Catholic Schools NSW's latest 'Teacher Feature' stars Ms Toni Sillis, Principal of Good Samaritan Catholic Primary School, Fairy Meadow. The three-stream school opened in 2012 – an amalgamation of the former St Francis Xavier’s and St John Vianney’s schools. The school also has a Learning Support Centre for students with special learning needs.
We spent #OneMinuteWith Toni to ask her about her educational background and her aspirations as principal of Good Samaritan.
What made you become involved in education?
I always wanted to be a teacher. I had never thought I would become anything else. My parents would always recall me 'playing schools' with a very obedient Labrador, Snoopy, who sat patiently whilst I taught her.
Where did you go to school?
I started primary school at St Finbar's in Glenbrook then following a family move I went to St Nicholas in Penrith for Years 5 and 6. My high school education was at Nepean High School, Emu Plains. I studied for my Diploma of Education at the Catholic College of Education, Castle Hill, then for my Bachelor of Education at Western Sydney University and more recently completing my Masters of Theology with BBI through the University of Newcastle.
WAS THERE A TEACHER YOU HAD THAT INSPIRED YOU OR STOOD OUT?
I had an art teacher in high school who was just wonderful. He had a great passion for his subject area. He was a man of real character who would challenge our thinking and our skills. I feel I have a great knowledge of ancient and modern architecture because of him. I also learnt many skills in visual arts that I have taken into my own teaching.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACHIEVE IN YOUR ROLE?
As a principal, I hope to work to build a really good Catholic school. I want students to have many opportunities in their learning. I want them to have skills that they will be able to access for life. I also want to challenge and support teachers to deliver learning experiences that allow the children to be really critical in their thinking, to be able to accept constructive feedback and use it to become even more skilled. I hope that the students become really good people in the community who look out for those less fortunate and have a genuine humanity in the way they approach life. I want Good Samaritan to be the school that parents want their child to go to because of the Catholic environment, commitment of staff and, most importantly, the learning that occurs there.
IF YOU WERE EDUCATION MINISTER FOR A DAY, WHAT IS ONE THING THAT YOU WOULD CHANGE?
If I was Education Minister for the day, I would increase funding for teaching staff. The expectations of the profession are really complex now and we are getting to the stage where one teacher to thirty odd students just isn't sustainable. I would ensure that every primary school classroom had at least one full time teacher and a second teacher for the equivalent of at least 3 days a week. Classrooms need to be supported by highly skilled teachers who are able to differentiate student needs so that the curriculum makes an impact. My mantra at the moment is 'these children have one shot at primary school - there's no second chances - so it's imperative that we make it their best shot'.