Professor Chris Sarra: 2016 NAIDOC Person of the Year

Headshot of Griffith University alumnus Professor Chris Sarra, who has been named NAIDOC Person of the Year
Griffith University alumnus Professor Chris Sarra has been named NAIDOC Person of the Year

Renowned education leader and Griffith University alumnus Professor Chris Sarra has been named NAIDOC Person of the Year for 2016.

Announced in Darwin as part of NAIDOC Week, Professor Sarra was recognised for his tireless work towards improving education outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

He was also acknowledged for his role at the Stronger Smarter Institute, established in 2005 and which since has partnered with more than 500 schools for the benefit of 38,000 Indigenous students throughout Australia.

In 2011, Professor Sarra received an Executive Master of Public Administration through Griffith University and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government. In 2014, he delivered the Griffith Review Annual Lecture.

In accepting the NAIDOC award, Professor Sarra described Stronger Smarter as: “a revolution with an authentic belief in the humanity of Aboriginal Australia and Torres Strait Islander Australia, and of all Australians, and our capacity to be exceptional together.”

A Goreng Goreng man, Professor Sarra grew up in Bundaberg as the youngest of ten children and experienced first-hand the difficult issues confronting Aboriginal students, particularly regarding low educational expectations.

The seeds of what would become the Stronger Smarter education philosophy were sown during these times.

After qualifying as a teacher, in 1998 Professor Sarra became the first Aboriginal principal at Cherbourg State School in South East Queensland. He encouraged students to be both strong in their cultural identity and smart by attending school and making the most of their educational opportunities.

The result was a leap in school attendance rates, literacy and numeracy, and staff and community satisfaction.

“It is a fundamental human right of our children to have an education that makes them stronger, in a way that enables them to develop a rich and positive sense of their own cultural identity; and smarter, in a way that enables them to participate in a modern society as any other Australian would,” he said.

In 2004, Professor Sarra was named Suncorp Queenslander of the Year and received the Chancellor’s Alumnus Award from Queensland University of Technology.

Having left Cherbourg in 2005, Professor Sarra established the Indigenous Education Leadership Institute which then became the Stronger Smarter Institute and operated as a partnership between Education Queensland and QUT. (Stronger Smarter has operated as an independent non-profit organisation since 2013.)

In 2006, Professor Sarra was named NAIDOC Scholar of the Year and was Queensland’s nominee for the Australian of the Year.

He completed his PhD in Psychology at Murdoch University in 2005 and his thesis — Strong and smart — towards a pedagogy for emancipation: education for first peoples — was released as a book in 2011.

Professor Sarra’s autobiography, Good Morning, Mr Sarra, was published in 2012, the same year the keen rugby league fan was appointed to the Australian Rugby League Commission.

In 2016 he joined the University of Canberra as a Professor of Education teaching and researching on school leadership, Indigenous education and educational equity.