How Bass Hill public school principal Melissa Proctor turned her school around

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As many as 10 brawls a week, children walking out of class whenever they felt like it and teachers refusing to set foot in certain parts of the playground.

That was what Melissa Proctor was confronted with when she first came to Bass Hill Public School as its new principal in 2014.

"It was viewed by the community as the school you don't go to," Mrs Proctor said.

Melissa Proctor, Principal of Bass Hill Public School with students, Kory Allen, Daniel Glynatis, Maher Tahan, Roukaya ...
Melissa Proctor, Principal of Bass Hill Public School with students, Kory Allen, Daniel Glynatis, Maher Tahan, Roukaya Maarbani, May Ali and Nourhan Ghalayini, in Sydney. Photo: Janie Barrett

"There was violence on the playground, violence in the classrooms, disrespect towards adults.

"The culture was that if you didn't like something someone did or said, you'd hit them."

Three years later, it's a completely different story.

Students who were some of the worst offenders are now on the school's student representative council and winning awards for positive behaviour.

The number of suspensions have dropped from as many as 50 in Mrs Proctor's first year on the job to about 20 last year and just one so far this year.

She said the narrow academic focus of schools and teachers is partly to blame for common behavioural problems.

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"We teach kids writing, reading and numbers but we expect them to behave," she said.

"So bit by bit, we taught them what we wanted to see."

She started talking to children and their parents and getting to know the families at the school.

Bass Hill principal Melissa Proctor has turned the school around.
Bass Hill principal Melissa Proctor has turned the school around. Photo: Janie Barrett

"We had one little boy who would pick up sticks and hit people at lunchtime," she said.

"When we started talking to him and his dad, we worked out he didn't want to be out on the playground with 350 other kids, it was too much for him.

"His teachers worked with him and now he's doing very well."

Melissa Proctor, principal of Bass Hill Public School with students Maher Tahan and Roukaya Maarbani.
Melissa Proctor, principal of Bass Hill Public School with students Maher Tahan and Roukaya Maarbani. Photo: Janie Barrett

Mrs Proctor also made it impossible for students to get out of class, no matter what they did.

"Kids had the idea that if they act out, they'll be sent out and won't have to learn," she said.

"We told them they'd always be sent back and we'd talk to them at lunchtime."

The school stands out for the much broader approach it takes to learning, with time set aside for meditation and mindfulness in the classroom.

"We have a social and emotional learning curriculum, not just an academic curriculum," she said.

"We're looking more at wellbeing, which means kids are calmer, their brains are more focussed and they're ready to learn."

Mrs Proctor's success has led to her winning a scholarship to Harvard University in July to do a week-long leadership course with two other Australian principals, under the Harvard Club of Australia Scholarship program.

"It's an incredible opportunity to experience an international perspective and bring it home," she said.

"And I get to go out and share my school community and the amazing things my teachers and students have done."