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On the move together

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The opportunity to lead a brand new school doesn’t come along often but for Amanda Parslow, the recently appointed principal of McAuley Community School, it almost seems like it was her destiny, as JENNY BRINKWORTH discovered when she met her a few weeks into her new role.

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Amanda Parslow rushes into her makeshift office at St Teresa’s School, Brighton, after attending her first weekly prayer gathering.

“I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the community,” she says, apologising for being a tad late.

Her thirst for knowledge is palpable, as is her excitement at the prospect of journeying with the school’s staff and students as they prepare to transfer to the new McAuley Community School at Hove in 2020.

The previous day she went into classrooms to introduce herself and talk about the importance of knowing people’s names, and she’s been busily showing staff and children the project plans.

“What’s so exciting is that we’re also looking at how we can take the beautiful story of St Teresa’s to McAuley,” she says.

“It’s really important to get to know the community and listen to their voice to ensure a confident transition where people are feeling positive and part of the process. That’s the beauty of being here for 15 months before the opening.”

Amanda is fully aware of the challenges of such a unique venture: “It’s a huge project and it’s not just about McAuley, it’s a wonderful opportunity for Catholic education.”

While it might seem a big move for the principal of a country primary school, Amanda’s journey through Catholic education has been anything but typical.

Born and raised in Melbourne, she came to Adelaide to finish her schooling as a 16 year old, went to teacher’s college in Adelaide and taught in the State system at Port Pirie for one year and in Victoria for a few years before marrying and raising a family.

She and her husband Greg ran a computer consultancy and training business for 10 years and the family of four then moved to Mt Gambier after Greg took up a position with Kimberly Clark. While waiting for her teacher registration to come through, a friend suggested writing to the Catholic school, Tenison Woods College. A few days later she received a call from principal Pam Ronan asking if she could teach Reception for two terms.

Over the next 10 years she taught every age level from Reception to Year 12 and ended up deputy principal before moving to St Anthony’s Catholic Primary School in Millicent where she was principal for eight years.

“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a principal of a country school – I think it came from watching all those episodes of Little House on the Prairie,” she laughed.

But it was her first couple of weeks at Tenison Woods when she really felt her “calling” to Catholic education, despite the fact that she had a strong Anglican upbringing.

“I have very clear memories of standing in the college gym with the entire school sitting in a circle around an altar and realising that God had called me to Catholic education and that this is where I belonged,” she says.

“That overwhelming feeling of God’s love for me and my love for God – I thought this is me.”

While in Mt Gambier, Amanda enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and was baptised a Catholic.

“It keeps unfolding, it’s grown,” she says of her faith journey. “It’s about me being true to who I am.”

As an educator, she is clearly influenced by her faith. “I want to make a difference in a child’s life, a family’s life and a community’s life – that underpins everything I do.”

“My motto is words speak, actions teach. It’s what we do with what we learn.”

And she is determined that McAuley Community School, named after the Irish nun who founded the Sisters of Mercy, will deeply reflect the Mercy tradition and that it’s Catholicity will “ooze” out.

“We will work very closely together to shape the Catholic identity of the school so that as soon as you step inside those gates you’ll feel the presence of Catherine McAuley,” she says.

“First and foremost we are a Catholic school. It’s being able to talk about it and stand up for what that represents.”

The school will open with approximately 350 enrolments with students from St Teresa’s, which will have about 295 students next year, transferring to the new site.

Enrolment packs will be ready in February. Anyone wishing to register an interest can call 8397 6450.

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