By Kirra Grimes

BASS Coast Specialist School students will benefit from a strong focus on independence and community connection this year, with a new leadership team to oversee a range of projects and educational initiatives designed to build skills for life.
After three years at the school, including a six-month stint as acting principal last year, Rob Sands has stepped up to the principal’s position permanently, replacing Edith Gray, who’s retired after five years in the role.
Hoping to continue the great work started by Edith, as well as explore a number of new long-term projects, Rob will be supported by a leadership team that includes a new middle school coordinator, Kathy Zacharopoulos, and a new senior school coordinator, Caroline Sibly.
Among the changes they’re most excited about is a $200,000 upgrade to the school playground, which will feature a range of new equipment and accessibility improvements, based on student surveys undertaken last year.
The curriculum itself will have a big focus on health and fitness, with a new sport and recreation program, led by Jack Malzinskas, designed to get students out into the community, making the most of the stunning natural environment of Bass Coast, through activities like surfing, rock climbing, hiking and sailing.
As well as the usual interschool sports, the school will also have a greater involvement with Wonthaggi Secondary College through sport and recreation activities, and these sorts of linkages with other schools are something Rob is keen to create a lot more of in the future.
He’s hoping students from other schools will join in on the school-based apprenticeship horticultural program being offered for the first time at the school this year, two days a week.
Involving a mix of physical and theory work, the program sees students paid the award wage for a horticulture trainee for the physical component – a great incentive for older students to come to school.
It’s a real win for the school to have the apprenticeship program on-site, as students previously had to travel to Pakenham to access similar training.
Another project in the works is a school veggie garden, with corresponding veggie box and cooking programs that would help increase parent and community involvement in the school, such as by exploring cultural diversity through food.
It’s all part of the school’s emphasis on student development and skills that can be used long after graduation.
“One big issue we see is, five years after school, some of our students spend very little time outside their own home,” Rob explained.
“So we’re really pushing independence and linking with other community organisations, as well as being prepared for employment – making sure the students leave school with a really clearly defined career path, whether that’s full time or part-time work or volunteering,” he said.