A Brief History
In 1973, Bruce Wicking invited a group of likeminded people to discuss the feasibility of starting a new school for students with special needs. This followed an experiment at Glamorgan which showed that intelligent underachievers could work well if withdrawn from mainstream schools.
The Currajong School was established in 1974 in East Malvern. At the end of the year the School found that a number of students with special needs having completed their primary schooling, had little if anything, to choose from in the area of secondary special schools designed to work with students presenting with moderate to profound learning difficulties and associated social and emotional problems.
The School Council made the decision to establish a secondary school in a church hall in Kew, and called it The Currajong Secondary School. The following year, the name “Berengarra” was given to the school to foster the development of the school as an independent and autonomous organisation. A separate school council was established, and The Rev. Kenneth Jago was the founding Chairman.
The school’s original Principal, Lorraine Ralph, was succeeded by Brian Lennon in 1978, and shortly afterwards the school relocated to premises in Box Hill owned by the Salvation Army known as Howard and Wilson House. In the next 7-1/2 years Brian was successful in establishing just “who” Berengarra worked with and how it worked, introducing a number of processes and procedures into managing students.
At the beginning of 1985, Andrew Watson, (Rock) took over as Principal. Rock and his deputy, Judy Anderson, worked diligently until 1990 to carefully recruit staff and set up support systems so that they would stay at the school. Also, behavioural management processes were further developed, and as a result of these initiatives the school entered a period of stability and of great effect in turning kids around.
In 1988 the school moved once more to its present site in Glen Waverley. This move represented a major change for Berengarra as it became a program of Child & Family Care Network. Whilst retaining its spirit of independence and autonomy, it now had access to a number of other programs aimed at assisting families and children in varying stages of dislocation/dysfunction. The move also meant the school had a home with excellent facilities and surroundings.
Leigh Candy, already a teacher at the school for nearly 4 years, took over the reins as Principal in 1991, and Monica Baker was appointed as Deputy Principal. He concluded his term in March, 1994. During this period the curriculum was significantly modified, placing greater emphasis of matching the students learning style with teaching practices.. In June 1993, Child and Family Care Network and Berengarra entered into a new lease arrangement which separated the two organisations. However, Berengarra continued to work closely with a number of Child and Family Care Network programs as it had always done.
Following Leigh’s departure, Monica Baker became Principal and Ian Watson joined the staff as Deputy in April, 1994. After four years as Deputy and later Principal, Monica retired in 1999. Monica worked tirelessly to develop and enhance learning facilities at Berengarra, as well as to develop curriculum, keeping pace with changes in the broader educational community.
Ian Watson became Principal in 2000 with Mark Heuston as Deputy. Under this team, Berengarra become well established, maintaining its highly respected status in the education community. Ian introduced a more therapeutic approach to behavioural management, incorporating elements of cognitive behavioural and narrative therapies. Unfortunately Ian struggled with poor health during 2003 – 2004 and this led to his forced retirement. Mark Heuston took over as Principal and Suzy Gaynor was appointed Deputy. Just prior to Ian’s departure the Berengarra School council was informed of the discontinuance of our lease on the CFCN property at the end of 2009., so Mark’s main priority during his tenure was to relocate the school. Mark worked hard to publicize the school’s plight, negotiating with the State Government, the Monash Council, charitable organisations and other educational groups, and despite seemingly having the problem solved on three separate occasions, he was unsuccessful.
With only 12 months left on the lease Peter Heffernan took over as Principal in 2009. After a desperate search a new site was finally found in Box Hill North in October of that year, just 6 weeks before the school was due to close. The school community then pulled off a miracle to have the site ready for the start of 2010 and so began a new era.
In 2011 we opened a second campus in Chadstone, running a program for students aged between 15-18 who were considering TAFE as an option for further education, but whose special needs still required extra support. In 2012 the program was extended to run Foundation VCAL.
In 2014 the Pathways program opened a cafe in Ashwood, and this gave students the opportunity to compete the work education component of their VCAL studies under the supervision of our staff. It also enabled the program to further expand from 24 to 32 students. The following year intermediate VCAL was added to the curriculum.
In 2015 the school was able to purchase the Box Hill site, fulfilling a long term dream it had held for 39 years, a permanent home of its own. Considering only five years before it was a few weeks away from closing its doors this was a remarkable achievement.
In 2017 the school further expanded by leasing and renovating some rooms next door to the Harrison street campus. We established a specialized program for 10 students that presented with developmental trauma. These students require a slightly different approach to managing their social/emotional needs than what are our current practices, an approach that is more focussed on learning to self-regulate and build positive relationships. The Berry Street Education Model was used for training staff and establishing behaviour management processes.
The focus for the future is to continue working with students who have social/emotional and behavioural disabilities. We offer a dedicated, effective and compassionate therapeutic program for students who have fallen into the cycle of failure in mainstream schools.