The rebuilding of Punchbowl High
Just a year after its principal pal was removed, Punchbowl High is a model school for young Muslims
IT WAS the Sydney school famous for its extremism and anarchy, but a radical transformation is under way at Punchbowl Boys High School.
One year since departmental concerns about its “closed door” teaching practices led to the sudden removal of its principal Chris Griffiths and deputy Joumana Dennaoui, an unprecedented campaign has been taking place to overhaul its classrooms, and its image.
Students have been given an insight into what it means to fight for Australia with talks by a former SAS officer and a cadet training day at the Holsworthy Barracks on Remembrance Day.
On White Ribbon Day, students took an oath to be an advocate for women’s rights, while a “wellbeing room” has been set up as part of a $145,000 project to improve learning.
Muslim prayer sessions are still being held, as are other religious teachings, but an equal focus is on what it means to be Australian, with principal Robert Patruno sticking to his commitment to promise to teach students traditional Australian values of respect and tolerance.
The controversial “deradicalisation” program Stronger Communities Working Together has been rolled out, while there is a renewed
relationship with the police. A careers information session led to one Year 12 student applying to join the force.
Enrolments are up 8 per cent, with families who had threatened to pull their children out of the school amid claims at the time that it was being “run like a mosque”, now keeping their children enrolled.
Mr Patruno declined to participate in the article, with separate court cases by Mr Griffiths and Ms Dennaoui under way in the NSW Supreme Court and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.
There has been no official explanation as to why they were removed and a department report has yet to be tabled in parliament.
Opposition education spokesman and local MP Jihad Dib said the transformation of the school was testament to Mr Patruno’s inclusive but nononsense approach. Mr Dib was principal at the school for seven years before the arrival of Mr Griffiths.
He said families who had spoken to him about pulling out their children — amid fears the school was “radicalising” its students — had not only stayed on board, but enrolments had gone up in the past year.
“The school has opened its doors to police, the community and the kids are participating in programs from cadet training to police career sessions,” Mr Dib said.
"I’ve always said, you can be a good Muslim, and you can be a proud Australian — you don’t have to choose between the two.
“I think some of the kids felt conflicted, and we know that feeling disengaged is one of biggest threats to kids becoming radicalised.”
According to the department, the school increased its external programs by “825 per cent” last year, ranging from football clinics with the Western Sydney Wanderers to rugby league star visits and a police safety workshop.
Mr Griffiths and Ms Dennaoui are seeking adminis- trative review in the Supreme Court of the department’s decision to remove them. Both argue the decision itself should be declared void and without procedural fairness, with each having unblemished service records of over 20 years.
While not back in the classroom, both Mr Griffiths and Ms Dennaoui have returned to work with the department in administrative roles.
There is no suggestion Mr Griffiths nor Ms Dennaoui were involved in the promotion of extremism.
Education Minister Rob Stokes described Mr Patruno as an “outstanding” educational leader.
Punchbowl Boys High School principal Robert Patruno. BRAD ‘FREDDY’ FITTLER
POLICE VISIT GRADU