That's the Spirit: Skye Dedman - Hermidale
She came to Nyngan in the late ‘90s as a young early childhood teacher, intending to stay just a year to get a bit of bush experience. Twenty years later, Skye Dedman is now relieving principal of Hermidale Public School, a role she says virtually “chose” her the first time she visited the tiny educational facility. Skye is also part of a family farming operation and a committed local community member. On this occasion, JEN COWLEY was happy to be sent to the principal’s office for “a little chat”.
Jen: Tell us a little about your school.
Skye: Well, I’m the principal of Hermidale Public School and we currently have 11 students – five in primary and six in Year 1 and Year 2 – and three teachers.
The school is very well resourced, we’re very fortunate. We have a lot of one-to-one teacher time for the students and individualised learning – we absolutely know where each of the students is up to. The Department of Education talks about the need for every student to be known, valued and cared for – so we’re actually doing that really well. We genuinely know, value and care for each of our students.
People might think that going to a small school in Hermidale would be something of a disadvantage, but the students are actually getting a fantastic educational start here. They’re getting a very much enriched education.
Given our remote location, we have to take a very innovative approach to how we and the students access the resources and learning, so we do virtual reality learning, video conferencing, we go away on excursions. For instance, we did a video conference tour of the Sculptures by The Sea in Sydney.
We also regularly get together with our other “hub” schools – Girilambone and The Marra – and that’s fantastic.
Jen: How did you come to be here at Hermidale?
Skye: Well, that was something of a journey! I grew up in Bathurst and Dubbo, and came to Nyngan in 1999. I was only coming for 12 months to be relieving director of the Bogan Bush Mobile (a mobile early childhood service) but then a position came up as director of the Nyngan Pre-School and I took that.
Then I married and had my children and we have a grazing and cropping property between Hermidale and Nyngan, but I also became a casual teacher at Hermidale.
Interestingly, Hermidale was the second school I ever visited with the Bogan Bush Mobile, and I remember walking in here and going, “I want to be here one day!” It just had a really good feel.
The school sort of chose me in a way.
Skye Dedman, Hermidale NSW
We’d laugh when we visited with the Bush Mobile, because we’d arrive here and set up and suddenly all these adults would appear to help out and we’d think, “Where are they all coming from to this little school?” but that’s just the way it is here. It was the parents coming in to be part of the school, and there was always great school staff and great support.
It’s always felt vibrant. Even though it’s out here in the middle of a paddock, it’s always felt secure and vibrant.
There’s a wonderful serendipity to it – to me now being here in this role.
I feel connected to Hermidale because the younger generation – the ones in their 20s – I taught them in pre-school, I knew their families, so it’s not like I’ve just landed here and people have gone, “Oh, this is the new lady who’s come here from away…” it’s more “Oh, we know you!”
Jen: What would you say to people who might think that you’re somehow “doing your penance” out here at Hermidale?
Skye: (Laughs) Oh, gosh no! I think I’m so lucky. I think living in a rural community is what you make it. Yes, you can moan about the distance, but really, what’s two hours in a car (to Dubbo)?
And in terms of work, there’s a lot of support and collaboration between the small schools, a lot of professional support. It’s a vibrant work space. If there’s a new principal, we’ll all ring them up and say, “How are you going? What do you need?” and they might say they’re having trouble with this or that, and we can share our experiences and help each other. I had that same support.
I don’t think anyone who’s teaching out here sees it as a deficit. I think we all realise how incredibly lucky we are. In fact, it’s something we talk about – how peaceful and beautiful it is and we celebrate all the good things we have around us.
Jen: What do you think is the benefit to the students of having a school environment such as this?
Skye: The teacher to student ratio is excellent, obviously, and that really demonstrates the mantra that every child should be known, valued and cared for, which is also part of our wellbeing plan.
We also have a close connection to the families, so the relationship of parents and carers with the school is very strong – for instance, we have 100 per cent of parents attending the personalised planning meetings held each term. When we have assembly, there’ll be someone here – a mum, a dad, a grandparent – for every child. We have working bees and parents and families all come along and help out, and we often have previous students who come back to the school. We have members from the Returned Services League (RSL) in Nyngan who come out and join us for Anzac Day.
It really is “school as community” and we value community very highly.
Our main job is to provide education and educational opportunities, of course, but we try to think outside the square for activities and to foster partnerships within the wider community and to add to the wellbeing side of things.
Jen: What are some of the good things about being part of a small community?
Skye: I think it’s that you’re known and supported. Even though I think it’s completely normal and unremarkable that you’d want to be a teacher here, people are enormously grateful to have good teachers at the school.
We access a lot of professional learning, so all our knowledge is current – it’s not as if we’re out here in the sticks and stuck in the olden days.
Technology is great – We can operate all our computers – we have panels in our classrooms, we all have iPads.
We’ve had a lot of generosity directed towards us as well – an organisation called Connecting Communities came to build a cover over our veggie garden for us, and they arrived with 20 brand new iPads. That’s just one example.
Relieving Principal Skye Dedman with students at Hermidale Public School.
Jen: And are you involved with the wider community of Hermidale as well?
Skye: There’s a lot of people who are very active in the Hermidale community – there’s a great tennis club and the community run a gymkhana every year, and I come and support those sorts of events whenever they’re on, but I’m more involved on a personal level with my community in Nyngan. We’re in the swimming club and that sort of thing, and, gosh, whatever we need to do to make things happen for our kids.
You try to be a part of things to keep them going because it’s all about the opportunities you can provide.
It takes all types of people to make a community tick. That’s what I see here in the small school environment – with 11 students you see that there’s a diverse range of circumstances among those families. Some are farming families, some are dependent on the mines, others have different circumstances – so it’s important that they all stay connected.
We find, here at school, that parents seek our knowledge on a range of matters and we are able to connect them to others who can provide support.
It’s quite a varied position we have here as teachers in a small community.
We also have a strong connection with the indigenous community, with 50 per cent of our students being Aboriginal. We work in partnership with the Nyngan Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, and we regularly have representatives from that group come and have what we call a “yarn up”. We’ve recently built a “yarning circle” in the school grounds thanks to some funding from a local Nymagee mine. This is a really nice place to sit and reflect and share stories, which is really valuable for everyone. The space is linked with the barbecue and play areas so it’s all connected – which is another important thing for a community like this, that events that are held help connect everyone.
Jen: You clearly have a passion for educational opportunities in regional and remote areas.
Skye: I do. We try to think outside the square to provide enriched learning experiences.
For instance, we connect with local employers to give the students a glimpse into opportunities that might exist for them later on. For example, the surveyor from the mines came out and brought a drone with him so he sent that up to show the kids the landscape and he talked about the work of a surveyor and what happens in the mines. That’s just one example, but experiences like that help empower the kids to see what’s available to them in their future.
It’s about opening up their eyes to opportunities.
Jen: You’re in a happy place, aren’t you?
Skye: Absolutely! (Laughs.) This IS a happy place. There’s so much vision for the school. Every three years we do a school plan, and we’re into the third year of the last one and already I’m so excited about the next three-year plan.
We look at our professional learning, we look at our student learning and our student wellbeing, we look at community participation and the ways in which we can promote our school and our community… and I can already see that the next phase for the school is going to be fantastic!
*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Skye Dedman with students at Hermidale Public School.