First pupils are ‘pioneers’: Student voice central to Limerick’s newest school

Jess Casey

Reporter:

Jess Casey

Eoin Shinners and Anne Cronin, chair of the interim board of management

Eoin Shinners and Anne Cronin, chair of the interim board of management

STUDENTS enrolling at Limerick’s newest school are “pioneers” who will play an important role in shaping the school for years to come, according to the incoming Educate Together principal. 

Educate Together is due to open in a temporary premises at the National Technology Park in Plassey this September, the second Educate Together secondary school to open its doors in Munster.

With enrollment capped at 80 students in its first year, the school is expected to eventually accomodate 600 students.  

The input of incoming first years and their parents will be crucial in shaping the school’s programme and curriculum, from subject choices to dress code, according to principal Eoin Shinners. 

“When I’m talking to parents about the students; They’re pioneers,” Mr Shinners explains. 

“They are absolute pioneers and they are taking a leap of faith.” 

“But a lot of students who will be enrolling in September, their parents are very much up to speed with what Educate Together is about.” 

“With Educate Together, the ethos is built around four pillars; Co-educational, multi-denominational, student centred and democratically run.” 

“So student voice and parental voice are a massive part of what Educate Together is about.” 

“Very much everything that happens in the school will be implemented with student representation in the decision process. That’s key.”

“Student voice will be everywhere, it will be in every aspect of the school. It will begin with a small cohort of students and the hope is that it will become an organic thing.” 

“As more students come in, in year two, year three, year four, those students will help set the tone in terms of how we want the school to be.” 

Student representatives will also sit on the school’s board of management and give their input on student issues, according to Mr Shinners.

However, they will be excused from sensitive issues or from the “nuts and bolts” in the daily running of the school, he added. 

An alumni of Mary Immaculate College and University College Dublin, Mr Shinners was previously an assistant principal and teacher of history and multimedia in Coláiste Iósaef Community College in Kilmallock.

This will be his first role with an Educate Together school. 

“I engaged with the campaign two years ago, purely as a teacher, because I was very interested in the ethos of Educate Together and I was excited by the prospect down the line to maybe work within that type of school.”

There has been a lot of interest in the school, with more than 1,200 expressions of interest previously registered in the Castletroy, Monaleen area, he added. 

“We’ve 50 students confirmed as enrolled. Over the last week, there’s been a lot of expressions of interest. We’re hoping to have approximately 60 to 70 students enrolled by September,” he said, adding that there numbers are capped at 80 in the first year. 

Once a site for the permanent school has been identified, the process should move quickly as the building has been earmarked by the Department of Education as a rapid build, Mr Shinners believes. 

“What that means is that once the site has been approved, things will move very quickly so it will be very different to the experiences of Croom in particular where they are waiting years for a site.”

“I’d expect things to move fairly quickly. The temporary building that we’re in will do for two years but after that we will need something bigger. The anticipation is that in 2019, we’ll have an enrollment of 120 students.” 

“We will also be advertising for seven to eight teachers in Mid-May. There’ll be no subject specific line in the advert, because we want to be able to build our curriculum around what teachers have to offer.” 

Mr Shinners has two children with his wife Liz, who is also a teacher and is currently on full-time secondment with the JCT (Junior Cycle for Teachers) Whole School Support team and Modern Foreign Languages team. 

His daughter Breesha, age 7, attends a local national school in Castletroy and his son Eoinín is three. 

“I am excited about the prospect of my two children attending Limerick ETSS in the not so distant future,” he added. 

He expects the school to have a strong focus on technology, sustainability and being environmentally friendly, he added. 

“Ultimately you want the school to be a success. If I look at my own personal goals, I want the school to be a flagship in terms of high quality teaching and learning.” 

“Maybe to set the standard of what democracy student centred teaching and learning is about, where student voice and parental voice is at the forefront of everything. That’s where we’d like to stand out.” 

On May 15, Mr Shinners will meet with incoming students and their parents at the Castletroy Park Hotel to discuss what they want from the school, he added. 

“After that, its going to be the nuts and bolts really. I’ll be working hard over the summer to make sure the school is ready for our students. I’m really looking forward to it. Its very rare to get a principal job in a completely new school.”