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‘Undemocratic’: St Spyridon College parents raise concerns over proposed changes to Parish Constitution

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Parents at St Spyridon College in Sydney’s south east have expressed their concerns that proposed changes to the Parish’s constitution will affect the educational standards for students.

Governed by the Board of registered charity, the Greek Orthodox Parish of South East Sydney ‘St Spyridon’ Kingsford, and under the auspices of The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, the College currently has about 800 students from Kindergarten to Year 12.

On October 24, the Board announced it will hold an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on Monday, November 21, for members to vote on:
(1) Change of company name from ‘The Greek Orthodox Parish of South East Sydney’ to ‘The Greek Orthodox Parish of St Spyridon Sydney,’ and
(2) the repeal of existing Constitution and adoption of a new Constitution. 

According to a document circulated among College parents and obtained by The Greek Herald, the new Constitution introduces control measures in relation to: Parish membership; the composition of the Parish Council (or the Parish Board); and the ability of members to amend the constitution.

“These fundamental decisions will now be vetted and ultimately approved by Australia’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop. Previously, they were left to the Parish Council and/or the Parish Membership,” the document reads.

The proposed constitutional changes: 

With regards to membership under the proposed constitution, the Archbishop is given ultimate deciding power to approve Parish membership (clause 13.2) and unrestricted power to remove a member at his own discretion and without needing to provide reasons (clauses 15 (d) & 16(5)). 

This differs from the current constitution, whereby a member can only be removed by the Parish committee in specified circumstances and only after the member has been given the “particulars of the charges” and “an opportunity of appearing personally before the committee” (clause 27).

Additionally, under the proposals, Archbishop Makarios holds the power to appoint and remove directors, including: Presidents, Vice Presidents and Treasurers (clauses 36.1 and 38(d)).

Whilst the constitution requires directors to retire after three years (clause 37.4), they may be re-elected upon the written approval of the Archbishop (clause 37.5).

If passed, members will not be permitted to make or even consider making any future amendments to the constitution without the prior written approval of the Archbishop (Clause 9.2)

Impacts on College: 

While speaking with The Greek Herald, one parent expressed they are “worried if the Constitution is adopted, the Archbishop will have control as an individual, not the Archdiocese.”

“It is undemocratic. You can’t give one person the power over so much – a whole church and a College, one of the best schools in the state…” the parent added. 

On October 18 and 19, students who were set to sit their HSC exams were moved out of the school hall to an area known as the T Wing to accommodate the Archdiocese’s First National Clergy Synaxis & Poly-Hierarchical Divine Liturgy. 

According to the NSW Department of Education, schools should allow the sharing of school facilities but only when this does not interfere with school operations, is in the school community’s best interest and does not result in a financial burden on the school or the department. 

“The T Wing is not an ideal setting as it is above the canteen and can be noisy,” the parent said.

Concerns have also been raised over the teacher turnover rate at the College. One parent said that “since the Parish Board was voted in 16 months ago… [the school] has lost 22 staff members, 12 teachers in the high school.”

In August, The Greek Herald reported on the sudden departure of the Principal of the College’s junior school, Mrs Aristea Synesios, after 32 years of service.

Parent Catherine Eliopoulos said that when she voiced her thoughts to College executives about the staff retention and impact on students, she was unable to get a clear response and was directed to “complain to the Archbishop.” 

After consequent emails with the College’s Executive Team, Mrs Eliopoulos received a letter via email from Head of College Mrs Amelia Katsogiannis on November 4 which stated that the enrolment of her three children would be terminated at the end of the school year and places will not be offered to them for 2023.

“Given that our values do not align with yours, we believe that it is best for the College community and your children that they continue their education elsewhere,” the letter reads. 

Governance and Transparency:

The parents community have also been vocal about the qualifications of the Board, its governance and transparency.

“They don’t have the qualifications,” a parent told The Greek Herald about the Board.

Issues surrounding governance of private school boards and councils have received media attention recently following the introduction of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) training program. 

The AICD will provide governance training to more than 250 independent school board members across the state, with plans for the program to be expanded to boards at almost 500 independent schools.

“Governance in independent schools in 2022 isn’t anywhere where it needs to be… Parents need to demand more from governing councils and boards should be much more open to questions,” John Simpson, a specialist in education governance and a member of council at Monash University, said in a recent interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Parish member George Savoulis said that the College has been “running under the spiritual guidance of the Archdiocese and the Patriarch of Constantinople since the very beginning.”

“So we’re not asking for a shift in religious governance, what we’re saying is… we, as a community, have built this school, our parents, our grandparents have built this school and parish. Why do we now want to gift it to the Archdiocese?” the parish member said.

According to the EGM notice, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the Parish Council (Board of Directors), which includes Elia Economou (President), Peter Souleles (Vice President), Alexander Nicolaou-Yules (Secretary), John Georgopoulos (Treasurer), Nicholas George Pappas, Sue Mayson, Dr Peter Bletsas and Jim Sfinas, “unanimously recommend that the members vote in favour of the proposed resolutions.

Mr Savoulis said he “will not be supporting the proposed changed constitution in its current form.”

“The constitution needs to be revised. We’re not against it. None of us in the community are against a revision of the Constitution because it is old and it is outdated. Our issue is that it’s being done without any consultation to the Parish and Community itself,” he said.

“What we want to try and achieve is to preserve the legacy of what was built before us and that we, as a parish and as a community, we should have a say in what we need for our community and not have an external remote governance to step in and tell us what is good for us.” 

Comment from St Spyridon Parish President:

In a statement to The Greek Herald, Parish President Elia Economou said that “the changes will better align the constitution with federal and state laws and the Holy Canons of the Greek Orthodox Church.”

“The proposed changes to the name and constitution of the Parish are important in modernising the governance of the Parish and are consistent with the governance of a modern denominational school,” Mr Economou added.

Commenting on how the proposed changes will impact the College, Mr Economou said they “will have no noticeable impact upon the day-to-day management and operations of the College.”

“The College’s talented and dedicated teaching staff led by Head of College, Mrs Katsogiannis, will continue the important day-today running of the College,” he said.

“Most importantly, they will continue to deliver high-quality educational outcomes, instilling in our students Greek Orthodox values and celebrating our cherished Hellenic traditions.”

Keep us updated: If you have more information you would like to share, please contact our editorial team via email  info@foreignlanguage.com.au or call 02 9566 0500.

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