Waiting list for new Medowie school preparing to open doors to students

Trailblazer: Samuel Knight will be in the first year seven cohort at Catherine McAuley Catholic College Medowie, which opens this month. Many of his St Brigid's Primary peers will also attend. His family participated in an information session last year via Zoom. Picture: Simone De Peak
Trailblazer: Samuel Knight will be in the first year seven cohort at Catherine McAuley Catholic College Medowie, which opens this month. Many of his St Brigid's Primary peers will also attend. His family participated in an information session last year via Zoom. Picture: Simone De Peak

JOANNE Knight had no doubts her fifth son Samuel wanted to attend the Hunter's newest school, Catherine McAuley Catholic College at Medowie, which will open at the end of this month.

"He is excited," Mrs Knight said. "I remember when we did the application he told me I had to go and hand the paperwork directly to [principal] Mr Donohoe, I wasn't allowed to give it to anyone else, because he wanted to make sure he got in."

The year seven to 12 school is the first to open in the region since 2018, when St Bede's Catholic College opened in Chisholm.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington has long called for the government to open a state high school in Medowie.

Catherine McAuley foundation principal Scott Donohoe - who previously led year seven to ten San Clemente High in Mayfield - said he hoped to gain access to the site next week, before his more than 20 staff start work on January 27 and the year seven and eight cohorts start on February 3.

"I'm really excited to finally see our vision become a reality," Mr Donohoe said.

He said the school would open with 180 students in year seven and 90 in year eight, plus waiting lists for both grades.

Students have enrolled from its three Catholic feeder primary schools in Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay and Bulahdelah; across its catchment area that stretches from Fern Bay to Myall Lakes; as well as from government and independent schools.

The school has received 80 expressions of interest for year seven in 2022.

"We've done really well with our enrolments which reflects, I think, for the past couple of decades really the demand of the Port Stephens region for a Catholic secondary school," he said.

"So many of our families have wanted to continue that pathway from primary into secondary and in the past have travelled sometimes over an hour [into Newcastle].

"But there are also a number of families too who have had a real desire to be part of the Catholic community and have not gone down that pathway because the length of travel time has put them off...but can now have that opportunity."

He said around 40 year eight students would transfer from San Clemente.

They had intended to attend Catherine McAuley for its original 2020 opening, which was postponed due to "unforeseen delays with the approval process".

Mr Donohoe said stage one of the six-stage construction project is the completed Coolock House building, which comprises the administration area, general purpose learning areas, art and drama spaces, the library, science classrooms, a food technology area, music suites and a learning support area.

The school's chapel will be the new home for Medowie parish St Christopher's. This is unique in the diocese, as is the school having an appointed chaplain.

Mr Donohoe said the school, which will eventually cater for around 1100 students, would "reimagine schooling and education to provide greater meaning and purpose" for students in a "dynamic and changing world".

This includes using a deep learning framework and a timetable of three 100-minute periods each day.

Students will complete a course in design thinking, which is a process for creative problem solving; have the chance to earn micro-credentials in addition to the Higher School Certificate; develop a digital portfolio to showcase work; and participate in student-led conferences instead of parent-teacher interviews.

Mrs Knight said Samuel and his four older brothers all attended St Brigid's Primary at Raymond Terrace.

Her eldest four boys spent or spend around an hour travelling each way to San Clemente High for years seven to ten and St Francis Xavier's College at Hamilton for years 11 and 12.

"It's a big day for them, to get up, organised and then you come home and you have to do your after-school activities and homework and all the rest of it," she said. Other appointments are made for 5 or 6pm.

Mrs Knight said the family originally thought Samuel would follow in his brothers' footsteps.

They started considering Catherine McAuley when her second son, who is currently in year 12, was preparing to finish year 10 and the family had to decide on his next school, which would come with new policies, teachers and friends.

"It was then when we decided Catherine McAuley for Samuel because we'll never have to make that decision again," she said.

Mrs Knight said she would have also sent her fourth son, who is in year nine, to Catherine McAuley if it had been offering that grade.

"We're excited for a new adventure and what's going to happen."