Kerry Street Community School began its life as Fremantle Alternative School (FAS), in the last term of 1980, a response to an increasing need identified by a number of Fremantle-based families for education that would nurture and support their children.

The Anglican Church hall on Canning Highway in East Fremantle was the school’s first home, after which it relocated to the premises of a disused Catholic High School in East Fremantle, then a Seventh Day Adventist Church building in Solomon Street, Palmyra, before finally settling into its current location at Kerry Street, which was formerly a Kindergarten.

The school was officially incorporated on the 2nd of April, 1981, and its founding families – the Jordans, the Smiths, the Hilles and the Wileys – along with the school’s inaugural full-time teacher, Ian Robertson, worked together to outline the school’s charter. Ian subsequently became the school’s first Coordinator, a figurehead who could sign off on official documents on behalf of the Parent Collective and who was responsible for ensuring that the school remained registered and compliant with various local, state and federal regulations and legislation.

FAS initially operated as a collective and charged no fees. The attending families that could afford to support the school did so, and the school did not follow any specific educational model; rather, it incorporated themes from both Montessori and Steiner (or Waldorf education). The state school resource centre supplied the school with its basic school resources, and the state school curriculum was used as a guide when developing individual learning contracts with children at the beginning of each term.

“Developing a relationship is what teaching is about – and literacy and numeracy evolve from that.”

Ian Robertson, 1982

In its early years, FAS offered no set classes. Children worked in small groups each morning based on their individual abilities, and afternoons were reserved for creative play and learning. Lunch each day was organised by the children who, with the assistance of a parent, were responsible for walking to the shops, purchasing the groceries they could afford, returning to school and preparing lunch for everyone.

“The children being involved in the preparation of school lunch was important; it taught them life skills like budgeting, and how to cater for others.”

Geraldine Stanton, former FAS/KSCS parent, teacher and Coordinator

During a special meeting on the 5th of December, 1989, the members of the school community unanimously agreed to change the school’s name, and on the 14th of March, 1990, Fremantle Alternative School officially became Kerry Street Community School, Inc.

“With the name change, the school could really emphasise the community aspect.”

Helen Sugars Duff, President of the Kerry Street Community School Council, 2013 to 2017

Having been started as a way to nurture children and enable parents and families to decide how their children engaged with education, the school has always placed a strong emphasis on its guiding philosophies, values, and community participation, both within and beyond the school’s grounds.

Prior to the introduction of the four-term school year in 1987, educational years had been broken into three terms, with an extended break period occurring over the Easter holidays. The school community had always chosen to make the most of the longer terms and planned for a whole-school school camp to occur in each one.

“I recall in the ’80s, we were part of what was then called the Priority Schools Program, which granted us funding for all sorts of things, including school camps. We went up to one of the remote community schools one time, using that funding. It was great! Some of our camps were even moving camps, where you’d camp along the way to wherever your destination was.”

Wendy Gorman, former FAS/KSCS teacher

As time moved on, the need arose for the school to introduce policies and address its financial situation. Funding, and accordingly the school’s budget, had always been an issue, not only in the school’s FAS days but also later, after becoming known as Kerry Street. In fact, the acquisition of the school’s first building on Kerry Street was only made possible as founding families loaned the school money and then-maths teacher, Wendy Gorman and her husband Ron Gorman, assisted the school in obtaining a capital grant.

“The school at the time was still very much pay-what-you-can. We had a letterbox into which parents would place envelopes containing money. You could choose to keep your contribution anonymous or to ask for a receipt. There was never any comments about set contributions and it was really only in the very late ’80s that that had to change and a nominal school fee was introduced when the various Treasurers worked to tighten up school funding.”

Wendy Gorman

At the time, the school’s teachers and support staff were paid as much as forty per cent less than what they could have earned working in government schools, making them some of the school’s most significant donors over the course of its 38-year history. Even today, the Kerry Street team earns 11% less than they might at other schools.

A need for more structure in the school day was both a requirement to maintain the school’s registration and of the Department of Education. Kerry Street teachers faced the challenge of balancing curriculum requirements with the wants of an involved and vocal parent body. In its FAS years, the Parent Collective would meet fortnightly to discuss and debate various matters of concern, ranging from budgets and curriculum to camps and school values and everything in between, with students themselves meeting weekly to have their say on matters that affected them. As time moved on, and further regulations were introduced, the Parent Collective formalised itself into a School Council, initially led by Vic Healy and Ian Robertson as Coordinator, and complete with a formal Constitution directing its conduct and activities.

“They [the various Council members] have all put in endless hours without pay and so much positive energy into the school over the years. Without their work, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Fran Ryce, former Kerry Street teacher, Coordinator and ongoing volunteer

In 2006, the property adjacent to the school – 18 Forrest Road – was listed for sale. During a meeting on the 30th of August, 2006, it was minuted: “House next door for sale. Everyone wants to buy in principle. Five apologies support buying house. Buy through consortium. School lease with option to buy. School buy from consortium (Parent Collective). School applies for capital grant. Also need extra toilets. Due diligence clause? Rezone? School responsibility for any required renovations, not consortium. This extra money needed to be calculated and paid back with loan.”

“The chances of a house on either side of the school coming up for sale was quite low but the people who owned 18 Forrest Road knew that we were interested in buying the property and so when they wanted to sell it, they approached us first about buying it rather than putting it on the open market.”

Kath Sugars, former parent and School Administrator

The school had considered other options for expanding its footprint, including adding a second storey to its initial classroom building, however, the cost to do so was found to be prohibitive. The underlying structure itself had simply not been constructed to bear the weight of another level. The school community had also considered re-locating, however, decided against that course of action as it would have necessitated another name change in addition to securing an alternative site.

The Sugars/Thomas Family, the Stone Family, the Stanton Family, the Johnson Family and the Wyche/Maley Family subsequently formed a group (“the Syndicate”) in order to pool finances and purchase 18 Forrest Road. The property purchase settled on the 26th of October, 2006, after which the Syndicate families tenanted out the house and rented its backyard to the school so that its students would have more space in which to play.

Eventually, the relationship between the tenants and the school broke down to such a degree that by the time the tenants finally vacated the premises, what had once been a sweet and well cared for home was run down, damaged and dirty.

“When the time came, the Syndicate was very nice and sold the house to the school for market value when they could have charged us more. Although, they did say they were going to put the house on the market in a month-and-a-half so buy it or not. It was a pressured decision, just like it was when they bought it.”

Helen Sugars-Duff

To complicate things further, in 2013 as the Roe 8 debate began to heat up, it was looking increasingly likely that the school would have a four-lane passageway adjacent to two of its sides. In response, the Hamilton Hill and Kerry Street communities banded together on the matter, discussing the various ways the state government could be convinced to reconsider its plans.

“My staff and I spoke a lot with our students about the impact Roe 8 could have on our school and at a meeting of the Hamilton Hill Community Group, I presented a number of posters the children had created detailing their arguments as to why the project shouldn’t proceed. Make no mistake, Kerry Street kids care about the world around them.”

Karen Kennedy, former KSCS Principal, 2013 to 2020

When the Winterfold Road (Coolbellup) tunnel project was announced, the school’s Council decided to proceed with a capital grant application to purchase and renovate the 18 Forrest Road property. Whilst Roe 8 was still a risk, the school was awarded the grant it sought and was then in a position to finance the property acquisition and building works. The transfer of 18 Forrest Road to the school settled on the 21st of March, 2014, and, following a very busy three years, was officially amalgamated into the 20 Forrest Road property in late 2017.

“When I first started talking to builders, a lot of them thought I was crazy. They thought I should just crash through the lot of it and build a new office and classrooms. And in a lot of ways, it would have been much easier and cheaper to have done that. But for us, there was a history connected to the house, and also because our values centre on family-friendly education, it makes sense for the entrance to our school, for the first impression that people have of our school, to be welcomed into a very homey atmosphere.”

Karen Kennedy

The completion of the renovation project enabled the school to spread out and saw the Year 4/5/6 class headed by teacher Lucas Black, move into the two new classrooms and Principal Karen Kennedy and her Admin team move into the Administration office.

With everyone settled into their new environments, a whole-school landscaping project began with landscaping work undertaken outside the new Year 4/5/6 classroom, and the project incorporating many ideas gathered over the preceding years from not just the adult Kerry Street community but from students as well. The school also successfully secured a 5-year lease from Main Roads to use the plots of land adjacent to the school (which we now refer to as our “wild space”) for additional parking, gardening, sports and nature play purposes.

“I think it was fortuitous timing that Karen and I started at the same time. The development was a lot of work. It took a lot of our time, and it was lucky that I didn’t have another job so I could give it all of my attention, whereas someone else might have had to juggle work as well as everything else. I think there was a lot of fortuitous timing involved along the way. Look at the Syndicate! To find seven families to come together, all willing and able to buy the house… It’s very different wanting to buy a property and actually being able to.”

Helen Sugars-Duff

Over the years, Kerry Street staff and parents have proactively searched and applied for grant funding with which to achieve further development of the school and its educational offerings. Kerry Street has been the grateful recipient of grants from local, state, and federal governments and organisations that have funded health education programs, environmental sustainability education, puppetry classes, the redevelopment of the school kitchen, enhancements to the school’s playground, staff professional development opportunities and, of course, the acquisition of 18 Forrest Road.

Now under new leadership in 2020, Kerry Street continues to be a child-centred community school dedicated to caring for its children, its environment and the wider world around it.

More information about our small school is available in our book: Swings and Roundabouts: A History of Kerry Street Community School 1981 to 2018. Limited edition hard copies are available for purchase in a matte gloss softcover format for $30 from our administration office. You can also download a PDF version.