The Southern Cross : December 09
www.adelaide.catholic.org.au The Southern Cross December 2009 Page 9 feature A sense of pride VALUABLE LESSONS: Principal Madeleine Brennan makes no apologies for the traditional values which are at the core of St Columba College. She is pictured with students from left, Michael Pudney, Vanessa Cricelli, Teresa Bol and Alex Griffiths. Continuing our series on school principals, LINDY McNAMARA travels nor th and chats with Madeleine Brennan about her work at St Columba College, the first combined Catholic and Anglican school to be established in Australia. Driving to Andrews Farm, one of the northernmost suburbs of the m e t r opolitan area, is a contrast of lifestyles. On one side of the road are c e real crops standing tall in the summer sun and on the other there are housing developments filled to capacity, with heavy machinery clearing the way for new buildings. Amid all this you find the sprawling campuses of St Columba College, unique in its own right as the only combined Anglican and Catholic education facility in the State. It is also a dichotomy of styles -- modern new buildings offering the latest in facilities, while the education off e red is quite traditional. Principal Madeleine Brennan has been at the helm since the college opened in 1997 and makes no apologies for running a pretty tight ship and instilling good old fashioned values into the 1400 plus students. Using good manners, wearing corre c t uniform and taking pride in their s u r roundings is almost as impor tant as mathematics and English. "St Columba has a terrific reputation in the area," Madeleine explains. "There is a huge sense of pride in the school and I guess we set pretty high standards. And yes, we are very strict." The softly spoken principal has had a s t r ong influence on the development of the school. In the early stages she was involved in the design of the buildings -- ensuring wide corridors and plenty of glass was used to give a spacious and welcoming feel. She and her mum even selected the school uniforms during a lunchtime shopping trip to the then John Martins. " I t ' s lucky we have really good taste," she laughs, adding that those early months of planning for the new school w e re extremely tiring and something you "would only want to do once in a lifetime" . Since opening its doors with 187 students enrolled in R-7, the school has g r own in leaps and bounds. Under mounting pre s s u re from parents, high school years were introduced fro m 2000, and this year the first "completely home grown" group of students graduated. The college is a popular choice for local families, with many being turned away as numbers have been capped. Surprisingly, most of those enrolled at St Columbadonotcomefroma religious backgrou nd but Madeleine says the college is a popular choice because p a rents want their children to be par t of a Christian upbringing which instills a good "sense of values". The staff, who start each day with a prayer session, play a fundamental ro l e in showing students and their families they are par t of a much larger Christian family. Recognising the two Christian traditions re p res ented at the college is importa nt and while Anglicans and Catholics have much in common, there is no "watering down" of values. "Weare veryclearaboutthedifferences and their traditions -- we don't tr y to c r eate any grey areas," Madeleine explains. Besides good values, success is an important part of the St Columba mission. "I refuse to accept that any of the students here are going to fail. I expect them to be successful. I guess you could say we are pretty tough on them." Situated in an area of the State which is known for its high unemployment rates, Madeleine says St Columba students go against local trends. Most complete SACE and go onto University, TAFE or get an apprenticeship. " Young people who are graduating have the chance to re c reate this area. There is something about living in the nor t h e rn suburbs that has a real appeal." Madeleine speaks with first-hand knowledge on this subject. Despite a country stint at Port Lincoln, all of her teaching career has been at schools in the nor t h e rn suburbs. She lives at Lewiston, attends the Elizabeth Catholic parish and says she absolutely loves what the area has to offer. While some may be burnt out after leading a school for 13 years, Madeleine is just hitting her stride and has many plans for future building development which will ultimately see student numbers increase by another 200. She draws strength and inspiration fro m M a r y MacKillop. "I admire her tenacity and her ability to always give it a go," she says. For a while, Madeleine gave away teaching and joined the Josephite ord e r in Sydney and then Adelaide, before deciding this was not the vocation for he r. Now married to Peter, she is very vocal about the impor tance of a work/life balance. This is one re a s o n S t Columba does not offer weekend sports teams or after school sports. "Firstly, I think teachers have a right to their own life on the weekends and s e c o ndly, this encourages the students to join community clubs and have an influence on the community they live in ... something they can keep doing long after they leave school." For Madeleine, who is a self confessed horse nut, getting away from it all means heading to Mt Crawford for long endurance rides. She is curre n t l y training for an 80km ride which will see her in the saddle for eight or nine hours. Another passion is helping in the f o r mation of the Companions of S t Joseph, a group where lay people can e x p res s their "josephiteness" by talking, reflecting and praying together. And of course, high on her list is maintaining the wonderful qualities of S t Columba which make it such a unique school. SNAPSHOT OF ST COLUMBA Presidents Avenue, Andrews Farm R-12 Established: 1997 Combined Anglican and Catholic College E n rolment: 1400+ students Vision: "To nurt u re in our students and the wider community a close relationship with God; a passion for living; and a lifelong love of learning" .