What is Djarragun College?

Located just south of Cairns (Queensland, Australia), Djarragun College is a P-12 co-educational day-and-boarding school that serves the needs of Indigenous students from Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory.  As an important component of the Cape York Partnership network, Djarragun College has a stated mission to develop proud, strong, educated Indigenous men and women, who walk confidently in two worlds, to be leaders, and to be role models for their families and communities.  The school has a current enrolment of about 350 students.  It is growing rapidly and has an expectation of reaching about 450 students during 2021, of whom about 20% are boarders.

How and why did I get involved?

Djarragun College was originally administered by the Anglican Church.  After contending with some challenging times, control was transferred to a new, independent board of directors under the auspices of the Cape York Partnership in 2011. In 2020, a new, visionary Principal, Dr Michael Barton, was appointed to manage the school’s anticipated growth.  In order to support this new direction, several new board members were appointed.  As part of that process, I was approached to serve as Board Chair, a position I accepted and commenced in August 2020.

My background to accepting the role is as an educator and administrator who served asynchronously as the Principal of five highly regarded schools in four countries over 25 years.  I have always had a deep interest in cross-cultural education that forms young people for leadership through holistic education, and especially in learning new insights from listening to others’ perspectives.  I have extensive experience in school board governance matters, including undertaking external performance reviews of a wide variety of different types of independent schools, so it seemed natural that I should step up and help in any way I could when the request came from Djarragun College.  My work in supporting school boards has been recognised with formal accreditation by NESA (New South Wales Education Standards Authority) and CIS (Council of International Schools).

Tell me more about Djarragun College

Situated near Gordonvale, about 22 kilometres drive south of Cairns (Queensland, Australia), Djarragun College is a non-denominational independent college specialising in providing an excellent learning environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander students from Prep to Year 12, including students who have experienced trauma in their childhood or in their local community.

The main campus is set in extensive, spacious grounds that enjoy a clear view through to the pyramid peak of Djarragun.  The main campus contains classrooms (of course), separate boarding facilities for boys and girls, sports grounds, a pool, gardens and workshops for teaching, together with a fully equipped public health clinic known as Ngak Min Health.

Djarragun has a second campus, unofficially known as the ‘Wilderness Centre’ at Little Mulgrave, about 16 kilometres from the main campus on the edge of Danbulla National Park.  The Wilderness Centre, which is used for retreats, conferences and experiential education, has residential facilities, a large meeting hall, full dining facilities and extensive riverfront grounds.

Djarragun College also has a close relationship with the Cape York Girl Academy, a boarding school that provides education for Indigenous girls from traumatic backgrounds, including mothers with young babies, on a beautiful, tranquil site near Wangetti, 42 kilometres north of Cairns.

Because of the close relationship between Djarragun College and both Ngak Min Health and the Cape York Girl Academy, I serve on the boards of these two enterprises in addition to chairing the Board of Djarragun College.

What is the role of the board?

Like the board of any independent school, Djarragun College’s Board has four main areas of responsibility, each with four main facets:

  1. 1.ETHOS – mission, vision, strategic direction, oversight of school policies.

  2. 2.DUTIES – legal compliance, risk management, finance and resources, reputation.

  3. 3.SCHOOL OVERSIGHT – oversight of the principal, program oversight, engagement, school demographics.

  4. 4.BOARD PROCESSES – board policies, composition and succession, dynamics and meetings, change leadership and innovation

The board understands that there is a clear difference between its role of governance (which is focussed on the future) and the operational role of the staff (which has a stronger day-to-day focus) under the delegated leadership of the Principal .

An immediate priority for Djarragun’s board is strategic planning.  To this end, a series of meetings is being planned through 2021 to bring board members and the school’s senior executive together to exchange ideas, listen to one another, and chart the school’s future pathway.

Links

To state the obvious, this isn’t an official Djarragun College webpage.  The following sites do contain more detailed ‘official’ information:

   Djarragun College website

   Djarragun College photo galleries

   Djarragun College on Facebook

   Djarragun College Newsletters

   Cape York Partnership

   Cape York Partnership – Djarragun College

   Cape York Girl Academy website

   Cape York Girl Academy Facebook page

   Ngak Min Health website

   Ngak Min Health at Djarragun College

   Noel Pearson’s Hal Wootten Lecture 2018



a school for indigenous students where I serve as Board Chair