We Begin Anew and Begin Again

Welcome Back to all Staff, Students and their Families, and to our Friends!

I also am pleased to say “Welcome” in general for a first introduction to new staff, including 34 teachers beginning their careers either as they start their first permanent hire or long-term assignment with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. I wish our new staff embarking out on their new career paths, a successful and rewarding career. And of course, I say “Thank You” to our staff who have worked throughout the summer to ensure that our schools are staffed, are ready and clean, and well-resourced. Of particular note, I want to thank on all of our collective behalf, our custodians and maintenance staff in having our facilities ready for you today, and for our kids tomorrow! Do not be afraid to hug a custodian near you this morning at your staff meeting!! Thank you to everyone as we take the annual giant step forward and get this year moving into high-gear. As I say this, I also must express my sincere wishes for what I hope was a restful and rejuvenating summer. It was a beautiful one for sure; or as I would prefer to term it “a good old-fashioned Northwestern Ontario sunset-filled summer”.

I certainly have some thoughts and predictions for the year ahead, and will share those in a minute, but before I do…it is with sadness and a heavy heart that I acknowledge the loss of two of our own during the Summer of 2018. First, George Seaton, Trustee from Pickle Lake for over four decades passed away with his wife Phyllis and family by his side in July. For anyone who has ever been to a Board meeting, you will know George; a stickler for policy development and revision, and sharp as tack…when you were talking with George you needed to be prepared because most assuredly he was! Losing George is more than a loss for us in Keewatin-Patricia, it is a loss for us in the North and for Northern Children. I know we at the Board level will miss him, and I know for myself, I will miss his dry humour and remarks at the expense of politicians, even myself. George, we will miss you.

Losing someone as we well know in KPDSB is challenging and sad, but sometimes it is not unexpected. Losing Aleea Smith this summer, under the circumstances that they were, is unspeakably catastrophic and even as I write this now, hard to believe or accept. Aleea, a teacher with KPDSB for the past eight years, worked tirelessly to support her beloved kids at Savant Lake Public School. She was also a member of the Efficacy Working group. Aleea passed away suddenly and without warning only several weeks ago. She was in the eyes of many, a rising star and was on a trajectory to be a system leader in the future. She leaves behind her little boy, her baby girl and husband Dave. I know that I speak for many when we simply are at a loss when thinking of her passing; life is not fair and it is most definitely unpredictable. I will not even attempt to normalize or rationalize Aleea’s passing, there is nothing normal about it, nor is there anything one could say to make it feel easier to accept. It is important though to acknowledge both Aleea and George, right at the outset of this Back to School Message to all of you; they deserve that.

This morning with staff colleagues around watching alongside you, we will pay tribute and honour both Aleea and George and their lives and impact. As you do, I hope you will also indulge the first characters in this year’s “2018 Kids Come First Video: Thank You Keewatin Patricia”; they are not destined for Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and might be more at home on the water surrounded by our lakes and fresh air, than on camera. Although you might say to the more senior actor, “don’t give up your day job!” And trust me, I don’t plan on it!

As we begin this new school year 2018 – 2019, there are as in most years, anticipated changes on the horizon. Some of this we have already experienced; a new provincial government most certainly will make this year a different one than previous years. We also will have school board elections this October and I can assuredly share that this election too will see changes at our school board level. We will have a new Board of Trustees, and as a result as well as planning, we will begin the process of a new Board Strategic Plan knowing the current one will expire with this Board as it exists today. But for you, most of whom work in schools with kids, it is my hope that these changes are buffered from you allowing you to focus on your classrooms, your students, your colleagues, and yourselves.

Meaning, please take care of you, yourself first; by doing so you will be better able to take care of those around you and who you serve day in and day out. I am pleased to share that we will continue the Daily Physical Activity (DPA) pilot again this year, into its third year. However, as I shared with all of the Principals, Vice-Principals, and Managers last week, we are not ready to make it embedded into a permanent fixture of KPDSB. Last year, we had about 85% of staff sign the pledge to commit to 30 minutes a day of physical activity and make their own wellness a priority. Doing so, enables you to take a DPA Lieu Day; but you must sign the pledge. This year, I would like to see this number of staff participation well in excess of 90%. I believe we all want to make our health, and wellness a priority, so let’s do it!

2018-2019 will be as I suggested a year ago to you at this time, a “Year of Celebration”. We will have much to share and to celebrate across this system; achievements, accomplishments, and completion of projects long dreamed of; but in sharing that it is important to equally add, 2018-2019 will also be a “Year of Impact”. It will be a year that the Senior Administration team demonstrates what coherence and synergy are by our actions. It will be a year where our staff is able to see the real and genuine extent of what an Efficacy Agenda has done for all of us, and after five full years of change and restructuring, Keewatin-Patricia can look back upon with satisfaction, and I hope validation. As shared most sincerely in this morning’s video, “Thank you, I am grateful.”

Initially I had planned on sharing other observations with you this first day as we start this new year together; however, have made the conscious decision to nix them. This decision being 100% influenced by what I can only describe as an inspirational, and humbling Summer Institute Day of Learning, focused on “Technology”, last week. Last Wednesday in Dryden with over 100 staff and administration and members of the IT Department, on their own time, I was able to be one of many learners…and learn, we did. First, Jennifer Harrison (Ear Falls PS fame) made it clear to me that we as a system are nothing if anything without amazing front-line staff working for kids and motivating them to do more, be better, encouraging them to see value in their lives. I saw people whom admittedly, I have had limited interactions with share their own learning with colleagues from across the district, some never having met one and other until that day.

I suppose though what it did (at least for me) more than anything, and on the eve of a new school year, was it reinforced that we are all part of a learning organization that can sometimes become distracted with the minutiae and trivial matters on any given day. But even more importantly, and to be very candid and sincere…it served notice of the importance of seeing the best in people, their strengths. Not perceived irritants or annoyances; you know, those things that we can get hung up on. It is important particularly when we are tired or worn down at certain periods of the year when we find ourselves, perhaps a bit cranky or short with others. And I’m not just talking about our students, but our own kids, families, our colleagues, and those around us. Let’s try hard, and commit that we always find the effort to look for the best in our people and ourselves as we begin this new year. And as we do, remind ourselves that our own learning is never-ending; we just need to be open to it!

I wish you well and look forward to seeing you soon on my district travels, and as always encourage you to reach out to me when you need to.

Take care, Miiweh