Beyond the façade of heritage buildings at the front of the Conondale State School is a state-of-the-art education facility. Although small in size, the school packs a punch for its students, and is lucky to have a new champion in the ring, Principal Scott Willis. 

by Jacqui Hensel 

With large classrooms with smart screen whiteboards, new playground equipment courtesy of the hard-working P&C, and a kitchen garden that brings fresh produce to the school canteen, Conondale State School is delivering education for the 21st century and beyond.

New Principal, Scott Willis, who joined in April 2021, grew up in the nearby Mooloolah Valley and was thrilled to be able to buy a home there with his new wife Teisha and take on this position.

“The staff are wonderful, and many have over ten years of education experience. To have very caring and cohesive staff who are so invested in this school is a gift to both myself and to the students.”

Scott chose to go into education believing that he would be able to help people. With that in mind, he began his country service and found his niche in small schools.

“I enjoy the impact brought on by teaching. With education you can help this group of students, who then go on to help another group. The impact grows and you can make more of a difference,” Scott muses.

“So then with the principal’s role, I thought I can help more kids, the teachers and the parent body too. We need innovative and creative people in today’s society, and we also need happy and inspired people. If I can do anything to help foster that, then that would be great.

“Early in my teaching career I read a book called Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. In the text it described a range of strategies for engaging and teaching students. The J-Factor or the ‘Joy-Factor’ is one that has always resonated with me.”

According to Doug Lemov, “The J-Factor is a way to incorporate joy into the children’s learning. The students will work harder if they are having fun learning. The J-Factor is not only about reinforcing learning, but also about making the students feel welcome in the classroom.”

Scott’s efforts to bring a sense of fun and joy to the classroom have seen him take on many personas including a few superheros. He is always keen to be involved.

Scott says he works around structural, strategic and relational leadership. 

“I think it’s important to build relationships with the teachers, students, the community, and the parents. So, I have three pillars, passion, integrity and impact.

“Small schools are a beautiful microcosm of the real world,” Scott explains. “They give you a chance to really hone in on the student’s needs. The experiences are unlike anywhere else. 

“The students get one-on-one teacher-aide time, as smaller cohorts allow wonderful opportunities for our students. We come together as a whole school, not just a segment, to do things together – like the kitchen garden program or the Master Chef competition we had recently.

“I believe it’s a warmer experience for the students. All our kids play together on the playground. The behaviour here is just beautiful. 

“No-one gets left out. Disputes are handled on a one-to-one basis. The kids here are respectful and polite, and their academic work is fantastic. The culture here is so strong, it will shape the child.” 

Scott believes there are plenty of opportunities for leadership, mentoring and other roles the students take on, which prepares them for high school.

“We see students from Conondale go on to high school and they are very motivated learners and leaders. They are there on awards nights and they are in leadership roles,” he says proudly. 

“It’s important to build relationships first as we know kids learn best from people they like. Getting to know everyone is one of my favourite things.

“I like to know all the kids’ names on the first day of school, but if the school grows, as I intend it to, then that will get a bit trickier,” Scott chuckles. 

“I like to go out and talk to the parents at pick up and drop off time. I have a letterbox on my wall and I love to get letters in there. I hope that I am encouraging open and honest communication.”  

We don’t just have to take Scott’s word for all the positive outcomes of Conondale State School.

Former student Sharon Schofield loved the school so much that she made sure to send her daughter Kelly there too, becoming the third generation in Sharon’s family to attend the school.

“I don’t think everyone realises that Conondale is so close to Witta and Maleny. While Kelly was at the school she really thrived,” shares Sharon.

“I love the fact that no-one can slip through the cracks, as everyone knows everyone and it’s a great supportive environment. I especially liked that the big kids and the little kids are all mixed together. I found this was good for building leadership skills and confidence.

“Kelly transitioned to Maleny State High School with ease. The responsibilities they were given in year six built up her belief in herself. She has so much confidence in talking to her teachers and the self-belief and courage to give anything a go.”

Conondale State School is a 15-minute country drive on the Maleny Kenilworth Road from Maleny. Anyone interested in further information is welcome to call the school on 54351333 and make an appointment to speak to Scott.