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New Innisfail school principal ready to make history serving Indigenous students

Majella Ritchie

Accepting challenge: Majella Ritchie is taking up a role as a school principal at the age of 24. Photo: Emilie Ng

BRISBANE teacher Majella Ritchie never imagined landing a job as a school principal before turning 50.

After just one year as a Year 2 and 3 teacher at Radiant Life College, Innisfail, Ms Ritchie was offered the job to lead the school as principal, starting last week.

At just 24 and only four years out from university, the Innisfail parishioner is the youngest person to take up the top role.

“It was a little bit crazy and I still kind of have to pinch myself to say it’s happening because I didn’t think it would happen for 20 years at least,” Miss Ritchie said.

“I’m very fortunate, we have a school board that is very open to young educators and their ideas, and the opportunity arose and they thought I was a good match for them.”

Miss Ritchie told The Catholic Leader in November 2015 that her introduction to indigenous culture was at her first teaching job at St Mary of the Cross Parish School, Windsor, which caters to large numbers of indigenous students.

During her second job at St Flannan’s School, Zillmere, she came across Radiant Life College, a school in Innisfail founded by Christian pastors that specialises in indigenous education.

The school and pastors Anthony and Selina Edwards offer compassionate and free incentives to keep children in school, such as a door-to-door bus service, breakfast and lunch programs, uniforms and textbooks, as well as fortnightly medical care for students and parents.

“Because of that, the kids just love learning and it’s amazing because what they’re doing is closing the gap in indigenous education,” she said.

Miss Ritchie said Radiant Life College was the culmination of one indigenous family’s dream to offer quality education to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“We have this beautiful indigenous family, the Edwards family, and they’re living out their great-grandmother’s dream to establish a school that supported indigenous students so they got the best education possible,” she said.

Parents on Centrelink payments contribute a small fee, and scholarships are offered to help other disadvantaged families.

This passion for learning among students has translated into near record attendance rates, rising from 54 per cent in 2014 to 98 per cent at the end of last year.

“The national average last year for indigenous students was 83.7 and the non-indigenous (rate) was 93.1 so we’re well and truly above the national average for both,” Miss Ritchie said.

“We don’t have a day where we would have 10 kids away.

“The norm is to have your whole class there almost every day which is incredible for not only indigenous but any school.”

The Brisbane teacher will now work hard to ensure the attendance records don’t drop in 2017, among other responsibilities.

“The hardest part is getting the families involved as well, so that’s going to be my big goal for (this) year,” Miss Ritchie said.

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