High Notes, Vol 21 No 13, May 08 2020

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From the Principal

Valé Robert McCredie May (Lord May of Oxford, OM AC FAA FRS TFSE FRSN)

Bob May was a self-effacing, straight-talking polymath who was born into a dysfunctional family on January 8, 1936. His mother divorced his brilliant, but alcoholic father when he was young.  He rose to become a member of the House of Lords and a recipient of the very rare Order of Merit, bestowed by The Queen.  Described as a ‘professor of everything’, Bob May had great strengths in chemical engineering, physics, mathematics, ecology, zoology and finance. He was made a member of the Royal Society in 1979. He was knighted in 1996. He was Chief Scientific Advisor to the British Government 1995-2000.  He served as President of the Royal society 2000-2005. He advised British Prime Ministers.

Bob May was described as the ‘grandfather of chaos theory’. His influential work Stability and Complexity in Modern Ecosystems (1973) established the understanding that complex systems are not more resilient than simple ones.  As they grow more complex, they tend to become more unstable and chaotic. He believed that similarities among systems can help scientists to develop unifying theories. Of great relevance to us in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, was his proposition, developed with two collaborators in 2001, that for an infectious agent to establish itself in a new population it must have a basic reproductive number R0 which satisfies R0>1. This number now drives the speed of our road out of social restrictions. He applied systems thinking to many branches of science and to finance.

Bob May attended Sydney High (1948-52).  He rowed at the Head of the River in the Fourth IV.  He was a member of the outstanding 1952 debating team which won the double – the Hume Barbour Competition and the Louat Shield.  This feat has been achieved only very rarely in High’s history.  Bob topped the state in Mathematics I and was third in Mathematics II.  He was named on the list for Chemistry.  He was awarded first class honours in three subjects.  Incredibly, this wasn’t good enough to stop Phillip Freeman from winning the Grafton Elliott Smith Prize for the highest aggregate mark at the Leaving Certificate for Physics and Chemistry at High.

Bob was another of Lennie Basser’s protégés.  Lennie challenged his students to think outside of the boxes set by the curriculum.  He nurtured in his students an abiding love for Chemistry.  At the University of Sydney, Professor Harry Messel inspired Bob in Physics.  He was in the right places at the right times to learn the craft of science from inspirational people. Lord May’s work changed whole fields of science.

In 2007, Bob came to Australia to address the Lowy Institute on climate change.  He gave a powerful, articulate address.  I met him that year when he appeared at High unannounced. He came down to my office having not found anyone in the office he remembered as the Headmaster’s, near the main entrance. He introduced himself as Bob May and said he was having a look around. We chatted briefly as he was on his way to an engagement. I didn’t realise that I was conversing with ‘the brightest boffin in Australia’. Ever since that brief encounter, I have felt a sense of loss that I did not manage to engage him in a longer conversation to experience his formidable intellect at first hand and recognise his outstanding achievements. In a cruel irony, Bob’s last battle was with dementia.  He died on April 28, aged 84. He was unquestionably one of the greatest Australians on the world stage, in any era. He will be missed.

Reminder: Cycle one roster, commencing Week 3B, Monday 11 May

Week and cycle Week 3B:
11/5 - 15/5
Week 4C:
18/5 - 22/5
Week 5A:
25/5 - 29/5
Monday 10 7 11
12 12 12
Tuesday 11 10 9
12 12 12
Wednesday 7 8 7
9 9 8
Thursday 8 9 7
10 11 11
Friday 8 11 10
12 12 12

Accommodating Absent Students on Face-To-Face Days

It is unreasonable to ask teachers to teach students in front of them at the same time as trying to teach those absent from school and online. In week three, once school resumes for nominated years on the roster, teachers at school will only offer face-to face lessons. On the other hand, now that we have moved so much of our programming online with CANVAS, teachers have the possibility of contacting absent students to let them know about the content of the lesson they missed, where it resides and any resources that are to be used with it. Teachers may be in a position to make units of work available at certain times or do so after the lesson, at least at some time on the same day it was delivered. Each faculty will do things their own way, but there will be communication in CANVAS ‘Announcements’ at some point or else in the location where the individual teacher chooses to upload it. Each student away from school has the personal responsibility to check CANVAS to access work. Naturally, students who are away sick may not feel up to taking part in an online lesson.  Their situation is the same as pre-COVID-19, except they may have access to that lesson once they feel up to it. Notwithstanding whether they complete the work or not before they return to school, they must return with an appropriate note explaining their absence.

Student Attendance Marking

Teachers delivering from home on a face-to-face day can assume all members of their class that can be are online – whether in one or two classrooms at school, in the senior library or online at home when they are sick. There are around six teachers who will continue to deliver their lessons in online mode because they are at risk or have no childcare available. They will mark the roll, as has become the routine, by counting those who are logged in. Teachers delivering face to face will only mark the roll for those in class in front of them. All other students will be absent and will have to explain their absence in the usual way.

Students in Acceleration

Students enrolled in stand-alone acceleration classes will attend school on the nominated days for Years 10 and 11 and follow their timetables in the usual way. Students enrolled in acceleration in a vertically integrated group will have to attend the scheduled class for Preliminary or HSC with the cohort above them, as well as attending on the rostered day for Year 10. The rest of the day’s lessons on non-roster days will be online and take place in a designated space – usually the senior library.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has provided advice for schools to reopen. The Prime Minister stated on 24 April  that,’the 1.5m in the classrooms and the four-square metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice for students in classrooms’. Research into COVID-19 in schools found that:

  1.  Kids get infected with coronavirus at much lower rates than adults
  2.  Children rarely get severely ill from COVID-19
  3.  Children don’t spread COVID-19 disease like adults
  4.  School children in Australia with COVID-19 haven’t spread it to others
  5.  There is no evidence closing schools will control transmission

Nevertheless, the state of NSW is taking a more cautious approach and maintaining social distancing in classrooms, at this stage. I am recommending that parents send their sons back to school from Monday in accordance with the roster for our first cycle.

Arrangements for Rooming In Cycle One: Weeks 3B-5A

Mr Prorellis has done a mountain of work in re-rooming and re-scheduling our learning spaces to conform to social distancing requirements. Spaces for classes of 30 with social distancing have been created - in the Great Hall (2), in the Junior Library (2), in the senior library (1), in rooms 607-8 (1), in the gymnasium (1), in Rooms 704-5 (1). A number of teachers have indicated that they want to have some or all of their classes re-roomed to these larger spaces. There are 51 teachers who will teach their classes in their normal timetabled spaces. I thank them for making this commitment.

Keeping Us Safe

Mr Kay has been busy assigning our fit young coaches to the task of creating our large learning spaces by deploying furniture to them. They also sprayed the desks and chairs with Glen 20.  Mr Prorellis has procured and distributed 16 hand-held infrared thermometers to faculties and other key areas such as libraries. Our first defence against the virus is to check people’s temperatures. The accepted febrile temperature is 38 degrees. Staff have been asked to take each other’s temperatures. They are empowered to take students’ temperatures randomly. Anyone on site with a temperature reading of 38 degrees will be asked to go home and get a COVID-19 test or doctor’s clearance letter before returning to school.

Every staff room has been issued with – hand sanitiser, Glen 20 ethanol spray, alcohol wipes, rubber gloves and face masks. Hand sanitising stations have been set up at six locations in the school. Individual hand sanitiser bottles will be offered to staff and students next week. Staircases have been set up with arrows to separate people going up from those going down. Corridors have been divided with tape and students are asked to respect these and keep to the left when they return. 1.5m gaps have been indicated with tape at the front office, with limits of four students at a time lining up to engage in business with SASS staff. The Canteen will be open for business. Social distancing will apply in the Canteen area. It would help if lunches were ordered and non-cash payments made by students. We are confident that our learning environment is as safe as we can make it.

Resumption of School Sport

The following statement gives an indication of the direction that GPS sport is taking in response to social restrictions remaining in place. “As boys return to Schools, the AAGPS continues to monitor Government guidelines regarding a possible return to School Sports. It appears that the approach of a systematic phased return could be adopted with details and timing to follow. However, for the AAGPS, the decision has been made to concentrate on Athletics in Term 2 with the possibility of the AAGPS Carnival being scheduled for the second Saturday of Term 3, 1 August. It is proposed that the full Winter Sports season may then take place between 8 August and 19 September. A schedule of events will be published as soon as is possible after guidelines are released by Government sources: Mark Ticehurst Chairman, AAGPS.

At High, from Week 3, we will be conducting sport in the usual sport times on Thursdays for juniors only. In Week 3B -Year 8; in 4C Year 9 and 5A – Year 7. Social distancing restrictions will be observed. We will focus on athletics and cross country, where training is individual and where social distancing can be maintained. Mr Marcos is drawing up a plan for students to be able to access other suitable sports in the interim, until restrictions are eased. Should health advice change and social distancing rules be relaxed, our planning will respond accordingly.
Dr K A Jaggar

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