Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

We have one week to go, before the annual and affectionately known time we call that “long winter’s nap” arrives. I have heard two things consistently from staff over the past few weeks: one, how quickly time has flown by since we returned to school in August and two, how people are looking forward to the Christmas recess. Not to be confused with being unhappy and forlorn, what staff are telling me is that they are tired; very happy and supportive, but still tired.

My response to that?  You should be tired; we are engaged in the hardest work we have been in, here in the KPDSB. We have many, many challenges with our kids and their families. We are engaged in cutting-edge learning and we have challenged each other and ourselves to be leading the learning process. And it’s tough, true grit and very difficult work. The needs of the KPDSB are immense, and they require an all-out effort, so when people tell me they are tired and ready for a break, I can relate, because I feel the same way. However, in sharing this with all of you, I recall myself promising all staff and stakeholders, that I would never ask you to do any heavy lifting that I was not prepared to do myself, and I remain passionately committed to that.

Now, having said this, I have one really important question to ask you: have you ever been to Savant Lake, more specifically Savant Lake Public School? If you haven’t you are missing out on one of the true gems of the KPDSB!! At the end of the stretch of highway, known as the Marchington Road, and a little south on Highway 599, you come to a several-room school house that is home to three teachers, and 17 little souls who attend school at Savant Lake PS each day and night. Why do I share this with you? I suppose for a couple of reasons. First, I am going there on Tuesday of next week to attend their annual Christmas concert, to be followed by a street hockey game outside between myself (and staff) , and then a community Christmas dinner. Aside from my lacking hockey skills, I am excited about going and can’t wait!  The second thing though I want to tell you is that every time I have gone to Savant Lake, the kids are always, always smiling and happy! They are the same kids that you will see smiling in a sleigh in the Board’s Christmas card that will be sent out next week to all….and make no mistake they are smiling. They are simply happy to be there.

Aleea, Irene, and Larissa, the three teachers that call SLPS their home, make these kids feel extraordinary!  They are extraordinary staff doing extraordinary things with their kids, and as a result, these children, who to some might seem to not have a whole lot of worldly possessions, have something even better and more powerful, they have teachers who care about them, very deeply. So to Aleea, Irene, and Larissa (and of course Chris and Lis) Merry Christmas and enjoy your well-deserved break, you truly put kids first.

One extension to this conversation, please see the picture below that I took yesterday outside the Ministry of Education’s infamous “Mowat Block” head office in Toronto.

Jump Start

I was there yesterday meeting with Ministry officials and a couple of the Assistant Deputy Ministers discussing (again) the QEDHS file, and the unique needs of the KPDSB, and asking them once more for consideration to help us across the system. If you take a close look at the picture you will see a large Canadian Tire trailer unit, with staff from the program “Jump Start” unloading its hold of toys. They were bringing the toys into the foyer at the Mowat Block for a publicity event and toy drive promoting toys and Christmas for kids.

I want to share with all of you, that last night Scott Urquhart (Student Success  Leader) and I met with representatives from the Jump Start Initiative to begin partnering with them and Canadian Tire to bring the program to the KPDSB. The program is about reengaging kids in activities, athletics and involvement, to get moving again, and to get energized. I look forward to sharing more with all of you about this in the weeks and months ahead, but we will make the lives of our kids and staff extraordinary, as I said in the video earlier this fall. And we will start in Savant Lake.

Before I close this edition of my thoughts (blog), I want to add one further comment about the toys, Jump Start, the kids in Savant Lake who are like many of the kids in every one of our schools; they all count on us, they count on you. As I walked down Bay Street yesterday after my meeting, and noted the feeling of Christmas in the air, it was very clear to me that there are many in our world who have much and enhanced privilege. But as my good friend and colleague Chantal Moore said to me a couple of weeks back, “there are so many in our communities, who have so little.”  She is right, but what our kids have in our communities, that no one can pick up off of any shelf, is they have us, and we have each other in the KPDSB, and you will never be able to put a value on that.

I am so proud of this organization, that I am not able to appropriately articulate in words, and couldn’t do my feelings justice. I am proud of my staff, and proud of my students, and I am extremely proud of all of you.

From my family to all of yours, happy holidays and enjoy that long winter’s nap that you all so very much deserve.

See you in 2014!!



Recent Events In The KPDSB: Red Lake

Hi Everyone,

In my recent conversation with the Ministry of Education’s Assistant Deputy Minister Gabriel Sekaly regarding our work on the QEDHS file, he stopped in the middle of the topic at hand and asked me: “How are you guys doing up there anyways?” Normally such a question would be simply a courtesy being extended to us, from a Ministry official checking in with us northerners. In this case, the somber tone and inflection really spoke of the folks that work far away from us, and how they really see us as being a unique setting. Gabriel was asking about how the Red Lake area was managing in the light of the recent Bearskin Airlines crash that occurred last Sunday night between that little stretch of highway between Balmertown and Cochenour. He had seen the news story on CBC’s The National a few days before.

When my phone started to ring at home on that Sunday night, from the principals in the Red Lake area, initially the call sounded like this: “Our lights flickered for a second, and then that was it. But we’re hearing a Bearskin flight has crashed and knocked out power.” My first thought was one of instant panic that we had staff or kids on board, or extended families. While by fate’s hand we did not have staff on that flight, we did have family members, a mother and a grandmother on board, coming home. We had students affected, and we most definitely had staff affected. The exceptional staff at Red Lake District High School, where one of the students who was directly affected attended, suggested that from their crisis events’ experiences, which have gone from being in the infancy stage to the experienced stage (and very quickly), they wanted to try and manage this surreal incident in-house, and they did. They pulled together, they supported one another, and while there are unquestionably difficult days ahead, they did just that; they got through it. On Saturday, the staff and students of RLDHS hosted and facilitated a community funeral in their gymnasium that approached 700 people. Last Friday, when I met with the families and family members of those whose lives were lost in the crash, I was caught off guard by the closing comment of husband and widower of one of the deceased; he said to me as I got up to leave his house “Take care of my son Sean, keep an eye on him.” His son attends Grade 12 and will graduate next spring, and while I know personally the family members involved, I won’t have direct day-to-day interaction with his son. I assured his Dad I will check in on him, on my travels. More importantly though, is not my limited involvement, but the daily involvement and support the staff in Red Lake will have.

As I drove home with Joan on Friday afternoon, I found myself drifting off and thinking of what it means to be a staff working in our schools, every day. What it means to live and breathe all the time, the experiences of our kids, their families, and their communities. If you work in any of our schools, your life often is intertwined with the events and lives of the communities in which we call home; regardless if you have immigrated to the North, or whether you have called it “home” from early on. Unfortunately, tragedy, while not exclusive to the North, often impacts us on a greater scale simply because we know one another. We celebrate the good with each other, and we support each other through the lows. Red Lake, your colleagues around the Board and the region again, are thinking of you and ready to support you in any way we can.

As we move forward together, with a feeling of change in the air, I feel it important to draw simple attention to the fact that one of my long-term goals is to reinforce the belief that we are all family, and that we are all in the greater work of closing significant deficits of our kids together. Meeting head on the challenges of the North’s needs and our kids, will remain one of the biggest efforts we have seen. Feeling like we’re all in together from you to me, is what it is going to take, and when we need to stop and smell the roses and check on our colleagues in other communities to make sure they’re OK, then that is what we do. I also promise you that as I continue to write these notes (Sheena calls them Blogs!), I will remain committed to the essence of us being Northerners and being proud of it!

Take care, and talk soon,


New KPDSB Media Campaign: Continuing to Celebrate Our Staff

Hi Everyone!

As I write this edition of the Director’s Journal (Blog I suppose!), I am actually reminded of a couple of things that characterize and define part of what it means to work in the KPDSB! It is early November, there are a few flakes falling to the ground, meaning that really we are on borrowed time, and one of the first road closure on our highways has occurred. My plans for early this morning were to leave my house, and begin the drive to Savant Lake, then onto Pickle Lake, but not before stopping at QEDHS to visit the folks there first. Many of us travel these highways all the time, and while my messaging and priority remains committed to reducing time out of schools, time off the roads, and time away from meetings, this morning’s trip was to be my final school visits for round one of this year. Unfortunately, fourteen tractor trailer units collided and piled up on the highway between Kenora and Vermilion Bay closing travel down for about 12 hours! Why I am sharing this little anecdote; how often do we travel our roads living in the Northwest, for personal, family, recreational, and work related reasons? As my wife Cecilia reminded me this morning “do people from Southern Ontario, really understand where we live, and what we have to do, to get around?” Good question; I wonder myself sometimes.

You may or may not have heard some of the recent radio messages across the airwaves lately that are on behalf of the KPDSB. We typically do some promotion and radio advertisements for matters such as kindergarten registration, open houses, or special wishes such as “Merry Christmas”. What is new this year, and what I have asked Sheena (our communications assistant) to help me with, and for many of you to help with, is for our grass roots staff to do these ads for us now! Before, we would have a generic radio voice bring messages to the public; however, in keeping with my commitment to celebrating and recognizing our school staff and front-line personnel, I will be having Sheena contact many of you to do the ads for us. For example, last week, we brought wishes and a message of being safe at Halloween. This week we have Remembrance Day ads running.  The next two weeks will involve ads celebrating National Child Day and National Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Why is this important? The messages are important to be sure in themselves; what is more important is that we have exceptionally real people who are making lives of others extraordinary! I want us to showcase real staff, with real narratives representing the organization. The entire system can expect this approach to continue and to gather momentum as we go forward. To those that have already recorded announcements on our behalf, thank you!

The strength of our system is reinforced by the efforts and on the backs of our staff, we can never forget this. As always, I welcome and encourage staff to call or email me at any time, to express concerns or ask of me questions, my office is always open.

The highway just opened, Savant Lake and Pickle Lake, here I come!!

Take care,


2013-14 School Year Well Underway!

Can you believe that we are now into our fourth week of school already, and that the second half of September is here!!??? For some of us we acknowledge dates in our calendars in different ways; for myself the middle of September is marked by the opening of bird season and the closure of trout season which is really to suggest that the new school year is well underway and that we are in full swing.  I’ve managed to visit half of our schools at this point; I have made a goal for myself to visit the remaining schools and staffs by the end of the month.

Clearly, the first few weeks of the new school year have been marked by a sense of enthusiasm and renewed energy for not only our kids but our staff as well. The impact of our new video “Kids Come First”, that features KPDSB staff and students, was shown at the start of the school year.  It has exceeded even my own hopes in reinforcing that everyone in the system truly is part of a bigger Board effort. I have received many, many comments and thoughts following the video but above all else I do believe it has caused us all to articulate what it is the KPDSB stands for, and what we stand for is kids. The consensus is that we are on the cusp of something big, and I couldn’t agree more!

It would be presumptuous on my part to suggest that there weren’t some challenges early on too, in some cases. But like the professionals our staff are, we continue to meet and address these one by one. Open Roads Public School in Dryden continues to surge with new students coming in on a daily basis. Valleyview Public School in Kenora has exceeded expectations now running three full-day kindergarten classes including the Board’s first French immersion program. And at Ear Falls Public School, the numbers continue to suggest historic levels, with kindergarten showing to be a tremendous success story. At this time looking out our enrollment the board has actually increased its students and we hope that is a trend that continues.

My message to the system at this point is that with every new beginning there comes a level of excitement and energy. I’ve often found that the challenge isn’t in the initiating of a new time or era; but rather in sustaining the momentum and energy and transferring that to the true grit of hard work. The KPDSB continues to lead in many different ways and is continued to be looked at as a leader; not just locally but provincially. Our new FASD classes at Sioux Mountain Public School in Sioux Lookout and Open Roads Public School in Dryden are classic examples of the Board’s continued leadership.

However we also know that we are faced with tough challenges. We have too many students that come to us not at level of readiness that we would hope them to be. This is not their doing.

We also know that our staff and schools continue to deal with a variety of unique situations that are unknown to other boards. We have tough days ahead and we will need all of us working together to achieve where we need to go.  This includes not only our staff but also our students’ families and our community partners. There is no question that for us to meet the needs of all of our students and be the “hope” that many of our families want us to be, we will have to work together, all going in the same direction of putting kids first.

I also want to thank all of the staff that have emailed me or called me personally. I appreciate the personal connection and encourage staff and am grateful that so many of you took the time to connect. Please feel free to continue to do that.

I look forward to visiting the schools I haven’t been to yet and look forward to talking and meeting with you very soon, all the best.



Welcome Back!

We welcome back all of our students, their families, our staff, community elders, and of course our very important partners! Living in what I believe to be the best part of the greatest country in the world, I hope that you and your families were able to enjoy the outdoors whether it was on Lac Seul, Wabigoon Lake, Lake of the Woods, Agimac, or even Lake St. Joseph! Living in Northwestern Ontario is by its very nature, a defining characteristic of who we are as northerners. With that in mind, it also represents the uniqueness of living in the north and is representative of the distinct challenges and aspirations we collectively have.

As we prepare for a new year in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, change is all around us. We enter the year with new leadership, renewed optimism for our kids, and hope in our communities that regardless of where you live, or what school your child attends, all have opportunities to learn. We reiterate our position that the field is leveled for all who entrust our staff with making lives extraordinary. It is the reason that the KPDSB has established its first Board Vision Statement this year:

“All Stakeholders create a culture of learning so that students come first.”

I ask you to consider this statement and the profound stance we are taking in KPDSB; everyone who is part of our organization, be they teachers, education assistants, board staff, parents, administration, and of course kids…is part of a living, learning organization that supports each other’s aspirations. We are also, simply, a system that puts kids first above all else. We believe that we represent hope for so many children and their families, and it is a responsibility that we take very seriously, and our commitment to kids is unwavering.

I also want to take this opportunity to support our staff, acknowledging them for the extraordinary effort they put forth every day, for the sake of kids. You are game- changers for our students, and without you their belief in themselves and their abilities might not be as apparent. As we approach a new beginning together, I encourage you to take risks, be innovative, support one and other, and above all else always put kids first.

The Trustees of the KPDSB and myself as Director wish all who are returning to school, and those who are new to us, the very best of years, filled with promise, hope and optimism! I look forward to seeing many of you on my travels very soon!