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If we’re honest, we’re all curious about how things are done in other schools. So this week on School Stream, we’re going behind the scenes at Cornish College with their Director of Community Relations, Dennis Freeman. Cornish College has a unique history, and Dennis shares how Cornish College’s beginnings continue to inform every aspect of school life today, the importance of storytelling, and how a great community lies at the heart of the school. 

Thank you to Dennis Freeman for taking time to chat with us and sharing his thoughtful responses. 

School Stream helps all sorts of schools – large and small. Book a demo or chat to one of our Australian based support team to see how we can help make communication between school and home a breeze.

First up, let’s talk a little bit about the school.

“We have 700 students from 3-year-olds at our Early Learning Centre, all the way through to Year 12. We have around 120 staff – including teaching and support staff – and the College is located in Bangholme, at the gateway of the Mornington Peninsula (Victoria).” 

Not every school has a Director of Community Relations. Would you like to walk us through your role and a typical day for you at Cornish College? 

“Well, the responsibilities of my role are threefold covering marketing, alumni and fundraising. It involves a mixture of operational and strategic planning, ongoing and future projects, as well as the general day-to-day things such as responding to questions, providing advice and talking to a myriad of people. For example, as we’re approaching the end of the year, we’re heavily involved in preparing end of year publications and finalising the content for our year book and the summer edition of our bi-annual community magazine which are published before the end of the school year. Cornish celebrated its ten year anniversary in 2021, so we have also had a number of special anniversary celebrations throughout the course of the year, including a Gala Dinner and the release of an anniversary book and two new school songs. We’ve been doing a lot of work in refreshing our branding and are also about to launch a new website. The wonderful thing about my job is that it’s different every day.” 

It sounds like you have a great relationship with your community.

“I think one of the strengths of Cornish is that there’s a real sense of community and that’s partly due to the origins of the College. Cornish College was originally a campus of St. Leonard’s, known as the Patterson River or Cornish Campus and it opened in 1987 as an ‘environmental campus’ with a strong feeling that sustainability in all its forms was really important. It continued this way for a number of years but in 2011, St. Leonard’s decided the campus wasn’t viable and announced it would close the following year. The parents, who were passionate about the kind of education happening here, decided to get together to save the school, raising a substantial loan from the Uniting Church to purchase the campus and it reopened the following year as Cornish College. So whilst we’re celebrating 10 years of the College, and 10 years isn’t a particularly memorable milestone when you compare it to schools celebrating 100 or 150 years – it is significant in the context of Cornish. It leads back to what I originally said when you asked about community. Because of the genesis of Cornish College, the sense of community has always been very strong.” 

What do you love about your role?

“I’ve worked in schools for many years, including schools that have a long history and tradition, and I think the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained over the years is really valuable in a school like Cornish, which is still ‘carving out’ its identity. For the first years, all energies were focused on saving the school, but now the school is flourishing, we can start the process of consolidation and growth. So I love coming to work and feeling like my knowledge is valuable and thinking: “OK let’s do this now, we’re ready”.” 

It must feel quite gratifying to use your skills in a way that is quite meaningful and useful.

“Absolutely. I also love the physical location of the campus. The College is on 100 acres of natural parkland, we’ve got a 9-hole golf course, a lake, islands, and I am sitting here at my desk looking out the window and all I can see is grass and trees and hear the sound of birds singing. So I love coming to work for the natural environment, but I also love the work environment. My colleagues are fabulous to work with and it’s a very supportive community.”  

Are there any challenges? Every job has something.

“I suppose one of the key challenges is we’re a small school, but we’ve got huge aspirations. So we have to temper our dreams and plans for the school, with the reality that we only have 700 students. We don’t have endless budgets – we have finite budgets, so we have to work within our means, but with a strong focus on where we want to be, in the future.” 

According to Brad, (School Stream’s much-loved Operations Manager), Cornish College is leading the way when it comes to using School Stream. 

“Change is always a challenge, but something we identified a couple of years ago is that our communication with parents wasn’t as effective as it could have been and we were using systems that were a bit clunky. We investigated School Stream, and it seemed the perfect solution. It took time to implement, but we are delighted with the results. One year later, all families except one have signed up to it, so we think that it’s working very effectively. We only use it for communications but I think we are also telling the story of Cornish in the way we present the information on the School Stream app and we spent quite a lot of time deciding what and how we would present that information.”

*Interview edited for length and clarity. 

Once again, a big thank you to Dennis Freeman for taking the time to share your experiences with us.

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