Dozens of teachers at one of Melbourne’s leading private girls' schools have been made redundant or have resigned in a bruising staff clean-out that has unsettled parents.
Shelford Girls Grammar, a 122-year-old Anglican school in Caulfield, will also shut its early learning centre and kindergarten at year's end, cutting off a crucial channel of future students for the high-fee school.
Year 12 students at Shelford Girls’ Grammar celebrate the end of the 2019 school year, before the school began a “difficult restructure”.
The school board is in damage-control mode, appointing an expert consultant to work with its first-year principal, Katrina Brennan, who has spearheaded the "difficult restructure".
Ms Brennan said 30 staff have been made redundant, including 17 at the early learning centre, while a further 10 had resigned for a range of personal reasons.
The school had a full-time equivalent staff of just 86 last year, its 2019 annual report shows.
Ms Brennan defended the changes she has driven at the school, saying they were "not unusual under a new leadership team with a forward focus" and were required to align staff with student preferences.
Shelford principal Katrina Brennan.
"While this is never a happy time, we have had great support from our parents and continuing staff to welcome 2021 as year of change with extended opportunities for our students and staff alike," she said.
Teachers who spoke to The Age said morale at the school was at rock-bottom and that a previously supportive workplace environment had become toxic.
"It's not a happy place compared to what it was 12 months ago," one teacher said. "So many long-serving staff members have gone and it's just been demoralising."
The school has told affected staff that the changes were being made in response to its deteriorating financial position.
"Change is required due to a loss of financial income for the school and the need to streamline the delivery of whole-school sport, health and PE programs and curriculum across the school," Shelford Girls Grammar said in internal correspondence seen by The Age.
But it has also given parents who have raised concerns about staff cuts a different message, telling them the school "is in a very sound financial position".
Zena Helman, the chair of Shelford's board, defended the restructure in a letter to parents, while conceding it has caused distress in the school community.
"As with other independent schools in Melbourne, this planning needed to be done in the new context of COVID and the impact it is having on us, our student families and international students, now and into the future," Ms Helman wrote on November 19.
"The impact has been significant and the board recognises that many members of staff who went through the redundancy process felt upset by it and that there are concerns amongst some parents,” she wrote.
The school has appointed Helen Goode, an expert in educational leadership and mentoring, as a consultant to Ms Brennan and her leadership team, Ms Helman told parents.
"With the help of Dr Goode, we are looking forward to putting the difficulties of 2020 behind us and heading into 2021 with an exciting vision for the school operating under the Shelford values of respect, nurture, community, care and inclusivity," she wrote.
Shelford Girls Grammar has a celebrated academic record, consistently achieving some of the best VCE results in the state.
The small prep-to-12 school, which had 515 enrolments last year, charges tuition fees of more than $27,000 a year for senior students and more than $37,000 for international students.
Parents said Shelford was an attractive school to send their daughters to because it has a supportive community and excellent teachers, despite lacking the top-shelf facilities of some high-fee competitors.
But they also expressed fears that the school's strong culture has been shattered in the restructure.
"The community is gone," one parent said.
Ms Helman acknowledged some parents were concerned but said she had also received many letters of support from parents regarding the restructure.
"Change is hard, but change is necessary for a progressive school," she said.
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