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Finalist — Meredith Wenta



An inspirational Townsville leader who has played a key role in ensuring her school is years in front of others – and that students continuously succeed on the local, state and national stage – is a finalist in state teaching awards.

Every year, at the start of each school year, Kirwan State High School (KSHS) Executive Principal Meredith Wenta stands in front of the staff and reminds them that they aren’t just at any school.

“My first line is always: ‘This is not a job; this is a life choice – you have made a life choice to come and be part of the Kirwan State High School family, the Kirwan State High School community, to make a difference to the young people who come here, and to one another’,” Mrs Wenta says.

The school is renowned for its award-winning education and multicultural programs. It has a student-created Indigenous treaty. Every graduate for the past five years has achieved a Queensland Certificate of Education or Queensland Certificate of Individual Assessment. Each year, at least 98 per cent of KSHS graduates are successful in their applications to university. Students also attain record Vocational Education and Training levels. There is a professional development program which new teachers travel state-wide for. Students come from across Australia to be a part of its undefeated National Rugby League team. KSHS has two Heads of Department for wellbeing – an area of increased focus for other schools nationally over the past few years – and a mentoring culture that filters down to students, with every Years 10 to 12 pupil mentoring a younger counterpart in Years 7 to 9. Mrs Wenta has introduced the New Humans of Kirwan High – based on the New Humans of New York project – in which refugee students have spoken about life in refugee camps, including having to use crunched up pieces of paper in plastic bags to play soccer, having no running water, and the huts in which they lived. Parents have thanked her publicly for sharing their stories. KSHS is a Council of International Schools member, and its list of students who have won state and national awards is enormous.

Mrs Wenta, who coined the KSHS motto “A School for Everyone”, is a finalist for this year’s Queensland College of Teachers TEACHX Excellent Leadership in Teaching and Learning Award. She also chairs the Education Queensland International Townsville Cluster.

The former primary school and Drama teacher, who has relentlessly high expectations of herself and is continuously learning, said she was inspired to teach by her grandmother, who taught students with a disability. She said her life’s work was “to really make a difference to the way teachers taught”.

Under her leadership, KSHS is a school of choice for graduate teachers, after she formed the school’s Beginning and Continuing Teachers’ Program in 1998 – decades before other schools had similar, comprehensive induction programs. She has overseen the program ever since.

“I used to do a lot of lectures at universities in Townsville and also in Brisbane, and I would say to students, ‘Welcome to the most exciting profession you can be in, because, you know, other than medicine where they can save lives, we really help young people choose the pathway they want in their life. But if you think your learning has finished, it’s only just beginning’,” she said.

The school’s timetable has been changed to include professional development for all teachers for two hours on Monday afternoons, in a continuous and strategic pursuit of teaching excellence at the school. She said teaching wasn’t just about delivering content – connecting with children played a key role and all of the school staff covered this as part of their focus on The New Art and Science of Teaching framework.

Mrs Wenta started teaching at KSHS in 1990, becoming a Year Level Coordinator in 1995. She became the Deputy Principal in 1998 and helped galvanise the school community when it lost its beloved former leader John Livingston to brain cancer in 2015. The school has raised $355,000 since for ‘The Cure Starts Now’.

The winners of the TEACHX Awards will be announced on 29 October, on the eve of World Teachers’ Day in Australia.

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