SPECIAL INTEREST MATTERS Keith Wenn – Tribute
Mr President, in 2017 Launceston College principal, Keith Wenn, will mark his 45th year working in the Tasmanian education system, 40 of those as principal. Keith started working as a teacher when he was 21. The early years saw him teach at primary schools in Campbell Town, Railton, Rossarden, Waverley, Ravenswood, Punchbowl and Central Launceston. Later he worked at West Launceston Primary School and Exeter Primary School.
Keith's first principal job was at King Island's Reekara Primary School when he was just 26 years old. An early mentor was his stepdad, and former Westbury Primary School principal, the late Kevin Medwin, who advised him to start at a small school to get experience. Reekara had one teacher, one principal and about 30 students when Keith started there. He would also teach across all subjects, as well as carry out principal duties. By 1978, he was principal at Rossarden Primary School, and it was a particularly hands-on job. Keith recalls once working with the groundsman, 'Spud', to dig up part of the netball court to clear blocked pipes causing problems in the school toilets. Keith says he can still remember the stench.
An early challenge was building a swimming pool for students to learn to swim in. When he started, the children had a 30-minute bus trip to the pool at nearby Avoca, which involved travelling along windy gravel roads. Keith and a group of parents helped to fundraise to build their own school pool. Through their hard work they ended up with a covered pool, which they cleverly hooked up to Hydro to make it a heated facility.
At 44, Keith became principal of Oatlands District High School, which at the time had lots of challenges, due to being in Tasmania's lowest socio-economic area. School literacy, attendance and retention rates were low. His response was to turn the school into a place students wanted to come to. Keith recalls a very articulate student, James, who convinced his peers it would be good if they could study aquaculture, despite nearby Lake Dulverton being bone dry at the time. The school set up fish tanks on site with great support from the company Saltas, which donated fish tanks, food, information and staff expertise. To protect against any future power outages, the school's bus drivers set up a reliable backup generator. Once logistics were sorted, the school started teaching aquaculture.
Keith also undertook to heavily involve the community in the school. They started running year 11 and 12 and parent programs from a building in the middle of Oatlands. Parents would come in on the school bus and spend a day at the year 11/12 campus. The outcome of those efforts was highly successful. The newspaper banner for the Mercury on 18 December 2000 had the heading, 'Midlands School Tops the Nation'. Oatlands District High School was the top-ranked school for innovative curriculum and recorded a 95 per cent retention rate in the draft evaluation by the federal government.
In 2002 Keith became principal of Launceston College, which had 925 year 11 and year 12 students at the time. He recalls it had some fairly big challenges. The buildings were quite run-down and staff did not feel valued. He resolved to create an environment that was conducive to learning and where students and staff felt respected.
Basic early goals were ensuring staff had adequate resources. Keith said it took three years before he wanted to turn up to school every day. He recalls his commitment from day one that he would be there for the long haul. In 2007, the college's Tasmanian Certificate of Education attainment rate was 52 per cent. However, in 2015 that figure was 82 per cent. The college had 1500 students last year from many walks of life.
A technology facility known as STEAM is using virtual reality technology to open a wide range of study options for students including coding, graphic and digital design. In 2015, Keith was awarded the RBF Secretary's Award for Overall Excellence and the Principal of the Year award for secondary schools. He is also CEO of the Tasmanian Secondary Colleges Registered Training Organisation.
I pay tribute today to Keith Wenn for an outstanding career in Tasmania's education sector and thank him for his contribution. I wish him many more years of making a positive difference in helping students find their spark in life.