School Business Managers perform a complex role that requires them to be financial experts, administration ninjas, first-aid officers, human resources consultants and born communicators – all while remembering the name of every child, parent and teacher in the school. We’re very lucky to work with some fabulous administration officers – including the (exceptionally warm and capable) Jenny Bullock at St Margaret’s in Maribyrnong, Victoria. She has generously taken time out of her busy day – in the middle of a big works project, no less – to share some stellar examples of how they use School Stream to make life easier, and the great school culture at St Margaret’s.
A massive thanks to Jenny Bullock for sharing her experiences with us.
(Interview edited for length and clarity)
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First up, let’s talk about the school itself. How many students attend St Margaret’s?
We have 421 enrolments from prep to Year 6. There are two other admin staff, and the admin team is supported by the School Leadership Team when needed – it’s not unusual for them to take a phone call and field enquires from time to time.
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
Like all school administrators, Jenny manages a big load.
Enrolments – this includes advertising and preparation of materials for our Open Day, processing student enrolments to our database, organising materials for our Orientation Days, management of student database systems, I man the reception desk two days a week, manage student attendance records, and look after first aid during class time.
What do you love about your role?
Like most Admin Officers – it has to be the variety – no two days are the same. I do enjoy the social side of my role and the exposure to all in our community – students, staff, parents, and other visitors to our school.
Are there some challenges in your role? (Every job has something).
A 20-minute task can take an hour with the disruptions. You have to learn to be flexible as the needs of the children come first. We are currently in the middle of a building project – we are working out of a temporary office which is challenging and can require pivots at limited notice. But the works are well supported by the children and families. Over the last three years we have transitioned to new systems covering student records, payroll, staffing and finance. This has changed many processes for us. We are fortunate to have a community who has been very understanding with some of the new challenges faced.
You use School Stream at St Margaret’s Primary School. Was it easy to set up and learn?
Yes, it was. All of the information to onboard parents is provided by School Stream, and we were well supported with tips and tricks to move parents from receiving hard copies to electronic copies of information.
Training is ongoing at a time chosen by us – we were not “bombarded” with instructions on how to do this and how to do that at start up. We took our time to learn and use some of the additional functions and features of School Stream.
The support from the School Stream help team is excellent. One of the biggest concerns that you have when using a new product/service is the ongoing support. It’s often the case that once you sign up for something then that’s the last time you hear from the supplier. In many instances, support services are located outside Australia which can be challenging. If we need assistance, we simply ask for what we need in the ‘question box’ and we receive links to help desk articles straight away, and these usually provide the answers we need. If not, we stay on the line and a School Stream rep gets back to us. We are provided with support to tidy up the “back end” of the system when needed. It can slow things down if you do not remember to archive information. And the support crew are always so personable and friendly – it must be the Byron Bay lifestyle!
How have your parents responded to using an app for school communication?
We had no pushback from new parents, some existing parents were a little slower to “onboard” however in the end we simply did not give them any other option. It really is so easy for parents to access School Stream – they download the app, select their child/ren’s classes and are good to go. For the parents with challenges, in most cases their children could assist as they are just so knowledgeable with all things IT these days.
The translation function is useful given we have a number of parents from ESL backgrounds who would prefer to receive notices in their chosen language.
What features do you use the most?
Notices – we send two-three messages a day. It’s the best way to get important messages out there straight away. For instance, we are in the middle of building works. The temporary fencing was due to be erected during the day last Friday, however, at the last moment it was scheduled at the same time as the morning drop-off. We were able to push a message out to our families to advise them in advance of a change to entry and exit points for students upon arrival at school. We use Excursion Permission forms too – we no longer send home hard copy notes as we use the “forms” feature. Parents read and respond to the forms electronically. We provide the appropriate teachers with an electronic spreadsheet listing all the parent responses. This means that they do not need to take “hard copies” of student information on excursions which provides greater privacy of both student and parent information.
Our parents use the “Student Absence” feature the most. This information can be downloaded and form part of the school’s electronic archives.
We know from our post last year with your Principal (Gavin Brennan) that student wellbeing and focusing on the ‘whole-child’ is an important part of your ethos at St Margaret’s. How does that feed into your work?
Often, I’m the first port of call for parents, children and external visitors to the school, so I get to know a lot of the children very well. We, as a school, have all adopted and taken part in the Berry Street approach to learning, which is very much focused on wellbeing and we put that at the forefront of everything we do.
Does this intersect with the fact that Saint Margaret’s has a strong faith-based approach to education?
Absolutely. It is aligned throughout the whole school and with our school values of ‘Knowledge, Faith, Compassion, Community.’ It’s definitely a whole school approach to the values and the vision. It’s not just at a teaching level – it’s all staff are expected to follow and live out the values of the school.
You’ve also got strong ties with the local community?
We do. We’re lucky that we have a lot of parents as well who are active members of our community, and we have great relationships with our kindergartens too. They come at different times to visit us, and we form links with them that way. We also provide access to our sporting facilities to different organisations and that might lead to them coming into the school and doing something with our children. For example, we’ve had a soccer company come in and we’ve even had skateboarding! We try to get something for everybody, and we run a drama program as well as a music program – so hopefully we touch all bases and the kinds of things the kids might be interested in.
You must feel so proud to work at such a great school where the kids are thriving?
Absolutely. Our kids enjoy their learning and also have great space available to them to play soccer or basketball, there’s an adventure playground and even an outdoor piano in the school courtyard. I think it’s got something for everybody.
We hear a lot that parents are really interested in the values of a school, as much as the academic side. People are looking for a school that demonstrates their values.
100% – couldn’t agree more! We run formal school tours twice a week and our Year 6 captains do the tours – and the feedback that we get from parents is that the captains were absolutely amazing. They always comment on the information they’ve been given and how lovely the kids are. They take the parents into classrooms where they can see the kids in action, and they can see for themselves. You can’t fake that stuff. We just have a really good feeling here – it’s hard to describe what it is – it’s probably a combination of everything we’re doing here.
Once again, we would like to thank Jenny Bullock for her time and insights.
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