With a determination to support young people needing a positive alternative to mainstream education, Tom Witenden has found a perfect fit as principal of Cire Community School Berwick.
He says the opening of Cire’s coeducational secondary campus at Berwick at the start of 2021 is particularly exciting because it provides access to the only specialist school of its kind in the City of Casey and the surrounding region.
With established campuses at Yarra Junction and Mount Evelyn, Cire Community School is a choice for young people who are at risk of disengaging from their schooling or have already done so. Cire is a recognised leader in the specialist education sector with its trauma-informed approach.
Tom is passionate about holistic education that has an evidence-based approach catering to the individual needs of each student and the social, emotional and behavioural aspects of their development.
“Cire Community school was a natural fit for me as it really ties in with my core values of assisting those who are most vulnerable to make positive changes. As an independent school of choice, Cire provides an educational setting that enables young people to develop the skills and self-awareness to make positive contributions to their communities,” Tom explains.
Cire enjoys a strong track record for engaging students who have previously struggled in mainstream settings due to a raft of different reasons. Some have not attended school for up to 18 months or more before enrolling at Cire. Successful outcomes include students transitioning to TAFE and further education, employment including apprenticeships and traineeships, and returning to mainstream school.
With specialist wellbeing teams and dedicated staff on each campus, each student is respected as an individual with unique needs. Each student has an individual learning plan to enable them to achieve at their own pace and in their own way.
Cire’s campuses offer a welcoming and inclusive environment to ensure students have a sense of belonging, purpose and growth, and are supported in their learning, wellbeing and life goals.
According to Tom, vulnerable students and their families find it increasingly difficult to navigate “mainstream education”. Cire provides viable options and realistic career pathways that may not have been accessible or available in the past.
“Previous generations have been let down by a lack of understanding and a lack of options, and it is the alternative educational settings that we see today that are ensuring that these same patterns are not repeated.”
Tom finds it extremely rewarding, both professionally and personally, to see young people make positive changes which in turn give them options that they may not have had if they had continued on their original trajectory.
“It is wonderful to see the difference this can make to families, and the joy, and relief, to see their child develop and grow with optimism for a positive future,” adds Tom.
“It is such a pleasure to hear from families, particularly at the end of the year, about how their children have progressed since being part of an alternative educational setting. Often there is a proclamation of disbelief that schools like this exist, why they are not more common, or how they wished they had found the school sooner.”
Originally pursuing a career in Finance, Tom soon recalibrated to requalify and find his niche in specialist education. An initial setting that catered for children with ADHD, high functioning ASD and other associated social, emotional and behavioural challenges confirmed he had made the right decision.
“The most important aspect of a career is to feel as though you are making a positive contribution, and education provides me with that opportunity. Seeing young people develop, grow, make positive changes and then step out into society with a sense of purpose and meaning is extremely rewarding,” Tom says.
“When we talk about positive outcomes for students, nothing is more satisfying than seeing a young adult turn up early at school one morning, after they have graduated, in a crisp, clean work uniform, smiling from ear to ear, so proud that they are ready to start their first day as a new apprentice, chef, or whatever it may be. Thinking back to where these students have come from, it is the reason teachers do what they do.”
Cire’s new Berwick campus benefits from the supporting infrastructure and networks of Cire Services Inc., one of the largest not-for-profits in the Yarra Ranges and unique to the region.
In addition to the Community School, Cire’s core operations are Children’s Services which includes long daycare and integrated and other family support services, Community Hubs, and Training; an award-winning Registered Training Organisation (RTO).
Another article worth reading about our Berwick campus – Cire Community School Expands to Berwick
Click here to find out more about Cire Community School.