Alumni Update | Issue Eight 2014
Lyn Bretag
Principal, Renmark Primary School
Graduate Certificate in Education (Professional Practice) 1997

Lyn Bretag broke the cycle of her disadvantaged childhood through education and went on to become an educator and school leader. Her achievements were recognised this year when she was named winner of the School/Preschool Leader of the Year in the Excellence in South Australian Public Teaching Awards 2014.

“My journey has been very largely due to wonderful educators with far more experience than mine at the time, who encouraged me to take risks in my career that I probably wouldn't have thought about,” says Lyn.

Lyn Bretag
Lyn was the eldest of four children raised by a single mother who cleaned houses to make ends meet. They lived in crowded conditions sharing a house with extended family and she faced many hurdles.

At the age of 12 she decided that studying hard at school was going to be the way out of this kind of life.

“I realised that I had to create a pathway for myself. I wasn’t going to be able to rely on anyone else to do it for me,” says Lyn.

Lyn enjoyed school. She was fortunate to have supportive teachers who really wanted students to do well.

The experience no doubt contributed to her career choice but Lyn believes that she was always meant to become a teacher.

“Mum used to remind me that I taught my sister to read before she started school. We didn’t have lots of toys and we used to play ‘schools’ a lot, and read, write and do a lot of colouring-in, crosswords and puzzles," says Lyn.

Looking back on her career, Lyn sees that her gravitation towards leadership roles had their foundation in her willingness to take risks despite her fears.

When she moved to Renmark in 1981 she was finding it difficult juggling two jobs across two different schools. She managed to persuade one principal to place her in a full time position, but it was a role that was very much out of her comfort zone. She accepted the challenge and didn’t look back.

During the next two decades she worked as a classroom teacher and took on project leadership roles. She completed her Graduate Certificate in Teaching Practice at UniSA in 1997. Again moving outside her comfort zone, she became acting School Counsellor and later Deputy Principal and acting Principal at Renmark Primary School.

Lyn eventually won the Principal’s role and in 2012 took on the challenge of managing the amalgamation of the Junior Primary and Primary Schools and a $2.5 million building project.

“I have learned there is a way around nearly every challenge. It takes a lot of time and energy and getting other people to work together,” says Lyn.

Renmark Primary School has 360 students and is a Category 2 school — the second highest on the level of socioeconomic disadvantage, with more than half of the families on low incomes and a relatively high proportion of students with learning needs.

Lyn says her own childhood experiences help her to relate to her students.

“You have to believe that all those children can be great achievers as well – and we do," says Lyn.

She and her leadership team let the community know that they have high expectations for their students and they create opportunities for them. Over the years she has seen the reputation of the school improve.

“I’m very proud of our students, many of whom have gone onto to do great things,” she says.

The school has just received a grant to work with the Riverland Youth Theatre for the next three years and she has backed their partnerships grant to support development of Aboriginal leadership in the community.

Lyn’s South Australian Public Teaching Award carries with it $10,000 to fund professional development, which Lyn will use to build the capacity of her staff, adding that she will reserve something for her own professional development.

“I’ll think very carefully about how to make the most out of the opportunity," she says.

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