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Proactive principal up for national award

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Darren Cox wanted to think outside the box to curb high rates of teenage obesity and poor fitness levels.

So, in 2018, the St Philip’s Christian College Cessnock principal decided to implement three gym and fitness sessions into students’ timetables.

All lessons for those in Year 5 to 10 are carried out in the Nulkaba-based college’s new $7 million state-of-the-art sports centre.

“There is a lot in the media about young people being inactive,” Mr Cox told Newcastle Weekly.

“Most schools deliver the same type of [Physical Education] program, yet the numbers continue to skyrocket.

“I wanted to do something drastic in that space and it’s having a massive impact.

“School should be fun and engaging – a place you want to come to every day.”

To that end, Mr Cox said he aimed to address general wellbeing and its flow-on effects for mental health, as well as fitness levels, while staff were also supported through free 24/7 gym access.

His proactive approach has led to a nomination for the Australian Principal of the Year in the non-government primary category, with the winner to be announced next month.

“It’s incredibly humbling to be honest – I can’t quite believe it,” Mr Cox said.

“When you start your teaching career 27 years ago in Western Sydney, you don’t think you’ll make a top five nomination for something like this.”

Mr Cox, who joined the college a decade ago as deputy principal before taking on the top job four years later, said it had undergone vast changes during this time.

“The literacy standards were 70% below minimum standards a while ago, but they are now 80% above, which we’re really happy with,” he said.

“The school is on 100 acres out at Cessnock and now contains state-of-the-art facilities – it’s very exciting for the Hunter Valley to have this on their doorstep.

“People have seen the school grow and evolve over the years but, once they come in, they are blown away by how big it is and the facilities inside.”

The Australian Principal of the Year gong will be handed out at the annual Australian Education Awards ceremony on Friday 16 August in Darling Harbour.

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