Cornish College officially opened in 2012, although it already had a rich history of offering something different in education, stemming from its roots as St Leonard’s Patterson River campus.
In 1980 Richard Cornish, Principal of St Leonard’s College, purchased 114 acres next to Patterson River for a new campus. An innovative educator, Cornish intended it be used for environmental, horticultural and agricultural studies; for sporting facilities; and as a feeder school for Prep – Year 8 students who would progress to St Leonard’s Brighton for Years 9 – 12.
Construction took place over the next few years with St Leonard’s College, Patterson River, officially opening in February 1987.
When it opened, the school consisted of 72 students, five form teachers and eight classrooms. Key staff included the Head of Campus, Rev John Donnell; Educational Director, Graeme Morgan; and Michael Davis, who later became the only staff member to have been part of the whole journey from St Leonard’s to the current day.
The early years saw important changes at the school. When Donnell took long service leave, Wendy Adams became the Head of Campus and was key in developing and implementing innovative thematic courses of study. The campus was renamed the Richard Cornish campus – Cornish for short – creating a sense of tradition and community bolstered by enthusiastic staff, students and parents from Brighton, who assisted with planting thousands of trees around the campus.
In 1990 Kerry Bolger became the new Head of Campus. He further shaped the educational approach by re-emphasising environmental education and the farm ecosystem, adding a garden of indigenous plants and broadening subject choices for students. He also sought to establish the campus as its own, fostering connections between Cornish and the wider community.
To attract more families, the College opened a new Early Learning Centre in 1995, with a music, drama and arts department, a multi-purpose centre (gymnasium, assembly hall, indoor sports centre) and new classrooms following suit. The Big Experience – later becoming the Make a Difference Experience – became a curriculum highlight, focusing on social justice and personal development through service in disadvantaged communities.
However, despite suburban development prompting an extension to Year 10 by 2000, financial pressures grew and in 2011, the College Council announced that the campus would close at the end of the year. Cornish’s offering was valued so much that a group of parents formed the Our New College Association to persuade the College Council to reverse its decision or, if not, to purchase the land and create a new school in its place. Following discussions, the Uniting Church in Australia provided funding for the purchase of the land and assets from St Leonard’s College, with an agreement reached on 30 June 2011, with a new school to open in 2012.
The birth of Cornish College
Kerry Bolger was appointed the first Principal of Cornish College, which officially opened on 2 February 2012. The College emphasised education of a different kind, combining inquiry-based learning and concept-based curriculum underpinned by the Rings of Sustainability – four lenses through which students examined key ideas. Social justice was also important, evident in the College’s motto, Make A Difference.
By 2014, the College had expanded to Year 11, with its first cohort of Victorian Certificate of Education students.
Growth and consolidation
Vicki Steer became Cornish’s second Principal in January 2016 after Kerry Bolger retired in 2015. Cornish was still a young school when Steer commenced, so she was instrumental in continuing to grow firm foundations by developing strong, clear policies; revising the Constitution; incorporating the College as a separate legal entity; updating the five-year Strategic Plan; and developing a far-sighted master plan which included a new Senior Studies Centre that set the benchmark for future building projects.
2017 marked five years of Cornish College and enrolments reached 701. Steer continued the College’s commitment to sustainability, oversaw the growth of an emphasis on outdoor learning and was key in driving the College’s educational philosophy forward.
Vicki Steer retired in July 2019, with Deputy Principal Nicola Forrest succeeding her as the third Principal of Cornish College.
Forrest continues to emphasise Cornish’s roots in educating for a sustainable future. This vision involves challenging traditional educational norms by focusing on concepts rather than individual subjects, ensuring students develop critical and creative thinking skills to solve problems and adapt to changing circumstances.
2022 marked 10 years of Cornish College – an exciting milestone for a school built on the tireless efforts of many passionate volunteers and members of the community. Cornish College’s growth and direction over the coming years will undoubtedly inspire students, staff and families within and beyond the College community.