Principal’s reflections: A legacy of excellence, community, voice and care

03 July 2024
Strong historical tradition grounded in the very best education for girls.

As I reflect on the first 18 months of my principalship at Walford, the things that initially struck me about the School when I first visited in 2022 are those things that still strike me now, and indeed those things that have endured since our school was founded in 1893.

Strong historical tradition grounded in the very best education for girls

Since 1893, when Walford was founded in the front room of Miss Lydia Adamson’s family home, Walford has been a school committed to an education for girls and young women that surpasses the limits of society’s expectations. A Walford education is synonymous with excellence, limitless opportunities (including those not seen as traditional for girls and women), and futures thinking.

Walford students are grounded, unlimited in their aspirations, keen to learn, and willing to apply themselves to a range of pursuits with gusto and grace. Participation, effort and humility are valued along with excellence and achievement.

Walford’s tradition of accomplishment is complemented and enhanced by our intentionally-designed learning, wellbeing and play spaces that prioritise educational value, learning excellence, and the student experience. Behind the brush fence on Unley Road are our outstanding Early Learning Centre, learning environments, Sports Centre, swimming pool, student-designed playgrounds, Junior and Senior Libraries, Junior STEAM Makerspace, Design and Technology Centre, Ellen Benham Science Centre, beautiful Boarding House, Fig Tree Café, and oasis-like spaces for our girls to enjoy. Both our primary and secondary campuses are wrapped around central ‘town square’ style spaces: the Round Garden in the Junior School, and the Heart of Walford in the Middle and Senior School. It is in these central spaces that parents gather, and through which students pass throughout the day, being greeted by name, and with a smile, by peers and teachers.

Close-knit community

While ‘community’ is in every school’s strategic plan, and in many lists of school values, the Walford school community is uniquely special. Our community is caring, grounded, highly engaged and tightly knit. The feeling of community is something that visitors feel as they walk through our grounds and experience the kindness of our students and deep care of our staff.

When girls attend a Walford ‘Come and Try’ Day, they make new friends and often speak of Walford as ‘cosy’ and ‘welcoming’. Parents tell us that their daughters immediately feel a sense of safety and belonging. One father told me that touring Walford was like ‘a warm hug’.

Old scholars talk about their experience of the School—the learning in their classes, the unwavering support of their teachers, the breadth of their opportunities in sports and arts - as something that deeply shapes their lives beyond school. The bonds of friendship forged at Walford are lifelong.

Student voice and agency

When I talk with Walford Old Scholars (remarkable and inspiring women!), I am reminded of what it means to be a Walford girl, and a Walford graduate. Walford girls and women are confident to sit at any table and to speak up in any conversation. They are innovative creators and principled citizens who advocate for themselves and for others, and do what is right, not what is popular. They lead through their words and actions, quietly and humbly achieving incredible things, and often blazing a trail that others might follow. They live the School motto of Virtute et Veritate, with ‘Moral Courage and Truth’.

When I was being considered for the position of Principal of Walford, I and other candidates for the role were interviewed by the student captains, who then reported back to the selection panel. Wow, I remember thinking, Walford students are amazing, and this really is a place that values student voice in decision making. Since then, a number of school changes have emerged from student pitches and advocacy: our Wellbeing Dog Program, the refreshed School values, the design of a new school uniform, the change of the shape of the school day, and a refreshed Café menu. Walford’s Festival of Ideas, Year 6/7 Leadership Academy, and Year 9 Her World Project, are examples of formalised opportunities for students to lead and to have real-world impact.

Sized for individual care and personalisation

Walford is a deliberately ‘intimate and mighty’ school. Our boutique size is, as our Head of Mathematics, Dr Catherine Quinn, likes to say, our superpower. It allows us to really see, know, and hear each girl, and her family.

Our school offers an expansive range of opportunities for our students and tailors truly bespoke opportunities for acceleration, enrichment and support. We customise experiences and pathways to each girl’s needs and aspirations, which are limitless in their scope. For instance, Walford students study a number of ‘off the rack’ courses, including SACE courses not officially offered by the School, as well early university courses, and a wide range of VET certificates.

What struck me in my early moments at Walford still strikes me now: an enduring legacy of excellence, community, student voice and deep care, founded on a history of innovation and forward-thinking leadership in girls’ education. Each student is at the centre of everything we say and do at Walford. Our strategic pillars, Big Hearts, Bright Minds, Bespoke Pathways, and Bold Futures, challenge us to continue to iterate and improve our offerings and programs to realise our vision to empower each student to achieve her best, her way.

I am reminded every day of how privileged and grateful I am to be part of this wonderful school.

Dr Deborah Netolicky