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A coffee with…

Mark Sawle - Principal, Great Southern Grammar

Amy Sims and Diana Currie caught up with the Principal of GSG recently to reminisce about the independent school’s 20th birthday celebrations and its bright future in Albany.

Mark's history and how that links into Great Southern Grammar

Mark is the fourth principal of GSG, having commenced two years ago after a 20-year stint at Aquinas College in Perth, 10 of which were as principal. Mark grew up and was educated in Perth, and his first teaching post was at Balga High School. His career included time spent teaching at the prestigious Knox Grammar School in NSW. Mark’s specialty is Mathematics curriculum and he continues to teach this subject at Year Ten level at GSG.

Mark’s love of the Great Southern region’s environment, its relaxed community and people and his personal friendship with the previous headmaster, saw the fulfilment of a goal to make Albany home for himself and wife, Louise. Together, they have two adult children in Perth studying teaching degrees.

A brief history of GSG: When did it begin and what was the driving force?

GSG commenced in 1999 at a temporary campus with 36 students and moved to the Oyster Harbour location in 2000.

The concept of a new independent school in the great southern region with boarding facilities was born from a desire by families seeking an independent school alternative in the region.

The land was sourced and a groundswell of community support turned the idea into reality. Mark noted this as a significant turning point in the creation of the school in the late 1990’s. The vision and determination of these pioneers of the school was outstanding.

Today, 20 years on, GSG is a thriving community of 750 students from Kindergarten to Year Twelve, including 132 boarders and employing 180 staff. Boarding students are drawn from across the Great Southern region and beyond.

Mark is clearly proud of the GSG success story in providing parents with a first-class, independent school at their doorstep. The school provides easier access for boarding families in a co-educational setting. It allows students to be educated closer to their homes without the complexities of a city environment, and is surrounded by a large, natural space on 144 acres.

How did the school celebrate its 20th birthday milestone?

A special crest was developed, along with a curated exhibition and cocktail party held at the Albany Entertainment Centre on 16 June 2018. The original founders of the school, along with former staff, parents and alumni attended this event. They shared stories and reminisced, while listening to student musical performances including the GSG pipe band.

P&F Presidents past and present were applauded and presided over cutting a birthday cake for all to enjoy.

On campus, a special assembly with Welcome to Country and musical items followed by the traditional Running of the Flags race was enjoyed by the the school community. Another birthday cake was cut by two original staff and a few specially selected students.

Newly-installed sport courts were officially opened and dedicated to John and Glenda Tomlinson, the original owners of the land on which the Lower Kalgan campus was established.

What advice would you give to students embarking on their journey beyond school?

Be genuine and demonstrate good values 24/7. This includes your digital footprint, which reflects who you are beyond the spoken word. Also, be respectful of the environment and learn to be involved with your community by giving back. Research reflects improvement in mental health when a person is actively engaged in their community.

What is a typical day in the life of a principal?

An early start, often with meetings of finance, curriculum, or building and grounds. Greeting students as they arrive on campus, daily teaching of Maths to Year Ten, meeting with student leaders, and parent meetings which can include boarding enrolment interviews. Each day is varied and often includes after-hours events on the school programme.

What about down time?

Mark likes to get outdoors in the beautiful Albany environs, enjoying a jog and stand-up-paddle boarding. He admitted he is a summer swimmer only, being used to the warmer water in Perth!

What does the next 20 years have in store for GSG?

GSG is in a period of consolidation and will need to be responsive to both economic and social change into the future. The challenges of government funding and changes to curriculum, increased compliance and proposed changes to NAPLAN testing, all present potential risks and challenges to managing a school of this size.  

Mark is passionate regarding the greater emphasis by students on community service and gave an example of the involvement by students at the recent bushfires in the Stirlings. Year Eight and Nine students put together care packages for families affected. Other community service includes tree planting, support for ANZAC Day events and an annual Cambodia service trip by Year Twelve students and staff. Changes Mark predicts include greater web-based learning and blended learning between traditional teaching in the classroom and online self-paced learning.

Mark was philosophical about the future of GSG and commented positively about its good standing and reputation in the community. A school like this will still be here in 100 years time, he told us. 

As we left the campus we noted the happy voices of early childhood students playing and laughing and had a sense that Mark’s experience and leadership will ensure the next 20 years and more continue to provide Albany and the region with a great school for future generations.


244 Nanarup Road Albany  WA  6330

Phone: 9844 0300



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