As the Girls Grammar community looks forward to the arrival of our new Principal, Deanne Johnston, in January, Board member and old girl Hilarie Dunn caught up for a chat. From the advantages of an all-girls school to a preference for hot weather, it is clear that she is well prepared for her next big adventure.
WHAT CAREER PATH HAS BROUGHT YOU TO THE PRINCIPAL ROLE AT GIRLS GRAMMAR?
I’ve been teaching now for 25 years across state, Catholic and independent schools in Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and the UK. During that time I’ve seen significant changes and challenges to education and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to educational reform through my various roles in school leadership and on different committees and reference groups.
ROCKHAMPTON IS A LONG WAY FROM BIG CITY LIFE. WHAT HAS ATTRACTED YOU TO THE BEEF CAPITAL OF AUSTRALIA?
My husband and I spent five years living in Rockhampton from 1998 to the end of 2002. In fact, it’s where we started our married life! We very much enjoyed our time there and we have a lot of great memories, particularly of the warm friendly atmosphere and sense of community. Even though I’m not from Rockhampton, in a lot of ways I feel like I’m coming home and I was very excited when the opportunity came up to lead the Girls’ Grammar School.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF A GIRLS SCHOOL LIKE GIRLS GRAMMAR? ARE WE ‘FIT FOR PURPOSE’?
As a female who has spent over ten years in senior leadership, I believe whole-heartedly in the many benefits of girls’ education, particularly in building confidence, developing ambition and challenging gender beliefs and assumptions. My time at Stuartholme has reinforced my belief that girls’ schools do a vital job of promoting self-belief in girls. One of the most valuable gifts we can give our girls is the self-belief that they have the skills, knowledge, tenacity and resilience to pursue opportunities despite the hurdles and setbacks.
There is research to show that when students learn with single-gender peers, they are more likely to focus on their studies, speak more openly in the classroom, and feel more encouraged to pursue their interests and achieve their fullest potential. Additionally, girls in same-sex schools are more likely to engage and excel at sports and to have opportunities for school leadership roles. I am looking forward to joining the Girls Grammar community because I know it has a strong history of encouraging and empowering girls to pursue their aspirations without limitations.
HAVE YOU WORKED OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO FIRST WHEN YOU GET TO GIRLS GRAMMAR?
My priority when arriving at Girls Grammar is to meet our community, build relationships with staff, students, parents and Alumni. I want to spend time meeting with people. My priority is to be a public presence on campus, at assemblies, meetings and events but also in casual strolls and conversations.
I would like to visit classrooms, spend time in the playground, at co-curricular events and activities. I am keen to listen, build relationships and learn about the different needs and priorities across the school. It is also important for me to spend time developing a deeper appreciation of the ethos of the school, becoming more familiar with its history, its accomplishments, the founding principles, the mission statement and philosophical underpinnings.
WE WERE ALL SCHOOL STUDENTS ONCE. WHAT WERE THE BEST MEMORIES OF YOUR SCHOOL DAYS?
My best memories of school are probably my teachers. I can still remember those teachers who made a difference to me: the ones who were always patient even when I struggled to understand, the ones who encouraged me to pursue my passions, the ones who found opportunities to extend me and the ones who just seemed to enjoy coming to work every day.
I think the hardest part of school was that it happens during your formative years when you’re still trying to develop a sense of self and stay true to your fundamental values and beliefs. I am very grateful that I formed strong friendships with a small group of girls who shared my values and we supported each other through the tougher times. My best friend and I found each other when we were 12 and we are like sisters today so I feel very lucky that we made such a strong connection during our school years.
BEING PRINCIPAL IS A DEMANDING JOB. WHAT DO YOU DO TO RELAX?
This is probably my greatest challenge to be honest. My husband and I have a Sunday morning ritual where we have brunch together which has become something we really value and we’re fortunate to have a lovely little café within walking distance of our home. We also prioritise spending time together as a family during school holidays - we all enjoy travel but our favourite is probably spending time anywhere near a beach. Growing up at Mooloolaba, there is no better place for me than somewhere within proximity to the sea and I always find this relaxing. The last time I was in Rockhampton I did some photography courses and got involved in a photography group - I am hoping that perhaps I can connect with a group like this again or even pursue my enjoyment of art, particularly drawing and painting.
HOW DO YOU COPE WITH HOT WEATHER?
I’m a Queenslander through and through so I love hot weather. I do remember some very hot days in Rockhampton but I also remember very cold days when I lived in Canberra and I know which one I prefer! Terms 1 and 4 can be challenging but Rockhampton more than makes up for it from April to October - it has a beautiful climate in the middle of the year.