Dubbo principal guides indigenous students into lifetime of learning

WHEN HSC results were released last week, Dubbo College senior campus didn't get a mention in the top performing schools.

But its achievements were no less remarkable.

Just six years ago, the school in the state's central west had almost no indigenous students continuing to university.

It has since doubled its indigenous retention rate and this year hopes to send almost 20 on to tertiary education.

The principal, Richard Skinner, said most of those students were the first in their family to complete the HSC. ''They've really raised their aspirations to look beyond and set their sights really high,'' he said.

More than 20 per cent of the school's students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. When Mr Skinner arrived six years ago, only about 20 of those students were completing their HSC. Last week 43 of the school's indigenous students received HSC results.

"That's the highest number of Aboriginal students graduating from any high school in NSW and, we believe, in Australia.''

Of those students, 19 have applied for university. "And most of those will actually be [accepted]," Mr Skinner said.

"There would have been absolutely zero heading to university when I first arrived."

The improvement, he said, was a direct result of two initiatives: the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program and the establishment of an indigenous learning centre.

Kodi Lane, a talented musician, was one of about 15 students to secure a scholarship under the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, which provides up to $16,250 a year financial support to cover school costs and extra-curricular pursuits. "It really helped me with all my musical ambitions and it's all about self-determination and autonomy for indigenous students,'' he said.

Mr Lane and his peers, Swade Naden and Natasha Heller, are among 1018 indigenous students from NSW and the ACT to submit university applications in this year's preliminary round.

The figures show a 42 per cent increase in indigenous applicants from NSW and ACT since 2010, which is more than double the nationwide growth. Over the same period, the number of non-indigenous applicants has risen by 5 per cent.

Mr Lane has already been accepted into a social work degree at Charles Sturt University next year. The choice, he said, was inspired by the work he does at a local disability centre.

"It's all very community and social welfare based and I've always wanted to help people," the 18-year-old said.

After playing an important role in turning the school around, Mr Skinner is leaving Dubbo to take up the principal position at Rose Bay Secondary College next year.

The story Dubbo principal guides indigenous students into lifetime of learning first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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