The Aspires Awards 2023 Winners

The 2023 Aspires Awards night was a breathtaking showcase of talent and passion, bringing together finalists from across the network.

It was an inspiring evening filled with glitz and glamour as invited team members joined in the gala dinner held in Melbourne. The highlight of the night was the presentation of the winners of each category and region were announced. The photos captured the excitement and joy of the deserving award recipients, making it evident that this awards program stands as the best in the sector. Notably, this year introduced a new Reconciliation Award, recognising those who have shown exceptional dedication to reconciliation efforts.

Keep reading to find out the winners of each award – Congratulations to ALL of the winners!



A big round of applause for the winners of our Aspires Stars Categories. Congratulations to our winners in each category and region – you light up our world.


The Aspires Star Award

North Region

Becky Andrew, Springfield Lakes, QLD

Becky is a dedicated and professional Assistant Centre Manager who excels in her role. She actively seeks feedback to improve and supports the centre leadership team. Becky’s commitment to excellence shines through as she goes above and beyond to create the best environment for children, families, and the team. Her willingness to learn and grow indicates her potential as a future Centre Manager and leader within Guardian. Colleagues admire her as a supportive sounding board, and she is highly valued for fostering a positive cultural environment.


South Region

Rachel Kim, Daw Park, SA

Rachel, a dedicated newcomer to the industry, seamlessly integrated into the Nursery team.  She quickly grasped routines and understood each child’s individual needs. Her willingness to step up in the absence of team members showcases her capability in running the room. Rachel takes a proactive approach to ensure tasks are efficiently completed, anticipates needs and provides attentive care for all the children with love. Her potential as a future team leader is evident, and she is valued for her competence and thoughtfulness. One day she will be a wonderful team leader!


Team of the Year

North Region

Kinfolk Albury, NSW

The team at Kinfolk Albury is known for their exceptional dedication and passion, constantly surpassing industry standards. They create unique and inspiring environments for children, fostering warm relationships with families and the community. Their commitment to excellence earned them an Exceeding result in the A&R, motivating them to continuously improve. The team’s efforts in smooth transitions and child-centred programs have built sustaining relationships with families. Their passion and achievements make them an amazing and proud team.


South Region

Truganina, VIC

The team at Truganina are praised for their thoughtfulness, love, and supportiveness. They create a positive and nurturing environment, fostering a strong sense of teamwork and cooperation. With their caring and professional attitude, they ensure the quality of their service and strive for success in all aspects of the NQF. The Centre values inclusivity, sustainability, and strong community connections, making it a place people love to be. Overall, the Truganina team is described as brave, professional, and a wonderful group of early childhood professionals.


Aspiring Mate of the Year

North Region

Liz Bartley, Brassall, QLD

Liz was nominated for Aspiring Mate of the Year for her proactive and engaged leadership. As a CM Coach/Mentor, she provides supportive guidance and respect to her team. Liz’s warm, friendly nature makes her approachable, and she consistently goes above and beyond to assist others. Her thoughtfulness and flexibility create a positive work environment. Liz’s professional advice and advocacy demonstrate her dedication, making her a strong and respected leader within the network.


South Region

Amy Purcell, Elsternwick, VIC

Amy is a true gem, being a supportive and positive role model for the team. Her professionalism and willingness to help are truly admirable, making her a trusted friend and confidant. She tackles challenges with enthusiasm, showing tremendous growth and leadership. Amy’s ability to turn challenges into opportunities is inspiring, creating beautiful spaces and learning experiences for the children. Her collaborative approach and consideration for others foster a fair and balanced workplace. Amy’s sense of responsibility and strong leadership are evident, and she genuinely cares about the children and her team’s wellbeing.


Innovation Award

North Region

 Ashley Malkoun, Caringbah, NSW

Ashley’s dedication to upholding child safety standards is commendable, using interactive programs to educate and engage her team. She fosters professional growth, showing great passion for child safety. As a valuable member of the Centre Leadership Team, Ashley collaborates with her Centre Manager and Assistant Centre Manager to achieve missions and implement positive changes. She excels at communication, keeping the team updated on Centre procedures and written requirements. Ashley’s innovative and creative approach has made learning at Guardian enjoyable, resulting in positive changes in her Centre. Her resourcefulness and positive impact are recognised and appreciated.


South Region

Ashleigh Curnow, Blackburn South, VIC

Ashleigh’s belief in her team members and her positive and brave approach to leadership makes her stand out as a remarkable Centre Manager. She provides professional and personal guidance and support, helping others grow in their roles. Her interest in sustainability led to innovative ideas like the Swap Page on Workplace, fostering resource sharing among services, reducing waste, and promoting connections between Centres. Ashleigh’s problem-solving skills and creative initiatives make her a deserving winner.


Support Office Star

Liz Marques, Quality and Curriculum

Liz is an exceptional Curriculum Mentor, embodying all Guardian mindsets. Her vast knowledge and kindness make her a pillar of support for the Centre and Leadership Team. She brings a positive and inspiring energy, always encouraging growth and improvement. Liz’s dedication to Early Childhood and Guardian is remarkable. She goes above and beyond to guide and mentor educators, providing valuable feedback and sharing insights. Liz’s professionalism and advocacy make her an asset to Guardian, making everyone feel valued and inspired. She celebrates each achievement and is always ready to support her team, creating a positive and thriving learning environment.


Reconciliation Award

North Region

Coopers Plains, QLD

The Coopers Plains are strong advocates for the authentic inclusion of First Nations people and are doing an incredible job on their reconciliation journey. They have embraced and embedded First Nations heritage and culture into their Centre and community. From creating a Significant Dates Calendar to building relationships with Aboriginal artists and community groups, their dedication is inspiring. They strive to make families, children, and communities feel welcomed and connected Their commitment to closing the gap and spreading cultural awareness is commendable, making them true advocates for reconciliation.


South Region

Laurimar, VIC

The team at Laurimar has been incredibly brave and dedicated over the past year in building strong partnerships with children, families, and the community to create a culturally safe and inclusive environment. Their meaningful journey has led to a deep understanding of the significance of acknowledging and celebrating First Nations culture. The Department of Education recognised their efforts, and the Centre was featured in a video for National Close the Gap Day, encouraging continuous learning about Aboriginal culture and providing resources and support for families. Their commitment to cultural safety is commendable and inspiring.



Do you know who’s amazing? You are! Congratulations to the winners of the People Categories, we love what you do to make our Centres a place people love to be!


Centre Manager of the Year

North Region

Kate Jackson, Rouse Hill South, NSW

Kate is a long-term high achiever, building strong relationships with her team and families. Her positive attitude and open-mindedness to feedback creates a great working environment. Kate’s focus on leadership and succession planning empowers her team, ensuring they shine daily. She values every member and fosters a culture of excellence at Guardian. Kate’s dedication and joyful approach make the Centre a place everyone loves to be. She embodies all of Guardian’s mindsets and consistently exceeds goals.


South Region 

Kate Sampson, Caulfield North, VIC

Kate has been an incredible support to the network. She mentors and empowers newer Centre Managers, setting them up for success. Kate advocates for her team and peers, going above and beyond, even taking on the challenge of Nominated Supervisor at another Centre. She positively impacts the wider Guardian Network. Brave and dedicated, Kate stepped out of her comfort zone, supporting Caulfield North through A&R and fostering a strong Centre Leadership Team. Her leadership has been instrumental in moving the Centre forward, ensuring accountability and implementing best practices.


Assistant Centre Manager of the Year

North Region

Hailey McIntosh, Augustine Heights, QLD

Hailey is a wonderful support in the Centre, always caring and generous with her knowledge. She leads by example, bringing positivity and fun to everyone. Hailey is incredibly organised, supportive, and kind to all staff. As an Assistant Centre Manager, she always accommodates the team’s needs and fosters a fantastic Centre culture. She listens, helps, and sticks with the team through thick and thin. Hailey embodies a positive mindset, celebrating the team’s efforts and encouraging everyone to strive for their goals. She’s a true leader, dedicated, passionate, and always striving for the highest quality care and education for children.


South Region

Emily Turner, Brighton, VIC

Emily is a true go-getter, always eager to learn and approach any task with a positive attitude. Her support for colleagues and dedication to teamwork is admirable. She’s already excelling in her role and shows great potential for future leadership. Emily’s boundless positivity and focus on growth benefit not only her own Centre but also neighbouring Centres where she readily lends a helping hand. Her commitment to quality teaching practices and willingness to share strategies make her a valuable asset to the team.


Educational Leader of the Year

North Region

Marie Brown, Coopers Plains, QLD

Marie is a dedicated and passionate Educational Leader who goes above and beyond to support her team. She leads by example and is a role model for others. Her commitment to reconciliation and embedding Aboriginal culture into the centre is commendable, and her efforts have been recognised within Guardian and the wider community. Marie’s positive and supportive approach creates a wonderful learning environment for educators, families, and children. She is truly deserving of the Reconciliation Award and the Aspire Award for Educational Leader of the Year.


South Region

Ashleigh Caruso, Preston, VIC

Ashleigh is a ray of sunshine and positivity, creating a Centre that feels like a home for her team and families. She is a true advocate for her Centre Leadership Team and has successfully led her team to an Exceeding rating, demonstrating her deep knowledge and support for her team’s growth. Ashleigh’s thoughtful and joyful approach to leadership creates a fun and enjoyable learning environment. She embodies all four Guardian Mindsets and inspires others with her positive and genuine care. Ashleigh’s creativity and determination make her a shining star at Guardian.


Teacher of the Year

North Region

Gline Mansour, Lilyfield, NSW

Gline is a dedicated Early Childhood Teacher who excels in providing an educational program tailored to each child’s interests. Her professionalism, care, and thoughtful nature create a fantastic learning environment. Her openness to feedback and continuous improvement makes her an exceptional teacher. She collaborates with her colleagues, partners with families, and ensures the program reflects the needs and interests of the children. Gline is truly an asset to Guardian Lilyfield and deserves recognition for her outstanding work.


South Region

Kyleigh Larson, Lemon Tree, VIC

Kyleigh is a dedicated and passionate Teacher who creates meaningful programs. She engages children in positive and motivating learning experiences tailored to their needs. As an experienced Educator, Kyleigh introduces innovative teaching methods, responding to children’s and families’ ideas and needs. Her dedication extends beyond her classroom, as she mentors and supports other teachers’ growth. Her authentic relationships with children inspire a love of learning, and her high-quality documentation celebrates their voices and achievements. Kyleigh is a true inspiration.


Educator of the Year

North Region

Alena Avellaneda, Phillip Street, NSW

Alena’s long-standing dedication is evident in her positive outlook and approachable nature. She builds strong partnerships with the team, children, and families, fostering mutual trust and respect. Alena goes above and beyond, willingly taking on various roles to support the Centre. She is the glue that holds the team together, promoting a supportive and successful environment. Alena uplifts everyone around her with a smile and a kind word, ensuring they feel appreciated and valued. Her professionalism and commitment to meaningful learning make her an inspiring Educator.

South Region

Shahila Keskin, Flinders, SA

Shahila is an exceptional doer, consistently prioritising the children’s and the team’s wellbeing. As the backbone of the Centre, she exudes positivity with a constant smile on her face. Shahila’s dedication is unmatched, celebrating every achievement and wholeheartedly committing to any task given to her. A true embodiment of an outstanding educator, Shahila’s professionalism and commitment to the children and the Centre shine through in her meticulous planning and patient leadership. She is truly an inspiration to all.


Chef of the Year

North Region

Hyejin Lee, Bruce, ACT

Hyejin is more than just a chef; she is a culinary artist who creates delicious and healthy meals that nourish young minds and educators. She puts her heart and soul into every dish and loves planning cooking experiences with the children. Hyejin’s presence creates strong bonds with the children; even former students love visiting her. She is thoughtful, tolerant, and always willing to go the extra mile, making her job seem effortless. Hyejin’s kindness and culinary skills make her truly amazing!

South Region

Brett Norton, Daw Park, SA

Brett made a positive impact on the kitchen at Daw Park, improving efficiency and building strong relationships with the community. His professional approach includes updating menus and ensuring nutritious meals with minimal waste. Children love his food, and he welcomes their feedback. Brett’s creativity, flexibility, and willingness to go the extra mile make him a valuable and caring team member. He takes on challenges with a smile, providing incredible meals and treats for families. Always professional and inclusive, Brett’s menu planning considers everyone’s views and needs.


Student of the Year

North Region

Halle Micallef, Springfield Lakes, QLD

Halle is a dedicated and passionate Educator, valued for her commitment to children’s learning and development. Her professionalism, positivity, and bravery make her a strong role model and leader among her peers. She consistently goes above and beyond, fostering strong connections with the children and families she cares for. Halle’s genuine love for her job and nurturing nature create a welcoming and supportive learning space. Her aspirations to become an Early Childhood Teacher are promising, and her positive impact on the team at Guardian Springfield Lakes is highly appreciated.


South Region

Fabian Riny Thornbury, VIC

Fabian is a positive, hardworking, and enthusiastic member of the team. He actively helps and guides new team members, earning appreciation for his contributions. Starting as a dedicated student, he now holds a full-time position in the toddler room while continuing his studies. He shows kindness and passion in his work with children, building strong and respectful relationships with Educators and families. Fab’s creativity and positive interactions foster a nurturing environment for the children he cares for. His willingness to learn and grow makes him a great Educator.



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