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