Irene Singleton loved growing up in the small community of Majors Creek. Likewise, for her, studying at Braidwood Central School was like being part of a big family.
Understanding small communities has served her well, first as a teacher then teaching-principal at the remote Bulman, and now as principal of the school on the Groote Eylandt, both in the Northern Territory.
So well, in fact, that Ms Singleton has been named Principal of the Year for the Arnhem Land region.
She took on the job at the Indigenous community of Umbakumba on Groote Eyelandt after seven years teaching at Bulman, four hours out of Katherine.
Teaching remotely she’s found a love for the region, the communities and for the children she teaches.
“I’ve never really sort of wanted to just do the normal thing, I guess. I want to try lots of different experiences,” Ms Singleton said. “It’s gotten under my skin, the Territory, and the way of life.
“I love the hecticness and the sort of organised chaos of an average day. You literally don’t know what’s going to happen.
The school at Umbakumba has about 80 students enrolled, but attendance is low. Ms Singleton’s chief focus has been drawing students back to school of their own accord. At this point, strong community ties and a respect for Indigenous culture are critical to success. She loves innovative and fun approach to learning this requires, and the strong relationships this builds with students.
“The kids are just awesome, they’re so lovely, and so affectionate, and just really happy to learn,” Ms Singleton said.