The Catholic education community across Victoria is in mourning following the death of former Galen Principal, Max Fletcher, one of the most universally loved and admired leaders in Victorian Catholic education.
I had the privilege of working with Max Fletcher in several capacities. I first met Max when he was appointed as a consultant with the Catholic Education Office in Ballarat in 2002. His role as senior secondary consultant was to support Principals and their Leadership Teams across western Victoria, from Ballarat to Mildura, down south to Warrnambool and everywhere in between. At the time, I was Principal of Monivae College in Hamilton.
Max was an inspiring mentor for the 11 Catholic secondary Principals in the Ballarat Diocese. He quickly established a reputation amongst the western Victorian Principals as a leader of integrity, reliability and authenticity. Whether you needed an answer to a complex educational problem or were looking to create a new sense of direction or a change in governance procedures, people would turn to Max with the utmost confidence. He was versatile enough to work effectively with Principals of many years standing, but he was outstanding as well with new and early career Principals as he guided them through the minefields of industrial relations, curriculum review and development, professional development of staff and continuous school improvement.
He led groups of Principals and senior leaders from across Victorian Catholic education on study tours to visit the world renowned Canadian self-directed learning schools. There was a genuine richness to these experiences and the detailed and passionate discussions they evoked from the participants. Many Victorian Catholic schools benefitted from the wealth of experience gathered by the staff on these study tours when they returned to their own schools.
Under Max’s leadership, the Ballarat Diocesan secondary Principals group moved from a loose connection of often-competing separate interests to a powerfully connected collaborative network. The benefits that flowed to each school and to Catholic education in general in western and north-western Victoria are still being felt 10 years further on.
Once he had completed his contract in the Ballarat diocese, Max returned to north-east as Deputy Director of the Sandhurst diocese. I renewed my professional relationship with Max in this capacity when I took up the appointment as Principal of Galen Catholic College in 2010, coincidentally a school that Max himself had piloted as the first lay Principal from 1987 – 2001. It was Max Fletcher who secured the foundations of Galen Catholic College, bringing the school together on the one campus, and beginning a sustained enrolment trend that continues today and which has seen the college increase its student numbers every year bar two since 1994.
As he had done in Ballarat, Max operated with great integrity and authenticity. He was the “go-to” person in the diocese for matters on school improvement and school governance. He also returned to Galen as a member of the school Board. In this role he was instrumental in revamping the Board constitution, its composition and its methods of operating. He also served in this time as Chair of the Borinya Wangaratta Community Partnership helping to guide that school through its infancy and consolidating it into a permanent and integral feature of local educational provision.
Max always arrived in schools with his trademark smile and huge handshake. He made a point of knowing the staff in each school and of being familiar with each of their projects, their challenges and their achievements. His visits were always purposeful, informed and deeply welcomed. His primary concern was always for the development and learning of the students. His commitment to high performance leadership and increasing the capacity of the staff in schools, especially their leaders, was always done with this aim of improving student learning clearly in view.
I was most fortunate to have a friendship with Max that grew out of our professional relationship initially, but evolved over time to the point of sharing some wonderful adventures together. We had both spent time separately on trips trekking through the Himalayas and it was the sharing our memories of these trips that triggered two further “grand adventures” that we undertook together. The first of these was a three week trip through South America that included trekking in the Andes mountains and walking the Inca Trail into Machu Pichu in 2012. The second was a 6 week trip to France and Spain in 2014 in which we walked the entire 800 kilometres of the ancient pilgrims’ Camino Trail from St Jean Pied du Port in western France to Santiago de Compostella in western Spain.
As a travelling companion, Max was fabulous. He had a real sense of adventure and was always keen to break new ground, experience the cultural wealth of local communities and to push himself physically and mentally to new levels. He listened far more than he spoke, but when he spoke it was always a well-reflected and insightful expression. He loved the great outdoors and he loved the feel of the wind on his face, the pack on his back and the sight of the open road or track or mountain pass that lay ahe
ad. At the end of the day, we would share a quiet ale (always only the one for both of us) and recall the highlights of the day’s travels.
Max will be missed by many people whose lives he touched personally and professionally. In the few days since his passing, I have heard from so many Principals, teachers and educational leaders who say they owe Max a huge debt of gratitude for the support and mentoring that he provided for them.
They say that to achieve great things ourselves, we must first stand on the shoulders of the giants who went before us. Max Fletcher was one of those giants and he has a multitude of those he helped to develop waiting to stand on those broad shoulders of his.
Vale, Max Fletcher: a true gentleman and a truly wonderful human being.
Principal, Galen Catholic College