A Message from the Chair of the Woodleigh Board - Vanessa Gabriel

With mixed feelings, I write to announce that I am stepping down as Chair of the Woodleigh Board. My eight years as Chair have been both rewarding and challenging. I have learnt a huge amount about education, human nature and governance, always aiming to lead with compassion and care for everyone in our community - particularly during COVID times.

I want to formally thank my fellow Board members for their support over the last nine years. Woodleigh is incredibly fortunate to have a Board that is passionate about the School, that give up their time freely, and never question when we need to spend more time discussing matters. They have all gone above and beyond during Covid and have sacrificed so much of their own time to ensure the School made its way through, all while working full-time jobs. As a School, we should be very proud of the dedicated team that put their hand up to lead.

Woodleigh’s staff, too, are an incredibly dedicated group. As I said to them on Monday, they are where the magic happens. Without them and their enthusiasm, Woodleigh would not be the School it is today, and our decisions and plans would not come to fruition.

I also want to thank the School leadership Team. A School Board normally meets with the Principal and the Business Manager at Board Meetings. During the appointment of a new Principal and the pandemic years, the Board made a conscious decision to include the SLT in our decision-making to understand the School better. This has proved to be invaluable. It has shaped our decision-making and led to better outcomes for the School, particularly over the last two years. That took a lot of extra work on their part, on top of what was already a huge load, and I am extremely grateful to them.

I have been privileged to have worked with three principals during my time on the Board. Vivienne before the merger with Penbank, Jonathan Walter and now David. Before taking on a Director’s role, I definitely underestimated or possibly had not given much thought to the complexity of a Principal’s role. Over the years, I have witnessed this complexity up close and wondered what it is about schools that make this “CEO” role so unique. There are so many stakeholders in a school, and in a strange way, they have both competing interests and, at the same time, a shared goal of educating young people. There is also emotion involved when managing young people and their needs; I think that is the nuance that makes a Principal’s role so unique.

To David, I have such admiration for the way you handled stepping into a brand new role and then managing a school without students or staff on site for nearly two years. You managed to connect despite the challenges, which was an enormous task. It has been lovely to see you settle into the role now that we are back at full tilt. I have appreciated your calm approach, your strategic thinking and your ability to sit back and just listen - not only to what people are saying but how they are feeling. I also admire your bravery in pausing when it is required. It is easy to keep rolling along; it takes courage sometimes to pause, lift our foot off the accelerator and reassess before moving forward again. One of my roles as Chair is to support the Principal, and I hope I have fulfilled this role, as being a Principal can be incredibly isolating at times.

While I intend to stay on the Board, it is important that we succession plan and regenerate. I have been on Woodleigh’s Board for nine years, with an additional four years on Penbank’s Board before the merger of our schools, so I understand the delicate balance in maintaining a group that offers both longevity, while offering new perspectives and opinions.

"I am so pleased to announce that Gerry Gogan will be stepping into the role of Chair and Caroline Jacoby as Deputy."

Gerry’s three children were educated at Woodleigh, and his wife Peta was one of the original Woodleigh students. He knows the School very well. Gerry has been on the Board for eight years and has been Deputy Chair for most of that time. Over this time, Gerry has very much acted as a co-chair. He has been closely involved in the many extra meetings I have with David to discuss the many issues that need to be managed. He is calm, logical and a strategic thinker, and I do not doubt that he will step seamlessly into the role of Chair.

I am indebted to Gerry for his support, particularly in the last three years. There were times when I was not sure I would manage to lead the Board, make decisions in uncertain times, manage my role as a pediatrician and care for my family. Gerry was instrumental in helping me cope.

Caroline Jacoby is stepping into the Deputy role. Caroline is also one of the original Woodleigh students and was described by Michael Norman as the epitome of a Woodleigh student, which does not surprise me. Caroline is an educator and has worked as a teacher and Principal. She has a deep understanding of IB, and having spent most of her working life overseas, she also has a global perspective on education and the challenges our young people face. Caroline has worked closely with Gerry and me in the last year, allowing her to step into the Deputy role easily. I know that Gerry and Caroline will continue to lead the Board and the School with a focus on our Strategic Plan and its projects, strong Governance and compassion for our community.

Finally, I want to thank the community for supporting the School and choosing this incredible place to educate your children. As I take a sideways step, I look forward to having a little bit more time on my hands for my family.

Vanessa Gabriel