The re­build­ing of Punch­bowl High

Just a year after its prin­ci­pal pal was re­moved, Punch­bowl High is a model school for young Mus­lims

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - CHIEF RE­PORTER

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

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