Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

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JENNY WAJSENBERG, PRINCIPAL of GLEN WAVERLEY CAMPUS, 1997-2003
(June, 2003, speech at the Glen Waverley Campus Farewell Function for Jenny Wajsenberg)

My first memory of Jenny, just after she arrived at Glen Waverley, was her rather brusque “I can give you only four minutes” as I trailed her into her office, having made an appointment to discuss something or other with her.

Somebody had tipped her off … “Watch out for Martyn Smith!” they’d warned her.  “He goes on and on, and on!”

A little later, silly thing, she offered to give me a lift from Glen Waverley to St Kilda Road to hear a lecture by, I think, Morris West … I think that’s who it was.  

Trapped in the car with me for thirty minutes!  Oh dear!  Mistake!

But, for the crowning moment of this sequence, let me take you to a chilly central Victorian afternoon in mid June 1998 - Queen’s Birthday weekend, is my guess - thirteen months after Jenny had started at Wesley … in Leggatt Avenue Daylesford, overlooking the lake.

My wife Helen and I had been following up some family history in the somewhat higgledy-piggledy but intriguing Daylesford Museum and, on the recommendation of one of the Museum’s voluntary curators, had made a late booking at what turned out to be a lovely Bed and Breakfast named ‘Ambleside’.

As we pulled into the two-space car park alongside the house, I half glimpsed the rear outline of a female hairstyle in the passenger side of a car already in the carpark, the occupants of which were about to get out and enter the B & B.

As Helen and I fossicked for various bits and pieces in the glove box, on the floor and elsewhere in our car - you know what you do as you prepare to be out of the car for a period - I thought to myself, very fleetingly, “That looked like Jenny Wajsenberg” and, just as fleetingly, dismissed the idea as being too remote a possibility … holiday weekend ... the whole of Victoria … no, … no chance ... couldn’t be.  Didn’t even mention it to Helen.

Then, when Helen and I, in our turn, arrived at the front door … well, what do you know!?  It was Jenny, and her husband Mark.  Amazing!

Oh lucky, lucky Jenny!!  A whole evening around the fire with me, and, no doubt, breakfast to follow - trapped again!  Yak, yak, yak!  Wesley, Wesley, Wesley!  Blah, blah, blah!

As it turned out, Mark and Jenny went out to dinner to their chosen spot, as did Helen and I to ours.

We did chat a little, later, when we returned and, yes, we did all breakfast together.  But as I recall there was no ear bashing.  

The trouble was that Jenny and I both could ‘ear bash’, particularly when together.

This led to many perturbed interventions from a longish line, it can be said, of Jenny’s personal assistants, as Jenny and I thrashed out an issue, or expounded theories, in her office, well beyond the appointed time.

Whilst I admit some guilt as a protagonist in this, I do believe that, on occasion, Jenny, too, was not averse to prolonging the dialectic.

Engrossing work in the CCP and then later at Clunes meant that I was removed for long periods from the daily life of the Campus until late in the year 2000.  This meant that the occasions on which Jenny and I would talk as I have described were spasmodic and sometimes disjointed.

Nonetheless, vigor and candor were characteristics of our discussions, characteristics valued by each of us.

I must say that, on a number of occasions, Jenny and I had to simply agree to disagree.

I’m glad to say that these disagreements always were clearly defined and it was easy for each of us to know where the other stood.   Certainly we were not mutual sycophants!

And, of course, there were many occasions when we agreed.

Our conversations were not always issues-based, though mostly, I think, they were.

Jenny sought strongly to understand the heritage of the College in the latter half to two-thirds of her tenure and honored me by developing this understanding through me - not only in straight-forward information-seeking but also, again, as it applied to issues about which she, or I, felt very strongly.

There will be other evidences of Jenny’s deepening empathy with the College’s story, but it struck me that this year’s Founders’ Day Assembly may have consolidated them manifestly insofar as Jenny conceived and motivated that most enjoyable and very meaningful celebration a month or so ago.

I think that there can be no doubt that Jenny maintained the courage of her convictions.

Believing that she should set an example for Campus self-analysis, Jenny bravely submitted herself to the scrutiny of her staff when she laid bare the findings, regarding herself personally and professionally, of the Organizational Health Surveys conducted at the Campus in the very late 1990’s.

Arising from this courageous example, Jenny sought to provide a blueprint for the flattening and dispersal of the Campus’s leadership structures so that broader participation in decision-making was available to teachers.

This participation, of course, is constantly sought by teachers but often, when the opportunity comes, it is all a bit too hard and teachers “just want to get on with the teaching”!  It’s not easy to achieve this involvement quickly and harmoniously.  Ambitions can predominate, envies arise, role confusion sets in, time disappears, and communication falters and even ceases … all that sort of stuff.

Somewhere there is the appropriate balance in this dilemma.

My absence from the Campus for a year now makes it hard for me to know, but hopefully there does currently exist, at the Campus, evidence of the healthy outcome of this professional and personal development process, a process bravely commenced by Jenny in 1998.

I guess that it is for you, who have been here, to judge this for yourselves.

If for me there is one clearly identifiable hallmark of Jenny’s Principalship of this Campus it is the renewal and enlargement of the Middle School buildings that, of course, we are occupying at this moment.

Jenny was the essential prime mover of the suite of spaces that now comprise the Middle School here at Glen Waverley.  And I reckon she got it right!

I won’t detail the specific reasons why I think this just now, suffice to say that this facility turned a 1960s chicken coop, with some late ‘80s additions - and all its structural constraints - into a superbly appropriate place where adolescents can “laze and blaze”, to use Tony Conabere’s words of twenty or so years ago when he was describing the nature of the Middle School challenge as the Campus was about to expand to include the middle teenagers.

Furthermore, Jenny’s design philosophy, in my opinion, complemented perfectly the rationale of the pre-existing City Curriculum and neatly foreshadowed the principles of the Clunes experience.

Consequently, at Glen Waverley, there exists a philosophical, educational and architectural unity within which the Middle School students may begin to discover for themselves what it means to be an educated suburban, urban and rural Australian.

This is a tangible result of Jenny’s vision.

Finally, and on a personal note, I want to thank Jenny for her care of and thoughtfulness for my family and me.

‘Family’ is the highest priority for Jenny.  Early in her time at Wesley, she lost her beloved father and has since cared for her mother and, of course, for her daughter and her husband.

When, in 2001, Helen and I needed some support from the College, Jenny gave it and gave it unreservedly.  Helen and I were deeply appreciative of Jenny’s compassion then, and remain so to this day.

Jenny, thank you for that, and thank you for the philosophical jousts and the mutual learning that we have shared.

All the best for the future and I suspect that your family, now, will enjoy, unencumbered, their place at the centre of your heart.

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