We Are the North

Good Morning, Everyone, Welcome Back from a long weekend!

In the 2016/17 KPDSB Board Video “Kids Come First”, there is a clip of some of our young people who make a “We Are Statement….” proudly stating “We Are The North”!

(If you can’t recall this part, make a point and watch the video again!) There are many statements made in the video, but this is the one that resonated with me, and for multiple reasons I suspect. I try very hard in my communication with you as staff and stakeholders in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board to drive home the point, that we do not just live in Northwestern Ontario, work, play and represent this unique part of the country…but more importantly, we are the North!

I had originally intended to send this Director’s Post out on Friday morning, timing it before Thanksgiving and wishing all of you and those closest to you a wonderful long-weekend. But then something stopped me, and made the decision to wait until we returned today. In reterspect I wanted the three days of time spent in the bush, hunting and traveling the northern logging roads that I often do with my youngest son Tristan. Thanksgiving Weekend, also means opening weekend for many moose hunters, afflicted by an annual disorder that causes us to lose sanity temporarily in our search of an ungulate that could trample us if so inclined. It also is a weekend to visit with friends in the bush, sitting by a fire and enjoying the colours and fresh air of our beloved Northwestern Ontario. And so, thinking the weekend would foster reminders of why we love where we live and reinforce an appreciation for what makes us unique, I wanted to wait till today.

But in recent weeks there have been several personal and compelling examples of why Northwestern Ontario is home, and why many of us will never leave. Perhaps the best example was two weeks ago, when after months of careful planning, coordination of schedules like I have never seen, and in response to relentless advocacy for KPDSB, we played host to several Ministry officials and government representatives, from the Assistant Deputy Minister to Directors of Special Education, Policy and Programming and Service Delivery. The visit resulted in 10 officials representing multiple Ministries, with the intent to see what the North looks like in public education; and more specifically what it means to be a teacher or support staff, or principal in Keewatin-Patricia? What does it mean to put kids first? And at what cost does putting kids first have on us personally?

I can tell you that, that when the visit (which lasted three days) was over; our guests were impacted and moved forever. As the Director of Special Education for the province after meeting staff at Sioux Mountain Public School shared emotionally: “I bore witness…I now see what you have been telling us the past few years.” Likely the most memorable part of the visit though for myself was accompanying the ADM of Education and a Senior official from MCYS to Pickle Lake as we flew in on Wasaya Air, later to drive the Pickle Lake highway down to “Mish”, (otherwise referred to as Osnaburgh First Nation) later returning back to Sioux Lookout from Pickle Lake on a De Havailland Beaver float plane the same day. I had called in a favour from a personal friend who operates a tourist business and asked if we could catch a ride back to Sioux. As we stepped onto the floats in Pickle Lake, my friend gave both the ADM and Director a couple of blaze orange hats celebrating the coming moose hunting season and wished them well. As we flew over the incredibly spectacular fall colours of the Northwestern Ontario woodland canopy and crystal blue waters of literally thousands of lakes, the moment was not lost on me with these two high ranking officials proudly wearing their “Pickle Lake Outposts” orange hunting hats, watching the terrain below. Every now and again, the one official would shake her head and mutter “incredible” or “it’s simply beautiful”. And indeed it was, and it is. Martyn Beckett, the ADM for the Ministry of Education looked at me at one point on the flight and said to me “You love it up here, don’t you Sean? Challenges and all, you will never leave.” To which I nodded in agreement.

One of the things that defines us I believe, is our hardiness, or resolve. Some may call it toughness, others may term it resilience, or even fortitude. To me, it is simply what we are…We Are The North.

The North however, and specifically the Northwest is experiencing some incredible change right now: demographically, socially, economically. And we in education are not immune, as we experience our own major changes. What used to work in classrooms say 20 years ago, is proving to perhaps not have the same effect or outcome; our young people reflecting these changes, their needs change right alongside it. Staff are being called upon daily to deal with matters that historically were not part of our regimen; as I put it to our Ministry visitors before they left, “Our staff are becoming as much agents of MCYS, Ministry of Health, and Child and Family Services, as they are agents of Education.”

That’s not reasonable, and it’s not acceptable.

The recent visit was all about showing in very raw and very emotional ways, just how putting kids first impacts those adults who have made young people an investment, and commitment of theirs. The difference, is that when we take the stance of kids first…we do it. We don’t show up a glossy plan that indicates we do and then forget our cause, we simply act and do it. With this in mind, the other defining moment that has stuck with me since the visit two weeks ago, was when the question was asked of a staff member at Queen Elizabeth District High School “With all of the challenges and tragedy you have faced, would you ever leave?” The question was sincere and innocent, but if you knew this staff member then you also knew what her answer was: “Never”. To which she added “I’m from the North, will stay in the North, and will never leave the North. We’re Northerners, and we have the right stuff; we just need a little help.”

And with that message, our guests left; the Senior Admin team returned to our roles, staff and students back to their schools, classrooms and daily lives. The statement made by that teacher at QEDHS, should not be underestimated; there is someone in every single one of our schools who would say the very same thing. Our principals would say it, our Board office staff would say it, and your Director would say it because it’s true.

And so as Tristan and I were traveling and walking remote areas of bush and muskeg this past weekend wearing our own modeled blaze orange apparel, and where someone from a more southern part of the province might ask if we were dealing with a momentarily lapse in sanity trying to get stuck and dirty…I would have replied, “Nope, we’re fine and we love it; we’re from the North.”

I look forward to seeing the remaining schools that I have yet to make it to in the first 5 weeks, and catching up with staff very soon.

Take care,