It has been about 6 weeks since I last submitted a post, and in that period of time for many, much has happened; and in a number of your lives and personal situations…much has changed. I debated on whether posting some commentary to all of you in the System, picking a couple of natural dates; the start of exams at secondary, the beginning of a new term, or even the start of February. Really I suppose points in time that would seem obvious or logical. However, I promised myself to try and avoid that approach and simply share thoughts with the organization when I felt it was right and there were things that were keeping me awake at night and causing my to really reflect….on many matters.
I have at times been chided about maybe not being so positive of the many accomplishments that go on the System and my sharing of them; and perhaps spend more time on matters that reflect challenges or obstacles people face. I feel that I do both, frequently speaking of the realities in classrooms and schools on a daily basis. I believe I have shared that the work the KPDSB does in our schools is frequently confronted with set-back and despair when it comes to our kids and their lives. I have made it a reoccurring theme about the demands that teachers, education assistants, early childhood assistants, principals/vice-principals….all of our front-line staff face day in and day out. And I have on more than one occasion commented on the heavy burden the Senior Administration equally face with the reality that we are asked to do more, with less; and to be in more than one place at a time across a district that is simply put…massive and incredibly complex. I have found that as I come up on the end of my fifth year as Director of Education, the job is in fact not becoming easier, but rather much much harder.
Perhaps, that last statement is what has been keeping me awake of late. The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board is in my opinion, is the most incredibly complex, diverse and demanding organization in the region; and its success and growth requires nothing short but 110% full-on attention and effort. The work is exhausting. It also can leave you at the end of the day with “nothing left in the tank”.
I share this because as I spoke this past weekend at the annual Kenora District Municipalities Association (KDMA) to the region’s mayors, town councilors, CAO’s and our local member of parliament, it became clear to me that these exhaustive efforts to grow, get stronger, and to be the leader in the region…have in fact paid off. I shared with the local municipalities that the KPDSB has: schools and sites in 11 of the KDMA’s towns, two board offices, operates most of the district’s daycares, is the adult education provider in the region for adults without a high school diploma, has underway the biggest capital project in all of Northern Ontario, is the biggest employer in NWO, and also has the largest annual operating budget for a single enterprise in all of the Kenora District. In other words…we are big and what we say and do matters. I also shared some very sober realities with the municipal leaders as well, many of whom are regrettably unfamiliar with the operations of schools; and that the challenges facing young people in the north are not going away. The challenges facing all of our towns specifically around social needs and services, are not going away either. And the demands and constant daily press on my front-line staff are not lessening, they are in fact increasing.
I shared that services in the NWO are incredibly lacking, infrastructure in need of immediate attention when it comes to community supports for students and their families, and that if we all expected young people to remain living in Northwestern Ontario, Municipal leaders needed to accept and engage in that reality. In other words, they need to do what we are doing in the KPDSB, they needed to lead by example, and not simply talk. I invited them to talk to teachers and school leaders across the District, and see for themselves what it means to work with kids everyday in the KPDSB and what it means to be a teacher or early childhood educator in our classrooms. I explicitly made it clear, that too many in our communities expect my staff to “fix” all of our social problems, repair harm done in homes, in too many cases be the parents for students who have not had a fair chance to…be a kid. And I added, to do it all in record time.
I asked the region’s leaders if this job of ours sounded attractive enough for any of them to want to sign up and join the effort after I painted such a sober and cerebral picture. And when I finished the room was silent for about a minute, before the questions began. The end result??? I was invited back next year and to bring staff with me.
Folks, I know it is tough in our schools and I know the issues you face are very real, palpable and at times feel like they never end, all-consuming. I know that people are tired, and that report cards (without technical glitches) create stress and angst. I know sometimes you too feel like there is no gas in the tank, and that you might wonder does anyone know what your life is like? I am here to tell, that we do; we worry about it, never stop thinking about it…and speaking for myself…push until the point of exhaustion trying to help and support the most neediest areas in the Board. And after all that, you have your own lives and families, your own children who you need…and perhaps more importantly who need you.
If for anything, please use my thoughts this morning, as a reminder, or maybe a reinforcement that you are not alone in your work. You are part of a strong organization and that my Senior Team will never, ever ask of you more than we are not prepared to give ourselves. We are constantly working trying to redistribute resources, enhance support for kids, and bolster your working and learning environments.
This morning was the perfect time to email you and send this blog; I hope you take the time to consider it.
Before closing, on February 20th, 2015 in my post to all of you which I penned “Keewatin Patricia Family: ‘I Lived’”, I made mention of daily struggles that affected the personal health of folks, and introduced you all to long-time employee and education assistant Shelley Sabeski who just been given some very grave and visceral news and what she was about to confront. On Sunday January 21st, Shelley passed away in Kenora in her hospital room with her husband Dave by her side. I was able to go and say goodbye two days before. We all need to be grateful for today and the fact we have a choice to make life vibrant, memorable, extraordinary; I hope you will.
Enjoy this weekend coming up, please take care…and one last final request…make a bit of time today to thank your school custodians who work without fanfare and attention, day in day out often alone. We need them and we need them to know they too matter.