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

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