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BHS Principal's Experience - Sophie Kapsimalis

I knew from the beginning of the school year - 28 Jan 2020, that Term 1 would be dramatically different. I remember forwarding an email from the Deputy Secretary, to keep staff in the loop with the then called ‘Coronavirus’ disease. I did not sleep that night.

The morning of our return, I gave two directions to office staff who worked tirelessly to fulfill these. Firstly, to contact students who had been overseas during the break and encourage them to isolate for 14 days. At this stage this was not called upon from the DoE - I was nervous about making such a decision – but knew it was necessary. It was gut wrenching as we also had some students stranded in Wuhan. Secondly, that we source as much quality hand sanitiser, sanitising wipes, soap and toilet paper as possible. Although we were not at a crisis point according to the media, I needed to be confident we were well prepared.

As the weeks progressed, there were times I needed to call the Department’s Incident Hotline about students or family members exhibiting signs of Covid - 19. I held my breath each time worrying that our school would be shut down. The emails from the DoE increased – as did the

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pressure to ensure we had a controlled, safe, informed school community. We sent students home who presented with flu-like symptoms and requested staff to email work. Thankfully, parents and carers were very supportive of our decisions.

We went from hosting our Blakehurst Open Night where we had hundreds of people visiting, to no social contact and retracting all sports and assemblies - virtually overnight. Student attendance dwindled. On Monday the 15th of March we held an extraordinary meeting with HTs and 2IC’s. We needed to collectively decide what remote teaching and learning would look like for our school context.

Key personnel such as Ms Peachey, Ms Pirie and Ms Malas together with Mr Foster, our IT specialist, were assigned to the roles of “up- skillers“. They worked tirelessly to provide professional learning, ‘how to’ videos, and online handbooks that parents and carers could also access. We gave staff a timeframe of four days – and sure enough, even the least tech savvy staff came on board with remarkable willingness. I recall a staff meeting in the hall – all staff were spaced out as if they were sitting the HSC. Looking at the staff, I knew I needed to present a positive front whilst being truthful in my delivery. There was a mixture of uncertainty, and a sense of certainty at the same time