Thursday 2 April 2020

Community COVID-19 Update #5

The island of Sicily is serviced by one rail line. Despite it being a part of a G7 country, the only time trains can cross each other’s paths is in the stations of the myriad of small towns that dot the tracks. In 2007, I was waiting at the station of my wife’s home town, Capo D’Orlando, about to take my daughter Rosie to Palermo airport to catch her flight. After hearing the bell that signals the imminent arrival of the train, we approached the platform edge. After a few minutes it was obvious that there was a problem, since there was no train in sight. The station master then appeared to inform us that the train would be delayed because someone had apparently suicided by walking in front of the train a few kilometres away.

The congregated passengers were a little shocked and stunned at the news, and conversations sprang up about what a tragedy it is that someone could get to such a point. People discussed the importance of family, society, funding of mental health and other such altruistic, pro-active solutions that are needed to avoid the terrible tragedy that had just occurred. This mood continued for about 15 minutes until people started to turn their attention to how such a situation would be handled by the authorities. Police lines, investigations, collection of forensic evidence and how long these things all would take slowly supplanted the original focus of those waiting. Again, this lasted for 15 minutes. By the end of this timeframe, the conversation had completely turned to how this ‘situation’ was going to affect them, how they are now going to miss their flight/meeting/job interview etc. I can recall clearly one lady cursing the ‘selfishness’ of the recently departed and listing a number of ways he could have ended his life without the inconveniencing of others. All this in 45 minutes. Complete and utter empathy replaced with much less selflessness because of one’s perspective and how any situation impacts personally on them.

I share this story with you in an attempt to have you understand the College completely gets the potential impact the current situation is having on you. The College Leadership Team is not taking anyone’s goodwill for granted. Everything we put in place is under continual review and subject to feedback, and while the pressures of trying to balance everyone’s needs and suggestions is a little overwhelming, it will not stop our resolve.

Our online learning has been in place for a week and we have already received feedback about its efficacy. Some boys are entirely switched on. Some boys are finding it is too much for them to engage. Some boys are feeling isolated. Some boys are not living up to the expectations of their parents and school. Some parents are exhausted, anxious and worried. There have been plenty of suggestions about what other schools and Colleges are doing; all taken on board and hopefully acted on wholly, or in part. However, no-one has broken ranks. No-one has entered the third 15 minutes yet, and although I hope they don’t, we all have our limitations. We will continue to try and respond to all your feedback in as timely and efficient manner as possible.

The College Leadership Team meet twice daily to keep tweaking what we are doing. In response to feedback that some boys are feeling some social isolation, we will be trialing Mentor Groups this week with a view to running them frequently should this situation carry on into next term. Our Academic Board are meeting on Friday to consider a similar Teams meeting between teachers and their students to provide weekly tutorials for each class so that the boys can see their teacher and each other (parents permitting), and provide some visual feedback and checking in accountability. I mentioned this situation may provide opportunities for our boys. Certainly, for those looking at university next year, self-management is king, and in a perverse kind of way, next year’s uni students may be the best prepared ever to deal with the jump from secondary to tertiary-style education. The School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) and the Education Minister have advised that ‘no student will be disadvantaged’ as a result of COVID-19. I was involved in an online meeting with SCSA this week and several announcements will be made over the next few days. My suggestion to parents of Year 12 boys is to check their website as well as take on board any information the College is providing. SCSA's Executive Director, Allan Blagaich, spoke eloquently, passionately and authoritatively about the authority's response to COVID-19 and I have every faith that the best interests of every Year 12 student are at the centre of all their decision-making. At this stage, SCSA’s plan is to have end-of-year exams, and SCSA is working with other states to ensure consistency. The summary is below.


In a briefing provided by the Department of Education yesterday evening, the School Curriculum and Standards Authority (SCSA) has provided assurance that Year 12 students will not be disadvantaged as a result of the events that are unfolding.

The advice is as follows: 

  • The Authority will work with schools to ensure that valid and reliable assessments are used to calculate school’s grades. It is too early to call if there will be any changes to the ATAR and ATAR course examinations.
  • The Authority has processes in place to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of events that are beyond their control.

Potential impact on VET programmes

  • SCSA has confirmed that no WACE-eligible student completing their WACE in 2020 will be disadvantaged due to the decision by an organisation to cancel the work placement required for their VET qualification as a result of COVID-19.
  • SCSA has an established process to ensure that students working toward their WACE are not disadvantaged by circumstances arising from RTOa certification and resulting processes.
  • Any student’s work experience can be cancelled with no adverse effect to the WACE.

What is clear from the briefing is that:

  • Boys should complete all assessments - this provides them with valuable training for the examinations and ongoing feedback for learning.
  • All assessments, taken under any context, should be treated seriously as these may count towards final school marks.

We have already been approached by two universities about early offers into certain courses and again, I’m sure the tertiary and TAFE sectors will be pro-active in this space. Messrs McDonnell and Peris will be in contact with all ATAR Pathway boys about university entrance requirements and updates. Our Head of VET, Mr Hart, is personally contacting the VET Pathway boys to encourage them in his unique and personable way.

All parents of Year 7 and Year 12 students should have received a phone call from their son’s Head of House this week just to ‘check-in’. Thank you to all those parents who gave gracious and constructive feedback. Commencing from next week, Mrs Giancaspro and Mrs Gordon will contact the parents of every boy each week (less often upon request) - again, just as a check-in. Jennifer and Luisa will just be making sure the boys are well, happy (or not) and glean any pastoral concerns that we can act on. Please leave the Academic and online feedback to the teaching staff. Scott McDonnell is the best reference point for this type of communication. His email address is

The College will be open again next term unless there is an upgrade of the Chief Health Officer’s advice. If the situation remains as it is, we will continue to provide supervision for those boys who cannot be kept at home. I will provide updates during the vacation. If there are any health workers who cannot supervise their son during the vacation, and have no other option, the College Leadership Team will provide supervision during the break. Boys need to be registered so that we can take a roll and I have indicated to the Principals of Santa Maria and Iona that this offer is open to parents and students in the same category.

In concluding this update, I want to share a couple of experiences. After my last communication I have received offers of donations for needy families from some parents. A member of the support staff has offered to take a pay-cut if it helps the on-going employment of a colleague in a less secure position in the College. It is humbling for me to lead a community of such spirit.

A few years back an Italian film Life is Beautiful won a swag of awards. It told the story of Guido Orefice, an Italian Jew and his transportation, along with his son, to a concentration camp. Guido uses every opportunity to shield his son from the horrors of what is all around them, and does it through comedy and positivity. The power of the glass-half-full perspective is what will get us through this in the best possible shape. As well as a redoubling of our efforts in the teaching and learning area and continued improvement in how we better engage boys academically, as I mentioned last week, the College will attempt to provide some videos and other interactions (such as cooking lessons, exercise routines and student-leaders messaging, among other things) to provide balance and social connection. I hope you enjoy the little gem of instruction that Ms Angela Calanni and Mr Keane Bourke helped me to put together and is scheduled for release on our social media next week. It serves two purposes. Firstly, I hope your sons will cook you a meal. Secondly, as far as social distancing is concerned, this is the perfect meal. Make sure you keep an eye out for it, and enjoy!

With love,

Mr Domenic Burgio