Dedication of Waroona principal highlighted as a finalist in the Australian Education Awards 2022

22 June 2022

St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School Principal Michael O’Dwyer has been named a finalist in the Australian Education Awards 2022, which recognises and celebrates the country’s top educators.

Mr O’Dwyer was nominated by his peers for his dedicated leadership, approachable nature and progressive, forward-thinking initiatives for the Waroona school, 150km south of Perth, and its 170 enrolled students.

The national awards span 28 categories, including the Australian School of the Year, Australian Principal of the Year, Best Professional Learning Program and Best Student Wellbeing Program. Mr O’Dwyer is one of seven finalists in the Primary Principal of the Year – Non-Government category.

The nomination cited a range of initiatives implemented over Mr O’Dwyer’s three-year principalship at St Joseph’s, including a hearty commitment to improve literacy by embedding evidence-based science of reading into the whole school community.

The school has introduced daily reviews and tracking of student achievement using Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), sharing the data with students and parents three times a year to show progress.

“At the end of the day, it’s not (about) one person…We’re all there for the same reason – to improve outcomes for our students in the Waroona community.”

Michael O’Dwyer, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School Principal

Under Mr O’Dwyer’s leadership, the school has supported Catholic Education WA’s Transforming Lives initiative and seen a 600% increase in the enrolment of Aboriginal students. The school has introduced an Aboriginal scholarship and teaches the Noongar language.

In addition, the school has implemented social programs including a food handling course for Year 6 students who contribute to the running of the canteen, a breakfast club two mornings a week; and the development of life skills through the generous donation of a washing machine and clothes dryer to help at-risk families.

The award submission said Mr O’Dwyer was a worthy recipient who was “inspiring”.

“Michael creates a vibrant and optimistic workplace culture; staff want to work together in creating future directions for the school,” it stated.

“He is 100% committed to the achievement of the school improvement goals…and displays a genuine commitment and dedication that is a constant motivator to his staff and students.”

A modest finalist, Mr O’Dwyer said he felt uncomfortable being singled out for the school’s achievements; and acknowledged the efforts of the entire school community from the dedicated staff to the students, parents and P&F.

“A school is not a function of one person, it’s the function of a team,” he told CEWA Stories.

“The whole staff at St Joseph’s is united in what we have done over the course of the last two years. The nomination came from uniting the staff and driving an improvement agenda bringing everyone along for the journey.

“At the end of the day, it’s not (about) one person…We’re all there for the same reason – to improve outcomes for our students in the Waroona community.

“Often the statement is: ‘We’re just little old Waroona’ and I think the expectations are lower than what I think we could achieve. And that’s what the staff have unpacked. What we are doing is working.”

Winners of the Australian Education Awards 2022 will be announced at a black-tie gala dinner in Sydney on August 12.

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