School and historic town evolve together to embrace innovative future

For over a century Kurri Kurri has been synonymous with coal mining in the Hunter Valley. It is a town with a rich and prosperous history, surrounded by the hugely productive South Maitland Coalfield, which at the advent of Federation was the richest coalfield in the Southern Hemisphere.

By the mid-1960’s the coal had all but run out and there came a period of mine closure, forcing Kurri Kurri to readjust. In the years that followed numerous light industries were established and ensured the town’s ongoing prosperity.

Today Kurri Kurri’s growth is based on community development. Numerous festivals have begun, and Tidy Town competitions won. It’s also become colloquially known as ‘the town of murals’, with over 60 outdoor public artworks on display.

The growth and sense of community in Kurri Kurri is mirrored by the local Holy Spirit Primary School. The school has many achievements to its name, most recently being its National Assessment Program - Literary and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results.

Holy Spirit principal, Paul O'Heir, said the town’s modest beginnings had mistakenly led many to consider the school to be an underdog when it came to the national testing regime.

”We’re delighted by the results,” Mr O’Heir said. “Our progress reflects the emphasis we place on positive behaviour for learning (PBL) and our belief that all students can achieve."

The principal explained Holy Spirit students are given the opportunity to have input into their learning and, based on feedback from their teachers, empowered to set personal goals.

“This approach ensures they are clear on what is expected of them, and they thrive on this ownership”, Mr O’Heir said.

The school’s classroom teachers are supported by a Student Support team, including a learning support teacher, school psychologist and a pastoral care worker.

With a hydrogen hub proposed for Kurri Kurri, the next stage of development in the Lower Hunter township will be very different from the coal-fuelled growth experienced in the 20th century.

Meanwhile though, the positive evolution of Holy Spirit Primary School will also continue as it benefits from the implementation of new data collection systems introduced by the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

The data analytics provide insights into trends in student outcomes and are designed to inform teacher planning.

“It will be another valuable tool in assisting our staff to identify students that may benefit from additional support as well as those require who may benefit from extension tasks to ensure they are appropriately challenged,” Mr O’Heir said.

Despite the benefits of modern reporting systems Mr O’Heir insists the school will always remain data informed, and not data driven.

“Just as you should never underestimate the resilience of the Kurri Kurri community, you can never replace the power of a strong interpersonal relationship in a student’s educational journey,” he said.

NAPLAN results in focus 

In 2021, 66 per cent of Holy Spirit’s year five students achieved well above average progress in numeracy compared to students of a similar background who had the same starting score.

Holy Spirit’s average year five student result in writing was 486, above the average result of 471 for students with a similar background and compared to 480 across Australia.


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