Head of a world-leading school

As Principal at Glenunga International High School in Adelaide, Wendy Johnson AM has taken an underperforming high school to a campus regularly listed among the nation’s top 100 schools and one which is internationally accredited as world-leading by the Council of International Schools and the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

When Wendy Johnson AM (BA ’80, MEdAdmin ’92) started as Principal at Glenunga International High School in 2008, over 50% of its students’ results in the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) were below state average and showed little signs of improving. Now, Glenunga sets the standards for other schools to aspire to and Glenunga’s international accreditation puts it amongst the best schools in the world.

She worked with the leadership team to encourage teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and to use the best research findings to inform their teaching. She developed strong student leadership and now all students have a voice in relation to their learning and the school’s strategic directions. Her efforts have paid dividends.

“My goal is to transform our school from a 20th century model of delivery to a student-centred 21st century model,” she says. “I want to create a great school that is measured in terms of improved student learning and wellbeing outcomes.”

Since 2009 the school has experienced a 20% lift in its students’ A grades and a 20% decrease in failing grades. Between 2011 and 2014, enrolments at the school rose by 20%, and are now at capacity. The number of sports teams, student-led lunchtime clubs and other extra-curricular activities has tripled.

Wendy credits her studies at Flinders University as the foundation for her outstanding teaching and administrative skills in education. She says her experiences in Drama and English at Flinders stimulated her thinking through reading great texts and engaging in robust conversations, and she cherished the joy of expressing herself through dance and drama performances.

Following her degree at Flinders she achieved a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Adelaide in 1984, and a Graduate Diploma in Educational Counselling in 1985 from UniSA.

Later, studying a Master of Educational Administration at Flinders, Wendy’s progressive thinking was further fuelled. “It provided the systems thinking, understanding and research background that was ideally suited for the role of a Principal,” she says.

In June 2018, Wendy was seconded by the Minister for Education to undertake a review to ensure the state has the most outstanding and highly regarded SACE possible. Remarkably, she completed this review with 16 recommendations within 10 weeks working closely with Professor Martin Westwell.

She is particularly proud of being the only SA representative and only current principal on the Gonski Review panel, commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Education in 2017. Recommendations from its report – Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools – have been adopted by state jurisdictions and she is pleased that it provides a strong pathway for future learning.

Wendy Johnson AM was awarded a 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award for her distinguished leadership and contribution to the local, state and national public education system. In June 2021 her significant service to secondary education in South Australia was recognised with a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

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