Raquel Stevens

Traditionally the role of a school principal is to improve academic results, boost student numbers and maintain a healthy budget.  This was not the task assigned to Jo Pegg at Bullarto Primary School in 2017.

Instead with only four students in attendance, she was given orders to close the school down.

Fast forward 8 years, the school now has 32 students, 5 staff members and the future is more promising than ever for this picturesque school tucked away on the edge of Wombat State Forest.

Joining Jo this week during yard duty, I witnessed first-hand how this extraordinary principal bonds with her students and is sending a clear message to the Education Department, ‘hands off our little school.’

In 2017 you had the unenviable task of closing this wonderful school down. What happened?

There were four grade six children that we were supposed to teach out to secondary school and that would sort of end the era of the school. But I found a little niche and eight years later we’re still here and not closed. It’s just an incredible school.

It has a beautiful feel to it. How would you describe it?

Our school is family, and it is a place where we can really look after our mental health and well-being before anything else.

When you were told to close the school, how did you feel, and how did you turn it around?

My original feeling was that I would struggle to close the school, but I thought there was a need for a school that was welcoming to all children and have the opportunity to learn their way.

So hence it’s 2024 with 32 children now, it just happened.

It’s tough enough being a child, how important is social inclusion?

 Social inclusion is vital. In our school we have quite a number of children who would have an additional need. Some of them are aware they have an additional need, some of them are not aware that they do.

For us it’s important that we have really close relationships with our parents to understand what it is they want for their children so that we can deliver it for their families.

Some of these children would never usually play together if they were in a bigger school.

 I just witnessed some of the children come up to you with an issue and you resolved it beautifully. You are a principal with many hats.

I’m here every morning when the kids get to school, and I’m regularly on yard duty. The children can distinguish when they have displayed a behaviour, whether they need to be spoken to by a teacher or whether it needs to be moved up the chain to a principal. They know I’m here because I care about them and that we trust them. I guess they’re not scared because I’m just a part of their community.

Tell me a fun fact about you.

Oh, a fun fact!  I actually have a black belt in karate.  I got into karate to improve my mental health.

Do you have a secret spot in Daylesford or Bullarto?

I do like a coffee at Harry’s in Hepburn, that would be my spot.

If you had a superpower what would it be?

This is interesting, as this week our grade three-four-five-six class had to create a superhero and what power it would be. I told them my superpower would be sleep, at least eight hours sleep a night.  Then I could come to school and be fit and active, and the principal they need.

If you were sent off to the Wombat State Forest and could only take three items, what would they be?

We go into the forest a lot. With the kids we always take bright vests and a first-aid kit, however I would like to go in there without the kids so I can have some peace and quiet.

Then I would take a bottle of salt because of the leeches, they like me, and I would take a book.

What would the title of your biography be?

My biography would be ‘Everybody Can Do Everything.’

What would be on your fridge right now?

School fridge or my home fridge?

Let’s do both.

School fridge would probably be the shopping list for Breakfast Club.

My fridge at home has the gym timetable, my son’s new flyer for his new school with the teacher contact details and a picture of Jamie from the tv show, Outlander.  It’s a magnet though. (laughs)

Describe yourself in a sentence.

I am an achiever and a doer.

What advice would you give your 13 year old self?

The world is hard but don’t give up. Learn to be resilient and be kind and learn to apologize if you did something wrong. That’s a big one.

What’s next on your dance card?

Long service leave.  On the 4th of April, I’m off to Hawaii with my son.

What are you streaming right now?

Driving to school, I am listening to Pink. I’m off to her concert.

I have never…

I have never been able to play the violin properly.

If you were a hashtag what would you be?


If you had a parting lesson in life, what would it be?

Listen to your mother.

Can you tell my boys that Jo?  It’s been an absolute delight joining you on yard duty. I wish I had you as a school principal back in my day.

Raquel Stevens is a former Network Ten News Journalist. She has been a part time local for more than 25 years, and one day hopes to be a full time local.

Listen to Raquel Stevens interview with Jo for Hepburn Radio on the link below