28 November 2017

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

As we progress towards the end of 2017 and the closure of the secondary school and boarding facilities at Shalom Christian College in Townsville, I want to update you on what is happening.

The Shalom Christian College Renewal Strategy was considered by the Synod Standing Committee in early November after an eight month, highly consultative process. The outcome is that the church will exit from the school and only primary education to be offered during 2018.

The work to come to this decision included significant stakeholder engagement with parents, community elders, community leaders, senior staff and the board of the College, other College staff (in respect of school culture) and the Independent Education Union among others.

After reviewing the findings and recommendations of the final comprehensive report received, the Synod Standing Committee made this heart-felt and extremely difficult decision; a decision which was only taken after all viable options were explored. The Uniting Church stepped in to save Shalom Christian College in 2013 after the previous owners, the Congress Community Development and Education Unit (CCDEU), went into voluntary administration. Since that time we have made a significant commitment to the students, staff and the school.

As an education provider, all our schools have an obligation under funding and accreditation regulations to provide a safe and productive learning environment and educational experience. It was the church’s hope that we could do this in an innovative way, building on the unique vision for the school. It is with deep regret that despite the personal commitment of passionate leaders and staff and significant investment over the past few years it became clear that we were unable to provide this for Shalom students.

Once this decision had been made the Synod office began to work on a plan to support students, their communities and the staff through the transition that would occur as a result. However an information leak from outside the Synod meant that the story broke in the Townsville Bulletin on Monday 20 November.

When we became aware that the decision to close the school would be published we worked quickly to put plans in place and contacted the Shalom Board and executive staff as well as the union and other key stakeholders. Unfortunately we did not have access to the staff and student databases and so the Synod Schools and Residential Colleges Commission executive officer Mark Bensley and I flew to Townsville on 19 November, ahead of the story breaking, to engage with the Board and meet with the school community. We made sure we met with Shalom staff and students as soon as possible on the Monday morning and heard their shock and pain.

Support services and pastoral care are being provided to staff and students and Synod office staff have worked tirelessly to provide transitional information and resources to staff, students and their families. Students and staff are being kept informed as a priority.

Assisting students

We are working with the Department of Education and Training (DET) who are providing support and transition service to ensure that every student has a school placement in 2018. An establishment package is being provided to state high schools to assist students and families with the transition. This package provides assistance for things like uniforms, books and appropriate support services at new schools.

In addition, the church is working with independent schools to maximise options for students. There are a number of open days organised for Shalom students to attend this week.

The Synod and DET Transition Support Services (which has staff in remote communities) are working with boarders, families and communities in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia (and relevant government bodies) to help make the transition as smooth as possible. We will continue this work with students over the summer holidays to finalise the transition and enrolment process.

Assisting staff

This week, with the assistance of key Shalom staff, we are finalising the staffing requirements to operate the primary school in 2018. This will give clarity to staff who will be made redundant and staff who may opt to take a voluntary redundancy.

We are working with the Independent Education Union (IEUA-QNT) in terms of the Shalom Enterprise Agreement and will ensure staff being made redundant have a common end date in January 2018 and the provision of counselling through our Employee Assistance Provider and an outplacement provider to support staff in transitioning to new employment through helping with resume writing, interview preparation and techniques etc.

All negotiations with staff are in accordance with the Enterprise Agreement.

We are also working with DET, the private school sector and the Uniting Church schools network to identify possible employment options.

Governance of the school

As part of the transition arrangement the Shalom Christian College Board has resigned and the Synod Schools and Residential Colleges Commission has taken over the governance responsibility for the school. We have thanked the Board for their service

We have recruited specialists to help manage the transition. Claire Pell, representing the Synod office, and Mark Bensley, the Synod Schools and Residential Colleges Commission executive officer, will be in Townsville to assist with the overall governance of the school in the short-term.

We are working to ensure that all the support and resources are provided to the school to provide the best educational outcomes for the school and primary students in 2018.

Please continue to uphold people whose lives have been disrupted in prayer. Pray that they may find new direction and new opportunities.

Rev David Baker