A Note from the Principal
As we celebrate the second anniversary of the establishment of our Parents' Association and particularly as the first PA Committee step down from their roles, it is an opportune time to mark and celebrate all that has been done.
Our school is grounded in the 4 principles of Educate Together – equality-based, co-educational, democratically run and child-centred.
Whatever our role in the school, we recognise that every person is here to support the care, protection and education of each child in our school, as well as to develop a strong and supportive community, and I thank you for your commitment in doing so.
History – up to 2014
As always, I go back to the absolutely crucial role that parents played in the setting-up of our school. A team of committed and hard-working parents canvassed for many years to secure an Educate Together school for Dublin 24. They were so successful, they secured two – Firhouse ETNS and Citywest ETNS. We are fortunate to have a number of these parents still in our school and still active in our school.
We opened with 26 children in 2012 and those parents deservedly took a break from committee work. With such a small school, a PA was hardly necessary anyway. We were a very small community and so communication and working together came easily and was easily organised.
By 2014, however, enrolment had jumped to 150 pupils and our Board of Management felt it was time to encourage parents to form a Parents' Association (PA). This was met with great enthusiasm and the PA was set up.
Rapid growth and change from 2014 to 2016
Then followed two years of extremely rapid growth in our school, the greatest growth we are ever likely to experience. Indeed, there are few schools that ever see a period of such rapid growth. We now have 290 pupils enrolled in the school and we are at two-thirds the size of the school that we will eventually become. The rate of growth will slow down from now, however, as we expect it to take another three years to reach our capacity, which we expect to be approx 420 pupils.
The last two years have been busy in other respects too, with the addition of the new wing last year, as well as the opening of our first special class for children with ASD. With expenses rocketing, we rolled out numerous ongoing fundraising initiatives, the most successful of which have been the after-school activities programme, the out-of-hours rental of rooms and the multi-annual clothes collection. The success of these mean that we don't have to ask parents for a "Voluntary Contribution" as so many schools do – thanks in large part to meticulous budgeting by Stephen, Treasurer of our Board of Management, rental income covers the portion of our utility bills that the Department of Education does not.
We have been busy building links with our community and particularly enjoy visiting our friends in TLC Nursing Home and in the theatres in Tallaght – Rua Red and The Civic Theatre. We also benefit from GAA coaching via St. Mary's GAA Club and started swimming lessons for children in 2nd and 3rd classes, which we hope to roll out to 1st and 4th classes this year also. Our Deputy Principal, Anita, working alongside class teachers, has managed to secure an extended service from the Mobile Library for our school, which every child from Senior Infants to 4th Class benefits from. We also work with the Heritage in Schools Programme, which was introduced to our school by a parent.
We have developed close professional links with TUSLA, HSE, SESS, NCSE, NEPS, PDST, other ET schools, other schools in the Saggart/Rathcoole/Citywest/Fortunestown area, Tallaght Hospital and others and these links help us to help children and families who are experiencing challenge or difficulty.
A partnership we particularly cherish is that with our neighbours in Citywest and Saggart Community National School (CSCNS). The raising of the Irish flag last year was a high point, as was working together on school gardens. We are now working together on preparing a Buddy Bench for our shared yard, which was a vision of our first Student Council – wonderful to see that coming to fruition. As it has now been confirmed that we will share a campus permanently, this is a crucial relationship to develop.
Working alongside Board, staff and students all along the way has been our Parents' Association, who play a vital and valuable role in the school. There are so many ways in which the PA support the development of the school.
The offering of the simple cuppa at school events cannot be under-estimated. It is not just the making of the tea and coffee but the smile and the greeting that makes people feel welcomed and is the start of a conversation.
Having the Chairperson of the PA join staff members in giving their time for our first ever Open Evening for Prospective Parents last January was a great show of community to new families considering joining our school.
PA Coffee Mornings for parents has resulted in a greater feeling of openness and of friendships between families. I look forward to November, when we can again have access to our meeting room and host more coffee mornings.
The Drop Off programme has been an amazing success. Not only is it a support to parents but it is a joint-school initiative and therefore supports positive relationships between our school community and the community of CSCNS.
The craft afternoons were great fun and I hope to see more parent-led activities and initiatives like this in our school.
It was great to see the PA take over leading our school in the St. Patrick's Day Parade this year, which teachers worked hard at setting up last year. It is going from strength to strength and was a great show to the community of the vitality of spirit and strength of community in our school.
Another special event was the Grand Opening of the new wing of our school last November. School staff streamed the Opening into every class and worked with the children in making the whole wing bright and colourful – all the additional wall space required a lot of artwork and displays! - while the Board of Management organised party decorations and the Parents' Association ran a dance class and disco. That was a memorable and special day and again showed wonderful community and what can be achieved with a shared vision and working together.
In terms of parental involvement in the school, many parents have volunteered on policy and procedure groups and in supporting classroom lessons and activities. One of our most successful initiatives has been Mother Language Week, when parents come in to the school and read stories to children in their own native language.
This academic year has seen fantastic involvement from our parent body, with approx 75% attendance at both our afternoon classroom visits and our Information Evening. This level of attendance is unprecedented and makes me very hopeful for how our community is growing and developing.
Our Assistant Principal, Aoife, has put particular effort into organising events for parents, with the School Tours for Parents Initiative last year being of special note. Another initiative that was highly received was the Irish classes for parents.
We also had great attendance at the parenting seminar organised this month, as well as the dental hygiene seminar organised in June, and it is very encouraging to see this.
As I mentioned previously, the multi-annual clothes collection is a great fundraiser for the school. Now that Joanne and Ailish have put the hard work into setting it up, it is surprisingly easy to roll out each time.
There have been lots of other fundraisers organised by various groups in our community, some very successfully and others with, let us say, many learning points! While the Comedy Night fell flat, the Quiz Night was a great success! While cake sales and discos have been great community events at the same time as bringing in funds, Family Fun Day this year proved a great community-builder while not bringing in enough funds to warrant the trojan work that went in to preparing it. Such is life – we pick ourselves up, we reflect and we try a new plan next time!
The Scholastic Book Fair every year takes significant work by teachers and volunteer parents but is worth it in terms of the focus on books and reading for the week, as well as the free books it brings the school afterwards.
Another lovely event we worked on together was the Winter Concert and Raffle – teachers and pupils put hours of work into preparing for the concert, while volunteer parents came in to teach songs and members of the PA Committee put in many miles seeking sponsorship for the raffle and sweet-talking local businesses into giving prizes!
These joint efforts are what this community is all about and I look forward to seeing more of them as the school grows.
While we have set up a Fundraising Committee in each of the last two years, there are definitely opportunities for growth here. Hopefully this will be the year that sees us find the right way of doing this.
Grants, Gifts and Sponsorship
Working behind the scenes are teachers and parents together preparing applications for grant aid and sponsorship. Many of these prove to be a lot of work for no outcome but the successful ones make it all worthwhile.
One such success has been our partnership with Semantec, who have sponsored a class set of laptops for our school. This took 12 months of Aoife and me attending meetings, filling applications and liaising with Semantec staff, followed by groups of teachers giving their afternoons to set up the laptops. But what an outcome!
We also secured sponsorship from Microsoft, which has enabled our school to be one of the first schools in the country with an online staff room and secure database for our staff to share our work with each other, which is very exciting.
A number of parents have secured various gifts for us through their work also, not always wanting it recognised publically but happy to give for the sake of giving – thank you so much – you know who you are!
We continue to apply for further grants, gifts and sponsorship and hope to have further success.
Opportunities for growth and learning
Of course, everything isn't always plain sailing. Growing a school so rapidly in such a short time is bound to result in constant change and it can be difficult at times to grow every part of school life while also maintaining our very strong ethos. We have had lots of, let's say, learning opportunities!
What I love about our school, however, is that there is always someone to offer a hand in improving it for the next time. For example, Kamila thought the calendar we produce could do with a revamp and so she has joined the two teachers on the Calendar team, who also give of their own time so generously. Hopefully, their hard work will pay off and we will see a wonderful, new-and-improved school calendar for 2017!
Welcoming new families
With the support of the PA, we undertook a survey in the last term of families who joined our school when their child was in a class other than Junior Infants. The results were positive and interesting and I look forward to working with our school community in developing this area so that all people new to our school feel welcomed by everyone.
Having some such parents active on the PA/PTA would be particularly helpful.
Positive mental health and well-being
Teachers and SNAs regularly undertake Continuous Professional Development. We are life-long learners and love to be introduced to new concepts and to challenge ourselves to greater growth. A focus for us this year is in relation to positive mental health and well-being. Later this year, we will be trialing mindfulness in some classrooms, similar to how we trialed restorative practice last year. Next week in particular is Healthy Living Week at our school and we will be focusing on the growth mindset and how to build our brains and minds for a good and happy outcome.
We hope that parents find all of this as useful as staff members and children do!
Consultation is important in our school. Two examples here stand out for me – two years ago, a consultation group of Board members, staff members and parents put together a new plan for the teaching of belief systems in our school. The result has been incredible and we continue to grow that programme, following that significant piece of work.
Last year, a consultation group, again comprising Board members, staff members and parents, put together a new plan for home learning for our school. While we continue to pilot that, feedback from the first round of implementing it was overwhelmingly positive.
We continue to develop consultation groups, based on feedback from members of our school community across the constituent groups.
The structure of the Irish school system means that we are answerable to the Department of Education and to our Patron, Educate Together, both bodies which have suffered significant staffing losses as a result of the recession.
They delegate responsibility for the management of each school to 8 volunteers who comprise the Board of Management. As a new school, we don't yet have as many systems in place or events that are run annually as established schools do and so the task of our Board of Management, as well as that of our In-School Management team, is significantly greater than in an established school. As the Board meets every 6 weeks or so, awaiting a response can seem to take a long time and result in some frustration. Everyone in our community – Staff, Student Council and PA – are learning to plan well in advance so that there is adequate time for the process to take place.
Parent Teacher Association
I am very excited at the invitation that the PA are extending to our staff, to have a staff member join the monthly meetings and to work towards becoming a PTA. Of course, there will be some training involved and we need to put structure and procedures in place for that, as well as clarifying roles, just as we did two years ago when the PA was set up. I look forward to working with the incoming PA Committee in progressing this.
Last but by no means least, I wish to express sincere thanks to Clara, Liz, Anita, Eliza and all of the outgoing Committee of the Parents' Association of Citywest ETNS.
Your dedication and hard work over this time of early development of our school and community will always be valued.
You have juggled the significant task of establishing the PA with running the PA and supporting the school. This was a notable feat and very important in the history of our school.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh!