Published in The Ararat Advocate, Ararat's local weekly newspaper published by West Vic News Pty Ltd.
Ararat College Principal Geoff Sawyer has retired, leaving behind a legacy and influence on hundreds of students over his 36 years in government education.
Mr Sawyer started his career as a teacher at Stawell Secondary College in 1984 and progressed up the ranks. He then worked at Hopetoun Secondary College before being appointed Ararat College Principal in 2008 with a mission to bridge the divide between regional and metropolitan schools.
“It was really a lifelong ambition to try and do something to assist young people in more remote areas to have an equal opportunity to that which city counterparts do,” Mr Sawyer said.
When he started his role at Ararat College, Ararat was seeing quite high rates of unemployment and the school itself had less than no money he said.
He is proud to say that today things are very different at the school thanks to careful financial planning and decisions over more than a decade.
“It's not a level playing field in education in Ararat. We don't get the funding that the private sector gets,” he said.
“But I think we do a great job in terms of value-adding of the young people that come into our school and then leave at the other end. I think we're well outperforming the local competition.”
While at Ararat College, Mr Sawyer has increased the capacity for the school to provide the best possible learning environment according to Acting Principal Ellie McDougall.
“This has included our Trade Training Centre, the development of the School Farm site, the refurbishment of the Science Language Centre, Barwick Park and an upgrade to the Administration Building,” she said.
“Mr Sawyer readily gave up his time to mentor leading teachers and new principals. Ararat College is indebted to him for his contribution to our school, and government education is a better place for having him a part of it.”
Student voice has been one of Mr Sawyer’s focuses and something that he believes is growing in importance across the education sector, despite many bureaucrats not fully understanding what it looks like.
“You've got to value it and you've got to act on it. Some schools, they say the (Student Representative Council) is their student voice and it is.”
“But it's not just that, it's also right down to that one on one in the classroom. Where you're asking each individual student, what's your opinion? What can we do to help you?”
He retires at a time when his hobbies of watching Hawthorn and fishing aren’t possible, nonetheless, it is an important decision for his health.
“My health was being impacted by working in the environment that I was in, in the last couple of years,” he said.
“A variety of physical and mental health issues were a concern which I was trying to address.”
“It became obvious that I couldn't give the 120% that I knew every young person at Ararat College deserved.”
Mr Sawyer thanked all of the colleagues and mentors that he has worked with over the years and looks forward to continuing to have a strong interest in young people and where they're going.
“A highlight is always meeting students in the street. I'm really pleased when I hear that they’ve gone on to do all sorts of things, whether it’s medicine, VET science through to various trades. I find that really satisfying,” he said.
Ararat College will hold an official farewell once the coronavirus pandemic has passed.