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WA Secondary Principal of the Year 2017

Armando Giglia, Butler College

When Armando Giglia smiles, and he frequently does, it’s impossible not to return the gesture. He’s instantly likeable and laughs readily – often at himself.

Yet he’s not ashamed to admit that there are days when his job as principal brings him to tears. A heartfelt thank-you letter he received recently from a student he had taught decades ago brought tears of gratitude.

Tears also fell when a troubled young refugee student at a previous school, who would only settle down by walking around the grounds with Armando, finally shared the gut-wrenching reality of war and confessed his parents had been murdered and he had killed to survive.

Armando is a big-hearted man and his deep-seated empathy for others is the foundation of everything he does as principal.

When he was offered the chance to take charge of the brand new Butler College five years ago, he opened the school with 290 students under three pillars that underpin every aspect of college life – knowledge, integrity and respect.

“The knowledge part is easy. We’re a school and I really believe we should always be learning – and challenging ourselves to do just that,” he says. “When staff or students do something, I want them to do it because it’s the right thing to do, nothing else, because it is right – that’s the integrity. Then there’s respect; you need to respect others if you are going to respect and believe in yourself.

“It goes back to the golden rule – treat others as you would like them to treat you. It’s a simple philosophy, but I’m simple, so I like that!” he laughs.

It’s true, there is a refreshing simplicity about the way Armando leads Butler College and ensures that its now almost 2000 students go from good things to great.

“I knew from the start our greatest strengths as a college would come from the relationships we develop and the people who make up our community,” he explains.

“To me the most important tool in a teacher’s arsenal is their interpersonal skills. You need very good interpersonal skills if you want to work here.

“It may sound like a cliché, but we’re a family. We always say to anyone ‘you walk through the college gates, you’re part of our family’. We treat everyone that way.”

With 38 years’ experience in Western Australian public schools, 16 of those as a principal, Armando has met the challenge of developing a truly inclusive school at Butler College, and at Mirrabooka Senior High School before that.

More than 200 teachers and nearly 80 education assistants take pride in the achievement of Butler College’s three pillars as much as they do in improved Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment results and impressive ATAR predictions for the college’s first graduating group of Year 12s this year.

Butler College board chair Mike Ellis says the strength of Armando as head of Butler College is his ability to attract and retain high quality staff.

“All bar one of the college’s original foundation staff have remained at the college and dozens are currently working on applications for Senior Teacher, Level 3 Classroom Teacher, and promotional positions as a result of Armando’s culture of continuous development and support for their careers,” Mike says.

Armando’s management skills were put to the test in 2015 when the college doubled in size.

The addition of more than 600 new students and the need to induct 70 new teachers and education assistants saw him safely guide the ‘Butler College family’ through significant and ongoing change.

“Using the experience of being a principal and on the WA Secondary School Executives Association management committee over numerous years, there have been many changes at the college during its first five years,” Mike says.

“All have been completed within budget and with the continued support of staff, students and families as reflected in our glowing community surveys.”

Armando explains that many students at Butler College have come from other lands and are torn between two cultures. More than 300 students have special needs and get additional help with their learning.

“Every single student has classes in our specialist education area so they are in close contact with our students with special needs. It builds understanding,” he says.

“It’s not a bad little place is it?” he laughs as he gazes around the expansive collection of buildings that make up Butler College. “The buildings are fantastic, but the people are better – I really mean that. The people inside are better.” 

Award sponsor

This award recognises the inspiring and challenging role of principals in secondary schools. They take the lead in bringing their schools and communities together, and are well respected by their colleagues. They guide staff and students with insight and inspiration.

The award category is for principals working in our secondary schools.

Saeed Amin, Broome Senior High School
Damian Shuttleworth, Carine Senior High School
Cheryl Townsend, Ballajura Community College

The WA Secondary Principal of the Year receives $25 000 (50% for professional development and 50% cash) and three finalists each receive $2500. See the terms and conditions for more information.