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

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