A fierce advocate for equality in education

Alyce Cleary was part of Teach For Australia’s first Cohort. Now, she is the Principal of the Senior Secondary campus at Palm Beach-Currumbin State High School in Queensland. In 2017, she was inducted into the Teach For Australia Board as the first Alumni member.

You joined Teach For Australia as part of its first cohort. What made you decide to undertake the Leadership Development Program in its inaugural year?

During my time at University I was lucky enough to undertake a variety of internships. From commercial law to human rights advocacy, I dipped my toe into the waters of a number of professions. These experiences were enough for me to decide that I needed to find a pathway that was firmly rooted in social justice and would also provide me with the opportunity to build a long-term sustainable career. Teach For Australia was the perfect fit.

You helped to start Parkville College (the first public school at the Victorian Youth Justice Facility). How did you get involved in that, and what does it take to start a school in a justice facility?

One afternoon after returning from having traipsed around the globe for the good part of a year, a voicemail was left on my phone. It was the voice of a man I’d never heard of at the time, Brendan Murray, offering me a job inside a prison in Victoria where a small team was in the very early stages of establishing a school. With my interest piqued, I flew to Victoria to see the work in action and my decision was instant. We started our operations with just two classes of remanded students under the borrowed banner of a local school in Kensington and created, over the following four years, a multi-campus stand-alone Public Secondary School that now operates in every juvenile justice facility in Victoria, as well as several secure facilities. It was a formative experience that deeply grounded me in the fundamental value on which I still operate – every child has a right to an education.

As a Principal in Queensland, what does your current role encompass? How do you think the Leadership Development Program helped prepare you for this role, as opposed to other forms of teacher training?

I am currently the Principal of a Senior Secondary campus on the Gold Coast in Queensland. My role is busy, but I am still no busier than our teachers who work tirelessly every day (and night). I deal with everything from HR and recruitment to student welfare and community engagement. This year I’ve also decided to step back into the classroom to have a class of my own.

It’s really important for me to ensure that amongst the everyday tasks I find space to lead strategic projects that are targeted and measurable. Part of this leadership also involves me taking other staff on the journey to develop them in their own right. I think that was a big part of my learning from Teach For Australia: the need to invest in staff as individuals and to provide room for mentorship not management.

You’re now on the Board for Teach For Australia. What does being a board member for a nonprofit entail?

I was humbled to be invited to join the Board of Teach For Australia as a Director. The experience thus far has been reaffirming in the sense that it has highlighted to me the transferability of the skills gained through being in School Administration. My position on the Board gives me the privilege of sitting as an equal opposite extremely accomplished individuals from a variety of sectors. Our task is to guide the direction of Teach For Australia’s work in a way that is mission-aligned, while also maintaining fiscal responsibility and accountability to external stakeholders.

On average, women currently only represent a quarter of board positions. What are your thoughts on gender parity in board rooms? What would you say to women or Alumni who want to join boards?

I am a strong advocate for women in the workforce and believe in representation at the highest levels of not just boards but also executive tables.

I am proud to be a young woman with a seat at both, but seek to create no illusion that equality got me to where I am. My advice: be fierce and back yourself.

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