Since he arrived at Preshil, principal Josh Brody has been listening and learning. He’s had lunch with every Year 12 student and is now meeting the Year 11s. Eventually, he’ll speak with every student at the school.
He also wants to hear the thoughts and ideas of everyone working at the school and get to know the parents and explore ways in which they can become more deeply involved in school life.
“My initial impressions of Preshil are that it creates a culture where students feel very much accepted,” he says.
“Students are really able to be themselves at Preshil and there is a wonderful feeling of inclusivity. Students feel a great deal of ownership and they feel very invested in their school and what they do here.”
Before arriving at Preshil, Brody spent 20 years leading Sequoyah, a progressive school in Pasadena, California.
He founded its high-school division and says Sequoyah shares many similarities with Preshil in terms of its project-based, hands-on learning and focus on diversity, equiry and inclusion.
“Schools are fascinating and complex places and I’ve spent my initial period as principal meeting with students, staff and parents because I want to understand this school from many different perspectives,” he says.
“I’ve been asking students about themselves and their interests inside and outside school.
“We’ve chatted about the things they love about Preshil, ways in which the school can keep improving, and they’ve told me what they think I should think about as principal. That has all been very valuable information.”
Continuing Preshil’s strong sense of community is a priority, and Brody hopes parents with particular skills or passions – from foraging to architectural drawing – will continue to share their interests during lunchtime sessions with students.
“We’re looking for opportunities for parents to connect to the school in ways that are meaningful,” Brody says.
“We’ve also started a Sustainable Campus Committee to look at how we use resources and we have a lot of parents who are passionate about that.
“We’re also looking at forming a Parent Education Committee to help parents connect to how we work with students. As a progressive school, offering all three International Baccalaureate programs from K-12, we want to demonstrate to our community how conceptually driven learning can embrace a hands-on learning approach.
“Like many schools around the world, we are coming out of htis pandemic that disrupted how schools operate.
“We’re thinking about ways to re-engage, communicate and build our community to bring people in. A school works best when it is engaging the community.”
Brody is also keen to broaden the focus on social innovation and to help students work on real-world problems that matter to them. For example, business management students have recently worked with him on a marketing project to investigate what understanding there is of Preshil, both internally and externally, and how that understanding can be lifted. Preshil offers Creativity and Innovation Scholarships for students entering at year 7 and 11.
“Students understand that Preshil is the oldest progressive school in Australia, but they very much see it as a school for the future because it gives students agency and helps them understand the complexities in the world,” Brody says.
“They realise they are in a complicated world that changes and has challenges, and they feel their school prepares them for that world.
“Parents have also told us that their children are excited. to come to school each day. When you have a student excited to be here, and they have their curiosity sparked and supported, that’s a great starting point.