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MLC School Burwood principal Denice Scala resigns after turmoil at school

The principal of a private Sydney girls' school has resigned after a mass staff exit and a social media campaign calling for her dismissal escalated last year.

Denice Scala, the principal of MLC in Burwood, resigned on Thursday, one month after 30 staff left the 129-year-old school following allegations of questionable workplace practices, low morale and teachers being forced to leave. 

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Mrs Scala's time in charge of the school was beset by controversy after it lost four heads of its middle, junior and senior schools and key members of its world-renowned music department. 

Tension came to a head at the school's speech night in December as parents threatened to protest by standing with their backs to the principal during her speech and adopted the hashtag #ReclaimOurMLC on social media . 

"The students are in tears, the teachers are in tears," Wendy Young, a parent of a student in year 8, said at the time. 

In a letter to parents seen by Fairfax Media, MLC chairman Pauline Johnston praised Mrs Scala's five-year tenure at the school and labelled the social media campaign launched by parents and students as "hurtful". 


"It has always been [Mrs Scala's] mission to educate girls and young women to be fearless thinkers with moral courage and compassion to be agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of others," Ms Johnston wrote. 

"The social media campaign over the past few months has been particularly hurtful to Mrs Scala and also the staff continuing to serve at MLC School and was based on a considerable amount of misinformation." 

The December push came two years after the school, which charges students up to $28,000 a year, was embroiled in controversy following the resignation of the world renowned head of the music department, Karen Carey, and allegations that she was forced out. 

Prior to her departure Mrs Carey was the star of feature documentary Mrs Carey's Concert, dedicated to the teacher's work with students at the school that culminated in nine gala concerts at the Sydney Opera House.

The director of the documentary and former MLC parent Bob Connolly told Fairfax Media he had raised concerns about the direction of the school with the board two years ago. 

"In the first half of 2013, David Cartwright, an MLC parent and former secretary of the MLC School Foundation, and I tried to persuade the school council to look into the way staff were being treated by the incoming principal.

"Citing documented examples of questionable workplace practices, low morale and excellent teachers being forced to leave, we warned Ms [Pauline] Johnston  that unless something was done, the situation would eventually blow up in her face".

In December Fairfax Media revealed that parents at one Mrs Scala's former schools, St Andrews in Adelaide, had raised concerns about an "absolutely identical" situation occurring after Mrs Scala joined the school in 2007. 

"It was really frightening," said Vicki Moore, who had three children at the school. "It started with the music department and then moved through." 

Until last month Mrs Scala was intent on alleviating parents concerns and having her contract renewed at MLC. 

"In 2016 the pace of change will slow and I will redirect my focus to greater communication with the broader community," she wrote in a letter to parents. 

MLC has appointed the former principal of Ascham and North Sydney Girls High, Louise Robert-Smith, as interim principal for next year before it begins "an international search" for a new principal in 2017. 

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