loud debates took place. So our home engendered inclusion, thinking, sharing, interrogation of thought and action in demonstrative and frequent debate.
Another driver for me is that I cannot recall ever meeting a student or a family that didn’t want the best for the young people in our care. In many instances families did not always know what that looked like. As educators it is our role to ensure we provide opportunities, and build confidence in families and communities to increase social capacity and capital.
You were principal at Merrylands HS for 15 years, what are you most proud of over that time?
I am so proud to have had the opportunity to work with incredible colleagues, families, community people and groups for the benefit of students. Our school community worked tirelessly and purposefully to increase learning and life opportunities for each young person in our care...
You’ve been in education for 35 years – what has driven you?
I quite literally have loved my career to date. I have been afforded the greatest honours and experiences. I cannot imagine having had a different career, I have been challenged, enriched and fulfilled during my working life. Frequently, on any given day, my interactions and observations with and on behalf of students, colleagues and families have been rewarding and informing. Whilst difficult and extremely difficult and sad instances sprinkled my career, they did not cloud it. Successes, achievements, opportunities and fun for those I am responsible for have driven me on a daily basis.
What does your new role involve?
My new role allows me to operate at a broader and deeper scope than that of a principal and as a voice of principals. In the Secondary Education unit we are responsible for provision of resources, advice, professional learning, expertise, structures and networking across NSW schools with a secondary enrolment ... As a Minister said to me recently, I represented the secondary schools in my previous role as president of a professional association and now I am responsible for those schools.
What’s it been like moving more into a bureaucratic role?
My new role is a different approach and perspective but I still contribute to public education on albeit a grander scale. The work situation is very different but what stays the same is the drive, quality, expertise, commitment and generosity of all the colleagues I work with now in state office. Colleagues across our system in our profession are dedicated to improving educational provision for all young people in our schools and the school community.
What do you think of the Turnbull Government’s funding package?
The Gonski Review was authentic, interrogated and of the highest quality. The recommendations considered the needs of all young people in all schools to reach a minimum resource standard and so the principles, values, ideals, data and research underpinning the recommendations were exemplary. There is no informed reason or argument NOT to meet the minimum standard for all students in a sector blind needs-based model. Therefore there is no ethical platform to adjust the review recommendations into a “package”.
A few non-education sector related people I admire, are... Tanya Plibersek, Sir Harold Wyndham, Gough Whitlam, Paul Robeson.
Away from my work, to wind down, a few things I like to do, are... family (time), (see) friends, walking, reading, art gallery visits, attending forums...
I’m given the opportunity to arrange a concert based on my own music tastes and can choose any three performers, living or dead. I’d book... Paul Robeson, Carole King, Pete Seger.
If I won the lottery, the first thing I would do would be... to release my family and close friends from debt and travel with the intent to visit and explore parts of the world with my dearest friend, our partners and family.
My partner would describe me as... resilient, intelligent, highly principled, generous and dedicated.(Thank you Rob).
My least preferred household chore would be... each and every one of them.
My most treasured possession is my... photo collection (they are a gift that hold the soul of memories). Most of those who know me, would suspect that it was my shoe collection – not so.