Business managers and their teams are the engine room of financial and operational sustainability within Australian independent schools. In acknowledgement of this valuable contribution, CommBank’s inaugural School Business Manager Awards set out to recognise excellence and achievement among these professionals across the country.

CommBank is proud to announce that Kent Peters, Director of Business at Canberra Grammar School, is one of the three award winners for 2022. Kent demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the student, staff, and parent communities of one of the largest independent schools in the region.

Canberra Grammar Principal, Dr Justin Garrick, nominated Kent for the award “out of sheer gratitude and admiration for what he’s managed to achieve”, saying, “there’s a humility to Kent and a selflessness, and he does what he does because he has an unwavering sense of mission and purpose. I don't know that’s always recognised or seen by others.”

Commenting on the accolade, Kent says, “I do what I do because I love it. I don't see it as an occupation. It's a vocation, a calling, and to be recognised by my peers and the industry is something I'm very humbled by.”

Evolution of Canberra Grammar

Today, Canberra Grammar is very different from the institution it was five years ago when it became a co-educational school. In the past 12 years, it has experienced a boom in student numbers and a curriculum refresh. Shifting from a more traditional-style boys’ school, it is now a large, progressive, internationally oriented institution that’s representative of the demographics of contemporary Canberra.

“Our goal is to educate students who are curious, creative, confident, and compassionate citizens of the world,” Dr Garrick says. “In a competitive market, the school is well positioned to attract not just great students and teachers but talented people from other disciplines, such as Kent.”

When reflecting on his vision for Canberra Grammar and what makes a school successful, Dr Garrick says that School Business Managers, Bursars and Directors like Kent play a significant role in facilitating progress that may not always be visible.

According to Dr Garrick, one of Kent’s unique qualities is that “he lives the life of the school. He's from a family of educators, and he understands the importance of educational culture. He also enjoys being a vibrant part of the school’s fabric and supporting students, staff, and families through his work.”

Beyond bricks and mortar

In 2017, when Canberra Grammar was recruiting for a Director of Business, they sought a professional who could manage the ‘realities’ of the school’s rapid growth and deliver on major capital projects almost immediately.

“I had four major construction projects on the go in that first 18 months. It's been a constant cycle of new buildings and renovating existing ones to accommodate the growth in enrolments and honour the heritage of the 90-year-old campus”, recalls Kent.

Dr Garrick explains that Kent has “had an enormous impact on the building and campus-development program, and on our effective financial operations to manage our growth”.

Kent is quick to reiterate that his achievements are a testament to his broader team, comprising many skilled people that work in the background to keep the school and its facilities operational.

“What the team do is as critical as what happens in the classroom,” Kent says. “This includes keeping the irrigation working, maintaining the grounds, supplies and ensuring the safety of the students and school community”.

Kent describes his mandate in three words, “excellence, not extravagance”. “It is all about excellence in everything - financially, operationally, relationally. And excellence means doing the very best we can with what we have”.

Putting people first

By streamlining the school’s operational and financial systems, Kent has given staff greater ownership over budgets, earning him respect and saving the school precious funds. Dr Garrick says, “thanks to Kent, we're now in an enviable position to invest in our staff by enhancing working conditions and professional development”.

Kent explains that the continual transformation of the school’s processes relies on bringing all stakeholders along for the journey and fostering lasting relationships.

“I'm a very open and relational person,” Kent says. “Where possible, I will leave my office door open, so people feel free to call in. Because it’s all about building relationships, whether with Dr Garrick, the board, or the staff, right through to the students themselves.”

When it comes to his peers, Kent is collaborative yet practical in his approach to balancing budgets and expectations. “You won't find me using the word ‘no’ very often, but I might say, ‘I love that idea, but it's not a ‘now’’. How about we look at how can we incorporate that into next year’s thinking?”

“It’s about being responsive and establishing enduring relationships. You can have those tough conversations because you’ve built the relationship, and it’s founded on respect and good, open two-way communication,” Kent says.

Commitment to reconciliation

Dr Garrick says that among Kent’s multiple priorities, his commitment to First Nations students stands out. “Kent has a profound personal commitment to reconciliation. It is something that he carries with him overtly and with deep sincerity,” Dr Garrick says.

Kent agrees, outlining his strong advocacy for the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. “When I arrived at Canberra Grammar, there was minimal tangible engagement with Indigenous education,” Kent says.

“At the time, there were a smaller number of Indigenous students here, but there wasn’t an opportunity for others outside the ACT to be able to come and be a part of our community and benefit from a real generational change.”

Today, Canberra Grammar has an active scholarship program and further increasing participation is a focus. To advance these goals, Kent and Canberra Grammar school will be using the $2,500 prize accompanying the CommBank award to further develop the Indigenous student scholarship program.

The next horizon

Kent’s philosophy is that it’s always important to look to the future, “It's not about what I do. It's about what we do for this generation of students and the next generation’s children. So, it's all much bigger and much grander than me.”

According to Kent, that aspiration to be part of the school’s broader purpose means his job is never finished. Beyond his role, Kent is a passionate supporter of students through his involvement in rowing, chapel, and rugby coaching.

“I have found education is where I want to be,” Kent says. “I remember my grandmother saying that the day you don't learn something, Kent, is the day you die. And if that's the case, I'm always looking to learn more.”