What We Are Looking For?

“Many men go fishing all of their lives, without knowing it is not the fish they are after.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Hi, Everyone!

So it is the first week of February 2019; February 7th to be exact. Likely an obscure day on the calendar unless you are Teri Jackson of New Prospect Elementary School in Dryden; or possibly Darry Sittler fans of Toronto Maple Leaf fame!? The former captain of the NHL team setting a record on this date years ago when he scored 10 points in one game, a record probably never to be broken.

But, it also seemed to be an excellent time to send some thoughts out to all of you, as we head into the second weekend of February following two weeks of what some may consider the most brutal and harsh winter weather we have had in years. And of course, others might make the case…that several days in a row of pushing -50, followed by a foot of snow was good old fashioned Northern Ontario weather. Me, well I guess I see it both ways. Yes, it reminded me of growing up in Northern Ontario, on cold days when I would put my skates on at the house, actually skate down the middle of Gunne Crescent in Kenora to Pinecrest Rink (the old outdoor rink in my neighbourhood now gone having been replaced by a parking lot of all things) to wait for the inevitable signal to come home, the doorlight flicking by Dad. But not before of course freezing my face, and having tried to play hockey with the “big kids.”

And there last week as I was driving by Gordon Lake on the TransCanada highway between Kenora and Vermilion Bay on route to Thunder Bay, my temperature reading -51 on the screen of my truck, all I could think of was “This may be Northern Ontario, but this is cold; like insanely cold”. Hearing on the radio that Northwestern Ontario that day was, in fact, the coldest place on earth as both Antarctica and the North Pole were a balmy -30, did not me feel any better about where I was. The interesting thing though about these drives between our communities, which you have all done and which absolutely come with the territory in this job as DOE, also as I have said many times give pause to think about things. About many things I guess.

Wintertime with its cold days shortened by daylight can be tough for people for many reasons. It can be tough on equipment, it can be tough on energy levels, and it can be tough on our emotions. I see it when I go visit schools and staffs, and when I talk to people around the district. And you know what…it doesn’t matter who you are or what title and role you have, certainly not your income, and social status…we all face challenges. It’s just that this time of year can be really tough. Add to that, that many of you work in the most difficult of assignments, supporting kids and by extension their families in some of the most marginalized communities and environments, and it has the potential to be a recipe for overwhelming and possibly questioning your own optimism.

But here is where we come in, and by we I mean your colleagues, your system, your Senior Administration, and myself as Director.

It’s our job to find the light in the days and remind of you it; even when we may find it hard sometimes to do it for us personally. Frustration over progress not being made on certain things or wishing that specific projects were completed, and not held up; or…maybe even more simply making sure we check that the smallest irritating things which at the time may appear seemingly bigger than they are, are in fact quite small. Admittedly, I can do that myself on occasion; I know. But what prompted me to put these thoughts out to you at this time, was not a solicitation for feedback on the Strategic Plan or a statement on Kindergarten Registration Week (both very important though!!); but rather a recognition that even during the coldest and hardest months of the year, there is inspiration out there and motivation that should make you feel good about things. In the last three weeks, I have been able to read to several classes at Valleyview Public School, visit classrooms in Ignace and Upsala, catch some high school basketball, and probably the most enjoyable experience this last while, take part in the KPDSB first-ever systemwide book study. I like books, and those around me know I have a few of them (although I am sure they question whether I actually read them, or are they there for cosmetics?!). My problem is that I typically have several on the go at one time; yes Gorbachev is still “there”!

Sometimes the best things in your day, aren’t the detailed and planned-out meetings, or conference calls…(note: sarcasm); or even attending an event that celebrates the work you have been doing. Sometimes the best things I have found, are simply being around other people and listening to them and their stories, their experiences, their views. And sometimes, most times recently, these experiences have been inspiring to me. I didn’t sign up to be part of a book study because I was expecting to be inspired, but that is what is happening. You should hear your colleagues!!! I didn’t expect to meet students at the University of Toronto this year, who are attending courses on “educational leadership and change” who would inspire me, but that is precisely what has happened. And I didn’t know how a new Board of Trustees coming in could represent the kind motivation that this system can thrive from, with new ideas and views on Reconciliation and the future, but that is what is happening right before our eyes.

Thoreau’s quip at the beginning of my post is a favourite for me. Not because I love fishing, which I do; but because after being in this role in KPDSB for the past six years now, I realize that we are not just looking to teach and learn, but maybe, more importantly, we are looking to be inspired. The most memorable moments this year, and in years past weren’t looking at data, or spreadsheets, or even doing a mid-year check-in. They were watching people and listening to their stories. Thoreau kind of suggests that we spend our entire lives unsure of what we are looking for and maybe he was right. But on this February 7th, 2019, to me I think I have realized that we want to be inspired, to be better, to do better and to make the lives of those around us even more extraordinary. I don’t think anyone gets up in the morning intending on having the worst day they can; they want to see people smiling around them, and maybe, more importantly, they want to know they can make someone smile too. 😊

Please think about this and take note today that the sun is up a bit longer than yesterday, those days are stretching out, and you are one month away from March Break. And from me to you, inspire and be inspired!
Have a great day!

Sean

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A New Year, Perspective From Experience

Good Morning, Happy New Year, and the Best for a Hopeful and Optimistic 2019!

I welcome all of you back, after what I hope and will trust was, for the most part, a relaxing and rejuvenating two weeks of our annual mid-winter Christmas Break.

2019, now here upon us, brings with it the usual coffee chats and staff room banter around New Year’s Resolutions, commitments to changing things, and the obvious looking ahead to another 12 months, another year added-on of course. I spent most of this break either being out on the ice, fishing; or reading a book, actually, several books to be honest. It was an interesting holiday away, as it seemed to me that as much of it was spent outside on the lakes or in the bush, as it was spent reading. I don’t think one can read too much, but one can start many books and then bounce back and forth between them I guess…although I wouldn’t recommend it😊. For myself, it was also a very reflective time off and away; and reading can certainly stimulate the neurons in such a way that reflection and “thinking ahead” go into overdrive. In terms of reading, for those that might be interested, I continued with the Biography of Mikhail Gorbachev (a small undertaking of about 800 pages that has become a prolonged effort), a book given to me by a close friend and colleague from U of T on how to change school systems, a couple of books by Brene Brown (Senior Team, a heads-up!), and of course “All Our Relations” by Tanya Talaga and the focus for our very own KPDSB Book Study coming up. It probably is worth mentioning that my oldest son Aoedan did buy me for Christmas the best of Clint Eastwood’s “Good, the Bad and the Ugly” DVD series too, which took up part of Christmas Day; but hey, aren’t we allowed a little deviation from time to time??!!

I do not mean to suggest that it is neither of anyone’s interest or time of what the DOE occupies his time reading, but it might be worth considering that when you mix such a range of books, thinking and reflecting just might go hand and hand. The Gorbachev Biography has for a long while been an effort worth tackling for me because I have always viewed him as one of the great leaders of the 20th Century and a man who made peace a mission amidst tensions everywhere. I guess I also enjoy reading about famous leaders and what makes them tick?? But as I continued over the break, I began to come to some realizations and maybe even a few conclusions.

First, and likely the most important consideration for me, was that as we enter a new year and one to be sure full of uncertainty and maybe even a little bit of trepidation with a new Government, having a measured and steady perspective will be necessary; possibly more than ever. I can assure everyone in our KPDSB Family, that there will be changes this year as a new Government takes hold and establishes its priorities. These changes and this recalibration of priorities is not to be feared or intimidated by, but instead evaluated and considered first before reacting. In saying this, having an “even-keel” perspective that is not over-reactionary, but thoughtful and informed will is required. As I thought of my own perspectives on Education, specifically Education in Northern Ontario for our kids and for you…the staff that work tirelessly for our kids, I made another observation. Where do our perspectives come from? While reading one of Brene Brown’s books (“Braving the Wilderness: The Courage to Stand Alone”), the question is posed, “What influences our perspectives??”

Our own upbringings, our families and friends, our communities, our workplace yes our own biases, and even our employer; all of these would be entirely appropriate and reasonable responses.

But here is what I came to when asking myself this same question; my perspective on many things come from my own experiences. My first-hand and lived experiences have influenced and steered my views in such a way, that the decisions I make, and the approaches I take all come from experience now. I would suggest that for many of you, the same can be said; your experiences both good and bad, positive and negative, happy and sad…they all influence your perspectives. In fact, perspective, as far as I can see, is absolutely a function of experience.

Over the last number of months, many around me will have heard me remark that “experience really is invaluable”; you simply cannot replace experience and give it a value. It is as invaluable as it is irreplaceable. As a new Director almost six years ago, I would have had the same beliefs that I carry now; what has changed is my perspective on how to get things done and what experiences have taught me lessons. As we enter a new year full of change and possibility ahead, my commitment to you from the entire Senior Administration Team is that we will use our experiences to make the best decisions we possibly can. We face difficult decisions ahead I know this to be sure; but with a Vision that puts kids ahead of policies and procedures, can assure the staff we will make good decisions that support you and in turn support our students. Even with some level of uncertainty around provincial funding, staffing, and possibly even capital work, I am confident and prepared that any decision we face in 2019 will be made thoughtfully, measured against its value for kids and the system. I will add that decisions will be made (and with a level of assurance) that our experiences have aided our resolve and determination to take the right course for the system. In saying this, I again invite all of you to provide and share your own invaluable and needed perspectives, that have without question been influenced by your own experiences. As we enter immediately into a new Strategic Planning Consultation exercise for the Board, your perspective will be needed more than ever, this 2019.

I wish you all well, your schools much success, and with the anticipation that only a new year can bring! And remember, winter is now half-over!!
Take care,
Sean

Turn the Page

Good Monday Morning!

Admittedly, and certainly, much to do with the significant amount of time I spend driving our Northwestern Ontario highways, dirt roads and even waterways, I also get to listen to music while in my truck. If you have ever driven between Savant Lake and Pickle Lake (if you haven’t you should at least once!!), you will discover that losing CBC as a radio signal is not just a possibility, it’s predictable. So, Sirius XM radio channels are not only helpful but honestly, necessary. And while the number of times I sing alone and along with tunes from one of my favourite channels “Classic Rewind” in my truck will remain my little secret, I often find hearing certain songs trigger thoughts and reflection. Last week, while driving back to Kenora, a favourite for many, Bob Seger came on the air; and with him the memorable chords of “Turn The Page”.

Those of you that have read my thoughts from the past few years, might recall that it is not uncommon for me to make references to particular songs that I have heard, both current and historical. Sometimes it’s because of the song’s meaning, or the video that accompanies the music, and sometimes it’s the emotions and time-stamp coming from the artist. But last week I listened to Bob Seger…

On a long and lonesome highway…You can listen to the engine…But your thoughts will soon be wandering…The way they always do…”

Now I have paraphrased the lyrics, as most of them aren’t appropriate for the purpose of this blog, nor have I ever been “East of Omaha…” although that might be something interesting and cool to do someday. However, I did find these lines appropriate both given the context of my driving alone, and for the time and place we are in.

At midnight, last Friday night, the 2014-2018 Board of Trustees ceased to exist with their term expiring, and the Board’s governance team dissolved. As required by the Education Act, we must swear in an incoming Board within seven days of the new Trustee’s term; this means December 1st of this year (or this past Saturday). As a direct result, our Inaugural Meeting means the KPDSB will see the swearing in of our new Board, the election of a new Chair, and the setting of all new official Board committees. This is all to occur Tuesday night quickly after 7:00 PM, and with it, we usher in a new chapter of the history of the KPDSB and begin a new era. If you add to this, that our current KPDSB long-term Strategic Plan (2013-2018, rev. 2016) will also expire on December 31st of this year, we have even more change. And then, the reality that a new Government is settling in in Ontario and becoming adjusted to governing and making policy and directional changes; well, then we have a lot of moving pieces. In essence, we are at a point in our history of the Board where we will “Turn The Page.”

However, these changes, these new moving parts in our midst, and this new era also represent much cause for enthusiasm, for optimism, and for a recalibration of who we are in KPDSB. More specifically, what our core goals are (which by necessity mean we need to reflect on what we stand for), what does it mean to put kids first, and ultimately how do we know we are actually true to our vision statement (see below)?? Over the next 4-8 weeks, stakeholders far and wide will be asked to submit their thoughts about who we are.  It will be important to ask all staff, families, elders, chiefs, community members, business partners, post-secondary partners, certainly the Trustees…and the kids, our students, what future they see for the KPDSB?

I have often stated without bashfulness that my pride in our Board and our schools and staff knows no bounds and is seemingly ceaseless in reach. This organization is strong and vibrant. It is innovative, youthful and full of ideas and energy; it is all of these things that will provide assured influence in determining the Board’s next Strategic Plan 2018-2023, and what it will stand for. Please get involved, and make your mark, leave an imprint on who we are and who we will be in the future….and in the process be part of the KPDSB turning the page.

Take care, and enjoy the festive spirit that December in schools can only bring!!

Sean

Thanksgiving, and Thankful For Many Reasons

In spite of the temperatures and snow on the ground in some places across the Board, it is important to believe that we are only in the first week of October, school has been back in session for only a month essentially…and yes, I think we’re going to have some nice weather yet meaning some pretty impressive sunsets and warm evenings. At least I hope so!!

Good Morning, Everyone!

No, I am not a meteorologist nor do I have the desire to try to anticipate weather patterns, but I don’t think it can hurt to try and wish ourselves some promising forecasts for the weeks ahead! Trust me, I have every reason to hope for a prolonged fall, and one to make up for last year. Last weekend while out moose hunting, my partner and I faced 4 inches of snow and a blizzard where we were; someone did mutter “insanity” in my direction, and they probably weren’t far off the mark!!

I hope the start-up has been a good one and a smooth one as well for all of you. Around the system, and after checking in with the Senior Team almost daily, and with school administration and staff alike, I am hearing that it was one of the smoothest and measured start-ups we have ever had. Thank you all for that; starting a new year successfully cannot happen without the efforts and planning of everyone together. This upcoming Tuesday at our Senior Administration meeting, we will again go over start-up, look at enrolment in all schools, look at pressure points where they exist, make adjustments and take note for next year. Such is our responsibility. But for now, I can tell you that Senior Admin has already added more classroom teachers and support staff at four of our elementary schools, and one secondary on account of a strong enrolment increase. The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board continues to fire on all of its collective cylinders and making strides to get better. For that, I have to again, as I did in the new “Kids Come First” 2018 Board video…say thank you to all. In the next two weeks, I will be visiting our schools in Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Savant Lake and Pickle Lake; looking forward to seeing returning staff and meeting new ones for the first time.

Already in the first month, the Board has received acknowledgment for achievement: our schools achieved impressive gains in provincial EQAO results (in some cases, historic), we reached successful agreements with First Nations partners including Windigo Northern Chiefs, and Bimose Tribal Council, and hopefully one more with Wabauskang First Nation in the next few weeks, and have been visited this past week by the Federal Minister of Indigenous Crown Relations and Reconciliation the Honorable Carolyn Bennett (see photo below welcoming the Minister to Dryden High School this week). The feeling across the system is good and one of strength. As Caryl commented to me this week earlier in a private conversation, we “feel as if we are all on the same page, in these last couple years it has been really positive, I feel really optimistic.”

I feel the same way, but for me, I will add one more point; I also feel a tremendous sense of gratification for these gains having been hard earned and well-deserved after much, much heavy lifting.

But in the saying this, I also acknowledge, there remains much to do. We still have many kids needing all-around support; we have schools that need constant vigilance and families that we can never let off our radar. So for all of your on-going work, day in and out, I say one more time “Thank You” as we head into this annual Thanksgiving Long Weekend. We have much to be thankful for. And speaking of staff and being thankful, and why it is important to take a few seconds to express gratitude…I need to share an experience I had this week with everyone. It speaks to the pride that I feel in this organization and feel that you have in it as well.

As I was driving past Dryden High School Wednesday, and in anticipation of the Minister’s visit later that morning, it was noticeably quiet out front. Students weren’t outside like they often are in front of their high school; possibly on account of the rain that was beating down but even weather doesn’t keep kids from straying outside when we are talking about teenagers! However, there was one person working outside alone, in the rain and you could not miss her.

There with a couple of garbage bags, bent over, working solitarily was DHS custodian, Shirley Kotz picking up garbage and in effect rendering the entire front of the high school spotless. My initial thoughts were that she had been asked to do that specifically because the Minister was coming shortly. Those that know Shirley, would tell you “No, that’s not why, Shirley does that because she is Shirley, and she cares and is proud of Dryden High School.” Once inside the building, I went looking for her and when I tracked her down, I thanked her and asked her if she had been specifically requested that assignment that particular morning? Shirley replied, that no she hadn’t; in fact, she does this every morning because she can’t stand garbage and she wants her Dryden High School looking spotless…and besides, she gets exercise. She indicated to me that it really wasn’t a big deal (other than our side-bar conversation on why some people can’t understand garbage cans are for garbage, not the front lawn). Perhaps most impressively, she wasn’t even aware yet that the Minister was even coming. She just wanted things to look good, for her colleagues, the kids and the community.

I am very thankful for many things as we head into this weekend, and among them being blessed with 5 Star exceptional staff like Shirley Kotz, in every one of our schools, every one of our communities, everywhere.

From me to you, enjoy this long weekend, time with family and friends…by a fire, with a good book and ginger ale, or outside on one of our many roads wearing blaze orange!

Ciao!

Sean

Sean and Minister Bennett 2018

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

Sean

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,

Sean

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

Greetings!

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.

Sean​