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  What Works - The Work Program

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Developing the ideas

Douglas Melville continues:

Early on, we made links with the Polly Farmer Foundation. They had the Gumala Mirnuwarni program running in Karratha, and we took notice of that. I was chasing something that would be fully integrated in the mainstream school.

Then I went to various community groups like Rotary to ask them for their support. I was asking them whether they would take these kids on and give them some mentoring while they were on their way through school. Actually, I asked anyone who would listen.

The level of acceptance from Rotary was very high, and I think it fitted well with their ethos of serving the community. At one meeting I went to, they were immediately prepared to offer sponsorship. There were others as well, and it was significant because we found that there were lots of little contributors out there who were prepared to back a good idea. That’s in the metropolitan area, of course. Out where the big miners operate, the Polly Farmer Foundation has been able to attract support from them, but you can’t do that in the city.

So our plan had to have elements concerned with parents, with community and with an appropriate structure in the schools. I was thinking about how to structure it to reflect everyone’s needs and what was then really critical was that you have to make all those people feel empowered. But, at the same time, you don’t want any one group overriding the others.

And that’s why I came up with the balanced idea of an Operations Group, a Steering Committee and a Host School.

It’s still really complex because every site is totally different. And you need to have the acceptance by the community, by the school staff and by the kids, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. That was why we had to have some lead-in time for each site. But they all have the same, balanced management structure.

There’s a full time coordinator at each Host School, but a Host School might have students coming there from a number of neighbouring schools. Actually, we encourage the Follow the Dream Learning Centre to be on campus so that it’s easier to access facilities, but in some places they’ve preferred an off-campus site.
The coordinator has a number of support mechanisms. The first is the Operations Group, which consists of the education professionals, including principals and experienced teachers. They use strategic directions from the Steering Committee to provide operational support to the coordinator and the program.

For example, the Operations Group handles the process of selecting students. Essentially they put together the nomination list, do all the vetting and each kid is selected ‘blind’. In other words, they are selected (or not) purely on the basis of objective, anonymous data.

The coordinator’s line manager is the principal of the school, but because it’s very easy for them to become isolated from their teaching colleagues, the Operations Group helps keep up that professional dialogue.

Now, when you open a site up you call for nominations for an interim Steering Committee. Nominations are from people in the Aboriginal community, and it’s part of the coordinator’s job to identify the key people and negotiate with them. Later, the Steering Committee is elected more formally. Other local partners (such as businesses or service clubs) are also represented. That’s especially true in the north of the state, where the Polly Farmer Foundation and business partners are more common.

So, the Steering Committee deals more with policies and community input.

I think one of the most important things in this program is that it sits alongside the school and it is hosted by the school, but it doesn’t belong to the school. The coordinator is the link and the supports are the Operations Group, the Steering Committee and any other private partners. One of the problems in the early days was to make sure that that model was accepted by principals, because they naturally tended to want to absorb it into their school.

So this structure gives the program a degree of autonomy. You have to give the coordinators that and principals have realised now that they don’t own Follow the Dream, but that at the same time it can be enormously beneficial for their school.

The Steering Committee…

…has responsibility for, and governance of, Follow the Dream and its activities, including

  • goals and directions;
  • admission of new Partners;
  • Follow the Dream plans, structures and processes;
  • monitoring Follow the Dream budget; and
  • ensuring community ownership in partnership with stakeholders.


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