December is Here

Good Morning; December  is Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay in touch and take care,

Sean

We Are the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care,

Sean

Welcome Back, We Are Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down-Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Colleague,

Sean

Thank you Dryden!

Good Monday Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean

Children Cannot Wait…

Good Morning Everyone,

I hadn’t planned on sending out a post for a couple of more weeks, and with it the anticipation of the proverbial “spring showers, snow melted, and ice thaws.” I will probably still do that, it feels like that normal thing to do, but over the past couple of weeks and particularly the past few days, events and circumstances have compelled me to put my own thoughts and reflections “to paper”.  In fact, so many thoughts about the events of the past weeks, that with my little Tristan in hand, I made a sudden decision to go to the cabin this Saturday where a warm fire, playoff hockey game on the TV, and glimpses of the still-frozen lake outside…I was able to compartmentalize my thoughts into a rationale assessment of the current state of the union. Tristan, content to sit by the fire playing a game of Risk by himself (don’t ask!) was oblivious to the emotions of his Dad sitting there watching, and smiling pensively down on him.

I was consumed generally sitting there by the scene I had participated in the day before at New Prospect Public School. A mere twenty four hours before, in the NPS staffroom, I stood and listened to an emotional admin team of Teri Jackson and Tanis Oberg share with their staff, that a seemingly healthy 10 year-old little girl in Mary Trist’s grade 5 class, had gone home earlier in the day with a bad headache. The little girl, Sophia Kellar, went to lie down; except that when her Mother went to check on her later in the afternoon, Sophia was non-responsive; Sophia will not be coming back to school. Tanis and Teri handled what can only be described as the worst situation we face in education possible, with admiration. They had no script, no notes, just their emotions and love of their staff and their kids. The hearts of the New Prospect Public School Community have been broken and the loss of another child means another Mother’s life shattered, and friends left to make sense of the unbelievable. It also was why, I made the decision to head to the cabin on Saturday, after checking in with Caryl and Joanie earlier in the day to see how staff were doing. God bless our precious child.

I have learned in this role, over the last three years as Director that I am privileged to look at the system from a vantage point, that I honestly did not know existed; even as the Superintendent, and especially as principal and teacher. I suppose this is one reason I feel that sharing my experiences and observations with all of you, can be considered one of many “ties that bind” us. From this perspective you see so many things, your days can become roller coasters of emotions. From the highest of the highs where you feel pride on a scale that you don’t think anything can knock you off. And then…just as you feel the collective strength of the system, you are informed or learn that setbacks and sometimes tragedy has struck another school, family or colleague.

Take last week for example, we had our Senior Administration meeting, attended by the Sr Team, but also our visiting school P/VP’s and now our Efficacy Teacher representatives too. I felt pride as school based front-line staff got to participate in decision making on a system scale. The Board meeting that night, was one of the best I have attended: we showcased our Tech programming at Beaver Brae Secondary School (thank you to Pete Zilinksi), our extended French Programs, the student trustee report by Kim Korobanik, a wonderful report on a FASD presentation to a provincial summit, a brief update on the recent visit of the Governor General of Canada to Sioux Lookout, and the endorsement of the trustees to pursue our growing relationship with the Northern Chiefs of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). When I went home late that night, I felt about as proud as a Director possibly can; accepting that there is much heavy lifting to be done in the days and years ahead, and feeling energized about being up for the task! Like you, I am not afraid of hard work and tough challenges, so sleep did not come easy Tuesday night, but eventually when my eyes closed they did so feeling good work is being done here.

Thursday, I was able to head to Sioux Lookout with Scott Urquhart, where we met with some officials of the Aboriginal Management Board and looked at offering more learning opportunities for kids to graduate from high school. I conference-called with the Ministry who indicated they are coming back again to KPDSB because they are so impressed with the work we are doing on behalf of Northern children; and then I participated in an Efficacy staff meeting at Queen Elizabeth District High School. Again I felt pretty good driving home with Scott that night about our work and our direction. Friday, I was looking forward to a visit at Ignace Elementary and Secondary School, their staff, and a private chat with my good friend and long-time colleague Chantal Moore. Chantal always makes me think; we spent most of our three hours together discussing the great challenge of the KPDSB as an academic organization meant to bring reading, numeracy, and critical thinking skills to our kids. We debated how we go about doing that when our teachers, our EA’s and ECE’s and staff have to contend with increasing needs of our children, and often their own mental health. We discussed trauma, our system and how staff are faring in balancing the academic agenda with the whole-student needs agenda, and everything in between. And we agreed that we can never forget the needs of our staff; and with that I hopped in my truck and started to drive home. That is, until my phone rang about 20 minutes outside of Dryden, when it became obvious I was going to New Prospect School for a stand-up staff meeting. Talk about the highs and lows of being an educator in Northwestern Ontario and in the KPDSB.

I have been giving an awful lot of thought lately to what I am terming a ‘minimum’ standard of intervention of our kids.  I believe we need this, and I believe our partner agencies and other Ministry partners need to be accountable to working with us to ensure that any child in our system or within our reach gets a minimum standard of intervention. Surely we can count on at least a minimum as a starting point; fact is I often feel that we as the KPDSB are the standard bearer. When interpreted this means many teachers and classroom staff are picking up the pieces in the lives of their students, and often at personal cost. Sometimes financial, but more often than not….emotional. Last week, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman met with my Sr Team and told us that we (meaning all of us including you) were natural advocates for Northern children; and that in Northwestern Ontario, this advocacy was going to have be exhaustive. He shared with me, privately that he felt for many of our kids, we were all they had.

The Mistral quote: “Many things we need can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time his bones are formed, his mind developed. To him we cannot say tomorrow, his name is today”, is resonating with me strongly these days, and with each success achieved collectively in the KPDSB, I feel we are closer to making sure we are ready for today. But each time we lose a child, or see tragedy strike in the life of one of our families or staff, the sense of urgency we feel, and I feel, is palpable. We cannot wait. The urgency is too great, and we cannot afford to wait for others to step in and help us in our schools, like outside agencies. I have heard loud and clear in recent weeks, that student needs are taxing our teachers on an unprecedented scale, and we need to support our schools and staff on an equal basis. This burden of meeting our student needs and ensuring that the needs of our teachers and staff are also met, is one that I will admit I am feeling now personally. We are committing to all of you that we will relentlessly advocate for our students and our schools, to gain the support and attention deserved by all of you. With each loss of a child, whether it be at Dryden High School two weeks ago, Beaver Brae Secondary School three weeks ago, or last week and in the days ahead at New Prospect Public School, the reminder and urgency with it, means we cannot wait for tomorrow, we must act today.

As always, I encourage you to email or call me, if you have questions or want to share your thoughts. Please keep in your own thoughts the staff and families of NPS this week; one of our own is hurting and they need us very badly.

Take care,

Sean

Welcome Back!

More than probably many of us want to admit, we commonly do not adhere to our own sage advice, which we willingly share with others around us and generally with the best of intentions. Such as it was for myself just before the Spring Break, (that proverbial marker on the school-year calendar that indicates spring is here in spite of the predictable last winter storm we should expect to see yet) telling many of our colleagues to make sure they took some downtime, did not check their emails, and rested both their heads and their bodies for the week. While I wanted staff to make sure they felt it was “OK” to shut down for a week knowing that we all need to be told that sometimes, I didn’t necessarily realize I was having difficulty adhering to my own advice.

…Realizing this though myself only after I had left town for the week and in my own search of some sun, warmth, and abundant good reading (a favorite activity of mine which seems to be only found in duration during weekends, extended breaks and in summer). But after landing last Saturday at our destination, it became obvious just how tired I was, only wanting to lie outside in the sun, and sleep, and sleep I did…right, until Sunday night. Lesson for myself: “heed your advice and recognize when you may have over-extended your own-self”. I wonder how many of us tell those we work with to make sure they take care of themselves, make some time for relaxation, but ultimately forget ourselves in the equation? My guess is too many of us. Whatever you did for March Break, or wherever you were or who you spent time with…my sincere hope was that you were able to make sure that taking time for yourself meant lying down with a book and reading, or maybe even just lying down in the middle of an afternoon for a nap, and not feeling guilty about it. It takes work sometimes to learn “how” to relax, doesn’t it??!

I debated whether I would send a blog post out just before the Break or wait until immediately after, and chose the latter simply because I felt a bit of a kick-start to begin the season of spring might be a good idea. I also recognize that it has continued to be incredibly busy and right across the system, in every one of our schools, and offices. Post-March Break also is a good time to take stock of where we are in the course of the year, knowing that with only three months of the year remaining, we now head into the final quarter. If there was any signal needed making it obvious that our winter is ending, it only needs be looking at longer days, and melted lawns.

This time of year though is also a good reminder that our work never stops and our Break gives us a great opportunity for a pit-stop, knowing that the next few months will require our renewed energy and strength. At the last Senior Administration meeting we had prior to the March Break, as we began to tackle the last remaining aspects of staffing and the budget for next year, I commented at the meeting’s start, that I needed “everyone’s best” to get through the difficult thinking and decisions that lay ahead, and we needed to make the decisions that day, after pondering them for months. In this request of everyone’s best at the table, was the implicit message that the system and everyone in it needs the Senior team’s best, because we in turn need all of our school staffs’ best on a daily basis. Why? Because ultimately, our students and their families need our collective best, they deserve that; and the responsibility we have to ensure we give our kids the very best is not only one of greatest importance, it also has a level of urgency too.

Every time I meet with a staff or group, or visit a school, I feel the need to make sure the yard-sticks have moved forward or further down the field. Progress needs to continue to be made. A great recent example was the Trustee Strategic Planning Retreat that we held about a month ago over the course of a weekend in Dryden. In attendance were the trustees and myself, and on the agenda was a review of the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, our goals, our Vision, and the future for KPDSB. At its conclusion, I felt empowered and renewed as the Board has indicated that our goals need some revising and change. They need to reflect that the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has changed and continues to change. Your Teacher/Staff Efficacy Reps in each school will be bringing these recommended changes to you, or already have for your input now, before bringing back once more to the Board for final review and adoption. These recommended changes reflect that it is 2016, and that we are Board on the move, and that our future is growing!

The last few months have also signaled that we continue to work closer and closer with NAN, officially known as the Nishnawbe-Aski-Nation; a legal governing body representing 49 first nations and approximately 45,000 people including roughly a quarter of this number being students and children. I have been working behind the scenes very aggressively with our own folks and their representatives including Federal (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada: INAC) and Provincial officials from EDU to bring the long reach of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board further into all areas of Northern Ontario. There will be much to share in the months and year ahead as we continue to move the yardsticks further on this front as well, and you can be sure that your Efficacy rep again, and admin will keep you posted. I suspect some of this work over the past year is one reason there may have been a feeling of “fatigue” at the start of the March Break, although it took the Break to realize it for me.

In the schools, we now draw to a close the longest uninterrupted period of time, that span between January and March, and begin the spring season where more activities are focused outdoors and not-so-much indoors, and with it a reminder of what it is like to be from Northern Ontario. And speaking of Northern Ontario, we have been receiving messaging from the Ministry (EDU), that while we should expect the annual Grants for Student Needs (GSN’s) 2016-17 funding later this month, we also will begin to see the impact of our work and advocacy for Northern Children, all Northern Children. With this in mind, Special Education remains a top priority as it should be, and I want to assure all of our staff, especially those who work with our most needy and vulnerable children, that our protection of “Spec Ed” will be fierce, and resolved. We simply will not accept additional funding reductions on the Special Education envelope that in turn means less for our kids. If we cross paths in schools over the next few months, please be encouraged to ask me what I mean about this and why it is so important; because as I said earlier about needing everyone’s best and their advocacy, nowhere more important than in Special Education is this evident.

Finally, before I wrap up this post, I also want to draw direct attention to the ongoing and pressing matter of bringing everyone to a consistent student data application system, the “one-stop” shop program that our staff have been asking for and more than that, a decision on the “En Compass/Markbook/Students Achieve” file. By the end of the month a decision will be made, in finality, and a dedicated plan for implementation and support looking ahead to the Fall of 2016, and throughout the entire year will be put in place for you. I have heard loud and clear feedback from staff that a decision needs to be made and I have committed us to making this decision before the end of this month. So please be on the lookout for that. 

Not having been a person historically who necessarily used to enjoy the heat and warmer climes, the ideal March Break for me was ice fishing on the south side of some island on a nameless Northwestern Ontario lake, and always definitely off the grid (Don’t get me wrong, I certainly still love doing all of that!) As time goes on though, the heat appeals more and more to me, being close to water always will as does fishing, and admittedly…so does being off the grid actually too. A week ago this very Monday morning, I realized just how tired I was as my two new best friends (Captain Doddy and First-Mate Jose) took me within a mile of the north coast of Venezuala, fishing for yellow-fin tuna and wahoo. I say tired because after 5 hours of deep sea fishing in 30 foot waves, and constantly reeling, I was ready to go in and lie down! I also realized that while we all work very hard, and often over-extend ourselves without realizing it, life is definitely too short to not take time for ourselves and those things that make us appreciate having what we have, and being able to enjoy each day. I know that the staff of Sioux Mountain Public School will especially appreciate this, having just lost suddenly one of their own recently in Jennifer Fenelon, a young education assistant who has gone too soon and not able to experience more of what life can share, and us back in return. Jenn’s sudden passing while impacting a school that has had its share of attention and challenge over time, should serve to all of us as yet another reminder, of why it is so important to make the most out of our days, for ourselves, our families, and definitely our kids.

Welcome Back! I look forward to seeing all of you soon. (And please see below, “Caught at Vermilion Bay Lodge”, at least that’s what my shirt says, my two best friends Doddy and Jose and a 35 pound yellow fin tuna!)

Sean Monteith

Sean