And perched at the helm of the family tree is principal Kevin Mackay, flanked by assistant principal and wife, Jenny. 

Together the duo have amassed more than 95 years in education, and steered the school through seas of radical change over the decades. 

From state school de-centralisation processes, to giant technological and demographic shifts, the Mackays have shared it all. 

“I suppose it’s the fact that you are always on the same page,” Jenny says of their unique leadership partnership. 

“It’s that consistency. I suppose it’s like [with] kids in a family, they can’t play off mum and dad against each other … we have open  conversations about what we observe, about where we want to go, about what we think is a good idea where we don’t.

“And I think that openness of communication and that sense of equality across that top leadership team, that really makes a difference.” 

Casting his mind back to 1986, the year he seized principalship, Kevin recalls a school community markedly different to the one he leads today. 

“A lot of our children [now] come to our school not speaking any English when they first come, and we have a whole range of intervention programs to intervene and make sure children progress as quickly as they possibly can,” he reflects. 

With the influx of migrant and refugee families to the area, the pair have built a curriculum – and a school ethos – to stand by. 

For Jenny, it’s all about handing agency and power back to every youngster that passes through the school.

“We have so many children who are refugees, coming from war torn areas.

“You can have issues with trauma that these children experience, and with that comes behaviours that could be challenging,” she says.

“But we have managed to really make those kids feel welcome and part of the community and not isolated in pockets.” 

A steadfast focus on literacy and numeracy has been the golden ticket, the educators agree.  

“…if kids are not literate they have no voice in the community, they can’t express what they need or think, that means being able to speak coherently and with authority; and that means being able to write in convincing ways, that means being able to read and access and access the information they need to define their arguments or their thoughts – so that’s crucial,” Jenny asserts.

Under the couple’s watch, staff employed at Dandenong North are a special breed of educators who “really want to be here”, as Jenny puts it. 

“[They all] really love the children and want to make a difference,” she adds.

“We’ve been able to build such strong teams and they are committed staff. 

“They are here at 7am in the morning and the cleaners are trying to kick them out at the end of the day, so you’re able to entice people who really have that social conscience.”

Ex-students of the school don’t stray far from the family school tree either; many of them are now on the staff list. 

It’s one of the reasons Jenny punches the air more than your average deputy principal. 

“It’s fantastic,” she laughs.

“You sort of give the air a bit of a punch and go ‘yes, they made it!’ 

“They loved their experience here so much they want to come back and make that difference and not many people, particularly in primary, get to see that long-term journey of their students.”

Our interview is drawing to a close, but Jenny has one last insight for aspiring school leaders who might be skimming this story right now. 

“It took me a while to realise when I was promoted into the principal[ship] that you have an influence and a positive impact within your own classroom, but to be a school leader you can really magnify that impact in a big way...”