Make Great Memories

If you take occasion to read my posts from time to time, or have in the past become accustomed to finding one in your inbox to start the day, you will note there are really two kinds of blogs I send for your consideration. The first is the unplanned and sometimes an unexpected summation of an event (or series of events) that were not anticipated and really compel me to share thoughts and updates with you all. The second, are the ones you might expect at particular times of the year, such as the first day of school, before Christmas, end of the year, Thanksgiving, and of course….”May Long”.

 Funny, earlier this year as I was driving home from Sioux Lookout, I was listening to a radio call-in show on CBC and the discussion was what Canadians, and even more specific for us residents of Northwestern Ontario, call long weekends? I was thinking to myself that there are multiple terms of reference for long weekends, but one caller who phoned in had the following suggestions: “Canadians in the rest of the country call the May Long Weekend, “”May Long Weekend””. But for us in Northern Ontario, we call it a few things, Victoria Day Weekend, Opening Weekend, and May 2-4. Actually (he continued) no one I know even calls it May Long Weekend!” He said it with pride, and I will admit, that I myself have used all of those terms too! I send this annual post out just before “Opening Weekend” because I am never quite sure how many will read it on the Friday just before, so it’s usually the Thursday; and of course because I might just sneak away with Tristan for a little bit of early trout fishing Friday afternoon too. “Opening Weekend” continues to be, and always has been home to creating great memories; even as a little boy, I still have memories of fishing with my Grandfather, to fishing with my Dad, to fishing with both of my sons, to today and whoever will simply go fishing with me!?

However, I also want to be a bit more cerebral than just singing the praises of a long weekend, because there are other realities right now that compel me to touch in with all of you as we prepare for three days off. The long weekend followed of course with a return to school and what I have always termed the “Home Stretch”. In addition to the reality that many folks are finding limited energy in their fuel tanks at this time of the year, we are also reminded that there is also have just over one month to go. I am very well aware that people are spent and that it has been to be candid, a very tough year on some, maybe many people.  Over three years ago, February 2015 I posted a blog which I called “I Lived” with reference to many considerations about how we as staff live our lives, and get out of life what we put into it. I also referenced the song by the same name, performed by One Republic, and shared in that same post that one of our own, Shelley Sabeski, had been diagnosed with cancer. Recall, I asked you all to make the most of your days and to listen to the song, especially its lyrics.

The song is posted again right here for you:  Listen to it, play it loud on your way to work or even if you’re out for a morning walk, put your earbuds in and give it a hear!

The more I meet our staff and colleagues, their families, our students and their lives…the more the words have a profound meaning for me. On most occasions, the focus of my comments is on our students, their lives and frequently the challenges we face together as a system of educators dedicated and committed to our kids. Embedded throughout is the narrative that we are Northerners and we live in the best part of Ontario, Canada for that matter; because we do. And that’s not even considering the fishing! This time though, this is about our staff. I am not worried that we will forget our students, and don’t feel I need to remind people we are here for them. That part is now embedded and accepted as natural when you even mention the KPDSB. However, our staff (or at times like these MY Staff) it is only proper to acknowledge it has been a tough year. Even personally for my own family, it has been tough.

I think of many of you and your families, that in addition to the formidable challenges you face in your classrooms, you also face them at home. I referenced Shelley Sabeski, and wrote of her 3 years ago. Shelley was an EA at Evergreen in Kenora. She passed away in January. I also think of Kelly Sutton, an EA for us in Dryden, who lost her husband suddenly this past year. I think of our folks these past few years who have given of themselves, only to face their own scary reality. I recall that my first actual decision as Director of Education five years ago, was to authorize the use of the gymnasium of Beaver Brae Secondary School as the only facility in Kenora to manage the funeral of Shane Butts, husband, to BBSS Principal Tracey Benoit and friend of mine, simply because of the sheer size of the turnout. I remember how profoundly sad I was then at that time. But I also consider Kristen King, teacher at QEDHS in Sioux Lookout and whose condition following March Break this year could best be described as grave…and look at today and what can only be described as her miracle!!

But here is the thing…I assure you this not about sadness and despair, but resilience and resolve. Our colleagues and friends in Red Lake are themselves dealing with the loss of one of their own. Last week, with her close friend Michelle Parrish alongside me, I went to visit Cathy Parsons (teacher from Golden Learning Center) at her home. I first met Cathy about a decade ago, when she came to the Board and was teaching at Ear Falls Public School. About seven years ago she was diagnosed with cancer, and honestly, over these past number of years, she has been in and out of remission and recovery that I think I lost count. However, the last while things turned. Last week I went to see her and as I have too many times before with other students and staff, came to say good-bye. As I sat on the couch holding her hand with her last week I asked her if there was anything I could do, or we could do for her…knowing damn well there was nothing. She looked at me and said this: “Tell people not to give up on me Sean; tell people to not ever give up. I haven’t and I won’t.”

When we are tired and when we are feeling completely fatigued or consumed with the challenges we face; or when we feel we can’t rally ourselves to bring our best to our schools each day…please think of Cathy’s comments to me. Don’t give up, don’t quit, finish strong, and tell yourself that we are very fortunate in spite of the challenges we face. As Director, I know you are tired and we still have a month to go. Listen to the words of “I Lived” and make the most of your days, and tell yourself you are going to do it all. This post is about you, our colleagues and staff, the engine that makes this machine of Keewatin Patricia run.

Enjoy your long weekend, make memories on the water, at home in the yard, or at the spring feasts, with friends and family. Honour Cathy’s last comments by not giving up, and never giving up; Cathy passed away the day before last. We have much, much to be proud of, to celebrate, and feel privileged about. I find her comments not sad but motivating and inspirational; and if she was not willing to quit, we certainly shouldn’t either:)

And when you come back, the final home stretch will be upon us! Take care,