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

Extraordinary People Remembered

Good Friday Afternoon, Everyone

I recognize that receiving a Friday afternoon blog post from me breaks with my normal practice, but I have decided I want to send it today and not Monday morning; I believe you will understand.

Working in an organization that is made up almost exclusively of people, who work for and with people, can often be among the most rewarding and gratifying experiences a human being can have. Memories created, moments of inspiring success stories witnessed, and incredible friendships built.

However, on this last point, the legacy of building friendships and relationships can at certain moments….also be the most heart breaking. Tracy Morwood, Grade 1 Teacher at Valleyview Public School in Kenora passed away last evening, of cancer. Her cancer was so fast and came on so aggressively that I actually cannot ever think of an occasion where a person was attacked so viciously with this cursed disease. Tracy also taught at King George and Lakewood Public Schools; she was forty something and she leaves behind a devastated son Elliot, and husband Grant. I had my chance to say goodbye to Tracy on Tuesday afternoon before I went to the Board meeting, and grateful I did, because I would not have been given another chance. Interestingly enough, while she was so medicated for pain, she still had her wits about her and was able to coherently know what was happening. She looked at me as I gave her a hug and she said to me “You came to say good bye, Sean”; it wasn’t a question but rather a statement.

I have had many thoughts about what I might say, but as your colleague and an educator myself, I can tell you I have been through my share and then some, of tragedies. And it never gets easier; or do I not experience heart-break myself. In that way, I suppose writing this blog post is somewhat therapeutic for me, admittedly.

Our whole system is comprised of and made great by individuals who make the lives of others extraordinary, especially children. It also is made great by unmatched influences of human beings on each other. It also, I think, explains why we cry at graduations when someone we really don’t know crosses the stage and looks like the have beaten the odds; it’s why we go home at night distraught over whether the kids in front of us each day are going to be safe when they leave….or even if they will return to class on Monday morning? And it also is why we cry when we lose someone, someone who is part of our family. When we lose someone like Tracy Morwood.

This past week I was in Toronto with the trustees for an annual event of the Ontario Public School Boards Association symposium. I also managed to get away twice while there to go to the Ministry of Education’s Queen’s Park offices. I had some unfinished Special Education funding and capital planning business to attend to and that needed to be addressed. While away I was presented a really unique opportunity, but when I looked at my beloved Keewatin-Patricia, what was glaringly obvious was that the greatest and most amazing opportunities are right here at home! People have bought into the KPDSB vision of “Kids First”, they have bought into Efficacy and advocacy, they have bought into each other and they have determined that the future for us has never ever been brighter and more hopeful. To my staff particularly in Kenora, please remember this last point; there is cause for optimism and even in the difficult days ahead…the sun will most certainly shine again😊!!

Recent events in the Board have risen our profile and our presence in the region and province. Our administration is pleased, our parents and communities are pleased, our trustees are pleased…..(and wait for it!) I am proud, very proud. This unusual Friday afternoon blog post will be different than the others, not just because of its timing, but also because of what initiated it, the loss of one of our own and the collective hurt we feel as a system.

The days are getting longer, certainly warmer, and reassuringly brighter! And during the night skies, well, there now will be a bit of added brightness as a new star has joined the ranks. And all of us who knew her, are the better for it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Sean

“Off the charts…”, “Hit it out of the park…” or how about “lights out!….”

Good Morning!!!   If you are required by job description, your role within the Board, or maybe just having had one on one conversations with me on school visits…these quirky little sayings above, are what one staff member told me recently that she called “Sean-isms”. I certainly hope she meant it in an endearing sense, because upon consideration, she was absolutely right! These are things I say all the time; and depending on the environment might actually say them all in one day! (Can you imagine Susanne and Caryl’s reaction when I make such statements??!!) Regardless of the metaphorical language, all three together could be used to describe the efforts over the next few days and weeks about the coming energy to promote the Board, our staff, our schools, and the most important consideration of all…the needs of Northern Children.

I will explain in a minute, but the agenda that has been established for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and in service to the Strategic Goals of this organization, is to grow the Board, make it strong and assertive, creatively develop progressive and innovative programs, set high expectations for ourselves and certainly kids…and ultimately give this organization the presence and the respect it (and all those who are employees and supporters) rightly deserve. If you are still confused about the euphuisms’ above that’s OK, I regularly confuse those around me by my frequent Sean-isms…but as a helper, recall last October when Jose Bautista hit his infamous homerun for the Toronto Blue Jays to essentially knock out the Texas Rangers of the playoffs. I bet when he went up to bat that infamous game now, he wasn’t telling himself with 60,000 people watching at the Rogers Center “I am going to try and swing the bat and make some contact.” No! I think he told himself, “We need to win the game, we need to win it now because we’re losing and on the verge of getting beat out of the playoffs, and I’m going to hit it out of the park!!!” And what came next will go down in the annals of Blue Jays’ history as the famous “bat flip” because he did exactly as wanted and needed to do. And the team won the series.

And so will we…

By the time you receive this and hopefully read it, Peter Mansbridge of CBC National fame will have been on the radio several times doing interviews with regional broadcaster Q 104, speaking to and celebrating the Keewatin Patricia District School Board. He will also be promoting a major segment on The National to be aired Monday night a story about the Board, specifically its Hockey Academies in several of our communities, and you will see a few of our own highlighted and interviewed. But the story is not about hockey, it is about kids and the fact that kids are coming to school, they are attending, they are doing better in school, they are graduating (as Dave Tresoor, BBSS, will tell the country), they feel good about themselves and getting healthier (as Steve Dumonski, QEDHS, will proudly share)…and everyone who tunes in will see the KPDSB celebrated on a national scale. Prior to the story air, CBC will also put on its website nationally, the KPDSB story and a promotional video that gives registration information and contact numbers.

Earlier in the day on Monday, every attendance area in the Board with more than one school will have all of the area schools’ information, and innovative student-focused programs and staff promoted house by house, street by street sharing where and how families can consider and learn about out programs and staff. And of course how to become part of the KPDSB family. Over the next weeks, you will hear your colleagues sharing stories on the radio airwaves the successes students have in KPDSB schools, and why this Board truly is in a league of its own, exemplary in its efforts and ultimately attaining that lofty but realistic goal of putting kids first in every conversation we have and every decision we make or need to make. In some communities, you will be hearing about KPDSB symposiums that focus on all programs but particularly celebrate our Kindergarten classrooms and teams. You will hear about Explore and Fine Arts at Open Roads Public School, and French Immersion and Hockey Academy at New Prospect Public School.

In Red Lake you will hear about the aggressive expansion of the Academy Program concept and will see your principals facilitating the planning of the Hockey Academy concept in all of our schools there. I can tell you that already Scott Urquhart has made contact and established the framework for the Jump Start/Canadian Tire folks to come into the Red Lake Area en masse for next year. While in Dryden, I can share that I have asked and met with vice-principal Brad Bartlett (Dryden High School) and asked him over the next 6 weeks to coordinate and construct a very aggressive Dryden-Area schools strategy that promotes and strengthens our enrolment there.

And perhaps equally exciting for me, will be the re-engagement of the Teacher Efficacy Working Group, where they will be charged with taking some incredibly enhanced system responsibilities as staff, and now get us all to that place where we can say we have “flattened the organization”. After three years into my role as Director, and after several months of job-action oriented static….we are moving on to that place where can look upon our beloved KPDSB and say, we are an organization that is growing, getting stronger, never resting on our laurels and satisfied that the job is done, and always believing we can get better and improve. And in doing all this, keep our kids at the center of our attention! You can’t see me right now (lucky for you!) but if you could, the sense of pride would be obvious. Share that pride, because it is well-earned and hard-fought for, but we have done what we set out to do.

This Blog is perhaps a bit different because it is about the pending celebrations of the Board, and highlighting our work, all of us, regardless of what school and office you work in. I am attaching a couple of links below for all to share about encouraging families and new parents to register their children in our kindergarten programs, please click on them (and make Sheena very happy!!).

Later this morning, I will be meeting all the Vice-Principals and Principals and laying out more of the Efficacy journey and “The Keewatin Patrcia Agenda” looking ahead. I have updates from my meetings in recent days with the Minister of Education and the Nishnaabe Aski Nation (NAN); and also progress on Adult Education across the district as we step up our efforts to engage a “Kindergarten to Diploma” strategy. Lots to talk about for sure, but for now…revel in the days ahead in the glow that is about set on all of you as KPDSB staff and supporters.

Earlier this week, I met and had a conversation with Dave McLeod, our first Director of Education out of the Red Lake area, and the man who hired me years ago. Even with Dave now being retired for about 14 years, he commented to me, he feels the pride in the Board as he sits back and gets to watch us evolve! That comment really made me proud, and made me feel like I am part of something special in our Board. We have had amazing leaders in our Keewatin Patricia District School Board, but I have to tell you all, I really feel that we are entering our glory years, and I would not want to be anywhere else!!!

Have a great day, reach out and email or call anytime.

And always take care,

Sean