From Moura to Harvard and back again

From Moura to Harvard and back again


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Christine Hills with Andrew Peach, principal of Bundama SHS in Ipswich, the only other recipient in Queensland of the scholarship in front of a statue of John Harvard.

Christine Hills with Andrew Peach, principal of Bundama SHS in Ipswich, the only other recipient in Queensland of the scholarship in front of a statue of John Harvard.

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LAST month Christine Hills was waking up on the Harvard University campus in Boston in the United States. Back in Australia, on the weekends, Christine wakes up to her farm in Moura and during the week she wakes up to her house in Rockhampton.

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LAST month Christine Hills was waking up on the Harvard University campus in Boston in the United States.

Back in Australia, on the weekends, Christine wakes up to her farm in Moura and during the week she wakes up to her house in Rockhampton.

So how does a travelling farm girl like Christine get to Harvard?

“I am very driven in what I do, I almost do it at the expense of other things in my life,” Christine said.

Along with drive, it was a Harvard Club of Australian Education scholarship that gave Christine the opportunity to visit to the Harvard campus.

The scholarship provided the opportunity for five principals of government schools in Australia to participate in an education program at the Harvard University.

As the principal of Glenmore State School in North Rockhampton, Christine was one of five recipients in Australia to receive the Harvard Club of Australian Education scholarship.

It was a dream she didn’t even know was within reach.

“A friend of mine who was on my staff at Moura flicked me an email about the scholarship and said ‘thought of you.’ I thought ‘whatever, I won’t get it’,” Christine said

“I read it a little further and thought ‘I would have a crack’ and here we are.”

Built in 1636, the Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States; a far cry from the playground of the Glenmore State School.

“It is like walking from Koongal to Frenchville, it just sprawls out,” Christine said.

“It’s just row after row of shops, streets and streets of classrooms. There are houses, halls, classrooms and more classrooms.

“It’s just beautiful, it hustles and bustles like a city. It’s phenomenal,” Christine said.

Funded by the non-profit Public Education Foundation, the scholarship included tuition fees, return airfares and accommodation paid for the duration of the course.

The course was a Harvard Graduate School of Education program, The Art of Leadership.

It involved seven days of lectures spoken by some of the foremost researchers in America, practitioners in the field and a blind principal who did an inclusion on disability.

“We were also put into study groups, I was in a group of 10. We worked with a doctoral student from Harvard who led us through our leadership journey,” Christine said.

“One day was an outdoor bound adventure and we were challenged with high ropes and all that sort of stuff.”

Attending a private Lutheran school Concordia in Toowoomba, Christine accelerated year two, leading her to graduate at the age of 16.

Christine was always interested in education, even from a young age. But she also had other dreams.

“When I was a kid I always wanted to play schools, but I actually wanted to become a lawyer. Mum and Dad could not afford to send me to Brisbane for a degree.

“I loved history, I loved English so I picked a degree where I could read books all day and that made me happy,” Christine said.

At the end of the day Christine then realised there weren’t that many jobs you could get with a literature degree.

Her Dad told her she needed to get a job so she decided to study teaching.

“I liked school so it seemed natural to work in one. I told Dad to give me one year and I’ll do teaching,” Christine said.

Graduating from UQ in 1988, Christine studied a graduate diploma with a specialty in English, geography and history. Upon graduation, she applied to Education Queensland and was directly transferred to Emerald where she worked from 1989 to 1991.

“I was surprised I survived the first three years of my teaching career,” Christine said.

“I had no idea what I was doing but I thought I was good at what I did and that I was a good teacher.”

After finishing at Emerald, Christine taught at Moura State School from 1992 to 1994.

While Christine was there she was Itinerant Head of Department, serving Baralaba and Theodore.

“There I got to learn a lot about indigenous kids coming out of Woorabinda,” she said.

In 1995, Christine was full time Head of Department at Theodore State School where she worked up until the birth of her first child in 2000.

Intermittently, Christine went to work in Theodore between having children, transferring back to Moura in 2004 as Head of Department.

By the time she had her last child; Christine was offered Moura State School as principal. Christine worked as a principal for four years before moving on to Glenmore.

Spending the past six years working in P-6 schools, Christine has moved out of her natural area as 20 years of her career was high school.

“It was only in 2008 I had the opportunity to go to Moura State as principal, so that was a big change as they are all little people,” she said.

One of the biggest thrills Christine has had was when she received her Head of Department promotion, followed by the day she received her principal’s position.

“I never thought I would be a principal, I wasn’t that kid at school,” Christine said.

Christine is also a farmer’s wife and believes the experiences she has gained from living on the land and teaching in country towns has made her the person she is today.

Moving to Emerald as a 20 year old graduate from Brisbane, who had never been west of Toowoomba, was just the beginning of her career in country towns.

“I was 16 years old at university; I lived in this private school world,” Christine said.

Moving to the country taught Christine a new way of life, influencing the way she teaches today.

“I learnt about the strength some people have,” Christine said.

“It taught me how to be around people and I think a lot of the skills I have about influence come from living in the country.

“I learnt to talk to people who came from other walks of life and build relationships in small towns.

“If I had gone from UQ to Brisbane Grammar to the next elite school I would have never have learnt that.”

Becoming a mother has also made a significant difference in Christine’s teaching career. Christine now has four children, Elisabeth, 13, Abigail, 11, Oscar, 8 and Clare, 6.

“As I started to have children, you know as a mother you are trying to do the best you can for your kids,” she said.

“I learnt about young kids and how things work in their world.”

When she isn’t travelling across the country attending conferences and receiving awards, Christine is proud to be running the Glenmore State School.

Christine has been principal of the school since 2013 and has made significant changes to the school.

“If I take on a school like Glenmore I will do it for Glenmore. I think that is very important .The things we do at Glenmore are so those kids know I have their back,” Christine said.

“I want them to know that they have got somebody to fight for them.

“While I am there, it is all about them and moving those kids forward.”

Even though Christine has worked hard throughout her career, deserving all the credit she receives, she still finds herself amazed at how far she has come.

“There are days I walk around Glenmore and I think oh my God, they let me run this, this is 430 kids I have responsibility for,” Christine said.

“I have learnt a lot at Glenmore, it has taught me more than I have helped them.”

Passionate about her career and the children she teaches, Christine believes good education is a real gift.

“It is a school of children who are so willing to work with the teachers and to make more of themselves,” Christine said.

“It irritates me when people think less of kids because they go to Glenmore. They are not less.”

With her two older children attending Rockhampton Grammar School, Christine moved her younger two to Glenmore at the beginning of this year.

“I am very happy my two kids are at Glenmore because they are learning about the real world, they are learning that life can be hard and that you make something of yourself,” Christine said.

“That’s the best gift I can give my kids.”

Now that the Harvard experience is crossed off the list, Christine has set her sights on other career dreams.

“I want to manoeuvre myself into a position where I can change policy,” Christine said.

“I want to be able to affect Government understanding of why state schools need funding.

“We need that money to fill the gap between state and private school kids.”

With this goal in her mind, Christine won’t be changing career paths anytime soon.

“If you can make a difference to kids that need it the most, then you are making a difference to society,” Christine said.

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