Founding a school ‘like climbing a mountain’

Peter SweeneyGeraldton Guardian
Sheila Flanagan outside the library which bears her name at Geraldton Grammar School.
Camera IconSheila Flanagan outside the library which bears her name at Geraldton Grammar School. Credit: Peter Sweeney

A frustrated husband — sick of listening to his wife complain of families having to leave Geraldton to educate children or send them away to boarding schools in Perth — verbally challenged his wife.

“Why don’t you do something about it?” Sheila Flanagan was told in the early 1990s.

So Mrs Flanagan — who had left a senior teaching role at a grammar school in north Sydney and moved to Geraldton — did.

A dream started, and so did action.

A book can be written behind the beginning of anything, and you could almost fill a whole library writing about how a senior secondary school got off the ground.

The library at Geraldton Grammar School is named after Mrs Flanagan.

That suggests she was a powerhouse behind the school, which began in 1996 with 56 students from kindergarten to Year 8.

Last Friday, Mrs Flanagan — recently back in WA after eight years “living the dream” of running a bookshop in her native Ireland — was the guest speaker at the secondary school presentation at Geraldton Grammar School.

“This school was a great part of my life for 15 years. Thank you for inviting me,” Mrs Flanagan said to a standing-room-only audience.

She compared the foundation of the school to climbing a mountain.

“If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, you will know when you stand at the bottom you see what you think is the peak and you think ‘I can reach that’,” she said.

“When you get there, you realise there is another peak beyond it, and another and another . . . and that it is very hard work to get to the top.

“So it’s just as well you only see the first before you start.

“Another part of climbing a mountain is teamwork. Only the very foolish would ever attempt to climb alone.

“And you have to hope to reach the summit and believe that you can do it.

“These were the first key ingredients of the foundation of the school — a great team inspired by the hope and belief they would make it to the top.”

Luckily, Mrs Flanagan found others who shared her view and wanted to scale the same peaks, believing a grammar school was needed in Geraldton.

“The Mid West Development Commission put a committee together to investigate the potential support for a new school and gave us $5000,” she told students.

“The Australian Bureau of Statistics put together a survey which was sent to every house from Northampton to Dongara, and when the forms were returned we felt there was enough support to get going.

“We held a public meeting and at the end of it, John Royce came up to me and said ‘I want to work in that school’. And he was the first teacher appointed. He shared the dream from the very beginning, and every time you sing the school song, you sing his words celebrating that dream.

“That was in 1992, and the school opened its doors in January, 1996.

“The dream was born — a dream to build in Geraldton a wonderful school.

“This beautiful school with its strong academic rigour, its wonderful pastoral care, its committed teachers and supportive parents, its sense of community, its belief in possibility, and with all the opportunities, it offers you to grow and learn and be the best that you can be.”

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