The Community-proof Fence

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POST BY DAVE RICHARDS

Do you believe children learn from example?  If so, expect a generation of youngsters adept at double-think coming out of our schools in Alice Springs.

Yesterday on ABC Radio in Alice Springs the Chief Minister expressed his faith in the Braitling School Council, which has given its one hundred per cent approval to a plan to fence out the broader community from the use of facilities it’s enjoyed for more than thirty years.

The ABC quoted Mr Henderson: “If the school council, a democratically-elected body, in consultation with the school community and the principal have determined that they have specific and peculiar needs to require a fence, well I respect their decision.”

Meanwhile a few kilometres away students at the Anzac Hill High School are grappling with the decision to amalgamate their school with the Alice Springs High School.

Its school council reports it was misled by the Education Department into believing ANZAC would maintain core subjects such as English and Maths, which would be taught on both campuses.

Council chair Alan Smith told the Alice Springs News: “It seems that the Education Department’s idea of consultation has been asking people to watch powerpoint presentations which superficially look good but are all very theoretical.

“Then we get five minutes for discussion and our ideas all get pushed to the side.” Parents at the school have expressed numerous concerns about the “merger’’, apart from the loss of a valuable school and community which had a reputation for relative harmony under the guidance of principal John Cooper.

They fear some children will drop out of school altogether and that feuds between some families in the town are likely to flare up at ASHS, which has struggled with discipline issues, schoolground assaults and conflict for years.

But Mr Henderson does not appear to have noticed such concerns. Instead he has encountered only “enthusiasm, commitment and support for the Government’s plan to achieve better outcomes for young people in Alice Springs.” He obviously does not read the newspapers.

The decision to close off Braitling School seems just as likely to increase social disorder, although  parents who write letters to the editor have decided to focus on the active (and reasonable) protests of mothers with pre-school children who have used the school’s playgrounds.

The playgrounds have provided a brilliant early connection to school life for many hundreds of schoolchildren at Braitling over the past decades.

Now, like the pupils the school will be given the very clear message that schools are fortresses that are separate from the rest of the community. It’s what educationalists call the “hidden curriculum.”

The letter-writers don’t mention that Braitling School is also used by dozens of teenagers and older families, who use its cricket nets and basketball courts on a daily basis. They are losing a valuable physical outlet and alternative to computer games, internet chat rooms, or simply hanging round with not a lot to do.

Don’t forget that the facilities are the only ones of their kind in the Braitling area, and the solution generously suggested that people should use other facilities three or four km away assumes that the world is full of two-car families – or perhaps children who steal cars and drive without a licence.

The fence advocates who have focused on legitimate concerns about damage to the playgrounds and school caused after dark also neglect to mention that the school refused a compromise that should have kept everyone happy: build the fence closer to the school, and leave the sports area open.

Meanwhile the Chief Minister and his government continue to pick and choose which school council they will listen to and about what.

It is appropriate and desirable for school councils and parents to have a say about their schools. It is appropriate for the department (and the Government)  to listen, and then for the department (and the Government) to make a decision.

In the case of ANZAC High, they have listened, responded and then trashed both the council and the deal they promised them.

In the case of Braitling, it has refused to show leadership, sacrificing the needs of the broader community to allow Sue Crough andher school to buy a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

fence

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5 Responses to “The Community-proof Fence”

  1. Felicity Forth Says:

    Dear Minister Henderson,

    You say you support the school council’s decision to fence the public out from facilities they have been using for over 30 years on the grounds that they are democratically elected. You know as well I do that 99% of school councils follow the line their principal takes – and they are elected to govern on behalf of the school – not the wider community. I thought you were also democratically elected to govern on behalf of the NT people and lead the Education Department which owns and runs the school. Following massive outcry the Education Department representative promised to keep the gates of the school open to the public after school and on weekends regardless if Northside Parks Group signed the MOU between the school and the School Council. Obviously – he has since changed his mind with no consultation with our group. Attached is the MOU for your perusal – which we stated clearly we were willing to sign over 3 weeks ago – and were lead to believe the school council was willing to sign for the last 6 weeks up until last Tuesday night. The MOU was developed with consultation and input from both the school council and Northside Parks Group. We trusted it was a real agreement – not just a method to get us to back off for a couple of weeks whilst the school built its fence. Now the fence is 80% up – the school council and the Education Department have changed their mind. Could it be that this was the Education Department’s intention all along? I hope not – but it certainly looks this way.

    You also say you haven’t consulted with the school and you don’t know the circumstances. You haven’t consulted with the community either. If you did we would tell you that this is the only decent play and sporting facilities to the north of Alice Springs. Every afternoon you see many, many groups enjoying the basketball courts, playgrounds and cricket nets. The vandalism the school wants to stop isn’t occurring during daylight hours. I have never seen any antisocial behaviour occurring at the school during daylight hours – not to say it hasn’t ever occurred but it’s a relatively genteel area for Alice Springs. What I have seen at the school is residents enjoying healthy lifestyles, playing cricket, basket ball, kids on skateboards, scooters and bikes and families with small children in the playgrounds. There are 1100 residences in Braitling with around 3000 residents that possibly due to your inaction as Minister for Education will be locked out from enjoying healthy lifestyles.

    We call on you to talk to us – look at the lack of facilities in Braitling and do something about it. Either force the school to sign the MOU keeping the gates of Braitling Primary School open to the public after school and on weekends during daylight hours OR provide the ASTC with the funding (approximately $6-700 000) to replicate these facilities in Braitling.

    This is a Territory wide issue – you need to talk to the other communities involved and find a solution that works for all. I think the gates open in daylight hours policy would suit both the schools in question and the surrounding community. This is a compromise that would work for all – we call on your leadership to make this happen,

    Felicity Forth

    Northside Parks Group

  2. Sara Phillips Says:

    As a parent of children who attend Braitling Primary School I witnessed the devastation caused recently to a classroom by young vandals and I fully understand and support the reasons why the school council wishes to secure the school premises when it is at high risk of being damaged (ie after dark).

    What I cannot understand is the recent and unfounded decision to refuse to sign the Memorandum of Understanding reached with the Northside Parks Group and the announcement that instead the school will keep the gates locked permanently after school and on weekends. This was without any apparent consultation with the wider school community.

    My four children and my partner frequent the school ground every weekend and school holidays to use the facilities. The kids ride, scoot, roller blade, play basketball, soccer, tennis and football on the basketball courts and also use the playground equipment, often with many other Braitling students from the community. The beauty of this is that it is only a 5 minute bike ride away from home and encourages our children to get to know other children who live close by and who attend the school. They often see other young toddlers, preschoolers, parents, grandparents and teenagers using the facilities in a peaceful and respectful way.

    There are NO other facilities in Northside for families, children or teenagers to use apart from a few widespread scrappy swings with no shade, some of which are in unsafe areas (alleyways!) and there is nowhere similar to the basketball courts. Some children are lucky and have families that can drive them to the Araluen park but others are not so fortunate.

    HOW is locking up these facilities during the day going to ease the frustration and boredom of many of the kids living in Northside, some of whom have already turned to vandalism. Imagine the potential graffiti and vandalism we could see in our community if there is NOWHERE for the kids and teenagers to play, exercise, socialise or develop skills after school or on weekends!

    If the school goes ahead with locking their facilities after school and on weekends then there will need to be an immediate and expensive response from the state government to provide alternatives, while the school’s facilities remain unused for a significant proportion of the week. Wouldn’t trialling keeping the gates open as stated in the memorandum of understanding with the use of security patrols throughout the day be a cheaper,easier and an immediate solution?

  3. Katrina Lloyd Says:

    As a Braitling resident, I urge the Braiting School Council to reconsider their decision to deny out of school hours access to the school’s outdoor facilities. Braitling students, their families and the wider community all lose out by not being able to continue enjoying the amenities that have been available to them after school and on weekends for 30 years.

    Kids growing up in Alice Springs have an opportunity to enjoy a physically active lifestyle without being ferried by car to and from each event / location. Larger cities in Australia struggle to provide more opportunities for easily accessible physical activity – both to improve the health of residents and to build the health of the community in a broader sense. We have these amenities in Alice Springs and they are about to be locked up.

    This issue involves public money – the Federal government provided the stimulus money to build the fence around Braitling school and the Territory government provided the school playground, cricket nets and basketball courts. The provision of alternate recreation facilities is ultimately the responsibility of the Alice Springs Town Council. All residents of Alice Springs deserve the most efficient use of taxpayers’ money.

    Braitling students deserve a safe school. They also deserve to grow up in a healthy community. I urge all parties involved – the Braitling school council, Northside parks group and all three levels of government to continue to work together. We need an immediate resolution to this issue that allows some ongoing public access to the facilities in question. We also need a clear plan from ASTC as to when substitute facilities will be provided.

  4. alex hope Says:

    Is there a link between the three topical controversial issues in town:
    the burning of the memorial to Kwementyaye Ryder, the Braitling School
    fence and the merging of the two government high schools?
    I believe there is. In the quarter century I have lived in Alice
    Springs, the population has grown only marginally, yet the character of
    the place has changed substantially, with greater segregation between
    black and white, to the detriment of all.
    In 1983 there was only ASHS, and all those who grew up in town
    mixed together there. Once alternative high schools
    were developed, we saw the unintended segregation between predominantly
    Aboriginal students at Yirara, ASHS and Anzac, and predominantly
    non-Aboriginal students at OLSH and St Philips.
    Other factors driving separation are things like increasing affluence,
    meaning that families have several cars, drive their kids to school,
    drive to the shops rather than sending their kids there for “messages”,
    and generally spend less time in public places, so they interact with
    their neighbours and others less. People
    have become fearful of letting their children play with the
    neighbours’ kids in the street or local park. Children spend
    more time in organised activities in groups which while not formally
    segregated, nevertheless tend to enforce a de-facto segregation.
    Social groups who never get to know each other or mingle, even to the
    extent of a nod and a “howyagoin?” as they pass in the street, are much
    more likely to develop antagonistic attitudes and fear of each other. I
    have seen this within my own family.
    Fencing off schools and denying children access to informal use of
    sporting and play facilities and opportunities to mingle with other kids
    can be seen as part of what drives the fear of “the other”, which
    exacerbates the anti-social behaviour of the “have-nots”. This results
    in the locking up of an ever increasing number of mostly Aboriginal
    people, necessitating a new $320M gaol with running costs of around $100M
    a year for a projected NT prison population of 1200.
    It is disappointing that since the advent of a Labor government in the
    Territory we not seen any significant initiatives towards creating
    social harmony between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, and to decrease
    the gap between the haves and have-nots in general. Instead we
    have seen a continuation and extension of policies which
    exacerbated the problem in the first place.
    We all live here. More Territory residents than ever before were born
    here and, whether black or white, feel part of this landscape. Our
    politicians have failed to provide leadership on this, the
    fundamental issue of Territory politics. As my favourite bumper sticker
    has it : “when the people lead, the leaders will follow”. It is time for
    all of us to let our leaders know where their responsibility lies

  5. shimbinentami Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this blogpost, keep up creating such exciting articles.

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