At the end of 2018 after 11 years of outstanding leadership as the 11th Principal of Melbourne Girls Grammar, Catherine Misson completed her tenure at the School.
The ‘Misson Era’ is widely described as a time of significant growth in all facets of the School. The student body grew from 770 to over 1,000, three new, state of the art learning spaces were created and numbers for enrolments flourish. VCE results continue to be exemplary, but in addition to the pursuit of excellence and continuous improvement, there has been an increasing emphasis on the social, emotional, physical and academic wellbeing of our girls. From the very start, the girls were at the heart of all Catherine’s plans, projects and proposals. She challenged the staff to set their sights on the skills and attributes our graduates would need to succeed in a highly complex world of accelerating change. The aim was to develop critical thinking skills, flexibility, adaptability, high levels of digital literacy, perseverance and independent learning.
In her second year Catherine worked with staff and members of the community to script the School’s Vision and Mission statement and distil the four core School Values which underpinned all subsequent decisions and actions. In recognising that the school leaders shape the culture of a student body, Catherine worked closely with the Year 12 Student Executive Council and wider Year 12 cohort to create strong bonds across the year levels and to assist with the integration of Years 5 and 6 on the Merton Hall Campus in 2011. Over time, the sense of House Spirit and camaraderie in the Houses strengthened. In 2017, the students were delighted when the Junior Years girls were incorporated which was the final element in uniting the student body as one School.
Student voice and feedback was encouraged and acknowledged in the evolution of new roles in the Student Executive Council, including the introduction of a second Vice Captain, Community Action and Service Captains and Community Liaison Captains. The senior leadership group were given more autonomy and enabled the integration of shared leadership into the Year 12 cohort.
Catherine always made herself available to the students for support, attending events at varying times and locations outside of the School. She was determined to get to know the students and invited them to chat with her, email her or drop into her office. Her strength of character and commitment to feminism inspired and encouraged all her students. She also worked hard to broaden their horizons and challenged them to use their skills and talents in the service of others. Following the launch of our Reconciliation Action Plan in 2010, Catherine continued to support and expand the Indigenous Scholars program and introduced experiential learning programs including the Year 8 Cultural Immersion Trip to Arnhem land, Year 7 City Week, and the expectation that students in Years 9 and 10 take up the opportunity to travel overseas on an Enterprise Trip. At Melbourne Girls Grammar, there are many long held traditions linked to our Anglican heritage which we hold in high regard and Catherine has shown respect for tradition in retaining our Speech Night at Melbourne Town Hall and the end of year Carol Service at St Paul’s Cathedral. She also responded to input from students and parents to re-imagine the Year 12 Valedictory celebrations.
In her leadership of the staff, celebrating staff achievements and facilitating team work and collaboration, Catherine helped to build a culture of lifelong learning, particularly in the implementation of a learning management system and introduction of blended learning programs at Years 9 and 10. New learning spaces were matched with new staff offices and facilities, additional support staff and services which demonstrated a commitment to staff wellbeing.
Catherine’s legacy is best summed up by our Year 12 students from the Class of 2018:
“We have all benefited from your tenacity and ability to forecast a bright future. Thank you for your countless contributions to the School community and for leading the School so proficiently.”
“When Mrs Misson stepped inside the iconic ‘red brick walls’ eleven years ago, Melbourne Girls Grammar began on a journey. Her desire and commitment to empower tomorrow’s women and provide them with the skill set needed to meet the challenges of our ever changing world, was at the forefront of her mind from the very beginning. Mrs Misson will be dearly missed, and Year 12 feels particularly honoured to be graduating alongside such an incredible woman, leader and educator. We wish her well in the next chapter of her life and all that it has to offer”.