19 October 2023

Teacher Awards 2023: Laura State School principal wins big

| Chisa Hasegawa
Start the conversation
Melissa Shepherd is standing and holding a book up to students sitting on the undercover area floor. She is wearing a long black dress with yellow details, a black cardigan and black sandals. Next to her is another woman wearing a blue button down, black pants and black enclosed shoes.

Principal Melissa Shepherd won the Leadership Award for Driving School Improvement for her commitment to the students at Laura State School.

Laura State School principal Melissa Shepherd took out the Leadership Award for Driving School Improvement at this year’s Teacher Awards after two and a half years at the school.

The school improvement category is one of eight at the Teacher Awards, and celebrates a leader or leadership team that has excelled in creating, implementing and driving school improvement plans.

Laura State School teacher Sam Simmonds said Ms Shepherd was an incredible leader deserving of the award.

“She’s extremely supportive and fosters a growth mindset in her staff in linking education to a local and cultural context to support students,” he said.

“She goes the extra mile and is the best mentor I’ve had so far in my teaching career.”

Ms Shepherd, who has been in the education industry for over 30 years, recognised that students at Laura needed “genuine and substantiative” engagement with their local community on the path to success.

“I set about to more actively involve parents, families and community leaders to co-create a culturally appropriate learning environment,” she explained.

The school has collaborated in a groundbreaking research project entitled ‘Digitising the Deep Past: Machine Learning, Rock Art and Indigenous Engagement with 21st Century Technology’ with Griffith University and the local Indigenous Laura Land and Sea Rangers, to explore the link between school education and culture.

Group photo of the students with local Indigenous rangers.

Community engagement is important for the students at Laura State School, who have learned from local Indigenous rangers in a culturally safe education environment.

She also implemented changes to improve attendance, set a culture of high expectations and success for every student and develop a school-wide curriculum and reading program.

Since then, student have become engaged with their own learning and goal setting and attendance has improved, supporting not only academic but also emotional and social learning.

“I believe that we have developed a positive and supportive school culture. Students are settled and happy and show a desire to succeed in all areas of their day.”

But the planning doesn’t stop after an award, Ms Shepherd said, who is already thinking about future changes and ways to continue improving the school.

She’d like the students to learn outside of the classroom by implementing a recycling program and even installing an outdoor kitchen to complement the recently completed veggie garden.

Students sit at their desks with laptops open in front of them.

Students and staff have been working to implement technology into their learning.

She also plans to continue collaborating with teachers to review and update the curriculum, encourage innovative teaching methods and integrate technology into learning.

“It was my priority to engage them in planning and implementing the change. Most importantly I feel is acknowledging and celebrating the milestone achievements related to the change to maintain motivation and morale,” she said.

She commended the work of her staff, who “go above and beyond for the students” every day.

“Most importantly, this award was not just about me, but about the small amazing and supportive team we have here at Laura State School. Without their commitment and enthusiasm, none of this would be possible.”

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.