As a special educator I have been working in the area of specialist education since 1987. I am very proud of having been part of the Warrnambool Special Developmental School (now the Merri River School) community since 1993, both as a teacher and, since 2005, as principal.
Merri River School entered a new phase of its development at the beginning of 2020 when we moved into brand new magnificent premises at 189 Wollaston Road. This campus and its facilities has enabled exciting new learning opportunities for all of our students.
I firmly believe that Merri River School is a school that provides a well-rounded education for students from all backgrounds. All of the staff at Merri River are educators, counsellors and role models to our students. This responsibility drives and inspires us to assist our students to reach their full potentials and become happy, engaged and productive members of their communities.
Merri River School (formally the Warrnambool Special Developmental School) was first established in 1989 having being previously the school section of the Yalundah Disability Services. In 1992 staff and students relocated into new premises situated at 101 Hyland Street. From the beginning of the 2020 school year the school moved into brand new premises at 189 Wollaston Road.
The school is a special educational setting presently catering for approximately 170 students (aged between 5 and 18) who have an intellectual disability and have met the eligibility criteria for enrolment. This criteria has been determined by the Department of Education as having an IQ of below 70 as well as significant deficits in adaptive behaviour and displaying a history and evidence of an ongoing problem, with the expectation of continuation during the school years.
The school is the only special school in the area and services a 50km radial area from Warrnambool with a population of approximately 35000 residents. A home to school bus service transports our students between home and school.
Merri River School is a centre of excellence providing individualised programs for students with an intellectual disability. The school caters for children aged between 5 to 18 in a small group environment that is academically in line with the Victorian Curriculum. Each student has an Individual Learning Plan.
The school is divided into four sub-schools: Junior Primary; Senior Primary; Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary. Each sub-area is led by a Learning Team Leader and overseen by Leading Teachers (Primary and Secondary). This leadership team, together with the Principal, Assistant Principals, and Leading Teacher (Learning Specialist) is fully supported by the staff and the school community.
Students are well supported by teachers, therapists (2 speech therapists, 2 OT’s and 1 physio), and teacher assistants. Classes are fully engaged in learning activities that are improving outcomes for individuals. Some of our students have dual enrolment at a mainstream school when this has been deemed beneficial for the student’s learning program.
The oldest students undertake VCAL Foundation or SPEC as well as being involved in a comprehensive work experience program.
Student achievement and student wellbeing are the fundamental pursuits of our school. Given sufficient support and challenge, all students will learn and succeed regardless of their disability or personal circumstances. Merri River School expects that students will develop respect for others and achieve personal excellence. The students experience success and their achievements are celebrated promoting increased self-confidence.
I am very proud to be the Principal of a school that challenges the boundaries and expectations of what students with additional learning needs can achieve.
Robert Dowell, Principal, Merri River School