We Begin Anew and Begin Again

Welcome Back to all Staff, Students and their Families, and to our Friends!

I also am pleased to say “Welcome” in general for a first introduction to new staff, including 34 teachers beginning their careers either as they start their first permanent hire or long-term assignment with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. I wish our new staff embarking out on their new career paths, a successful and rewarding career. And of course, I say “Thank You” to our staff who have worked throughout the summer to ensure that our schools are staffed, are ready and clean, and well-resourced. Of particular note, I want to thank on all of our collective behalf, our custodians and maintenance staff in having our facilities ready for you today, and for our kids tomorrow! Do not be afraid to hug a custodian near you this morning at your staff meeting!! Thank you to everyone as we take the annual giant step forward and get this year moving into high-gear. As I say this, I also must express my sincere wishes for what I hope was a restful and rejuvenating summer. It was a beautiful one for sure; or as I would prefer to term it “a good old-fashioned Northwestern Ontario sunset-filled summer”.

I certainly have some thoughts and predictions for the year ahead, and will share those in a minute, but before I do…it is with sadness and a heavy heart that I acknowledge the loss of two of our own during the Summer of 2018. First, George Seaton, Trustee from Pickle Lake for over four decades passed away with his wife Phyllis and family by his side in July. For anyone who has ever been to a Board meeting, you will know George; a stickler for policy development and revision, and sharp as tack…when you were talking with George you needed to be prepared because most assuredly he was! Losing George is more than a loss for us in Keewatin-Patricia, it is a loss for us in the North and for Northern Children. I know we at the Board level will miss him, and I know for myself, I will miss his dry humour and remarks at the expense of politicians, even myself. George, we will miss you.

Losing someone as we well know in KPDSB is challenging and sad, but sometimes it is not unexpected. Losing Aleea Smith this summer, under the circumstances that they were, is unspeakably catastrophic and even as I write this now, hard to believe or accept. Aleea, a teacher with KPDSB for the past eight years, worked tirelessly to support her beloved kids at Savant Lake Public School. She was also a member of the Efficacy Working group. Aleea passed away suddenly and without warning only several weeks ago. She was in the eyes of many, a rising star and was on a trajectory to be a system leader in the future. She leaves behind her little boy, her baby girl and husband Dave. I know that I speak for many when we simply are at a loss when thinking of her passing; life is not fair and it is most definitely unpredictable. I will not even attempt to normalize or rationalize Aleea’s passing, there is nothing normal about it, nor is there anything one could say to make it feel easier to accept. It is important though to acknowledge both Aleea and George, right at the outset of this Back to School Message to all of you; they deserve that.

This morning with staff colleagues around watching alongside you, we will pay tribute and honour both Aleea and George and their lives and impact. As you do, I hope you will also indulge the first characters in this year’s “2018 Kids Come First Video: Thank You Keewatin Patricia”; they are not destined for Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and might be more at home on the water surrounded by our lakes and fresh air, than on camera. Although you might say to the more senior actor, “don’t give up your day job!” And trust me, I don’t plan on it!

As we begin this new school year 2018 – 2019, there are as in most years, anticipated changes on the horizon. Some of this we have already experienced; a new provincial government most certainly will make this year a different one than previous years. We also will have school board elections this October and I can assuredly share that this election too will see changes at our school board level. We will have a new Board of Trustees, and as a result as well as planning, we will begin the process of a new Board Strategic Plan knowing the current one will expire with this Board as it exists today. But for you, most of whom work in schools with kids, it is my hope that these changes are buffered from you allowing you to focus on your classrooms, your students, your colleagues, and yourselves.

Meaning, please take care of you, yourself first; by doing so you will be better able to take care of those around you and who you serve day in and day out. I am pleased to share that we will continue the Daily Physical Activity (DPA) pilot again this year, into its third year. However, as I shared with all of the Principals, Vice-Principals, and Managers last week, we are not ready to make it embedded into a permanent fixture of KPDSB. Last year, we had about 85% of staff sign the pledge to commit to 30 minutes a day of physical activity and make their own wellness a priority. Doing so, enables you to take a DPA Lieu Day; but you must sign the pledge. This year, I would like to see this number of staff participation well in excess of 90%. I believe we all want to make our health, and wellness a priority, so let’s do it!

2018-2019 will be as I suggested a year ago to you at this time, a “Year of Celebration”. We will have much to share and to celebrate across this system; achievements, accomplishments, and completion of projects long dreamed of; but in sharing that it is important to equally add, 2018-2019 will also be a “Year of Impact”. It will be a year that the Senior Administration team demonstrates what coherence and synergy are by our actions. It will be a year where our staff is able to see the real and genuine extent of what an Efficacy Agenda has done for all of us, and after five full years of change and restructuring, Keewatin-Patricia can look back upon with satisfaction, and I hope validation. As shared most sincerely in this morning’s video, “Thank you, I am grateful.”

Initially I had planned on sharing other observations with you this first day as we start this new year together; however, have made the conscious decision to nix them. This decision being 100% influenced by what I can only describe as an inspirational, and humbling Summer Institute Day of Learning, focused on “Technology”, last week. Last Wednesday in Dryden with over 100 staff and administration and members of the IT Department, on their own time, I was able to be one of many learners…and learn, we did. First, Jennifer Harrison (Ear Falls PS fame) made it clear to me that we as a system are nothing if anything without amazing front-line staff working for kids and motivating them to do more, be better, encouraging them to see value in their lives. I saw people whom admittedly, I have had limited interactions with share their own learning with colleagues from across the district, some never having met one and other until that day.

I suppose though what it did (at least for me) more than anything, and on the eve of a new school year, was it reinforced that we are all part of a learning organization that can sometimes become distracted with the minutiae and trivial matters on any given day. But even more importantly, and to be very candid and sincere…it served notice of the importance of seeing the best in people, their strengths. Not perceived irritants or annoyances; you know, those things that we can get hung up on. It is important particularly when we are tired or worn down at certain periods of the year when we find ourselves, perhaps a bit cranky or short with others. And I’m not just talking about our students, but our own kids, families, our colleagues, and those around us. Let’s try hard, and commit that we always find the effort to look for the best in our people and ourselves as we begin this new year. And as we do, remind ourselves that our own learning is never-ending; we just need to be open to it!

I wish you well and look forward to seeing you soon on my district travels, and as always encourage you to reach out to me when you need to.

Take care, Miiweh



Make Great Memories

If you take occasion to read my posts from time to time, or have in the past become accustomed to finding one in your inbox to start the day, you will note there are really two kinds of blogs I send for your consideration. The first is the unplanned and sometimes an unexpected summation of an event (or series of events) that were not anticipated and really compel me to share thoughts and updates with you all. The second, are the ones you might expect at particular times of the year, such as the first day of school, before Christmas, end of the year, Thanksgiving, and of course….”May Long”.

 Funny, earlier this year as I was driving home from Sioux Lookout, I was listening to a radio call-in show on CBC and the discussion was what Canadians, and even more specific for us residents of Northwestern Ontario, call long weekends? I was thinking to myself that there are multiple terms of reference for long weekends, but one caller who phoned in had the following suggestions: “Canadians in the rest of the country call the May Long Weekend, “”May Long Weekend””. But for us in Northern Ontario, we call it a few things, Victoria Day Weekend, Opening Weekend, and May 2-4. Actually (he continued) no one I know even calls it May Long Weekend!” He said it with pride, and I will admit, that I myself have used all of those terms too! I send this annual post out just before “Opening Weekend” because I am never quite sure how many will read it on the Friday just before, so it’s usually the Thursday; and of course because I might just sneak away with Tristan for a little bit of early trout fishing Friday afternoon too. “Opening Weekend” continues to be, and always has been home to creating great memories; even as a little boy, I still have memories of fishing with my Grandfather, to fishing with my Dad, to fishing with both of my sons, to today and whoever will simply go fishing with me!?

However, I also want to be a bit more cerebral than just singing the praises of a long weekend, because there are other realities right now that compel me to touch in with all of you as we prepare for three days off. The long weekend followed of course with a return to school and what I have always termed the “Home Stretch”. In addition to the reality that many folks are finding limited energy in their fuel tanks at this time of the year, we are also reminded that there is also have just over one month to go. I am very well aware that people are spent and that it has been to be candid, a very tough year on some, maybe many people.  Over three years ago, February 2015 I posted a blog which I called “I Lived” with reference to many considerations about how we as staff live our lives, and get out of life what we put into it. I also referenced the song by the same name, performed by One Republic, and shared in that same post that one of our own, Shelley Sabeski, had been diagnosed with cancer. Recall, I asked you all to make the most of your days and to listen to the song, especially its lyrics.

The song is posted again right here for you: http://youtu.be/z0rxydSolwU.  Listen to it, play it loud on your way to work or even if you’re out for a morning walk, put your earbuds in and give it a hear!

The more I meet our staff and colleagues, their families, our students and their lives…the more the words have a profound meaning for me. On most occasions, the focus of my comments is on our students, their lives and frequently the challenges we face together as a system of educators dedicated and committed to our kids. Embedded throughout is the narrative that we are Northerners and we live in the best part of Ontario, Canada for that matter; because we do. And that’s not even considering the fishing! This time though, this is about our staff. I am not worried that we will forget our students, and don’t feel I need to remind people we are here for them. That part is now embedded and accepted as natural when you even mention the KPDSB. However, our staff (or at times like these MY Staff) it is only proper to acknowledge it has been a tough year. Even personally for my own family, it has been tough.

I think of many of you and your families, that in addition to the formidable challenges you face in your classrooms, you also face them at home. I referenced Shelley Sabeski, and wrote of her 3 years ago. Shelley was an EA at Evergreen in Kenora. She passed away in January. I also think of Kelly Sutton, an EA for us in Dryden, who lost her husband suddenly this past year. I think of our folks these past few years who have given of themselves, only to face their own scary reality. I recall that my first actual decision as Director of Education five years ago, was to authorize the use of the gymnasium of Beaver Brae Secondary School as the only facility in Kenora to manage the funeral of Shane Butts, husband, to BBSS Principal Tracey Benoit and friend of mine, simply because of the sheer size of the turnout. I remember how profoundly sad I was then at that time. But I also consider Kristen King, teacher at QEDHS in Sioux Lookout and whose condition following March Break this year could best be described as grave…and look at today and what can only be described as her miracle!!

But here is the thing…I assure you this not about sadness and despair, but resilience and resolve. Our colleagues and friends in Red Lake are themselves dealing with the loss of one of their own. Last week, with her close friend Michelle Parrish alongside me, I went to visit Cathy Parsons (teacher from Golden Learning Center) at her home. I first met Cathy about a decade ago, when she came to the Board and was teaching at Ear Falls Public School. About seven years ago she was diagnosed with cancer, and honestly, over these past number of years, she has been in and out of remission and recovery that I think I lost count. However, the last while things turned. Last week I went to see her and as I have too many times before with other students and staff, came to say good-bye. As I sat on the couch holding her hand with her last week I asked her if there was anything I could do, or we could do for her…knowing damn well there was nothing. She looked at me and said this: “Tell people not to give up on me Sean; tell people to not ever give up. I haven’t and I won’t.”

When we are tired and when we are feeling completely fatigued or consumed with the challenges we face; or when we feel we can’t rally ourselves to bring our best to our schools each day…please think of Cathy’s comments to me. Don’t give up, don’t quit, finish strong, and tell yourself that we are very fortunate in spite of the challenges we face. As Director, I know you are tired and we still have a month to go. Listen to the words of “I Lived” and make the most of your days, and tell yourself you are going to do it all. This post is about you, our colleagues and staff, the engine that makes this machine of Keewatin Patricia run.

Enjoy your long weekend, make memories on the water, at home in the yard, or at the spring feasts, with friends and family. Honour Cathy’s last comments by not giving up, and never giving up; Cathy passed away the day before last. We have much, much to be proud of, to celebrate, and feel privileged about. I find her comments not sad but motivating and inspirational; and if she was not willing to quit, we certainly shouldn’t either:)

And when you come back, the final home stretch will be upon us! Take care,


Checking In, A Good Time to See How You Are Doing


It has been about 6 weeks since I last submitted a post, and in that period of time for many, much has happened; and in a number of your lives and personal situations…much has changed. I debated on whether posting some commentary to all of you in the System, picking a couple of natural dates; the start of exams at secondary, the beginning of a new term, or even the start of February. Really I suppose points in time that would seem obvious or logical.  However, I promised myself to try and avoid that approach and simply share thoughts with the organization when I felt it was right and there were things that were keeping me awake at night and causing my to really reflect….on many matters.

I have at times been chided about maybe not being so positive of the many accomplishments that go on the System and my sharing of them; and perhaps spend more time on matters that reflect challenges or obstacles people face. I feel that I do both, frequently speaking of the realities in classrooms and schools on a daily basis. I believe I have shared that the work the KPDSB does in our schools is frequently confronted with set-back and despair when it comes to our kids and their lives. I have made it a reoccurring theme about the demands that teachers, education assistants, early childhood assistants, principals/vice-principals….all of our front-line staff face day in and day out. And I have on more than one occasion commented on the heavy burden the Senior Administration equally face with the reality that we are asked to do more, with less; and to be in more than one place at a time across a district that is simply put…massive and incredibly complex. I have found that as I come up on the end of my fifth year as Director of Education, the job is in fact not becoming easier, but rather much much harder.

Perhaps, that last statement is what has been keeping me awake of late. The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is in my opinion, is the most incredibly complex, diverse and demanding organization in the region; and its success and growth requires nothing short but 110% full-on attention and effort. The work is exhausting. It also can leave you at the end of the day with “nothing left in the tank”.

I share this because as I spoke this past weekend at the annual Kenora District Municipalities Association (KDMA) to the region’s mayors, town councilors, CAO’s and our local member of parliament, it became clear to me that these exhaustive efforts to grow, get stronger, and to be the leader in the region…have in fact paid off. I shared with the local municipalities that the KPDSB has: schools and sites in 11 of the KDMA’s towns, two board offices, operates most of the district’s daycares, is the adult education provider in the region for adults without a high school diploma, has underway the biggest capital project in all of Northern Ontario, is the biggest employer in NWO, and also has the largest annual operating budget for a single enterprise in all of the Kenora District. In other words…we are big and what we say and do matters. I also shared some very sober realities with the municipal leaders as well, many of whom are regrettably unfamiliar with the operations of schools; and that the challenges facing young people in the north are not going away. The challenges facing all of our towns specifically around social needs and services, are not going away either. And the demands and constant daily press on my front-line staff are not lessening, they are in fact increasing.

I shared that services in the NWO are incredibly lacking, infrastructure in need of immediate attention when it comes to community supports for students and their families, and that if we all expected young people to remain living in Northwestern Ontario, Municipal leaders needed to accept and engage in that reality. In other words, they need to do what we are doing in the KPDSB, they needed to lead by example, and not simply talk. I invited them to talk to teachers and school leaders across the District, and see for themselves what it means to work with kids everyday in the KPDSB and what it means to be a teacher or early childhood educator in our classrooms. I explicitly made it clear, that too many in our communities expect my staff to “fix” all of our social problems, repair harm done in homes, in too many cases be the parents for students who have not had a fair chance to…be a kid. And I added, to do it all in record time.

I asked the region’s leaders if this job of ours sounded attractive enough for any of them to want to sign up and join the effort after I painted such a sober and cerebral picture. And when I finished the room was silent for about a minute, before the questions began. The end result??? I was invited back next year and to bring staff with me.

Folks, I know it is tough in our schools and I know the issues you face are very real, palpable and at times feel like they never end, all-consuming. I know that people are tired, and that report cards (without technical glitches) create stress and angst. I know sometimes you too feel like there is no gas in the tank, and that you might wonder does anyone know what your life is like? I am here to tell, that we do; we worry about it, never stop thinking about it…and speaking for myself…push until the point of exhaustion trying to help and support the most neediest areas in the Board. And after all that, you have your own lives and families, your own children who you need…and perhaps more importantly who need you.

If for anything, please use my thoughts this morning, as a reminder, or maybe a reinforcement that you are not alone in your work. You are part of a strong organization and that my Senior Team will never, ever ask of you more than we are not prepared to give ourselves. We are constantly working trying to redistribute resources, enhance support for kids, and bolster your working and learning environments.

This morning was the perfect time to email you and send this blog; I hope you take the time to consider it.

Before closing, on February 20th, 2015 in my post to all of you which I penned “Keewatin Patricia Family: ‘I Lived’”, I made mention of daily struggles that affected the personal health of folks, and introduced you all to long-time employee and education assistant Shelley Sabeski who just been given some very grave and visceral news and what she was about to confront. On Sunday January 21st, Shelley passed away in Kenora in her hospital room with her husband Dave by her side. I was able to go and say goodbye two days before. We all need to be grateful for today and the fact we have a choice to make life vibrant, memorable, extraordinary; I hope you will.

Enjoy this weekend coming up, please take care…and one last final request…make a bit of time today to thank your school custodians who work without fanfare and attention, day in day out often alone. We need them and we need them to know they too matter.


Christmas 2017 is Here

Today, December 21st, 2017 for more reasons than not could easily be considered just another day, a typical Thursday in our schools. My experience and my instinct however, is that today will be anything but normal! And while I assume that the energy of kids will be running high, and fatigue for staff likely a bit lower than normal…the notion that today is one day away from the Christmas and Holiday Season should add a little bit of jump while warming up your vehicle this morning!!

Let me add a couple of more comments about today: First, today is the second last day of school and work for us this 2017. That means that in two days, the long winter’s nap most are looking forward to will be here. It also means that coming back in the New Year will have already taken up a full week of January; arguably the longest month of the year, and giving folks a chance to rest and re-energize. Another observation about today: it is the “Winter Solstice”…meaning that today is the shortest day of 2017 in terms of daylight. It is also one of the main reasons I am sending this post out to you today and not tomorrow. While, today is short and has significantly more darkness than daylight, maybe look at it this way…tomorrow the days start to get longer. In fact, maybe to go even further consider that we are heading into Christmas Break with the days actually getting longer! Just how much?? Well, today is 6 hours and 57 minutes shorter than the June Solstice, June 21st…and folks, we are on our way there after today!

You might laugh at my attempt to simplify the calendar and how it plays with our physiology and internal clocks, but I am telling you, it matters. I also think that I cannot avoid acknowledging (as we say good-bye to 2017) that it has been a typically fast-paced year, and in many homes, a tough year. I always have felt that Christmas and the Holidays were a time for laughter and food, drinks and friends re-acquainting; and I still do. But as I get older, I also see the Holidays for other reasons too.

A time to reflect and time to rest; certainly a time to catch your breath.

In most homes this year at the Holidays, there will be laughter and comraderie; but there will also be tears in other living rooms too. For a number of families, both staff and students, it will be the first Christmas without an immediate loved one there. For all of you that will experience a myriad of emotions including loss this Holiday Season, your KP Family has not forgotten you. And you will find laughter again.

I have used my last blog of the year in previous years to share highlights and even lowlights, but  this year I have saved that for the 2017 Director’s Annual Report. Today however, I want to acknowledge all of you, your work, and your efforts to make us better and especially your efforts to make the lives of kids extraordinary. I also want to acknowledge that committing yourself to the service of kids can be heart-wrenching, and this past year has been no exception. A recent “anonymous” post by a teacher last week in Sioux Lookout about what it means to be a teacher in the North was particularly cerebral and grounding. However, as we enter the Holiday break, I think the best advice I could give as DOE might be to make sure that if you want to sleep in, you do that…and not feel guilty. If you want to read a book, or even a few books, do it. Maybe have a coffee close by with some flavor too?!

Please, unplug from emails and work, it will be there when you come back. I plan on actually doing the same. Admittedly, the best part of my work is visiting schools and talking with staff and kids; last week it included Dryden, Ignace, Savant Lake, Pickle Lake, Sioux Lookout and home to Kenora. But it adds up and us in Senior Administration are not different than you in your classrooms and schools. We too are tired and just as many of you will, we will take full advantage of unplugging these next couple of weeks ourselves.

There are many thoughts that go through a person’s head as you near the end of the year, but with the date in mind, the fact that sugar plums have likely already started to dance in the heads of your students, I will keep it simple and short.

I wish all of you the best; I wish for you two weeks of rest and rejuvenation, two weeks of respite. You all deserve it, please make it happen.

See you in 2018!


The November/December DOE March

Good Morning!

It has been about six weeks since my last system post to all of you and in between that period much has happened; some events planned, others unexpected. It seemed to me that certain days bordered on euphoric while others felt tragic and full of heartbreak. In speaking with many of you these last few weeks, it would seem that this experience remembered as the “Fall of 2017”, is one that was relatable. And in spite of a very successful moose hunt with my youngest son Tristan and my Dad John, and a couple of memorable fall weather days full of purple and blue hued skies…this past fall, is one I will be looking forward to putting behind me. As if to ensure we were clear that the days of fall were indeed in our rearview mirrors, enter winter with full fury of snow and cold temperatures! Even following the first big snowfall just before Hallowe’en, I still held out hope (as I am sure many of you did) that warmer more climate-impacted temperatures would return and with it our lawns again and bare streets. Folks, winter is here; and as I drafted this iteration from my room in Pickle Lake where another foot of snow fell two days ago, I found myself chuckling at the unique and in many ways, endearing character of our Board.

I am in the midst of my committed DOE school-staff meetings with staff across the system. I had shared with all of the Principals and Vice-Principals in August following our Senior Administration planning meetings, that I would aim to get to every single school personally before Christmas. I did this three years ago at the onset of the Efficacy Agenda with the intention to share the current state of the union in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (including enrolment and staffing growth), updates on Board restructuring, and in essence generally the future direction of the entire organization over the next number of years. I indicated I would address matters such Education Services Agreements and “Reverse” Education Service Agreements (aka “Tuition Agreements) with First Nation communities and Indigenous partners emphasizing that as last year was a year of fundamentally profound changes in the KPDSB, this 2017-2018 year would be one of “Reconciliation and Consolidation”, on many levels.

However, six funerals and two eulogies later on the personal front; in between trying to balance on the  professional side of being tapped to working with the Minister’s Task Force on Provincial Tuition Discussions,  and attempting to tackle head-on the sustainable long-term planning of our recognized “Graduation Coach/Four Directions” work…I have to admit, getting all of these school visits complete in entirety before Christmas has been particularly challenging. Internally, as a Board we have a terrific enrolment picture and even brighter future, a solid financial budget state, and two major capital projects on the docket (Ear Falls Public School and Sioux North High School). And all this buoyed by an obvious sense of pride in the KPDSB, allowing me as the DOE to share with all of you that the state of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is incredibly and formidably strong. In saying this, I will finish all of my committed school visits with you before the end of January. I referred to these last few weeks and next few weeks of travel within the Board as the “Full-On System Run” until a colleague offered the suggestion “Why don’t you refer to your school visits as your normal: Sean KPDSB March?’ You enjoy them don’t you?” So folks, I am in the midst of the end of 2017 DOE year-end “Fun Run”!

In saying this I would be remiss if I also didn’t share that these visits, and the visits of the SO’s in our schools, are also reinforcing the reality in harsh and cruel ways that the needs of our students continue to grow at an accelerated rate, compounded by the severity of needs and trauma…and in numbers that are simply unprecedented in many of our collective experiences. While the picture in the Board on a system level is very bright, the reality out there on the front lines in your schools, in your classrooms, in your communities is at times overwhelming. For the Senior Administration Team and those entrusted to make tough decisions, starting with myself, your challenges are well known and understood. Efficacy has allowed for a flattened organization approach making your reality in your kindergarten classrooms, in your OSSLC courses, and in your ISST meetings, ours and my reality because we know it is yours. As the DOE I continue to grapple with meeting all of these challenges, including time out of schools and classrooms in a sustainable way for teachers and administrators, which includes time lost due to employee absences. These challenges will remain a recurring theme over the rest of the year, into planning for 2018-2019.

I reiterated to the Sr Admin Team again last week, that we must as Superintendents and Director of Education…be the hardest working people in this organization, because we can never ever ask you in schools and on the front lines to give more of yourself than we are prepared to give ourselves. My job is easier than many of yours, I work with adults mostly (a challenge in itself admittedly at times); most of you work with kids who rely on you for everything, which is taxing you on many levels. I commit to all of you that the Board Administration will not ever lose sight of how difficult the work is and the importance of remaining acutely understanding of the realities in our schools. In saying this, I also remind you that being a staff member in the KPDSB makes you part of a growing movement and a principled cause that makes young people the center of our work and challenges us to make the lives of kids extraordinary.

We have (if you can believe it!) now one month before I will reach out to all of you and your families, wishing you a Merry Christmas and a restful holiday season; and when I do, the days will have started to become longer!

I wish you all the best and renewed efforts, for the remainder of 2017!


***Two Footnotes:  1)  You will have all received an invitation for input into the draft 2018-2019 school year calendar; given the annual volume of staff asking me why we continue to start before Labour Day instead of after? I would offer that this is your chance to provide feedback into a calendar that works for you and your students; and…

2) A short two weeks after posting my last email to all of you, Antero Cabral Sr, an incredibly kind and sincere man whom I have referred to on a number of occasions these past few years including my recent blog, passed away with his family by his side after a sudden diagnosis of cancer. He never made it home for Thanksgiving; however, his Grandchildren did make it to him. I thank all of you who emailed me personally after the last blog.

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!


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!!