Principal Denise Lofts saw huge potential and knew that a radical solution was needed to enliven her Ulladulla High School students’ disengagement and low aspirations for futures they couldn’t imagine.

She collaborated with High Tech High in California, which seeks to equip students with broad creative thinking and problem-solving skills for jobs that may not yet exist, adopting its mantra that “authentic learning” happens when students work on real issues that actually matter.

The community has swung enthusiastically behind Denise as she redirects the large NSW south coast school away from traditional curriculum teaching and towards project-based learning – often centred on local themes.

Murramarang Elders judge students’ preparation of Indigenous-influenced foods, town GPs review student research on vaccines, farmers help students understand pest control, and students self-publish their novels. More than 600 people typically attend Learning Expos when students present their work.

Denise’s approach has reenergised Ulladulla, with a significant increase in high-range HSC scores and university offers.