Mob Pod - Peter Foster from Hymba Yumba Independent School.
Peter Foster is the Principal of Hymba Yumba Independent School in Queensland, a pre-dominantly indigenous school that strives for excellence in 21st century education for all students.
In this interview with Davidson Institute’s Lisa Gissing, Peter talks about the way the school has pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
LG: Well hello everyone and welcome. Today we are very lucky to be speaking with Peter Foster, principal of Hymba Yumba Independent School in Springfield in Brisbane’s south, about managing an organisation in uncertain times. So, welcome Peter.
PF: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
LG: I’m Lisa Gissing from Westpac’s Davidson Institute. Now before we begin today I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land in which we meet and pay our respects to elders both past present future and emerging. I also acknowledge and pay respects to those here today who identify as being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and recognise the diversity of indigenous peoples countries and culture within Australia.
As Australia’s first bank we acknowledge our role in supporting an inclusive and diverse nation where all of our cultural backgrounds are recognised and respected.
LG: So, Peter, can we start by, first of all, you telling us a little more about yourself and also too Hymba Yumba Independent School?
PF: Well, obviously, I’m the principal here at Hymba Yumba Independent School, which is on, just bordering Ipswich and Brisbane, just on the southwest side. I come from a previous principal background, a number of management roles, Headmaster of John Paul College, middle manager at Brisbane Grammar and boarding director at Canberra Grammar school.
PF: I’ve been in education for about, I think, 30 years, which seems like a long time. Very exciting times, and very exciting prospects where I am now to make a real difference in First Nations education, as well as education as a whole.
LG: And what about the school as an organisation, can you tell us a little bit about that?
PF: Yeah, we’re an independent school funded by the federal and state governments and also foundation. We have approximately 215 students. 75-80% indigenous, and obviously the rest non-indigenous. Prep to Year 12, so we have a whole range between the primary school through to the senior school, and students doing first-year university as well.
PF: So, a massive, wholistic excellence in education program where our staff are very committed and very enthusiastic in making a real difference in the education landscape.
LG: Fantastic, and a wealth of knowledge that you have as an individual as well. So, thank you very much for your time today. First of all, this is obviously about adapting the organisation in some of these uncertain times that are upon us, so how is the school adapting in the current environment and what are you seeing as the main issues?
PF: Our main issue is really the online platforms to make sure our students are getting an education and they’re not missing a beat in what we’re doing. We realised, about a month ago, that this was coming and thought that we’d really prepare. We didn’t have a very strong online platform, but we do now. We divided that into two different sections for our junior and our senior school, and we have made sure, in a test, by all being online last week that we’ve covered every single one of our studen
PF: We divided that into two different sections for our junior and our senior school, and we have made sure, in a test, by all being online last week that we’ve covered every single one of our students, whether they’re on the internet, or not on the internet, by delivering packages and/or being interfaced with them via personal devices.
PF: And so we have really made an impact in that trying to maintain the education and what we’re doing, as well as putting a holiday program together, a virtual holiday program to go across the 2-week holiday period until we find what are the next steps.
LG: Fantastic, and how are the staff and teachers handling it as well?
PF: Last week when we were all online we had a staff meeting with everybody face-to-face virtually through Microsoft Teams. That occurred at 9.00 am every morning and went for, it was only supposed to go for half an hour, but it went for nearly an hour every morning and we made sure we covered every student that was in need, or needed extension and all the programs. We engaged all of our independent, sorry indigenous education workers which is like teachers aides, and all of our main staff.
PF: They’re all very enthusiastic, very enthusiastic about making it right and at the best possible level they can for our students. So that’s quite exciting.
LG: From a money perspective, or a finance perspective, what are some of the main things an organisation like yours needs to be concentrating on in these uncertain times?
PF: Well, we’re a little bit different. Our students aren’t paying direct school fees so our funding is sort of guaranteed. So we’re not worried about the income at this present time. Other independent schools would be about their parents’ paying fees. It’s a very contentious issue at the moment. Some of my colleagues are doing tough in having to release staff.
PF: I’ve guaranteed all of my staff employment during the crisis. We’ve kept on our bus contractors, even though they’re not driving buses. They’re doing deliveries of educational packs, when they can, for us and our groundsman and our maintenance, everything is maintained as we go. We’re just on an online platform. The risk for us will be to make sure that every one of our students returns to us happy, healthy and safe at the end.
PF: Because the major funding round is in August and who knows how the federal government is going to play that. Hopefully with no change and then we’ll see what happens there. So we need to make sure that our enrolments are the same in that. But there’s clever budgeting as well. We budget below our number and run our programs at a surplus at the end of the year.
PF: But we’ve got many things happening at the moment that we need to keep going, such as a nearly $6million 3-year building program.
LG: So, I guess the current circumstances have certainly potentially thrown some of those projects into a different space as well?
PF: Well, yes, in some ways. We’re a pretty determined mob. We’ve still got everything being passed and we’ll go to tender next month. Hopefully they’ll still be able to build. So we’re still hoping to turnsoil, late July – August and build a brand new building. That should be finished early next year. The only thing that will stop us is COVID19 putting the workforce down. That’s the only thing that will stop us.
LG: So, it certainly sounds like there are lots of opportunities that you’ve identified. Finally, what would be your advice to other businesses and community organisations out there at the moment in these uncertain times? What would be some of your advice to them, in adapting the way you guys have?
PF: I think it’s to not be rushed in your decision making and to take a big deep breath and look at things laterally as to what you can do.
PF: We’re redeploying staff in different skills sets in different ways but keeping them on. Giving them different opportunities to do things that suit the current climate, and the current landscape, is what we’re trying to do right now. If you’ve got, for example a bus driver, a bus driver might do different jobs that are around. I know one of my colleagues has converted the bus drivers to groundsmen to keep them employed.
PF: There are different ways that you can look at various things in the business model, in what you’re doing, and also in teachers. We’ve got teachers that could be online or on campus next term and rotating around special needs. So, you’re breaking the moulds, achieving the same objectives, or higher, but doing it in a different way, and in a financially stable way. It’s not easy by any means but it takes clear concise and calm thinking to make it work.
LG: Wonderful, wonderful advice. There’s certainly some things that need to be adapted to and you’ve certainly made the most of what those things are. And been quite clever around what you’re doing with your current team members but also keeping an eye on the dollars as well. So, I want to thank you here Peter.
Thank you very much for your time today and I really want to wish you and the team members, and also too the students and their family, all the very best at this time and hopefully we all come out of it, as you say, as well as we went into it. Thanks Peter.
PF: Thanks Lisa. It’s an absolute pleasure talking with you and I wish you all the best as well. Thank you.
LG: Thank you. There we have it. We’ve got Peter Foster from Hymba Yumba Independent School in Springfield in the southern suburbs of Brisbane.