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A Tribute to Robin Amm

NSW State Education lost a true visionary with the passing of Robin Amm on Monday night. 


In an age when everything in Education has to be measured and quantified to gauge its worth, how do you talk about the contribution of someone who just refused to take any notice of anything but enhancing the creative lives of her students? No matter what. What you can’t do is reach for the results of Naplan tests or League tables or even check to see the paperwork was up to date or that the books balanced. Those things were secondary to Robin Amm. All she cared about was creating the best environment possible for her students to reach their artistic potential. And reach it they did. In spades. Just look at the number of ex Newtown students who are at the forefront of the Arts in this country today. Directors, Designers, Composers, Stage Managers, Choreographers, Actors, Singers, Musicians, Visual Artists, Dancers, Tech crews, Performers of every description.


Every last one of them would acknowledge that they wouldn’t be where they are without Robin Amm.


Robin created Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. She was the driving force behind it and she was the reason why it became the school it is today. To say they broke the mould with Robin is an understatement. There has never been, and never will be, anyone like her. She swept across the playground of Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, teapot in hand, like a cross between Isadora Duncan and Joan Sutherland. And I mean swept.


Robin was determined to make Newtown the best Performing Arts High School in the Southern Hemisphere (actually I think she might have said the world) and, as far as she was concerned, she did.


She was prepared to bend the rules and fudge the margins if it meant her students had the opportunity to develop their skills to become the artists they dreamt of being. As far as Robin was concerned rules were made to be broken and she broke many in the pursuit of excellence. She brought together a Performing Arts Staff with a range of talents but united by a love of the craft they passed on to their students. She would do anything to get the teachers she wanted with scant regard for any red tape that might stand in her way.


She built Dance studios, Drama spaces, Music rooms. Facilities that would be the envy of any school, public or private. The magnificent St George’s Hall was resurrected and returned to its former glory. It was fitting that her farewell was held in the grand old hall.


But Newtown was never a pale imitation of Fame or, worse, a model for Summer Heights High. Robin’s educational philosophy was rooted in a deep belief in the principles of social justice. She loved performance but she also believed in the power of the Arts to change the world. She supported Indigenous and environmental issues, she was a passionate advocate for women’s rights and ensured that her students were aware of the inequalities that existed in the world around them. This probably explains why so many ex Newtown students have gone on the make their mark in the world advocating and working for issues of social justice.


Not surprisingly her determination to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of artistic excellence had a flow on effect when it came to the HSC and Newtown regularly dominated the Honour Rolls in Dance, Drama and Music even though producing good music, plays and dance pieces was of equal importance to the school’s performing arts community.


It has to be admitted that there were times when a Science or Mathematics teacher would wonder if the orchestra’s leading cellist would ever come to class or the English/History staff would pace the corridors waiting for the cast of A Golden Age to turn up for an assessment.

The bottom line accepted, however grudgingly, by all was that what mattered at Robin Amm’s Newtown High School of the Performing Arts was that every student who wanted to play a violin or dance the tarantella or play Blanche Dubois would be given every opportunity to do so.


For Robin Amm education was about each individual student being given the chance to reach for their own particular star and never being held back by the constrictions of an examination that, for many, would fade into insignificance as they travelled through life.


Sadly, we shall never see her like again.


Vale Robin Amm.

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.