Ms Rita Grima commenced as Principal at St Columba’s College, Essendon at the beginning of the 2018 school year, following eleven years as Co-Principal at Marian College Sunshine, working within the values and traditions of the Brigidine Sisters.
Rita’s parents emigrated from Malta in 1965 soon after they were married. Arriving in Australia Rita’s mother secured employment at a local picture framing shop, whilst her father took on various labouring jobs. Her parents encouraged and supported Rita and her brother to make the most of the opportunities that a good education offered; opportunities that had not been readily available to them. The story of Rita’s mother’s is a powerful influence in her life. She was removed from school during Grade 5 to help Rita’s grandmother raise her siblings and attend to household chores allowing her grandmother to assist her husband labouring in the fields. One evening the school Head Mistress knocked on the door and said, “You have to leave her in school, she’s such a bright girl”. Rita’s grandmother responded “…I need her at home”. Rita’s mother was determined her own children would have opportunities that she did not.
When Rita was in grade three at St Mary’s, Ascot Vale her parents moved the family to the then outer suburb of St Albans where she attended Holy Eucharist, St Albans South. Rita has clear memories of her first day in primary school. Asked to draw a car she didn’t know how and began to cry. Fortunately she was rescued by a couple of classmates and a friendship with these girls blossomed. Secondary Education followed at Catholic Regional College, St Albans and Catholic Regional College, Sydenham.
During her secondary education Rita was particularly influenced by her science teacher, a young woman who inspired her interest in the sciences. Looking back Rita is aware that the lessons were well prepared, had excellent student engagement and the class was orderly and settled; which, “…didn’t always go with the territory, back in the day.” Rita studied biological sciences at La Trobe University before going on to complete a Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching at Mercy College, Ascot Vale. At University Rita supplemented her income with casual work as a Myer sales assistant and a brief stint working in a call centre, which provided some valuable life lessons about individual management styles and change management.
Rita’s first teaching appointment was at Marian College, Sunshine. Here she encountered a real commitment to student centred learning, encouraged by an unshakeable belief in the power of education to assist people to improve their circumstances. At that time Sr Brigid Arthur CSB and Mr Gerard Stafford were the College Co-Principals. Sr Brigid was instrumental in promoting this strong commitment to the transformative power of education.
“It was here that I learned about the power of curriculum as a social voice and to shift our understandings of who we are as a community. It also showed me what learning needs to look like; how we engage young people in learning and how we should be learning together as teachers to deliver the type of programs that needed to be offered. Brigid was prophetic in 1991 to be leading these conversations. There was a real sense of trust, you were given an opportunity if you demonstrated some interest and skill along with a commitment to building peoples’ capacity. Opportunity and challenge really flavoured my time at Marian.”
Life was not without challenge however.
“Managing student behaviour was really tough at times. I came from a stable family environment and my friends’ families were also like that. As a beginning teacher, the diversity of young people’s experience was certainly more than I had experienced, and confirmed how important an education was for young people”.
When Rita had been at Marian for fifteen years the Co-Principal positions were advertised, and she decided to apply. Successful in her application she joined Mr Ray Pisani as the new College Co-Principal. She and Ray did not know each other prior to their appointment but, “Right from the start we understood it was a commitment to collaboration, to good communication and a commitment to a shared model of leadership with the entire leadership team as well. It was about a conversation; where we might bring different ideas and come from a different perspective, but it was the conversation that was important to help us to arrive at the best outcome.”
Reflecting on her move from the tradition of the Brigidine Sisters to that of the Sisters of Charity, Rita acknowledges the courage and commitment of these women and their tremendous contribution to society through outstanding education, social care and health services, and is mindful of what that means for her as the leader of St Columba’s.
“There is a narrative around the tradition of both the Brigidine Sisters and the Sisters of Charity; …that narrative has enriched what we are able to do in our communities and will always be part of the tradition. The question we need to ask is, what’s the new narrative; …what does that look like? What are we drawing on? The ongoing stories shaping this narrative and the work of the new PJP’s is so exciting”.
Rita is married to Jason and they recently celebrated their twenty fifth wedding anniversary. They have three beautiful daughters aged twenty four, twenty one and thirteen.
The Trustees of Mary Aikenhead Ministries are pleased to welcome Rita to St Columba’s College and know she will lead the community in inspiring the young women in their care to dedicate themselves to a love of learning, becoming women of deep faith; personally committed to justice.