Challenging the Status Quo!!!

“You see things; and say “Why”? But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why Not?”

So said a Robert F. Kennedy when he cited a passage out of George Bernard Shaw’s “Back to Methuselah” in 1968.

I suspect the quote’s impact will mean and appeal differently to different people; all of us in KPDSB being absolutely no exception.

In recent months, regardless of where you may live in our Board or where you work in the Board, it is unlikely you have not been impacted by changes that have occurred as a result of the Board’s Restructuring Plan. This would apply to most departments, most school and attendance areas, and without question both board offices. We have already reassigned several school administration positions, several key Board and Senior Administration positions, and over the next two weeks will fulfill virtually all remaining aspects of the restructuring approach (for now). Next week we will be looking to hire a new Superintendent of Business, and the week following that, we will be reporting to Trustees all remaining school reassignments and appointments. It has been a year of massive change and reorganization…and it was promised in September by myself as DOE to all of you, and I believe we can say with confidence that our plan has been executed efficiently and decisively.

We also have made these changes by looking both internal, and external as obvious by the significant hiring of Tania Sterling as the new Superintendent of Education. In looking to Tania, as well as to our new appointees and assignments, one question has loomed large for me in my capacity as Director of Education: “Will they challenge the status quo and make us better thinkers; make us a better organization?” One of the biggest worries I have is falling into what I term “The Complacency Trap”. In education, more specifically this can refer to the host of barriers that get in the inherent way of change in our organization (most organizations) and ultimately lock us into “it is the way it is”, preventing us from trying “the way things could be”. When we look to future leaders of our Board and of our schools, this what I hope they will embrace….that is “What could things be like if we tried something new?”

Change can be difficult, and sometimes change can be downright painful; this is complicated even more when it’s not understood why change is even necessary. The Kenora group of administrators and schools know this full well (after three years ago) at a now infamous early morning meeting with myself at the Kenora Board office, where complacency was more than a concern, it was a reality. We agreed that a new way of thinking, of promoting, and of innovating programs for our kids was necessary. Sioux Lookout followed suit, then Dryden and later to Red Lake where promoting our schools has taken on a new energy. The result.…in Kenora for example, is that our enrolment has increased by 21% over the past three years! And if there ever was an example of turning the ship around….in the Ontario proverbial educational sense anyways…it came last week when the budget for school boards was announced. For the first time ever in our existence, and unlike the overwhelming majority of school board in the province, in remote Northwestern Ontario, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board will not be eligible for the “Declining Enrolment Grant”. The budget line funded to boards to offset declining enrolment. Why?

Because the KPDSB is not declining any more. We are growing.

I find it almost serendipitous that as our long-standing Business Official Dean Carrie approaches his retirement, he does so in his last months knowing that our Board is now growing and is a “Growth Board”. While I met privately last week with a number of Ministry of Education Officials, one of them did ask me with a sly smile…”You guys in KP must have been doing the happy dance when you saw that Sean?!” Not being a very good dancer, I shook my head in the negative but did indicate I celebrated by enjoying one of my favorite Canada Dry ginger ales!

The rise of the KPDSB is also another reason why I was meeting last week privately with numerous EDU folks; to look at growing and developing greater coherent work in advancing the interests of Northern Children, from Northern Ontario. In the weeks and months, and even years ahead lies the single greatest challenge we are going to face, and that is addressing the needs of Northern Children, and increasingly the needs of the staff and families who spend their lives invested in Northern Children. It has gone from a profession, or job…to now a cause. The uniqueness with which we are looked upon by many others, including our friends from the provincial Ministry of Education is complemented by fondness and endearment. We are considered a hard-luck board, that is tough and resolved in our innovative ways to ever change the way education is brought to our students; we are also a board that is admired and greatly respected, and for that I again say thank you to all of you in our schools and in our offices. As Martyn Beckett, ADM of the Ministry of Education said once again to Mike Boos and I last week: “You do whatever it takes.” I also thank our Trustees who have supported this change agenda and mandate to embrace new ways of thinking and what the KPDSB means to the North. And as we continue to do more and more of this, I believe that we will continue to see more and more new faces come to the KPDSB; and I welcome them too!

Last week as Tania and I were going back and forth over her big transition to moving to Northwestern Ontario, there was clearly a combination of excitement with trepidation in her voice. In my own sadly lacking way to inspire “intrigue” to her, I shared with her a picture (attached below) from the Easter long weekend at my cabin in Ear Falls with my two sons Aoedan and Tristan, following a successful day of “moose antler hunting” in the remote bush road networks both close by and far away. I sent them to her, thinking “this will really make Tania interested in Northwestern Ontario.” Her quick reply was that Jack, her young son, “thinks they are really cool?” Followed by: “Sean what do you do with them, and is this what you do in your spare time?”

Ahhhh….Tania, I asked you to challenge me and our way of thinking, but please somethings just need to be left really simple:) Asking me why I spend a full day chasing through the woods for moose antlers I am afraid….will result in no comprehendible answer; I guess maybe Northerners are in fact a little “unique” indeed.

I am excited for the future, and while I know like many of you, we are tired and wearing down from a year that has flown right by; I also remind you we have two more full months to go! Make the most of it; accept no complacency, and be innovative. Do not be afraid to challenge the status quo, and commit to asking yourself “what could be”, if only…..​

Before I sign off, I would be remiss if I did not share that the KPDSB lost another 2 children since my last post; a 13 year old student last week, and a 16 year old several weeks before. Both were actually not attending at this very time, but had long been before in our schools in Pickle Lake, Red Lake, Ear Falls and Beaver Brae. The fact they were not in attendance was a result of factors and influences far beyond their control and serve not only as a reminder but equally as a unwavering motivator to the work of supporting “Northern Children” that lies ahead. It will be exhaustive, it will be difficult, and it will with absolutely guarantee attack the status quo like never before, and challenge systemic barriers that have for too long not put kids first, but agencies and policies.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments and questions.

Take care, everyone!


Sean Blog Photo