Parents go to the top of the class in plans for new Catholic school

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Husband and wife team Tim Mitchell and Penny Wright are founders of Hartford College, planned to open in Sydney’s eastern suburbs next year. It will focus on personalised education, mentoring, character and faith formation. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

New independent educator is set to appear in Sydney

Parent power will see the opening of a new Catholic independent school in Sydney’s eastern suburbs next year.

Husband and wife team Penny Wright and Tim Mitchell are founders of Hartford College, the new Year 5-12 boys’ school opening in Daceyville in 2022. Located in the former Sydney Catholic School eastern region offices on Banks Ave, the initiative has the support of St Michael’s Parish, Daceyville, and the blessing of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.

Hartford is the latest example of a new trend on the Australian education scene: non-systemic independent Catholic schools focussing on formation of students’ character and emphasising parental contributions to the educational and character formation process in collaboration with the school.

“the main measure of success for us is helping to form great human beings” – Ian Mejia

Expressions of interest from parents are now being sought. Hartford College will feature small class numbers and one-on-one mentoring of students in partnership with parents, along with a focus on fostering academic excellence with the development of the student’s character and faith.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said he was impressed by the initiative and enthusiasm of the group of parents who presented him with “a vision for broadening the diversity of educational choice for Catholics in Sydney”.

“Hartford will undoubtedly appeal to those wanting a rich religious instruction for their boys in a small school context, and an enhanced involvement of parents in the educational process,” the archbishop said.

College principal James Burfitt will bring his experience of guiding Redfield College and Wollemi College, schools administered by the PARED (Parents for Education) Foundation, through their fledgling years. Deputy principal Ian Mejia will bring his secondary teaching experience to Hartford and was most recently director of operations at Wollemi.

Ian Mejia and James Burfitt. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“Ian and I have got almost 50 years’ experience between us of working for PARED which won’t wash off in a hurry, but it is an amazing opportunity and privilege for us to be at the start of this school story,” Mr Burfitt told The Catholic Weekly.

“At Hartford College we want to inspire our students with a holistic, rigorous education that will allow them to become men of virtue, faith, and compassion, and equipped to face life’s challenges.”

Mr Mitchell said the new school would appeal to families throughout Sydney including the eastern, south eastern and southern suburbs, the inner west and lower north shore. The dynamic duo run a small legal firm in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and Ms Wright has a longstanding association with the Sisters of Charity and is a trustee of Mary Aikenhead Ministries.

“My connection and relationship with those sisters, the story of Mary Aikenhead and everything that Mary Aikenhead Ministries is trying to do inspires me daily and also gives me courage,” she said.

“Watching those sisters and all the people who work in the Mary Aikenhead Ministries services, they have great strength in their faith and the courage to live their faith in this world.

Some of the students hoping to be among the first class to begin at Hartford College in 2022. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“And that’s just what we’re trying to do with Hartford College, to provide another option for families in the eastern suburbs and to be proud of our faith and not be concerned that it cuts across the zeitgeist or isn’t in vogue, but to share with others that it’s the thing that guides every part of our lives every day.

“As parents we acknowledge that we can’t do everything for our children and I think it’s obvious that a school can’t do everything for them either, so we’re really trying to create a place where there’s a shared care for the full development of each child so he can be the best young man he can be.”

The couple, whose youngest son will be one of the first students, said they have always believed in being active in the community and “giving back” to others. “Our Catholic faith is very important in our marriage and family and when we heard that the space at Daceyville was becoming vacant we thought it was a good opportunity to utilise an existing church resource to introduce a school like this,” said Mr Mitchell.

“We were very attracted to the philosophy of a personalised education with a strong approach to parent and teacher collaboration, and reached out to other parents and younger couples to see what the interest was.

“the story of Mary Aikenhead and everything that Mary Aikenhead Ministries is trying to do inspires me daily and also gives me courage” – Penny Wright

“From a gathering of people in early 2020 to gauge the level of support to preparing to open the school in 2022, it’s been amazing to see a lot achieved in a relatively short time. We are immensely grateful to His Grace Archbishop Fisher for his support and approbation for this initiative.”

Beginning with a Year 5 cohort next year, the school will offer single stream classes up to Year 12 by 2029. Mr Mejia said he was energised by the opportunity to set a distinctive school culture “from scratch”.

“A big focus for us will be that no boy will be left behind,” he said. “We want to work with them to show they can achieve more than they may give themselves credit for, for some it may take more time or they have a different style of learning but one of the great things we will do at Hartford is work at a different pace for each child.

“Working closely with our parents to get to know each student and how they learn really well is our big point of difference. But the main measure of success for us is helping to form great human beings, whether they will be great fathers, professionals, or have a vocation to religious life or the priesthood.

“We’re not looking at future HSC results so much as the kind of men they will be and what good they may bring to the world in their 20s and well beyond.”

Hartford College will hold its first information evening on Tuesday 22 June. For details and to register: hartfordcollege.com.au

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