Santa Sophia foundation principal’s journey and hopes

By Jordan Grantham, 30 November 2017
Mark de Vries at the current site of Santa Sophia Catholic College. Image: Jordan Grantham/Diocese of Parramatta.

Mark de Vries is the Foundation Principal of the future Santa Sophia Catholic College, Box Hill. This unique opportunity of building a Catholic school from scratch requires a unique skill set and complete commitment to the project. Mark granted an interview with Catholic Outlook.

Mark’s vocation as a teacher was motivated by a desire for community and the satisfaction of knowing he could benefit student wellbeing.

“I loved the passion and enthusiasm which some of my teachers brought to their classes each day. I vividly recall my Grade Four teacher, a Mrs Taylor and her ability to engage and motivate the most difficult of students,” Mark said.

“I also remember, in my life post-HSC, of missing the sense of community and belonging that schooling gives you. It made perfect sense to become a teacher when you consider all my positive experiences I had at school.”

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Character formation will play an important role at Santa Sophia Catholic College. Mark is keenly aware of teacher influence on student character development.

“I think students are so impressionable and the impact we have as teachers is significant. We have a tremendous opportunity, along with parents, to shape and develop their character, and instill life-long values in the students we teach,” he said.

“I think we’re on the right track as a profession, in moving towards a student-centred approach, which will give the students variety and choice in the ways in which they can demonstrate their understanding of outcomes.

“When students are given choice over how they learn and what they learn within the context of the curriculum, I believe we can assist students fully develop their potential and character. The ‘one size fits all’ approach to learning is too limiting and restrictive.”

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Ultimately, becoming mature Catholics is the point of a values-based education, something which is important to Mark as he strives to imitate Christ in word and deed.

“I’ve always maintained that we need to model Christ’s values through our own actions and behaviours and in our interactions with others. The best examples should be the adults who stand before students every day,” he said.

“Another way we offer students an encounter with Christ is participation in social justice and immersion experiences and their attendance at events such as World Youth Day and the Australian Catholic Youth Festivals,” he said.

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“These are where students can get together with other people their own age, who have the same value base and religious beliefs, and celebrate their faith. This is a really powerful experience in reinforcing their faith beliefs,” he said.

Mark aspires to lead a united community with high morale, high mutual expectations between staff, students and parents, as well as care for children with learning difficulties.

His challenge in bringing his vision of a new faith based learning community to fruition is meeting the constant responsibility of creating a new school.

“The level of responsibility in being the driver and leader of ‘everything’ in a brand new school situation is huge. If you don’t drive the agenda, it’s not likely to happen,” he said.

“You tend to live the job 24/7. You’re constantly thinking of what next needs to be done.”

“It’s a real honour and privilege to have strong input into the decision making process.”

Mark is currently relishing the formation of the key partners in the future school – staff, parents and students.

“Bringing together a new team is such a critical process,” he said.

“As is the process of engaging with your foundation parent community – you’ve got to have a strong vision and be able to articulate this to parents, and make the school an attractive proposition for their children to learn and prepare for the future.”

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