Retention rates lift is target

THE new Jordan River Learning Federation, with construction almost complete and students already settling into the $40 million campus environment, is targeting a dramatic lift in the retention rate of its senior students.

Currently only 15 per cent of students in Brighton municipality attain Year 12 level or embark on a sustainable career path – well below the national average of 80 per cent and the State average of 70 per cent.  The gap will begin to dramatically close next year with the Federation offering Year 12 studies on its senior school campus, built on the site of the old Bridgewater High destroyed by fire in 2007.

“The first results will come with the Year 12 students next year, but 2013 will be crunch time for showing a sizeable lift in the Year 12 retention rate,” says Steve Lewis, lead principal of the Federation’s five campuses.

“We have to demonstrate a minimum 10 per cent annual lift in the retention rate over coming years.  This is very achievable.

“I envisage the Jordan River Learning Federation’s retention rate for Year 12 will be around 60 per cent in five years.”

The confidence in his assertion comes from the Federation’s adoption of a highly successful Us educational program called Big Picture, which is now achieving Year 12 retention levels of 90 to 95%.

The Jordan River Learning Federation is one of the first educational facilities in Tasmania to fully embrace the Big Picture model. Ogilvie and Montrose Bay have adopted the scheme and Huonville High will have a Big Picture campus next year.

“Big Picture is the accepted way of education in the 21st century,” Mr Lewis said.  “The Federation will ensure that the model will be rigourously implemented and constantly improved.”

The Big Picture philosophy is ‘one student at a time’.  Each classroom in the senior campus has a relatively small number of students and the staff focus is on the individual needs of each student – teachers find what interests each teenager and then help him or her achieve those goals through to a successful career path.

Mr Lewis is delighted with the attitudes of his students, especially those in the new senior campus.

“The most profound thing that has happened is that senior students now have their own campus.  They have settled down well.  They have a feeling of ownership.

“When you walk through the senior campus and interact with the students, they are very friendly, relaxed and comfortable with themselves.

“It’s early days in assessing the results, but truancy is down and attendance is up five per cent.   It’s a calm environment.”

Risen from the ashes of the Bridgewater High fire in 2007, the Jordan River Learning Federation is becoming a focal point of Brighton municipality, which has the youngest demographic of the 29 municipalities in Tasmania.

Mayor Tony Foster chaired a taskforce, which led to the birth-to-adult education blueprint specifically designed for the community, with the secondary school campus based on the Big Picture model developed in the United States.

Cr Foster said:  “One year after fire destroyed Bridgewater High, our community released its 2040 strategic vision.  Better education facilities headed the list of urgent needs of the community – now that vision is being realised.

“No longer will students have to cross the Derwent to complete Years 11 and 12.  That was a big impediment to raising the secondary education retention level in our community. The new Jordan River Learning Federation has given the municipality a huge boost.”

=The Federation has five campuses.  They include three primary schools, Gagebrook, Herdsmans Cove and East Derwent (the merging of Green Point and Bridgewater), a middle school campus for grades 5 to 8, and a senior school campus.  The middle and senior school campuses are on the site of the old Bridgewater High, and the senior campus is adjacent to the new Bridgewater Trade Centre.

“We can now provide the best possible education for a student’s particular needs,” Mr Lewis said.  “For example, we have a Year 10 student who does some study at Claremont College because he wants to become an architect at this point in time and we cannot provide all specialist subjects that he needs.”

A learning internship officer helps students gain hands-on experience in the workplace and those seeking a trade vocation enrol in some classes at the new Bridgewater Trade Centre, adjacent to the Federation’s senior campus.

Mr Lewis says that part of the success has been creating the right campus environment – students had a say in how they wanted the campuses to function and how to fit them out.  And so there are bright motifs on the durable carpets, the kids have their own cooking facilities adjacent to classrooms and ‘time-out’ areas.  They’ve even got the chairs they wanted – including fluoro ones shaped like uplifted hands!

Books are now going up on the shelves in the huge airy library.  There are electronic blackboards (no chalk!)  And instead of the conventional PA system, school messages are relayed on monitors in each classroom.

Now teachers have their own staff room, there are science labs, art rooms, computer rooms, a gymnasium and a huge drama and music performance building.  There is even a hothouse for students interested in horticulture.

“We have the very best equipment and a team of the most dedicated teachers and support staff,” says Steve Lewis. “They are performing well in a challenging new environment.

“The Jordan River Learning Federation is at the forefront of a new era of education in Tasmania.”