An “island of calm” is how Westfield Park Primary principal Steve Soames describes the school he has led for eight years, ABC News reports.
It is the same primary school that a decade ago was reported to have some of the most vulnerable Year 1 students in the nation.
Most of them were not meeting key developmental benchmarks, including physical health and wellbeing, social competence and emotional maturity before entering school.
During Mr Soames’s first year at the school there were two meth lab explosions, one murder and a shooting in the catchment area.
Nestled in Armadale, one of Perth’s lower-socioeconomic outer suburbs, Westfield Park Primary was once a very different place to what it is today.
“It wasn’t a pretty picture … and there was a fairly fractured relationship with the community,” Mr Soames said.
“In my first two years there was probably one break-in every term and a couple of significant vandalism or graffiti incidents.”
One of the school’s main buildings was burnt to the ground right before the new principal arrived.
But Mr Soames said out of the ashes, rises the phoenix.
When Mr Soames arrived he began transforming the school, starting with the aesthetic.
Classrooms were spruced up, repainted and renovated. Plastic was replaced by raw, natural materials to help stimulate play and imagination, and the plain brick exterior was covered by community artwork.
“My belief is that if you create an aesthetically pleasing environment, it’s a very powerful message both to our community and to my staff,” Mr Soames said.
“We’re saying to them ‘this is what we think of you, this is what we expect of you’.”
But they were just changes to the outside. The 50-year-old public school received its independent school status in 2015, giving it more flexibility to change its curriculum.
The changes included the introduction of the Nurture Group for years 1 and 2 — something the school believes is the only one of its kind in the state.
Westfield Park Primary kindergarten children are encouraged to engage in play-based learning. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)