Home' Independence : Independence Vol 39 No 1 May 2014 Contents 34 INDEPENDENCE VOL 39 NO 1 MAY 2014
Shelford Girls’ Grammar is a day school with
550 students from early learning to Year 12.
COMMUNITY IN CRISIS
AS A small, long-established school
with strong traditions, Shelford
Girls’ Grammar is a very close-knit
community. One of our more recent
traditions is what we call Extension
Week, a time – usually in late February
or early March – when all of our Year
7 to 12 students engage in a special
activity. Years 7, 8 and 10 go on camp,
Year 9s engage in city-based activities,
Year 11s engage in university exercises
and the Year 12s undertake leadership
courses. There are no regular classes
operating in the Senior School that
By Extension Week in 2011, I was 14
months into my role as Principal at
Shelford. I remember working at my
desk on the Thursday afternoon of that
week, aware of the relative quiet around
the School. When students are away
on camps, staff members ring in during
the afternoon to confirm that all is well.
At about 3.00 pm, Paul Simpson, our
specialist biology teacher who was on
a surf camp with some of our Year 10s,
rang in to confirm that all was well.
That year the Year 10s could choose
between three activities – the surf
camp near Torquay, a more traditional
bush camp near Gippsland involving
hiking and bike riding, or a circus
camp to learn circus skills. Paul, a keen
snorkeller, was with two other School
staff on the surf camp, supporting the
two instructors from the adventure
company leading the expedition. It was
the fourth year our Year 10s had been
on such a camp; all had been run by the
same company and all had been very
successful. Activities included canoeing
and kayaking, snorkelling and surfing.
Paul reported the students had had a
great day and that they were about to go
snorkelling in a lagoon just off the main
beach as part of an exercise on marine
biodiversity. The intertidal reefs of Point
Addis Marine Nature Park are world-
renowned for their unique marine life
and everyone was very excited.
At 4.30 pm our Deputy, Jules Aldous,
rang to say that the girls on the surf
camp were okay but medics were
working on Paul. The news seemed all
the more startling because of the deep
quiet around the School. We had no
other information to go on, but I felt
LEADERSHIP ON THE LINE
In Forum, we invite Heads to contribute opinion or share their
experience on topics central to school leadership. For this issue,
AHISA members were invited to relate an instance of leading through
difficult circumstances: how they did it, and what they learned about
leadership and themselves.
optimistic that Paul would be all right.
He wasn’t. Jules rang back shortly to
say that he had been pronounced dead.
I remember just shaking for a little bit
with the shock. Ironically, we had had
a meeting of the critical incidents team
about two weeks before Extension
Week, where we had worked through
what at the time we had considered to
be an extreme scenario. This situation
was far more critical.
When actually faced with a crisis of
this kind, the shock, grief, emotion
and urgency force you on to autopilot.
We did not even look at our critical
incidents protocol until two days later,
because there were people whose
immediate and overwhelming needs
had to be met as our very first priority.
It didn’t help that the media were
ahead of us with the news. Although
we were not aware of it at the time,
news helicopters were already circling
over the beach where Paul lay, relaying
images of his white-sheeted body.
The first eight hours
Jules Aldous raced back to School and
we began on the most urgent tasks.
Staff came in to help man the phones
as we began contacting parents.
We organised to bring back to School
the two Year 10 groups that were on
away camps (the circus camp students
were sleeping at home). I contacted
the police and it was arranged that we
would take responsibility for breaking
the news of Paul’s death to his wife
and family. Jules and I both visited
the Simpson home and remained with
Paul’s wife and young daughter until
family members were able to arrive.
By the time we returned to Shelford,
parents had started arriving to wait for
the girls returning from camp.
While these sound like straightforward,
discrete actions, they involved multiple
decision-making and organisational
tasks. For example, we decided to
use our own Shelford bus to collect
the girls from the surf camp, driven
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