The incredible generosity of both her school community and neighbouring schools has been a shining light for Melville Primary School principal Betty McNeill following a deliberately lit fire which damaged part of the school over the holidays.
The fire started in a locked courtyard before spreading into a classroom and an activity area. Three nearby classrooms were damaged by smoke and water, and one classroom was severely damaged.
It wasn’t the news any principal wants to hear over the holidays, but it didn’t keep Ms McNeill and her staff from ensuring there would be no disruption for the 677 students arriving on the first day of term.
“It was upsetting when we first heard about the fire but there has been an amazing amount of work done during the holidays. We have a great community here, and great collegiality among our staff so everybody has been pulling together, especially over the last week,” Ms McNeill told the ABC this week.
“All four classes had to be moved out of the damaged block. We’ve got two classes in the library, one in the music room and one in our science room. Music lessons will be held in our staff room and our lovely science teacher will go around the classes to teach.
“The support we’ve received extends beyond our immediate community. I’ve had offers of help from all around Perth.
“Our neighbouring school community, Palmyra Primary School, has been wonderful. They had a collection and presented us with $1100 in cash because they understand what it’s like for a teacher to lose their resources and one of our teachers did lose everything.”
While repairs to the damaged area of the school may take up to four months to complete, Ms McNeill is confident the adjustment to arrangements will be swift and students will be happy in their new temporary classrooms.
She said two groups of Year 2 students will be learning together in the library.
“There will be 44 students in Year 2 who will have two teachers working together in the library. Some will be doing desk work while others will do mat work or small group work,” she said.
“Our library is lovely and big so there is plenty of space for them. When they do get to go back into their classrooms, they might like the arrangements to stay the same!”
Ms McNeill, who has been principal at the school for 10 years, said her staff were excited about the year ahead.
“This is a fabulous school; very community minded and supportive,” she said. “We have an excellent mix of teachers, some just starting out in their careers and others who have been in the profession for 35 years. I’ve also got an excellent group of male teachers, amazing education assistants and many requests to join our team because of the respect and relationships that we build here as well as requests from parents to send their children here.”