Yirara College chairman responds to reports, questions


Sir – The Executive Director of the Lutheran Schools Association has referred to me a series of statements and questions that [Alice Springs News Online editor] Erwin Chlanda sent to him in an email.
I have reviewed and considered this communication as well as Mr Chlanda’s recent published stories relating to Yirara.
Like any school, Yirara College will not disclose or comment publicly on the details of incidents, complaints, investigations or personnel matters.
However, a few points do need to be made. We understand and accept unreservedly that there is and always will be different perspectives among some staff and indeed the community on some matters and the way that they are managed.
Neither the staff nor the Committee of Management shy from the challenges that confront a unique and important education environment such as Yirara.
Working at the College is both rewarding and challenging. The task is not for everyone. Indeed, some staff leave feeling extremely frustrated and disappointed. This is not a new development.
Yirara operates within the national curriculum framework and is funded predominantly by the Federal and Territory governments. All of the government funding that the College receives complies with the relevant Territory or Federal program and all is invested in our students.
Unfortunately due to a myriad of complexities we are not able to obtain funding for all students enrolled, they attend anyway. It is specious and mischievous to criticise our NAPLAN results or our funding levels when compared to other schools that operate in a more typical educational setting.
What we do share with all schools is dedication to connect students in a practical and useful way with the world in which they will live. Yirara is very important in the lives of many Indigenous students.
Our students are engaged with programs such as music, media and communication, hairdressing, cooking and baking, pottery, woodwork, crafts, sport, helping with school maintenance and catering as well as VET training, school based apprenticeships and work experience with Alice Springs organisations such as the hospital, Bunnings, McDonalds and Agrifoods plus many other life skill activities.
Many Yirara students go on to contribute positively in their local and the wider communities. Recent past students work on cattle stations, as trainee butchers, sportspeople, musicians, baggage handlers, translators, in community services, hospitality, tourism, as well as contributing to community and family as parents and role models. The Committee of Management, which is responsible for the College, comprises volunteers from the community who are committed to helping improve the lives of Indigenous youth.
Our backgrounds include skills and experience with teaching and living in remote communities, culture, commerce, education and pastoral support as well as the finance, governance and risk expertise required for a school such as Yirara.
Yirara College staff are appropriately qualified, valued and supported. They, in turn, are genuinely committed and work very hard. Our staff have a wealth of applicable experience including living, teaching and / or working in bush communities.
Among them are six Indigenous staff. We are thankful for the commitment of all staff and all volunteers that contribute to Yirara and to the families and students which we serve.
Yirara College welcomes constructive engagement with the media and the community. We accept reasoned criticism and suggestions via appropriate channels including to the College Executive, the Indigenous Advisory Council or the Committee of Management / Finke River Mission Board.
We believe strongly that a boarding experience is the most effective environment for learning and growth for many Indigenous students. We assure our families and the community that we will continue to strive diligently to provide a safe and caring learning environment.
Tim Stollznow
Chairman, Committee of Management
Yirara College


  1. Tim Stollznow, I write to highlight a structural / financial problem in the way that the college operates. 200 students came into the college at the start of the year.
    How many remain there? I hear 60 but what ever the exact figure it is less than half of those who arrived there just a few months ago.
    The departure of so many students in such a short time has created a number of traumas.
    Some of the departed students didn’t want to be there, others couldn’t stand the discipline, were not up to the work and some were teased and others got into fights.
    Teachers dealt with these students as best they could and tried to keep the others in check at the same time. It wasn’t easy.
    Looking back now, would it not have been better to screen the 200 initial students more closely, to discuses their prospects with the local schools and parents?
    I well understand why Yirara grabbed every student it could, the money on offer based on enrolment and 200 students is a windfall. But it ensured failure.
    I suggest that you consider downsizing student intake and college expenditure and focus on running a smaller, much more workable institution,
    Aboriginal eduction is all about relationships, so smaller is more intimate is much more productive.

  2. Tim why can’t you face up to the fact that Yirara has problems? The students coming in do not have the ability to participate in apprenticeship courses.
    If they are doing something like the radio course offered go and see what they do – play on I-pads and maybe have the occasional trip to the radio station.
    I see that the education department is talking about direct learning programmes. Perhaps Yirara should get its head out of the sand, stop fobbing criticism off and try and see a way forward.

  3. Tim. Your letter explains nothing about the plan to make things better and ensure safety to students and staff.
    Your letter explains how Yirara should be, but not the reality. As for going through the proper channels for communication, we all know that is a waste of time.

  4. Tim Stollznow, your letter to the editor does not reflect on any of the concerns raised by a series of articles in the Alice Springs News Online other than to presume that “some staff leave feeling extremely frustrated and disappointed”. I presume that there were extensive exit interviews granted to those who left. If the only insight is that “this is not a new development”, perhaps not much was learnt.
    In none of the News articles does anyone raise any concern about the infrastructure or levels of current staff commitment to the education of indigenous students at Yirara. My understanding is that there are those with some experience of Yirara who were concerned that student behavioural issues were a serious impediment to the success of any program.
    This should not be surprising. The problem of teaching indigenous students does not start at Yirara. It starts on communities. It starts with families.
    We are working on a poorly understood cultural interface. Instead of accessing the work of linguists, anthropologists and the experience of those who have lived on remote communities for extensive periods of time – we ignore them.
    Why? Because it’s too hard? Because we would be exposed to conflicting views? Because there may be revelations about indigenous cultures that conflict with the “caring / sharing / peaceful / hard-done by / can do no wrong” etc image we know so well? Let’s try to find and ask the core questions. Let’s accept that the cultural differences impact profoundly on our teaching practice. Let’s learn how to work with the difference so that our students, who are just as smart as any other students, can move beyond the current stalemate.
    Our students are exposed to adult behaviours.
    Our students are largely unsupervised on the community.
    Our students are autonomous individuals with high levels of independence and few, if any, boundaries.
    Our students are sovereign within their own cultural domain and when they come to school they must learn to act as a member of groups – to participate as a whole school, a whole class or in smaller groups, to follow discussion on new and foreign topics and to follow directions in a foreign language, to sit still, to  work independently on tasks, to resist distraction or distracting, to resist teasing, to control the impulse to fight when teased, to leave another’s work alone, to control the need to steal classroom resources, to share resources impartially, to accept that the tutor cannot do your work for you and then have you claim it as your own, to learn mainstream cultural mores and manners, to learn to defer gratification and to do it all in English – a foreign language.
    What is world’s best practice in foreign language acquisition? Which country has the highest success in creating opportunities for minority groups to learn the language of the dominant culture?
    Why are we persisting in pretending that English is known and understood at a higher level than it actually is? Why aren’t we creating assessment procedures to test this?
    Why do we think mandating use of main stream programs across all schools is going to solve the problem?
    How much English is actually heard and understood in the classroom?
    Mr. Stollznow, if your response is all you feel is necessary then no amount of money, nor modelling, nor service delivery, nor gifting is going to “close the gap”.

  5. Yirara needs accept students without racial filters.
    Yirara should accept students who reside wherever secondary education is not available in the NT, then from elsewhere.
    Yirara needs use independent entry testing to ensure ALL students meet required basic level competence in English, numeracy, reading and writing.
    Ensuring ALL students achieve this level remains primary task for pre-secondary schools, TESL specialist units, and each students extended families.
    It is not Yirara’s fault students fail to reach this level.
    Sadly of those who today may fail such tests, even tests for driving licences, until they fail such tests, they see little need to pass them. Only such failures creates for them a purpose to educate themselves.
    Yirara needs to REJECT students without basic competence in mathematics, oral and written English.
    Such assessments were central to progress previously, and needs to be again.
    Yirara only then can concentrate on ensuring students they accept can achieve their potentials.
    At least next decade NT requires regular TESL specialist testing in almost every school to ensure all children achieve basic English competence.
    Students who fail basic secondary entry tests, need be given specialist intensive courses to where they achieve basic secondary entry level, or chose other more practical careers, whether such courses in their communities, or elsewhere depends upon student numbers.
    Commonwealth acting as puppet master keeping NTG and others dancing, must accept its responsibility.
    Commonwealth needs support these TESL programs. Apply Centrelink requirements for those whose basic education levels were not achieved previously so definitely provided opportunity to catch up.
    Commonwealth, NT Government and other states, all need review apprenticeship training, how such best applied to widen opportunities
    Students not seeking to close the gap through equality of opportunity to improve themselves shall then be dealt with in other ways.

  6. Attendance at Yirara has to become an ambition, not an unappreciated gift.
    The current process where liaison officers go out to communities and sign up every student they can by sweet talking parents, going into primary schools, promising sports and fun and leveraging the Christian credentials of the College must stop.
    Yirara College needs to be a school that Aboriginal students aspire to attend and work hard to get into it and stay there.

  7. Re:Jeff Posted March 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm
    With slight change, I agree.
    Yirara College needs to be a school that NT rural students aspire to attend, and work hard to get into it and stay there.


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