After 27 years of service, Dr Mark Sly, founding Principal at leading Gold Coast private school Coomera Anglican College, has passed this prestigious role to a new Principal. We were delighted to sit down with Mr Patrick Innes-Hill to chat about his new role at this leading Gold Coast private school, the bold ambitions of the College and why Terry Pratchett is the best author ever published.
What tempted you to accept the Principalship at Coomera Anglican College?
I feel deeply privileged to be taking on the role of Principal of Coomera Anglican College. It is an excellent school with still more potential, and I am incredibly excited to be able to be part of the next chapter in this unique school’s development. I’d known of Coomera Anglican College as a fellow APS (Associated Private School) when I was head of Emmanuel College. Emmanuel played sports against Coomera, and I worked on the APS committee with Dr Sly [founding Principal at Coomera Anglican College]. I’d been impressed by Coomera’s capacity to offer a genuinely holistic education at a very high standard throughout that period—that successful balance between sports, arts and academics, and personal development and spiritual development. For me, that equilibrium is at the heart of excellent education.
So that was part of it. The other part is that it’s an Anglican school, and I’m Anglican. In southeast Queensland, Anglicanism is an incredibly inclusive expression of the Christian faith. That’s my instinct, my heart and my background.
What makes a good Gold Coast private school great?
When it comes to what makes a difference to a school, schools have to care about the children first as whole people, not just as NAPLAN results or ATAR results, but as whole people.
A happy child will be a better sportsperson, a better musician, a better academic, and most importantly for me, a better future citizen and contributor to society.
I have a vision of a school that strives to nurture young adults who want to and can make a real difference in the world—young adults filled with what one of my educational heroes (Kurt Hahn) lists as: “an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial, and above all, compassion”.
What are your plans for the future of Coomera Anglican College?
I want to build on that tradition of excellence and holistic education simultaneously. It’s a very privileged position because I’ve got the bedrock of an outstanding school here. So I can build on that bedrock.
That will involve looking at our programs to ensure we are offering the best and investing in wellbeing within the school.
We also have some ambitious plans in place. We are just about to start stage two of our master plan, which is the building of a large secondary building that will contain communal spaces, a canteen, and a coffee shop, which will make the parents (and me) very happy! It will include a newly designed library which houses our history and languages departments and a bigger, more flexible library space, each on separate floors. It will contain a new tech study space for esports, film, television and ICT. And then, in the middle, there’ll be a 500-seat theatre-come-lecture theatre, which will become our main hall for house meetings, assemblies and such.
It also contains enough classrooms for us to expand to the size we want—between 1,500 and 1,600.
Due to the location of the new building, there will be a flow-on effect for other facilities at the school that are currently in the way. So we’re building new basketball and netball courts and a new art department.
We aim to have stage two of the master plan completed by around October 2024.
What does the tagline ‘Proud Tradition, Bold Ambition’ refer to?
‘Proud tradition’ refers to Coomera Anglican College being part of the wider Anglican schools network and tapping into the wisdom of the APS group. It is a strong tradition of how you treat people and also how you educate them. And I’m delighted to be part of that.
But also in that, there is security for parents. Coomera Anglican College is a sibling of other Anglican schools, and it means that we, as heads, meet together and share information and ideas, which should bring added confidence. That’s a tradition we are very proud to be part of.
Coomera is one of the fastest-growing suburbs of the Gold Coast. It’s a suburb of young families looking to the future, asking, “What’s coming next?” and asking, “How can we equip our kids for the future?” And that’s our bold ambition: to nurture young people who will go on and be the change-makers and leaders of the future, using the skills they’ve learned here. Hence, a whole area of the new building is dedicated to ICT-related future-focused subjects.
And what is essential to get right is the point where tradition and ambition meet: nurturing the whole child. Yes, our future citizens will need to be ICT savvy, but they’ll also need collaborative, creative and empathetic work skills. Instilling these skills also taps into the ethics of an Anglican school. Anglican schools have always sought to produce excellence in young people and nurture empathetic, collaborative graduates who aim to solve problems of the future. It’s this area of equipping students with the skills they need and the qualities that the future will need.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Family is really important to me. I have a lovely wife who is a school counsellor at another school. And she was previously a head teacher in Scotland, so she gets what I’m doing. I have two grown-up kids: my oldest works in an ICT department at another school, and my daughter works in the Department of Community Development for the New Zealand government in Wellington. So, we spend a lot of our free time with our kids. And when I’m not with the kids, I either go scuba diving, go into the hills to hike and bird watch or read obsessively.
What defines a Coomera student?
I’m going to answer that in two parts. What defines a Coomera student whilst they are still at school is—and I’ve experienced this firsthand when arriving here—they are incredibly warm and genuine young people. They’re an absolute delight to spend time with. There’s a friendliness and acceptance amongst them, which is astonishing and humbling to an old bloke like me. So they’re just really lovely kids, and that’s testimony to the staff and their families and that kind of partnership work that happens within our community.
What defines them when they leave Coomera? The former students that I’ve met (and I’ve met quite a lot) show the same characteristics.
They’re still really warm, friendly people, but they also demonstrate a desire to make a positive difference in the world. And that’s my ambition for our kids—that they leave equipped and also wanting to make the world a better place.
A student with academic skills needs to know how to convert that into something which benefits others. And that’s where holistic teaching comes in.
Coomera Anglican College is well known as one of the best Gold Coast private school. But can you tell us a secret about the College that our readers won’t know?
I only discovered once I got to the College that it has the most fabulously open, creative, friendly, and dedicated staff I have ever encountered in a school.
They deserve all the credit here; they are just extraordinary people.
Fundamental to anything I do here is making the staff at the school feel valued because they are critical to what we’re trying to achieve here. The dedication and warmth of the staff here are unparalleled.
Several teachers have been here for over 20 years, leading to a remarkable continuity of care for students. That is a massive strength of the school that needs to be more well-known.
CONTACT COOMERA ANGLICAN COLLEGE
- How long have you been teaching?
- What was your previous role?
Head of Cape Byron Rudolf Steiner School, Principal at Emmanuel and Josiah Colleges on the Gold Coast
- Where were you born?
- What are your hobbies?
Swimming, scuba diving, hiking, mountain biking
- What is your favourite book?
Terry Pratchett’s books are my favourite escape because they’re simultaneously ridiculous and funny. I like detective novels too!
- What is your favourite thing to do at school?
I love it when my EA isn’t looking, and I can sneak out the back door and go and kick a football around at break time.
- What is your favourite sports team?
Aston Villa Football Club in the English Premier League.