Indeed back in 2010 when Cook took on the “wonderful challenge” of resurrecting the then-derelict Victorian campus, he was quick to lift his new school out of its reputational slump.
“We had to develop absolutely everything from scratch, and part of that was developing a clear vision and a clear set of values, and we were really clear that we wanted to create a high-demand, high-challenge learning environment that could deliver on great outcomes for kids,” Cook recalls.
“I really liked the scale of the challenge and the fact that I felt it was a school that could really resonate with our community.”
Now in its eighth year, Cook’s ever-expanding college bears little resemblance to its forbearer.
“The school had previously existed and it had been forcibly closed by the state government, and at that point in time less than 7 per cent of the local community sent their kids to the school, so re-establishing the reputation of the school and rebuilding community confidence in the school were critical first steps,” Cook says.
In those crucial first weeks the leader and his team took every chance to share their educational vision of what the new Albert Park had to offer.
“In developing a whole new school we could really challenge orthodox views to do innovative and creative work.
“We also wanted to make sure that our kids were grounded in really wonderful values, so the concept of global citizens – kids who had an awareness of the world beyond themselves.”
Having established a core focus on the arts and the environment – values which resonate deeply with the area – Cook happily reports that more than 90 per cent of local students now pass through.
“To the extent that we are oversubscribed, we are full and growing so to speak.”
It’s a success story that speaks of both a physical and rigorous academic transformation.
“The first thing is to present your school in a really beautiful way.
“In our case, because of our focus on creativity and the arts we wanted the school to resemble a large arts-based studio, so we’ve filled the school with sculptures and beautiful objects,” Cook says.
In keeping with his pledge to foster ‘high-demand, high challenge’ learning from day dot, Cook has built up a staff body with a difference.
“When we advertised positions, we were really clear about what we wanted,” he says.
“…we wanted teachers who were incredibly positive in their outlook, open to a challenge, creative, it was critical they were happy to work in teams … so in a sense the teaching and learning model of the college and the physical environment attracted dynamic teachers.”
One gets the feeling that under Cook’s leadership, the drive to be ‘innovative’ across all pockets of the curriculum is not just a tokenistic slogan. Rather, it’s a mantra that shapes every decision, be that in the classroom or the boardroom.
“In fact our motto is to lead, create and inspire.” Cook begins.
“We introduced iPads just a few weeks after they were introduced to Australia, so it was a big challenge … and we are only the second school in Victoria to establish the IB, so that’s really exciting.”
With a mind-expanding “liberal arts campus” for senior students set to open soon, multiple community partnerships underway, an annual literary festival scheduled and a burgeoning enrolment list to cater for, Cook’s plight is far from over.
“One of the proudest moments was … that first graduation ceremony, [for] that first group and their parents who had confidence and belief in us, in our vision before the school was even built.
“Their commitment to the college has really created its reputation, and together we did that; my leadership team, teaching staff, my foundation staff and my foundation families and kids, so that was a very emotional night because we had taken the first step together…”