Challenging the Status Quo!!!

“You see things; and say “Why”? But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why Not?”

So said a Robert F. Kennedy when he cited a passage out of George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” in 1968.

I suspect the quote’s impact will mean and appeal differently to different people; all of us in KPDSB being absolutely no exception.

In recent months, regardless of where you may live in our Board or where you work in the Board, it is unlikely you have not been impacted by changes that have occurred as a result of the Board’s Restructuring Plan. This would apply to most departments, most school and attendance areas, and without question both board offices. We have already reassigned several school administration positions, several key Board and Senior Administration positions, and over the next two weeks will fulfill virtually all remaining aspects of the restructuring approach (for now). Next week we will be looking to hire a new Superintendent of Business, and the week following that, we will be reporting to Trustees all remaining school reassignments and appointments. It has been a year of massive change and reorganization…and it was promised in September by myself as DOE to all of you, and I believe we can say with confidence that our plan has been executed efficiently and decisively.

We also have made these changes by looking both internal, and external as obvious by the significant hiring of Tania Sterling as the new Superintendent of Education. In looking to Tania, as well as to our new appointees and assignments, one question has loomed large for me in my capacity as Director of Education: “Will they challenge the status quo and make us better thinkers; make us a better organization?” One of the biggest worries I have is falling into what I term “The Complacency Trap”. In education, more specifically this can refer to the host of barriers that get in the inherent way of change in our organization (most organizations) and ultimately lock us into “it is the way it is”, preventing us from trying “the way things could be”. When we look to future leaders of our Board and of our schools, this what I hope they will embrace….that is “What could things be like if we tried something new?”

Change can be difficult, and sometimes change can be downright painful; this is complicated even more when it’s not understood why change is even necessary. The Kenora group of administrators and schools know this full well (after three years ago) at a now infamous early morning meeting with myself at the Kenora Board office, where complacency was more than a concern, it was a reality. We agreed that a new way of thinking, of promoting, and of innovating programs for our kids was necessary. Sioux Lookout followed suit, then Dryden and later to Red Lake where promoting our schools has taken on a new energy. The result.…in Kenora for example, is that our enrolment has increased by 21% over the past three years! And if there ever was an example of turning the ship around….in the Ontario proverbial educational sense anyways…it came last week when the budget for school boards was announced. For the first time ever in our existence, and unlike the overwhelming majority of school board in the province, in remote Northwestern Ontario, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board will not be eligible for the “Declining Enrolment Grant”. The budget line funded to boards to offset declining enrolment. Why?

Because the KPDSB is not declining any more. We are growing.

I find it almost serendipitous that as our long-standing Business Official Dean Carrie approaches his retirement, he does so in his last months knowing that our Board is now growing and is a “Growth Board”. While I met privately last week with a number of Ministry of Education Officials, one of them did ask me with a sly smile…”You guys in KP must have been doing the happy dance when you saw that Sean?!” Not being a very good dancer, I shook my head in the negative but did indicate I celebrated by enjoying one of my favorite Canada Dry ginger ales!

The rise of the KPDSB is also another reason why I was meeting last week privately with numerous EDU folks; to look at growing and developing greater coherent work in advancing the interests of Northern Children, from Northern Ontario. In the weeks and months, and even years ahead lies the single greatest challenge we are going to face, and that is addressing the needs of Northern Children, and increasingly the needs of the staff and families who spend their lives invested in Northern Children. It has gone from a profession, or job…to now a cause. The uniqueness with which we are looked upon by many others, including our friends from the provincial Ministry of Education is complemented by fondness and endearment. We are considered a hard-luck board, that is tough and resolved in our innovative ways to ever change the way education is brought to our students; we are also a board that is admired and greatly respected, and for that I again say thank you to all of you in our schools and in our offices. As Martyn Beckett, ADM of the Ministry of Education said once again to Mike Boos and I last week: “You do whatever it takes.” I also thank our Trustees who have supported this change agenda and mandate to embrace new ways of thinking and what the KPDSB means to the North. And as we continue to do more and more of this, I believe that we will continue to see more and more new faces come to the KPDSB; and I welcome them too!

Last week as Tania and I were going back and forth over her big transition to moving to Northwestern Ontario, there was clearly a combination of excitement with trepidation in her voice. In my own sadly lacking way to inspire “intrigue” to her, I shared with her a picture (attached below) from the Easter long weekend at my cabin in Ear Falls with my two sons Aoedan and Tristan, following a successful day of “moose antler hunting” in the remote bush road networks both close by and far away. I sent them to her, thinking “this will really make Tania interested in Northwestern Ontario.” Her quick reply was that Jack, her young son, “thinks they are really cool?” Followed by: “Sean what do you do with them, and is this what you do in your spare time?”

Ahhhh….Tania, I asked you to challenge me and our way of thinking, but please somethings just need to be left really simple:) Asking me why I spend a full day chasing through the woods for moose antlers I am afraid….will result in no comprehendible answer; I guess maybe Northerners are in fact a little “unique” indeed.

I am excited for the future, and while I know like many of you, we are tired and wearing down from a year that has flown right by; I also remind you we have two more full months to go! Make the most of it; accept no complacency, and be innovative. Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo, and commit to asking yourself “what could be”, if only…..​

Before I sign off, I would be remiss if I did not share that the KPDSB lost another 2 children since my last post; a 13 year old student last week, and a 16 year old several weeks before. Both were actually not attending at this very time, but had long been before in our schools in Pickle Lake, Red Lake, Ear Falls and Beaver Brae. The fact they were not in attendance was a result of factors and influences far beyond their control and serve not only as a reminder but equally as a unwavering motivator to the work of supporting “Northern Children” that lies ahead. It will be exhaustive, it will be difficult, and it will with absolutely guarantee attack the status quo like never before, and challenge systemic barriers that have for too long not put kids first, but agencies and policies.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments and questions.

Take care, everyone!

Sean​

Sean Blog Photo

To be a Kid Again!

Good Morning, Everyone!

As you open your in-box this morning, most of you will be less than a week away from our annual March Break, mid-winter recess…or for many, time to rest and catch up. Catch up on reading, exercise, or maybe even sleep!! March Break begins officially a week from this morning, but in many eyes it will be this Friday around 3:30, right???!!

 Have a terrific March Break and enjoy your time away if you are going to be making the break, a true “breakaway”. The solid stretch of time between January and March Break is always the longest and most grueling un-interrupted block of time in the educator’s calendar in my mind. I think for the Northern Ontario educator’s calendar…even more so! But we have made it and when you come back, there will only be one week of March left, the month of April, then Easter, and then onward to May Long Weekend and the opening of fishing season…such is the life of the Northern Ontario “redneck” educator I suppose?!

 And speaking of Northern Ontario and symbolism, there is nothing more “northern small town-ish” for many then the scene and memories of an outdoor rink, shovelled off lake or pond, and a good game of boot hockey. Such as this was two weeks ago in my hometown of Kenora when we hosted “Hockey Day in Canada” for four days, resplendent with red and white of the Hockey Day in Canada colours and pictures of Don Cherry, Ron McLean, the Stanley Cup, and of course…Lanny McDonald everywhere (Cassie Campbell too!)!! Perhaps most memorable though (for me anyways) was on the morning of February 16th, a Thursday, when both as the DOE and more importantly as an alumni of Beaver Brae Secondary School, I got to sit in the bleachers of the BBSS gymnasium with 1000 students and staff and watch as Ron McLean asked us to cheer in the Stanley Cup! I sat beside Pauline Martin and her BBSS Broncos Girls’ Hockey Team. I then watched Lanny McDonald enter and joined the entire gym singing a hockey hero of mine “Happy Birthday” to # 7 of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes he won a Stanley Cup with Calgary, but he will always be #7 for Toronto!

Later in a chance conversation with Lanny McDonald as I lined up impatiently with dozens of other “kids” (or as one 10 year old told me in line “You don’t have any rank here Monteith; get in line!”), I shared with one of my heroes that I actually had met him many years ago with my Dad outside the back of the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens. Waiting during a cold February night hoping to get an autograph of McDonald, Mike Palmateer, Tiger Williams, Borje Salming, Ian Turnbull, and of course #27 Darryl Sittler!! I got them all that night as they entered the back entrance of the Gardens after the team had their supper at steakhouse across the street before playing the Minnesota North Stars; the Leafs won that game 4-2. I remember it well because it was the first game I ever went to; I still remember Harold Ballard, the Leafs surly owner sitting in his own private owner’s box with Paunch Imlach. I also recalled when talking with him, that later in that same year when he was traded to the Colorado Rockies for Wilf Paiment; the devastation I felt! How could that happen? And the same night that it did, Darryl Sittler tearing the “C” off his jersey…in protest of his friend’s untimely departure.

Now I realize that many reading this will either: 1) remember exactly what I am talking about and nod as they recall their own memories, 2) could care less about hockey and the Leafs in general and likely not even have read this far in my post, or 3) represent that crowd of people in the system born in the 90’s and whom I am learning much about these past months referred to as “Millennials” and may have absolutely no idea of any of these players, the names or what this even about.

So why am I sharing with you about my own little “Sean” nostalgia?

Because I found myself a couple of weeks back along with hundreds of other kids that Thursday morning in the BBSS gym, wearing my own Team Canada (1967 Edition), beaming with enthusiasm, my chin in my hands listening to people I remembered well as a boy. And for over an hour, I didn’t feel like the Director of Education; but rather I felt like a little boy again, who had no worries or cares in the world. Oh to be young again like that! But recognizing that is not going to happen, the next best thing is to be close to kids like many of you are daily! The enthusiasm that comes from a school and school events, is nothing short of magical, it really is! I could have wrote today about the recent changes to Sr Admin, or the restructuring that has now been almost implemented. Or I could have talked about Efficacy and Strategic Planning etc…..I might have even talked about En Compass, or even the recent Minister’s visit….
(However, as part of our new communication approach for Efficacy you will find the minutes of last week’s meeting and Terms of Reference attached; I will endeavor to do this with every blog I send out.)

But no, as we head into our March Break, I wanted to share how for a brief few moments a couple of weeks back, I wasn’t thinking of any of those things. I was simply enjoying an experience in my alma mater, watching legends speak and reminding me of a time when I was a little boy again, traveling to his first big league game with his Dad, and everything around was good and free of problems and challenges. When the event was done at BBSS that morning I went back to the office and returned to the files and emails waiting impatiently for me there; but no matter, I had had the chance to feel like a kid again.

So this March Break, forget work, forget your challenges you face in the real sense of the word…let yourself be a kid again and allow yourself to smile an innocent smile and feel what any 8 year old should; a carefree world with adults there making sure you will have memories that someday will catch you, with chin in hand and a grin from ear to ear.

Have a wonderful March (mid-winter) Break!
Sean

December is Here

Good Morning; December  is Here!

I have been asked on occasion over the past few years, about how I go about choosing or sharing when I send out posts to the system and to all staff, both current and retired; interesting we have a number of folks who also read these posts from outside of the KPDSB too. I have often wondered why, and have felt that I should forewarn them that if they are looking for something profound, it likely won’t be coming from me. The truth is, that while I do try to be consistent and connect with all of you about every 4 to 6 weeks, I don’t have a set or pre-determined focus or theme; usually so much occurs or something has agitated me, that I share all with you and likely do so for selfish therapeutic reasons!!!! I guess that’s why the phrase “We are all human” makes so much sense to us?!

But in recent weeks several events have occurred that have impacted myself personally, and many in the system directly. On a personal level it was three weeks ago on a November morning, having just arrived at the office in Dryden when I got a call from the hospital in Kenora and was told “Sean, Dad had a heart attack and is in Intensive Care at the hospital; they’re preparing to fly him out.” Now for those who live in Kenora, most will know my Dad “John” and have had the fortune (or misfortune!) to run into him walking down Valley Drive, biking, or out on the lake. You simply cannot get away from him with out spending 15 minutes of your life talking, often about fishing, your family and loved ones and even politics on occasion. Once in while he might rail about his only son and comment that “he still doesn’t listen”, just as I didn’t when I was teenager! Many of the female staff often comment to me that he “so cute” and resembles some sort of Smurf character, given that he stands about 5’1”. And I have to admit, there is something endearing about driving to work in Kenora and seeing my parents walk down the street together waving at me and me back to them in the mornings. Life in a small northern town…

So when I got the call that he was in the ICU and had a heart attack, I informed Mary I was turning around and driving right back to Kenora; and I have to admit for the first time in my life I put that cruise control and pedal on 95 km/hour and did not take it off until I was back in Kenora and had slowed down going through Vermilion Bay, even though my adrenaline was pumping and I wanted to drive twice that fast. Seeing one’s own parent (like I know many of you have yourselves), hooked up to monitors and tubes; IV lines and oxygen is a rather unnerving experience. Dad is only 67 years old, and in great health or so we thought; he actually had his heart attack while out on his morning walk. Over the following nine days he spent time in a couple of ICU’s, flying between Kenora and Thunder Bay, in and out surgery, and in and out of pain. I have nothing but amazing things to say about our health care professionals. Inter-provincial wrangling over who has responsibility for Ontario patients in Northwestern Ontario…well that is a whole other thing. But the one thing I will never forget is when Dad arrived at the Thunder Bay hospital from the airport there and upon having had another heart attack, how he looked as I waited for him. He looked old, grey and he looked very wore out…he didn’t actually even look like my Dad.

We often talk about taking care of ones’ self and making sure we have balance in our work/personal lives; I know I speak of it, not only because I believe in it but because we all know how important it is. It is important to ourselves, to our families and loved ones, and it is important to our students and colleagues. But here is the thing about taking care of ones’ own well-being…that I have found to be difficult at times: it is simply easy to say, much tougher to do, isn’t it? However, it is critically important. Candice sent out yesterday a great newsletter about taking care of yourselves over this Festive month which for some people can be tough; please read what she has shared. The Daily Physical Activity Pilot is demonstrating that the majority of this system is utilizing it and making good on their pledge. Later today we will be drawing for 10 Fit Bit Surges as promised by me to all of you last week for those that completed the survey of participation. I was reluctant to send the survey out because what is the first thing you think of or say when someone asks you to complete a survey?? (maybe don’t say it!). But you know what, almost 500 of you completed that survey, and 75% of you did so in the first 24 hours!! I have never seen such staff empowerment and a feeling of investment in ourselves and in this organization like I am seeing now; and I am very pleased. The data we are collecting and what you have told us is compelling and profound. And it is invaluable; we are already hearing that people want to continue to have us carry forward the concept of the DPA Lieu Day and share practices with each other and your colleagues. Continue to share your stories; I need to hear them!

Over the next few weeks, you will likely be enjoying seasonal parties and socials that celebrate comraderie, and each other and of course the holidays. Apparently in Kenora at the Board office we are participating in a “muder-mystery” Christmas Party…where I am expected to play a young male reindeer named “Dusty”; an ornery young ungulate who can’t seem to quite make the cut for Santa’s Reindeer team and consequentially has a grudge against Rudolph.…….Sounds more like a B-rated movie that airs at 3 in the morning!

And I thought we signed up for curling; thanks Daina!!!!  Anyways, whatever it is you do, or wherever you go for the holidays, I am asking and frankly appealing to you to enjoy yourself and each other. We need to, and while I can’t believe that December is here, the reality is that in 3 weeks, you will be on our annual Christmas recess, and a well-deserved one at that. I plan on continuing to check in on Dad, although his recent crankiness suggests that “he is back to normal”!

In the new year, I plan on reconnecting with all staff and based on the recent Efficacy Year 3 Summary and Recommendations that I received last week and acting on the direction and feedback taken from you, will act accordingly. I will be making a commitment to come again between January and May, to visit and attend a staff meeting with all of you in your schools and worksites where we will able to discuss matters of Efficacy, direction of the organization and the future of the KPDSB. Questions around our continued work with NAN/KO can be discussed, the needs of our students and yourselves and our communities. There is great change afoot in the organization right now, with a full-system restructuring underway involving Senior Administration and Administration, and those changes will continue until they are complete, and I will be happy to share with you what those changes when the time is right and we are ready. In addition and in an effort to support transparency, once I have shared the Efficacy Executive Summary with the P/VP’s and Managers next week, I will send it out to the entire system, all of you to review as well.

But for now, the message is this; enjoy the month with your students and colleagues, take care of yourselves, and remember to stop and smell the roses, because if you don’t you may find yourself forced into doing just that driving the highway back to your home hoping that your Dad is OK.

Stay in touch and take care,

Sean

We Are the North

Good Morning, Everyone, Welcome Back from a long weekend!

In the 2016/17 KPDSB Board Video “Kids Come First”, there is a clip of some of our young people who make a “We Are Statement….” proudly stating “We Are The North”!

(If you can’t recall this part, make a point and watch the video again!) There are many statements made in the video, but this is the one that resonated with me, and for multiple reasons I suspect. I try very hard in my communication with you as staff and stakeholders in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board to drive home the point, that we do not just live in Northwestern Ontario, work, play and represent this unique part of the country…but more importantly, we are the North!

I had originally intended to send this Director’s Post out on Friday morning, timing it before Thanksgiving and wishing all of you and those closest to you a wonderful long-weekend. But then something stopped me, and made the decision to wait until we returned today. In reterspect I wanted the three days of time spent in the bush, hunting and traveling the northern logging roads that I often do with my youngest son Tristan. Thanksgiving Weekend, also means opening weekend for many moose hunters, afflicted by an annual disorder that causes us to lose sanity temporarily in our search of an ungulate that could trample us if so inclined. It also is a weekend to visit with friends in the bush, sitting by a fire and enjoying the colours and fresh air of our beloved Northwestern Ontario. And so, thinking the weekend would foster reminders of why we love where we live and reinforce an appreciation for what makes us unique, I wanted to wait till today.

But in recent weeks there have been several personal and compelling examples of why Northwestern Ontario is home, and why many of us will never leave. Perhaps the best example was two weeks ago, when after months of careful planning, coordination of schedules like I have never seen, and in response to relentless advocacy for KPDSB, we played host to several Ministry officials and government representatives, from the Assistant Deputy Minister to Directors of Special Education, Policy and Programming and Service Delivery. The visit resulted in 10 officials representing multiple Ministries, with the intent to see what the North looks like in public education; and more specifically what it means to be a teacher or support staff, or principal in Keewatin-Patricia? What does it mean to put kids first? And at what cost does putting kids first have on us personally?

I can tell you that, that when the visit (which lasted three days) was over; our guests were impacted and moved forever. As the Director of Special Education for the province after meeting staff at Sioux Mountain Public School shared emotionally: “I bore witness…I now see what you have been telling us the past few years.” Likely the most memorable part of the visit though for myself was accompanying the ADM of Education and a Senior official from MCYS to Pickle Lake as we flew in on Wasaya Air, later to drive the Pickle Lake highway down to “Mish”, (otherwise referred to as Osnaburgh First Nation) later returning back to Sioux Lookout from Pickle Lake on a De Havailland Beaver float plane the same day. I had called in a favour from a personal friend who operates a tourist business and asked if we could catch a ride back to Sioux. As we stepped onto the floats in Pickle Lake, my friend gave both the ADM and Director a couple of blaze orange hats celebrating the coming moose hunting season and wished them well. As we flew over the incredibly spectacular fall colours of the Northwestern Ontario woodland canopy and crystal blue waters of literally thousands of lakes, the moment was not lost on me with these two high ranking officials proudly wearing their “Pickle Lake Outposts” orange hunting hats, watching the terrain below. Every now and again, the one official would shake her head and mutter “incredible” or “it’s simply beautiful”. And indeed it was, and it is. Martyn Beckett, the ADM for the Ministry of Education looked at me at one point on the flight and said to me “You love it up here, don’t you Sean? Challenges and all, you will never leave.” To which I nodded in agreement.

One of the things that defines us I believe, is our hardiness, or resolve. Some may call it toughness, others may term it resilience, or even fortitude. To me, it is simply what we are…We Are The North.

The North however, and specifically the Northwest is experiencing some incredible change right now: demographically, socially, economically. And we in education are not immune, as we experience our own major changes. What used to work in classrooms say 20 years ago, is proving to perhaps not have the same effect or outcome; our young people reflecting these changes, their needs change right alongside it. Staff are being called upon daily to deal with matters that historically were not part of our regimen; as I put it to our Ministry visitors before they left, “Our staff are becoming as much agents of MCYS, Ministry of Health, and Child and Family Services, as they are agents of Education.”

That’s not reasonable, and it’s not acceptable.

The recent visit was all about showing in very raw and very emotional ways, just how putting kids first impacts those adults who have made young people an investment, and commitment of theirs. The difference, is that when we take the stance of kids first…we do it. We don’t show up a glossy plan that indicates we do and then forget our cause, we simply act and do it. With this in mind, the other defining moment that has stuck with me since the visit two weeks ago, was when the question was asked of a staff member at Queen Elizabeth District High School “With all of the challenges and tragedy you have faced, would you ever leave?” The question was sincere and innocent, but if you knew this staff member then you also knew what her answer was: “Never”. To which she added “I’m from the North, will stay in the North, and will never leave the North. We’re Northerners, and we have the right stuff; we just need a little help.”

And with that message, our guests left; the Senior Admin team returned to our roles, staff and students back to their schools, classrooms and daily lives. The statement made by that teacher at QEDHS, should not be underestimated; there is someone in every single one of our schools who would say the very same thing. Our principals would say it, our Board office staff would say it, and your Director would say it because it’s true.

And so as Tristan and I were traveling and walking remote areas of bush and muskeg this past weekend wearing our own modeled blaze orange apparel, and where someone from a more southern part of the province might ask if we were dealing with a momentarily lapse in sanity trying to get stuck and dirty…I would have replied, “Nope, we’re fine and we love it; we’re from the North.”

I look forward to seeing the remaining schools that I have yet to make it to in the first 5 weeks, and catching up with staff very soon.

Take care,

Sean

Welcome Back, We Are Family

Good Morning Everyone, Welcome Back….Welcome Home!!!

Over the next couple of days as you reconnect with your colleagues, students, and families, you will have opportunities to hear what exciting things those around you have been doing the past couple of months! And of course people will want to know how your summer has been, and where you and those closest to you have gone. For some of you, you may have stayed close to home, and enjoyed the long sunny days of Northwestern Ontario. I always chuckle that as many of us go on vacations across the country, just as many (and more) come to visit our area because of the beauty and endearing qualities we possess…we live in the greatest part of this province, this country if you asked me. From me to all of you…Welcome Back!

Later this morning, at your first staff meeting, such as it has become custom these past four years now, you will watch the 2016-2017 Keewatin-Patricia District School Board Video “Kids Come First”. The tradition started four years ago, as I began my first year as Director of Education, and I suppose in reflection was only meant to be a one-time project. But staff each year and increasingly, ask for another to be created with a new theme. This year the Efficacy group members determined the theme, and picked the song. I mention this because the first three have been energized and jazzy in the sense that they are quick, light and celebrate the best in us, in you. However, this year the theme is “We Are Family”; and if it couldn’t be more fitting, the song (entitled the same) is the Tragically Hip with Gordie Downie singing. His reality and our reality in KPDSB gives this year’s video a no less celebratory feel, but also a very serious cerebral one as well. For New Prospect Public School staff, the video and message will have an even more profound meaning and impact I suspect as you will notice two of your own students remarking for us all “We are resilient!” Indeed we are and need to be, but their story and background is one you will know well. Use their comment as inspiration for you, for all of us.

Over the summer, the Senior Administration team consisting of Scott, Caryl, Joan, Susanne, and myself were finally able to have a private meeting arranged together with the Deputy Ministers of Health, Education, Child and Youth Services, as well as couple of Assistant Deputy Ministers from the same ministries. The meeting was a promise filled by our good friend and outgoing Deputy George Zegerac. As a parting effort and in recognition of truly how heroic our work is with our kids, but also in recognition of the toll it takes on our staff….he brought us all together in Toronto at the Deputy Minister’s office and for two hours my Senior Team and I advocated as hard as I think we possibly could for our Board, our schools, our staff, and our kids. Our needs are very, very different. The traditional teaching and learning “box” is not our reality in many, many cases. The meeting in itself was unprecedented. None of us have ever experienced anything like it; and as George’s former assistant told me afterwards: “It hasn’t happened before; George wants to help you, we all need to help you in the North.” We have asked for unprecedented help with school-based supports, that are bigger than Special Education; they include Children’s Mental Health, behavioral supports, and staff, student (and their families’) wellness supports, and we have been charged with formulating a comprehensive plan to provide to the three Ministry’s, and fast. Joan is leading this and we hope to have action and movement as soon as reasonably possible for you.

Why did we do this? Over the last year, and in particular this past spring it became obvious that staff overwhelmingly have adopted a “Kids First” stance in their daily lives at work, and after work increasingly…helping children. This putting “kids first” adoption by staff though, as it has become evident, has impacted my staff across the system be you teacher, education assistant, early childhood educator, administrative assistant, librarian, custodian, principal…and it has affected the Senior Administration ourselves. Never, has a sense of cause or urgency been so palpable for us at the executive level, hearing and learning daily of the challenges our staff face regularly with their children. It has become a mission to do more, to help more and to support more. As I indicated to Senior Admin at our August meeting two weeks ago, “If staff can’t count on us to help, who can they count on?” For this reason, the meeting took place in Toronto in July; and for this reason it likely is the impetus for the serious undertone we begin this year with.

You will also receive communication later today from me as well regarding a pilot concept that promotes “staff-wellness” and your health through daily physical activity; please support this and your own health. Please read and consider sincerely and carefully; I ask you to support us, and in turn support your own health.

We are an academic organization that has redefined our work as educators by reshaping what classrooms look like and how we interact with our Northern students; and this work has caught both provincial and national attention. But we also need to continue to set the highest of expectations; we need to ask the most out of our students, and encourage them for their absolute best…for excellence. If you have watched the Olympics over the past few weeks, you can see what demanding the best and excellence out of yourself can achieve. Whether it be Penny Oleksiak, Andre Degrasse, or the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team, asking for our very best can produce results! In DeGrasse’s case, his trajectory four short years ago was not one headed for Olympic achievement and national heroism; it was one spiraling in the opposite direction. A few around him demanded more, supported him, and pushed him to work hard. Watching him walk around the Olympic Stadium with a Canadian Flag over his back, for me as I’m sure it did for you, instilled pride I have in Canada and who we are. It instilled the same pride as I felt last Saturday night when I watched Gordie Downie sing “The Hip’s” final concert in their hometown of Kingston, particularly when they sang “Bobcaygen”….a reference to a small town in Northern Ontario. And it instilled the same pride I have in us and you, when I watched the new Board video with “We Are Family” sung by the same Downie, the first few times I did earlier this month.

As you watch and recognize many faces in it of your students and your colleagues, I ask you for a moment to put yourself in my shoes as Director and reflect on the many, many changes, reforms and successes that have occurred over the past three years and why I continue to tell you how proud I am of us, of you, and of your work. I ask you to work hard, but also promote to you that we will never ever ask you to work harder than we are prepared to ourselves in administration. I have often commented that the Director must be the hardest working person in the Board; if they aren’t, then asking people for their most in their work is completely undermined. We are family, and yes we have a lot to contend with but we are also moving in such a spectacularly successful direction that we are smashing barriers along the way. As the Evergreen Public staff declare in the video “We Are Proud!!”…and indeed we are, and as we begin a new year, I couldn’t be more so myself!

All the best, have a terrific start-up, and I look forward to seeing you soon in your schools!
Sean

Down-Time

To be honest, it wasn’t only until in the last couple of months, that I actually considered what downtime really represented. Here is a question, and ask yourselves honestly, how many of you can make down-time a priority? I feel confident in suggesting I know the majority of our staff….and with that relationship with you, am confident in saying most of us would really struggle with giving ourselves the time to rest our heads, our thoughts, and our eyes in a way which other professions perhaps do not. And I say that respectfully, to all.

I know I need to be constantly vigilant with this…allowing myself time to slow it down; sometimes even needing a gentle reminder to do better on that front. This particular year, especially.

However, if there was ever a time of the year to rest, reflect and rejuvenate, it is July and August; or as we affectionately refer to it: SUMMER. One of the best aspects of my job, and also one of the most demanding is that I am privileged to get to meet all of you and visit your schools, classrooms and students. It is an amazing component of the job that I have come to love, even if our furthest school away from my Kenora office is 6 hours! While the travel can be heavy at times, the diversity and character of our KPDSB is also one of our most endearing qualities.

However, the sole reason for mentioning this unique opportunity of going to visit all of our schools, is that it has become quite apparent in recent weeks that people are ready for a break, some downtime; people are ready for summer. And you deserve this too. It has been an incredibly busy, action-filled, and successful year. It has also been emotionally challenging and draining at times. The needs of our kids, affecting our own needs have become so evident it is palpable. I thank the Efficacy Group for speaking candidly with me; and with that said, want to share directly with all of them, that our March Efficacy meeting in Dryden has not been lost on me, nor will it fade from memory for a very long time.

In conversation yesterday with a colleague and a school representative on the Efficacy group as we were chatting about her school and staff; I indicated I recognized that people are tired and in some cases, exhausted. I feel the same way to be honest. However, when you work with kids (lots of them) and you give of yourself everything you have both physically and mentally, little wonder that on this morning of the last day of school, there will be lots of red eyes filled with emotion today. Over the last while, I have been challenging a commonly held belief that I have had since starting teaching 23 years ago; and that is summer may not just be the time away from school that many kids look forward to. In fact summer may represent less stability in their lives, more chaos and disarray, and completely opposite than what they would get from you each day in their lives at school. And I now know full-well that many of you in the KPDSB worry a great deal about your kids while away from school during the summer, and if they are OK; as you would with your very own families.

This latter point is what defines KPDSB staff in a way that many can’t even comprehend. The level of care that you give our kids. 2015-2016 will go down in my mind as the year the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board moved into another league in what it means to put kids first; a league of its own. This post will be nothing about media coverage, hockey academy, EDU visits, partnerships with NAN, or even new schools. This last one of the year, is meant to be a direct message from me to all of you, in which I want you to know that as you worry about your own kids and colleagues, I worry about you as Director. I want to say thank you, and as I do, to tell you how inspired I am by what you do, every day. It is a privilege to work and serve you as Director of Education, and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, other than part of this team here in KPDSB. And that as tough as it will get for us in schools in continuing to meet the needs of our kids, I will do everything I can in my power to support you.

Have an amazing summer, please rest now. When we come back in the fall, I assure you there will be some significant updates and achievements to share!

Your Colleague,

Sean

Thank you Dryden!

Good Monday Morning!!

“Come in and jump in the bouncy castle, Mr. Monteith” Dawn-Marie Terry, Full-day kindergarten teacher from New Prospect, yelled to me Saturday morning as I walked up the front lawn of Dryden High School. I have to admit I have seen many things outside the front of high schools, most typical of what one might expect from high school life; but what I have never seen is a blow-up bouncy castle with dozens of children lined up to go inside and play. And yet, there on Saturday morning at DHS was an almost carnival like-scene of games, face-painting, balloons…and a sea of green. Green, as in green “KPDSB Proud” Hoodies and KP green-t shirts of all sizes being worn by so many people, you couldn’t count.

As I walked in front doors, visitors got a double whammy of welcomes, from Susanne Bastable and Mary Helie, both exuberant and enthusiastic…and very welcoming (can you imagine those two in stereo??!!!). I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I came to the Dryden Area KPDSB Schools “Family Fun Open House” Saturday morning, but I did not expect to see what was playing out before my eyes. I suppose I should have known better having sat in on the planning team’s meeting earlier that week with Sheena Valley, Jennifer Bartlett, Megan Gadd, Lindsay Rettie, Arin Boyko and Dawn-Marie (just to name a few), and hearing of the plans. On Friday, as I checked in with Sheena before the end of the day, she commented to me “I just hope some people will show up”. Well, people did show up.

In the three hours between 11 AM to 2 PM on a beautiful Saturday in Dryden, over 1000 people came through the doors of Dryden High School to be met by our Dryden staff, and shared our programs, ideas, and amazing schools. Sounding a bit Romper-Room”ish” I saw children, infants, grandparents, and of course moms and dads. I saw our students from Lillian Berg, Open Roads, New Prospect, and of course Dryden High. Students were face painting little ones, and DHS students from Ryan Graham’s amazing music program were performing in the hallways.  Education assistants, SERT’s, ECE’s kindergarten staff, Dryden Board Office staff, high school shop teachers, special education and curriculum staff, and my administration, they were all there! As you walked in Cindy Palermo and Lynn Pateman were advertising DHS paraphernalia promoting the School’s entrepreneurial programs. Dave Darling had kids working on paddles for canoes in his shop, and the gym….looked more like a sports show one might see at an outdoors exhibition! From French Immersion at NPS, to the Hockey Academy, to Lillian Berg’s renowned Churchill trip and Open Roads’ Explore Program with Deidre McQuade….it was all there, and it was indeed impressive. Newer staff like Celeste Harrison and senior staff like Scott Urquhart and Caryl Hron alike, mingling with residents and new students registered to the KPDSB Family.

But the reason for my wanting to send out a quick post to all of you, was what was most impressive, was the staff. I know people are likely tired of hearing me share how proud I am our staff and KPDSB, but how can you not be?! Green, being the adopted universal colour for all KPDSB schools …was EVRYWHERE!! In fact the only staff or admin not wearing green was probably ME!!! And that was solely due on account (yes, I will admit it as a Beaver Brae graduate and alumni myself), I was wearing a Dryden High School Eagles sweatshirt picked up earlier this year from the DHS Tuck Shop! However, and the reason for sharing this should not be lost; I wore my DHS hoodie because all Dryden area high school students go to DHS, and no where else. Why? Because DHS has a history of excellence, achievements and success. Its staff are exemplary and after what I saw on Saturday, I can tell you that if people feel they can do better in Dryden than DHS, they are fooling themselves and kids, because you simply can’t! As one elderly grandfather I knew personally from Dryden, and who attended DHS himself said to me….”Sean, all kids in Dryden grow up to be Eagles!” And he is right.

I know that sometimes I can be a bit hard, asking a lot of people and also from myself but I also very much believe in giving credit where credit is due, and while I know that there were well over 100 staff in attendance on Saturday giving up there day, I simply cannot mention you all. I apologize for names I may have left out, but want I really want to say and need to say, is “Thank You Dryden”. Getting to the top is hard in itself, Todd Desaultels and Geoff Zilkans will tell you that themselves having taken DHS teams to championships; but staying on top is just as hard if not moreso. In Dryden, we are on top and that is where we plan to stay. And Dryden High School is where kids go to be Eagles and to be inspired, motivated and to learn so that they in turn can graduate and become DHS alumni. And that too is what plan on continuing. Just before I left the house to drive to Dryden Saturday morning, I had emailed all of our trustees an update on a couple of matters I wanted to bring them information. I ended the email to them as I often do, by telling them how proud I am of our staff and our schools; nothing could have supported that statement than those three hours in Dryden on Saturday.

And Sheena, well thank you too kid; because you should feel pretty proud of your efforts to showcase our staff and their kids and our schools; Saturday might just have been the best I have ever seen! Thank You.

Have a great week everyone! And email any time, take care.

Sean