From Classroom to Principal’s Office – Twenty-Five Years of Exemplary Service to Westbourne
When Meg Hansen returned to Westbourne in mid-2010 to take up the position of principal she was, to all intents and purposes, coming home. Described by long-serving board member, Diane John OAM as ‘incredibly hardworking and very dedicated’, Meg would bring what was seen as ‘new energy’ and ‘a fresh set of eyes’ to the school she knew so well.
Indeed, as Westbourne’s twelfth principal, Meg’s vision was bold and innovative and based on years of experience, initially as a member of the teaching staff and then, after 1995, as co-vice-principal – a role she held for the next five years. The new century would see her leave Westbourne to begin what would be a very successful decade as principal of Lauriston Girls’ School. A New Zealander by birth, Meg Hansen was educated at Epsom Girls’ Grammar, later graduating from the University of Otago with a Master of Arts (Honours) in literature and outstanding post-graduate teaching qualifications. Following six years at Auckland’s highly academic Rangitoto College, she emigrated to Australia and joined the staff at Westbourne. Described as ‘a strong leader, intellectually rigorous, self-assured in her opinions and not afraid to introduce new educational philosophies’, she set out to build on the achievements of her predecessors within the framework of a new phase of development – the aim of which was to make the school ‘the leading learning community’ in what has continued to be Melbourne’s fast growing west. To this end, a master plan was developed, land was purchased and towards the end of 2010, the curriculum was reviewed and clear guidelines on ways to improve the student learning experience were established.
From the outset, investing in the potential of the school’s expansive Truganina campus was a key priority. Having led a highly effective program of building and renewal at Lauriston, she was determined to achieve a similar outcome for Westbourne. With a vision that encompassed the development of modern twenty-first century learning spaces, a transformation of the grounds and infrastructure, traffic management protocols and the construction of a range of purpose-built centres and sporting facilities, Meg’s principalship would come to be defined by her strength of purpose, commitment, drive and foresight.
The most ambitious transformation of the Truganina campus since the initial building program of the late 1970s commenced with the construction of a new maintenance facility and the purchase of additional specialised equipment and vehicles. Once completed, a sizeable investment in basic infrastructure included major upgrades to the power supply and the drainage system – the latter particularly necessary as the campus had long been subjected to intermittent flooding. The ensuing years would see a raft of new buildings, internal refits, and the repurposing of existing stock, as well as additional roads and carparks and traffic management procedures.
Three years into her principalship, Meg welcomed the Hon Bill Shorten MP to the school to perform the official opening of what would be a dedicated centre for students in Years 7 and 8. Facing Sayers Road and constructed on the site of a previous building, the Horsburgh Centre is named in honour of Ray Horsburgh AM, a long-serving member of the Board, past student, past parent and current grandparent and indefatigable supporter of the school from the early 1970s onwards. That same year, work began on the construction of an early learning centre and in May 2014, Amici (Italian for friends) was opened by the Hon Wendy Lovell MP.
The official opening of Winjeel (an indigenous word meaning young eagle) in February 2016 by the Governor-General, His Excellency the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK, MC (Retd) marked the culmination of an enormous amount of planning and a substantial financial commitment. In celebration of the choice of name for the new building the school was delighted and honoured to receive the gift of a propellor from one of the Royal Australian Air Force Winjeel trainers. This wonderful acknowledgement of the aircraft that used to fly over the school is now a feature of the main open space in the building.
Purpose built for students in Prep to Year 2, Winjeel supportsa culture of learning which is firmly grounded in the Reggio Emilia philosophy, a successful educational pedagogy based
on the concept that children must be able to learn through experience – touching, moving, listening, and observing. With the completion of Winjeel, the school’s impressive Sayers Road frontage now stretched from the Geoffrey Ryan Centre (Year 9) to the Horsburgh Centre and included views of native bushland, landscaped grounds and sports facilities.
Celebrations to mark the school’s sesquicentenary in 2017 were to characterise much of the year, with a major highlight being the official launch by the Victorian Governor, Her Excellency the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, of the much-awaited history book, Community of Believers: Westbourne Grammar 1867-2017. Chronicling a century and a half of the school’s progress, from the early days in Williamstown to the thriving campus at Truganina; the Westbourne story is testament to the determination of those groups and individuals who not only kept the school going through some very challenging times but whose belief in its future enabled it to survive and flourish.
One enduring and very visible symbol of the sesquicentenary is the beautiful sculpture park located adjacent to the duck pond. Named ‘Loose Variables’ and created by artist, Sanné Mestrom,
‘Loose Variables’ was opened by high profile community leader, Terry Bracks AM. This tranquil space has since become a favourite place for students of all ages to play and relax. The sesquicentennial year also saw work continue on the major renovation of the Verdon Centre which ultimately provided students and staff with a stunning multi-purpose piazza, classrooms, junior library, reception, and offices. A home for young learners in Years 3-6, the Centre is named in honour of Sir George Verdon (1843-96) a colonial luminary and chair of the school’s first Board of Trustees.
The morning of Friday 28 July 2017 was a most momentous occasion for Westbourne when, with a special commemorative shovel in hand, Meg performed the turning of the first sod, thus marking the beginning of work on the new sports and aquatic centre. Over the next eighteen months, this magnificent facility would take shape and stand as the realisation of a long-held dream – that the school would one day have its own swimming pool.
Since the sesquicentenary, the building program has continued apace. Projects have included a complete refit and rebranding of the school’s Heritage Centre, which since 2016 has been managed by a professional archivist; the redevelopment of what was one of the school’s earliest buildings into a spacious, functional new canteen known as Central; a renovation of junior and senior school staffrooms; a major refurbishment of the Williamstown campus and a purpose-built Stem laboratory for senior science students. The completion, in 2018 of the clerestory lantern window in the JR Pascoe Chapel saw the original clear glass replaced by a kaleidoscope of beautifully patterned coloured glass – an initiative undertaken to honour the school’s inaugural chaplain, Reverend George DuRinck.
In understanding the links between aesthetically appealing surroundings and successful educational outcomes, a major element of Meg’s principalship has been the creation of attractive external environments. In addition to the sculpture park, extensive landscaping, and beautification of the grounds Truganina has seen a greening of the campus, with the development of perimeter bushland areas and shaded eating spaces defined by extensive plantings of native grasses, trees, and shrubs. These improvements have greatly enriched the ambiance of the school’s outside spaces, exemplifying Meg’s belief that: ‘As educators, we know our surroundings are incredibly important. They have an impact on how we feel, how we work and learn and how we interact with each other. This applies not just to the internal environment of the school, but also to the external one. When our students leave their classrooms, we want them to feel connected to natural settings – places that are characterised by appealing views of vegetation areas and shade trees.’
Similarly, Meg’s strategy for further improving the program of teaching and learning at all year levels saw the introduction of a Community of Practice model, underpinned by Meg’s strong moral purpose: That every child can succeed. One measure of the success of this strategy came in 2019 when the school was selected as the winner (independent schools, Melbourne western region category) of the inaugural Schools that Excel award run by the Age newspaper – a reflection of more than a decade of improvements to the VCE median study score.
Over the years Meg’s bold plans for buildings and grounds have been complemented by her aspirations for student learning and staff development. A project to establish school values and a stated vision resulted in the adoption of ‘Shaping Learners Who Inspire the World’ as the Westbourne vision. Combined with a set of core values: Community, Creativity, Scholarship and Courage, these concepts have become central to all that the school strives to achieve. At the same time, and in conjunction with these values, the school began to look more closely at Joseph Campbell’s fascinating idea of ‘the hero’s journey’, wondering how this concept, with its themes of the call to adventure, mentors, ordeals and triumph over adversity might be incorporated into life at Westbourne. Indeed, as Meg observed, ‘it is our values that reflect what is important to us. These guiding principles are what form the basis of all that we do. They are the foundation of our beliefs and actions, underpinning our professional endeavours and our hopes for the students in our care. How we live our school values on a day-to-day basis is an expression of our commitment to each other, to ourselves and to our community.’
Planning and consultations for the introduction of a new uniform were undertaken in 2019 with the result that the new uniform features a wardrobe of contemporary choices that not only capture the traditional aspects of the current uniform, but also reflect changing social mores and a desire to provide less gendered and more practical options for students. In highlighting the importance of a uniform, Meg explained that, when everyone is in uniform ‘they all come to school on an equal footing, to be assessed and valued on their own merits, as individuals in a community. A uniform means students don’t have to worry about peer pressure when it comes to their clothes.’
Integral to growing Westbourne’s social and cultural capital Meg’s principalship has brought new initiatives for further developing opportunities for broader stakeholder engagement and connection with the school. Beginning with the launch of community magazine, Monomeith, a Friends of Westbourne Association and an alumni association, the school has also reached out into the wider community with productions such as the professionally produced senior musical now staged at the Wyndham Cultural Centre in Werribee. Similarly, the annual music concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre and Westbourne Celebrates at the Melbourne Convention Centre have become signature events showcasing the talents and achievements of students in Years 3-12. 2021 also saw the launch of Belonging: A Community Cookbook. Telling the story of almost thirty of the school’s immigrant families and their continued connections to their heritage through food, Belonging makes compelling reading, evoking images of courage and determination and a quest to make a new life in a different country.
The last two years of Meg’s principalship were dominated by the impact of Covid-19 and the various strategies introduced to manage the lockdowns. An event not seen since the epidemics of the 1930s the school’s response was one of successful management of a major challenge, one that ensured the school continued operating as much as possible in a ‘business as usual’ framework. And, as things gradually returned to normal towards the end of 2021, Meg paid tribute to all those who had found themselves ‘suddenly transported from the normal routines of school, work, eating out, playing sport and visiting loved ones, to a virtual space. The creativity shown by both teachers and students in working remotely together with a determination to make things work has been seriously impressive.’
As principal, Meg has led and represented Westbourne with great distinction. She has made an important and ongoing contribution to the work of leading independent education sector bodies, often serving as a board member and, at times, as the chair of organisations such as the Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Ecumenical Schools Australia, the Association of
Co-Educational Schools and the Invergowrie Foundation. In these roles she has shared her knowledge and insights into her experiences of what has become the increasingly complex responsibilities of a school principal.
In 2017, three decades after she first arrived at Westbourne, Meg was asked to recall her early experiences of the school and the impact they made on her: ‘My memories of those years are incredibly vivid and of course make what has been achieved since even more impressive. As many in our community know, there wasn’t much at Truganina then, other than the sub-station, open paddocks, single carriage way gravel roads where one’s tyres would routinely get punctured and the school bus would get bogged in winter, and, of course, what was still a very new campus.’ Since then, Meg’s achievements and her contribution to Westbourne have been extraordinary. In her years as principal, it has been her energy and her aspirations for the school that has been such a significant part of her life that will forever remain as the hallmark of her leadership.
— Sue Johnston
Director of Corporate Communications and Research