Miss Margaret Joan Essex

Principal from 1971–1976

OBITUARY – MISS JOAN ESSEX (penned by Elida Brereton, Principal of CHS, in 2001)

Miss Joan Essex, Principal of Camberwell High School from 1971-1976, died recently after a long illness. In his official history of CHS, Camberwell High School 1941-1991, author Robert Ewins writes:

Problems of lack of specialised staff, an inadequate staffing establishment and, at times, the poor quality (if not outright incompetence) of teachers were inherited by the next principal, Joan Essex (1971-1976) along with a school which was overcrowded and unsettled, perhaps by the recently completed building programme, but certainly by the general decline in respect for authority, and willingness to accept discipline and direction, which was the product of broad social and cultural change … Margaret Joan Essex began her career as a student-teacher at Cambridge Street Primary School in Collingwood in 1935 and subsequently taught English in a wide range of schools.

… At Maribyrnong High School as Acting Principal, she demonstrated that a woman could successfully run a large co-educational school. … Joan Essex herself loved teaching and was therefore disinclined to accept slovenliness in others; as a result of her efforts, some staff were removed from the school. … For Joan Essex, the school was the workplace for both staff and students. … The school should remain academic, in her view, but those who were not academic needed to be catered for. …

In her 1971 Senior Speech Night address, she stated: “If we are to turn our students from selfishness, unconcern and lack of commitment then we must look at the total experience in their schooling……… We seek to impart certain knowledge and skills, but we must include attitudes and values. I believe that the goals of education are pushing towards the goal of individual fulfilment in a rapidly changing society.”

In 1972, a five day period day was introduced to facilitate the introduction of new elective subjects, e.g. first aid, pre-driver education, orchestra. Boys were encouraged to do cooking and girls to do metal work and wood work. Much encouragement was given to extra-curricular activities in drama and music. … In 1975, a careers programme of one period weekly was started for Form IV students. … Work experience was also started for Form V.

… There was also a considerable expansion in the opportunities for parent/teacher contact. Ninety-nine parents attended a Parent’s Evening in March 1976 – a very high response rate. … On Sunday March 16, 1975, the school held its first Open Day with large numbers of students participating, most of the staff and overall about 1000 people attending. …

On behalf of the school community, I acknowledge Miss Essex’s unique and valuable contribution to Camberwell High School, and offer our condolences to family and friends.