Donovan Marsh took on the role of President of the West End State School Parents and Citizens (P&C) at the start of this year, little knowing what sort of demands the role would bring with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Donovan has been a member of the P&C executive for eight years. He works full-time but said he had a bit more time to take on the president role this year.
“My eldest is in year seven at State High, and I’ve been on the P&C since he started in prep, so I’ve been around for a while. My second eldest daughter is in year six, and my youngest is in year four.
Donovan says that apart from fundraising for the school, he sees the P&C as a conduit between the parents, the community, and the school. As it turned out, an essential role in this year of coronavirus.
I talked with Donovan over coffee at a café close to the school with the joyful sound of children playing in the background: it was their first day back at school since the end of March
Donovan is glad to hear the children back at school, but there is still some hesitation he said.
“Personally, there’s a level of apprehension because of the uncertainty that we face, but I think for their mental well-being, it’s nice for them to go out and interact and have fun.”
“Hopefully, they continue to be able to keep healthfully distanced, as much as kids can.”
“I’ve got a child with a health condition. So, I am probably more paranoid about this than most. I think a lot of parents will be relieved that they can get the kids back to school. For some kids, it’s easy for them to learn at home, but for others, it’s really hard, and hopefully, we can find the right balance to work through this while we’re dealing with COVID.”
At the beginning of the pandemic the school and the P&C were dealing with a lot of uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic, particularly around support for the P&C’s 30 plus staff as well as for parents.
The P&C manages three enterprises that raise revenue for the school: the Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) service, the Tuck Shop, and the Uniform Shop. They also manage the summer swimming program.
“Normally, we would have a very full OSHC service that generates revenue and profits that go back into supporting the service as well as the school.”
But as schools closed, Donovan said the P&C faced working out the Workplace Health and Safety elements of the virus for each of its services, especially as the OSHC service was to remain open for working parents during the school shut down.
The initial phase for the P&C he said was working out what they needed to do in terms of adjusting the way they operated to make sure it was safe for both the staff and the children, and then to continue adapting.
In the lead up to the end of Term One Donovan said parents were pulling out quite quickly, even before the school started to shut down. Like many workplaces, the P&C had to assess how it could best support staff as the OSHC service rapidly dropped from having around 215 children per day to approximately 10.
“This is a $1.5 million a year business that we’re running, and we needed to work through how to retain staff because we knew we would need them back.”
The P&C had a drop in revenue that exceeded the 30% threshold to be eligible for Job Keeper payments.
“We had many staff, both permanent and casual, that were eligible for job keeper and so we obviously undertook the processes to put that in place, in conjunction with them.”
“Job keeper was a bit of a leap of faith as well, that we would get it – there was some apprehension. We’re fortunate, we’ve got a reasonable amount of cash reserves. So, we took a view early on that we needed to support our staff regardless, and we could manage that uncertainty by being able to pay staff with cash that we already had, without knowing whether we were going to get Job Keeper or not”.
Health and safety issues are also an important part of running the Tuck Shop and the Swimming School.
“Understanding the legal and regulatory things that we had to work through was complex, and it was moving rapidly.”
With school resuming, the OSHC is also slowly starting to come back.
“We are still implementing practices to minimise the risk of the spread of COVID within the school and doing all those things, regardless of the numbers of cases that are out there,” Donovan said.
Donovan said that in terms of current activity, the new building is dominant in the minds of the P&C.
“West End State School is probably one of the only school that has continued to grow during the pandemic.”
One aspect of the school expansion will be some more play space, and with Stage Two, additional green space, Donovan said. But the P&C is still working through what the right answer is for an upgrade of the oval. Donovan would like to see Brisbane City Council contributing in some way to the oval, given it is a whole of community asset.
Donovan said the P&C helped fund a new nature play area on the oval to expand the outdoor experiences for children living in apartments.
“It’s always been a concern for the school that the gross motor skills of children in our community will develop, and it was one of the ways we could build that into their play.”
“It’s great watching kids jumping and bouncing and developing some of those skills. I grew up in the country. I was in scouts, and we used to get out bush-walking; we used to jump from rock to rock in riverbeds. It’s that same sort of thing that I grew up with …it’s not a riverbed but it’s trying to mimic that, and it’s great that you can do that.”
Donovan said he’d love to see the P&C identify ways it could plant more greenery and develop more play areas around the school. This might be possible as the expansion allows the school to dismantle some of the prefab buildings on the site.
Somewhat fortuitously, the P&C had already decided not to hold the Fiesta in 2020.
Since the shutdown, the P&C has also had to cancel other events, such as the Trivia night planned for June.
The P&C is now wanting to promote its ‘building fund’ which allows people to make tax deductible donations.
“These funds can be used by the P&C to do a range of things but with so much building going on in the expansion, we aren’t short of opportunities to contribute to those projects. We are committed to funding elements of the performing arts centre and also an expanded P&C office which will cater for growing demand on a range of service, including the uniform shop,” Donovan said.
The P&C is also beginning to think about the potential to create a celebratory event around the completion of the new parts of the school, Donovan said.
“An event in Term Four where we can try and bring the community back together again”.
“We had a plan for a colour run just before the end of Term One, and we had to postpone it. I think later in the year we will look to do something as things relax more… and to do it in a way that is not necessarily about raising a lot of money, but more so about community and community engagement,” Donovan said.
“I’d hate to preempt anything, and we would have to engage with the school community about what is the right approach … but a mini “Fiesta style” celebration that isn’t onerous on people as volunteers … something that celebrates the local businesses that have supported us in the past as many are struggling at the moment and I think it would be a great way for us to get the kids to recognise their contributions to our community.
“I guess it is a bit of a new beginning,” Donovan said.
See this delightful thank you prepared by the P&C in April to the school and teacher by students: https://wesspandc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Thankyou-WESS-Staff.mp4
Learn more about the P&C here – https://wesspandc.org/
Images by Jan Bowman