October, Northern Ontario, A Reason to Be Thankful

Good Morning!

Normally I would send a message or post the Friday before Thanksgiving, wishing the entire system an enjoyable holiday long weekend, and to make the most of the fall colours and time with family and friends; here in our beloved North-Country, Northwestern Ontario. However, I want to send this out to start the week this year; and while I still want to wish all of you the best for the weekend coming up, full of crisp air and amazing Northern Ontario scenes of gold and red birch, poplar and tamarack, perhaps what is most compelling me to send this out to start the week, is the idea of being “Thankful” itself.

No…not perhaps actually; without question it is why I am choosing to email all of you first thing Monday morning is the idea of being thankful.

I have learned first-hand, that regardless of who you are, what position you hold, or where you come from or even what you earn…you are never immune from triumph, setback, heartache, and learning. We have been back in schools and with our kids for a solid month now, and if I was ever unsure about staff being back into the thick of working on the front-lines with our students, the last few school staff meetings and last week’s Efficacy meeting, solidified it. If you are feeling the exhaustion of working with students and their needs, in turn impacting your own needs…you are not alone. In the past few weeks, it has become clear that the anomaly of wrestling with the growing needs of our students is not restricted to the first few weeks of school alone, and in fact begins in September ending in June (and honestly, throughout July and August too). It is no longer an anomaly in my view, it is what I have been coming to accept as the “new normal” in KPDSB.

We have hired more new staff in the past few weeks and advertised for more, on account of unprecedented increases in enrolment, than we ever have before in the first few weeks of school. Our enrolment picture is incredibly strong. However, with an increase in enrolment also comes an increase in student need, academic, emotional, mental and social; I want to assure the entire system that your Senior Administration Team is aware and recognizes this, and will exhaust every avenue possible and within our means to support you in your schools, in your classrooms, and in your lives. It continues to be an incredibly daunting task to manage the system’s needs and do so within our limitations, but that is exactly what we are committed to doing; relentlessly.

The past few weeks, I have experienced both the highs of life and its lows too; in one case within 24 hours of each other. On a chilly Friday two weeks ago in Ear Falls I attended the funeral of a very good friend, privileged by reading his eulogy at his service…only to be followed by the wedding celebration of our very own princess Sheena Valley in Vermilion Bay the next day (in just above zero temperatures!!!) I say “princess” because Sheena looked as beautiful as any bride could on her day! But I did reflect and consider that weekend that life’s events are indiscriminate of one and other; how can a person attend events in such close proximity to each other?? In fact, in the past month alone it has been two weddings and two funerals for me on weekends; that at the time of me hitting “send” this morning, I have yet to be able to hit a northern bush road for a day of bird hunting with sons, an experience less about hunting and more about being together. We also have experienced a serious medical situation with our own Wayne Mercer in QEDHS; reminding even the most stoic of us, we are not immune. I am pleased to report that while Wayne will not be moose hunting this year, he will hunt again (as in 2018!).

The cycle of life can be blunt and harsh; I also believe in the North it frequently can feel like it is pervasive and part of our DNA. In my own immediate family, the dreaded cancer has entered in recent days and with it conversations that many of us would prefer to be within someone else’s peripheral. I look at my boys Aoedan and Tristan and wonder how is it going to be rationalized when they are told that their Grandfather is terminal, and why it is important we make this Thanksgiving memorable? One that is truly with thanks for memories we have created together; memories in the boat, out in the bush, or sitting by the fire. It may not seem to some necessarily appropriate to be thankful as we approach Thanksgiving, but the alternative of being angry or unaccepting of life’s events, I have found is counter-productive and exhaustive. I recognize that I am in the position of sharing with you some of my own experiences through my posts every few weeks; but I also realize many of you are living your experiences in that cycle of life, making mine even seem trivial. In that vein, one of the most thankful aspects of my job is I get to meet many of you and hear your own stories, your own challenges, your own realities. I cannot tell how much I enjoy and appreciate learning your own stories and why and how you do what you do in your classrooms and schools, and workplaces every single day.

I am not just thankful, I am grateful.

In the past couple of weeks, I have become thankful and aware of a consideration in life that was previously not known to me; not in real “Sean” terms anyways. I met a young student from one of our schools in the past week who up until recently was previously unknown to me, and obscure. However, and without going into too much detail, I met face to face with a young guy, Grade 5, who was my first up-close and personal introduction to the world of Transgenderism. Actually the world of Transgenderism is the real world, our world, and not some figment of imagination on life’s or society’s fringe. I met his mother first who appealed to me that she wanted her son to be safe, to have a chance to succeed, to be treated normal. The next day, I met him……..in my office.

After getting to know each other and admiring his shirt and tie (he said he heard I wore ties and wanted to wear one for our introduction), I asked him: “If there was one thing I could say to your classmates, on your behalf, what would it be?” After pausing for a moment, he looked at me and then said as maturely as any adult I have ever met: “Sean, I would want my classmates to respect me for who I am, just for being me.” I looked at him for what must have seemed minutes and rubbed my eye: I believe I was thinking to myself “I must have something in my eye”. I’m glad I didn’t say that though because if I had, I am quite certain that Candice Kerkermeir (Children’s Mental Health Leader) and who was in the meeting with me would have commented “Are you sure it’s not a tear Sean?”

I am thankful for being privileged of serving in the interests of children, as difficult as some of them can be. I am thankful for serving my staff, as best I can and as difficult as that can be at times. I am thankful for working in the KPDSB, and all that it represents even though there are admittedly days where I feel I can’t catch my own breath and wonder if we will ever catch up? I am thankful for being privileged to work and serve as your Director of Education, and with the understanding that the DOE’s work is never done. I am thankful for good friends both in and out of the profession, and for family that allow for the makings of true Northern Ontario memories; especially those in OctoberJ I am thankful for life’s lessons that may at times harden us, but also remind us the importance of humility and empathy. And I am thankful that this Thanksgiving, we will get one last chance to celebrate my sons’ Grandfather the deep-frying of a chicken or turkey at camp, with the backdrop of orange, yellow and red woods; with a fire burning and with laughter occasionally interrupted by tears and reflection. We have much to all be thankful for and I encourage you to reflect on this, and make the most of your days with kids, and at home with family and friends.

We are fortunate indeed; Happy Thanksgiving!

​Sean​

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All Things Northern Ontario…

Good Morning, welcome back to most of you, welcome home to some of you, and simply “Welcome” to those of you who are starting with Keewatin-Patricia and today is your first day!

Welcome! I am proud to say that as the Director of Education, you  cannot have chosen a better more solid organization to come work for than the KPDSB! Admittedly I am biased, but yes, the KPDSB is in the midst of extraordinarily special times!

I hope all of you had a terrific summer, and if you were like me and stayed in Northern Ontario, specifically Northwestern Ontario for all of it, you would have been able to enjoy a typical “Sunset Country” holiday. The weather was great, the sunrises amazing and the sunsets spectacular. And yes, the fishing….was typically incredible as it always is here at home. I hope you found time for friends and family, time for a good book and cold ginger ale…time for you. A couple of years back, in my last post for the school year I referenced a song by the Motels called “Suddenly Last Summer” as we entered our annual summer break at that time. As “Serendipity” would have it, as I was driving home from camp this weekend thinking about the days and months ahead, but smiling about the amazing fishing trips and bonfires of the past two months…you guessed it, the same song came on the radio! Indeed, it suddenly is now, last summer. I really hope you had an amazing one!

This morning, as you prepare for your first day of the 2017-2018 school year, you will undoubtedly have the annual energy that accompanies the “First Day of School” with our kids. Your school principal and vice-principal will have some critically important messaging to share with all of you, from the Senior Administration Team, and from myself directly. As I said, we are in the midst of extraordinarily special and unprecedented times. The messages your school administration will share this morning are powerful reminders of what has happened in KPDSB these last few years and what continues to unfold, even today as we speak. And they will start off this morning’s first staff meeting with the “2017 Kids Come First” video. As you watch the powerful images in the video alongside the music, please keep in mind that with extraordinary times come the requirement to celebrate in extraordinary ways. This year’s video, I think you will agree is the best we have ever put together and shared with all of you. The images and scenes, all of them, are us in Keewatin-Patricia; they are our schools, our highways, our bridges and rivers, our kids and our staff. They are, and we are, Northwestern Ontario.

As you attend your first staff meeting for the year, I want to publicly share that while 2016-2017 was the “Year for Change and Restructuring” in Keewatin-Patricia, that heavy lifting and most difficult undertakings, are now complete. I acknowledge that for some last year, the changes were very difficult and in some cases upsetting. Change is often not inconsequential and without disruption; but through the efforts and diligence of the Efficacy Agenda and Working Group, it became apparent change was necessary. But that change is now complete and as a result 2017-2018 will be a “Year of Reconciliation and Consolidation”. We will be working hard this year, with a new realigned Senior Admin Team, to bring a level of coherence that we frankly need in KPDSB. I welcome on all of our behalf, both Tania Sterling and Richard Findlay as new Superintendents of Education and Business respectively. They will bring fresh perspectives, new ideas and enthusiasm that I hope we can all harness into our own.

And as I commented to the Premier of Ontario last week, and as move towards addressing the issue of tuition collection for Indigenous students, our growing and rapidly expanding work with the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), our highly anticipated graduation successes; and the small matter of the successful completion of our brand new Sioux North High School in Sioux Lookout, as 2017-18 will be a Year of Reconciliation, 2018-2019 will mark our finest hour, and will be a “Year of Celebration”.

For today though, celebrate with me the arrival of a new school year, full of the hope and promises that only a new beginning can provide, and feel gratified that we are working in one of the best organizations an educator could and in the best part of the country; a place affectionately known for being “All Things Northern Ontario.”

I look forward to seeing you all very soon; Good Luck!!

Sean

Time For Summer, A Time For Purpose

Good Morning Everyone, June 22nd is here!

In 1965, the American Folk-Rock band “The Byrds” wrote a song that made #1 in North America; a song that I am almost certain everyone of you has heard at least once before and likely many times. In fact if you have ever watched Forest Gump, you have heard “Turn, Turn, Turn”. Google the song and listen to it on Youtube, and I almost guarantee that you have heard this song and as you listen, I am speculating you will find it hard to not smile and feel good.

To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time to every purpose under heaven.
A time to build up, a time to break down.
A time to dance, a time to mourn.
A time to cast away stones.
A time to gather stones together.

Every June as the school year draws to a close, and as many of us feel raw emotion of so many memorable events, like graduations (yes, I am including Kindergarten graduations!), awards ceremonies, speeches, retirement events and staff transfers of colleagues, it really is hard to not be emotional. It is the time of year where so many of our staff see and experience first-hand the rewards of a year’s long labour; labour that at times you felt as lows and frustration. And labour where there were highs of gratification and exhilaration; the knowledge that you were seeing in real time the impact you had on a young person’s life and knowing that your profession in support of education is a noble one. An experience that this time of year seems to bring me annually, is the listening of tunes or songs that I find melancholic and that I can’t seem to get out of my head.

For some undetermined reason the hearing of a particular song at this particular time of year also really reinforces that summer is now here, and another school year is ending. A couple of years ago, it was the Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer”, last year it was 10,000 Maniacs’ “These Are the Days”…and this year it is, you guessed it “Turn, Turn, Turn”. But when I listened to the song, I also felt that its lyrics had a special and particular meaning for me.

2016-2017 in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, there were many turns and changes that took place; many were planned with strategic thought, and some, well…not so much! But as the famous lyrics by the Byrds suggest, for every season there are turns and there are new opportunities. As I write this, my last blog of the season, I have many of you in my thoughts as I consider your experiences and your own lives across this vast system of ours over this past year. Some schools have seen incredible experiences and events, some of our schools have experienced challenge and adversity, and yes, some schools have experienced heartbreak and tragedy.

I feel it is worth stating too, that these same experiences ranging from success and pride to heartache and even tears, also apply to you and your own lives. Every single person that works within the KPDSB has lives of their own, families and personal experiences that shape their work and their work-worlds. For this reason, coming to the start of summer, two months of downtime and rest is not only well-deserved, it is quite honestly needed. Rest and enjoy YOUR time this summer my colleagues, when you can, where you can. Working in the KPDSB is hard work, and it takes a toll at the best of times. The Daily Physical Activity (DPA) Initiative was meant to not promote lieu days, but rather promote wellness for you and for each other. I am pleased to share with you that the DPA pilot will continue into a second year and if the survey data we collected two weeks ago is accurate, when you return in September over 90% of you will sign on! Think about joining on over the summer if you haven’t already. Special thanks to Shawnda Norlock (RLDHS) for pointing out to me last week that the DPA concept was not about reducing illness and absences, but rather about the changing culture of the Board. A important recognition to Shirley Niemi (Upsala PS) who in addition to retiring at the end of the week after a career in teaching also used the DPA to spur her on to lose over 35 lbs this year and enter retirement feeling energized and content!

I chose to rewrite this last blog because as I have been frenetically travelling the Board these last few weeks (trying to get to as many events and schools as possible) I was fortunate to be able to participate in a year-end school/staff bbq in Pickle Lake with the Crolancia Staff with some “Friends of Crolancia” a couple nights ago. I bbq’d steaks for about 25 people and visitors, and had the most enjoyable evening I have had as the Director of Education in some time. I watched a small staff laugh, cajole and tease one another in a way that made me wish I was part of a school staff again (I actually believe I asked to be an ex-officio staff member of Pickle Lake next year!). But what was most impressive to me during this year-end staff event was the fact that this group of colleagues: has had its share of adversity, is absolutely at the end of the road (or as Pickle Lake likes to brand itself is “Ontario’s Last Frontier”), and relies on one and other to get through the long winter months…and yet here they were, completely enjoying their time together and oblivious to roles and titles. Talk about a flattened organization!

I share in your fatigue at this time of year and can always tell it is June, when even I have to sometimes pull myself out of bed in the morning. You all have earned this feeling of exhaustion. As we say goodbye, and the “seasons turn, turn and turn again”, our farewells are not just for a couple of months, but for some they are final in the professional sense. As teachers and staff in schools, you have your colleagues that surround you. In Senior and school Administration, we have our admin colleagues. This year, the change for us is unprecedented; we say goodbye to Shelley Compton, Kathy McConnachie and Liz Sidor as principals, and adieu to Dean Carrie, Scott Urquhart and Susanne Bastable. Change is all around us, and change is what also allows us to “gather stones together” and begin a new chapter with new stories fueled by new energies and new ideas. It is time for the season to turn and change to summer, and time for reflection and the beginning of new ideas. As I say this, I thank and tip my hat to my retirees, all of you.

To all of my school staff and administration, enjoy your time away; enjoy it with your families and friends during bbq’s, boat rides, holiday vacations, and yes for sure…fishing! Be safe, be happy, and be optimistic!

And as The Happenings in 1966 sang themselves one year after the release of The Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn”…

“See You In September”!

Take care, and very best wishes,

Sean​

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