She started her career at a new long day care centre in western Sydney in 1977 and said the experience of being part of a team establishing a new service was invaluable.
“I was really grateful to have long day care experience early in my career,” Rhonda said.
After four years she moved to a very different centre in Sydney’s north shore, but it was when she started at Kellyville Preschool in 1982 that her commitment to community-based education really took hold.
“The centre had been set up by community members and families who wanted quality early education for their children. Having connection to the community and the families in a not-for-profit environment was something I loved straight away,” she said.
She enjoyed working closely with other staff as a teaching director to honour the community’s wishes.
“The area was semi-rural at that time, and our goal was to serve the varied community. It was easy to find a sense of purpose.”
Over the years Kellyville Preschool has grown with its community, which has evolved from semi-rural to urban. Four staff at the preschool has become 13.
Rhonda is now an office-based director, but for many years she was a passionate teacher.
“I am so grateful to have been a teacher, striving in my career to understand how to honour children, to listen more and speak less, to understand and learn with them, rather than using a deficit model and trying to ‘fill them up’.”
Rhonda said the changing face of Kellyville has provided her with the challenges and variety to maintain her enthusiasm and determination over the years. As well as the urban growth, the centre has become more multicultural, and Rhonda has invested in re-educating herself, and as director, working with her staff and families to adapt and respond to the children in their care.
Only this year, new multicultural garden spaces were added to the yard, using Department of Environment funding, to represent the diversity of the service’s community.
As well as her teaching degree, Rhonda has a counselling diploma which she has found invaluable in working with families and children, as well as colleagues.
Another significant change was the introduction of the National Quality Framework, which she said motivated her as a leader.
“My growth came from leading through change, it was never stagnant moving through it with the community and staff.”
Nowadays, as children she taught are bringing their children back to preschool, the community spirit remains strong.
She appreciates the union because of the advocacy work that it does on behalf of early childhood teachers.
“I’m committed to gaining respect for early childhood teachers from the community, and I willingly support the work the union does in that field.”
One of the negative changes Rhonda has witnessed in her long career has been the deterioration of pay and conditions in the sector. When she started out in the 1970s pay for early childhood teachers in NSW was equivalent to school teachers. She would like to see that imbalance redressed.