Welcome Back!

More than probably many of us want to admit, we commonly do not adhere to our own sage advice, which we willingly share with others around us and generally with the best of intentions. Such as it was for myself just before the Spring Break, (that proverbial marker on the school-year calendar that indicates spring is here in spite of the predictable last winter storm we should expect to see yet) telling many of our colleagues to make sure they took some downtime, did not check their emails, and rested both their heads and their bodies for the week. While I wanted staff to make sure they felt it was “OK” to shut down for a week knowing that we all need to be told that sometimes, I didn’t necessarily realize I was having difficulty adhering to my own advice.

…Realizing this though myself only after I had left town for the week and in my own search of some sun, warmth, and abundant good reading (a favorite activity of mine which seems to be only found in duration during weekends, extended breaks and in summer). But after landing last Saturday at our destination, it became obvious just how tired I was, only wanting to lie outside in the sun, and sleep, and sleep I did…right, until Sunday night. Lesson for myself: “heed your advice and recognize when you may have over-extended your own-self”. I wonder how many of us tell those we work with to make sure they take care of themselves, make some time for relaxation, but ultimately forget ourselves in the equation? My guess is too many of us. Whatever you did for March Break, or wherever you were or who you spent time with…my sincere hope was that you were able to make sure that taking time for yourself meant lying down with a book and reading, or maybe even just lying down in the middle of an afternoon for a nap, and not feeling guilty about it. It takes work sometimes to learn “how” to relax, doesn’t it??!

I debated whether I would send a blog post out just before the Break or wait until immediately after, and chose the latter simply because I felt a bit of a kick-start to begin the season of spring might be a good idea. I also recognize that it has continued to be incredibly busy and right across the system, in every one of our schools, and offices. Post-March Break also is a good time to take stock of where we are in the course of the year, knowing that with only three months of the year remaining, we now head into the final quarter. If there was any signal needed making it obvious that our winter is ending, it only needs be looking at longer days, and melted lawns.

This time of year though is also a good reminder that our work never stops and our Break gives us a great opportunity for a pit-stop, knowing that the next few months will require our renewed energy and strength. At the last Senior Administration meeting we had prior to the March Break, as we began to tackle the last remaining aspects of staffing and the budget for next year, I commented at the meeting’s start, that I needed “everyone’s best” to get through the difficult thinking and decisions that lay ahead, and we needed to make the decisions that day, after pondering them for months. In this request of everyone’s best at the table, was the implicit message that the system and everyone in it needs the Senior team’s best, because we in turn need all of our school staffs’ best on a daily basis. Why? Because ultimately, our students and their families need our collective best, they deserve that; and the responsibility we have to ensure we give our kids the very best is not only one of greatest importance, it also has a level of urgency too.

Every time I meet with a staff or group, or visit a school, I feel the need to make sure the yard-sticks have moved forward or further down the field. Progress needs to continue to be made. A great recent example was the Trustee Strategic Planning Retreat that we held about a month ago over the course of a weekend in Dryden. In attendance were the trustees and myself, and on the agenda was a review of the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, our goals, our Vision, and the future for KPDSB. At its conclusion, I felt empowered and renewed as the Board has indicated that our goals need some revising and change. They need to reflect that the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has changed and continues to change. Your Teacher/Staff Efficacy Reps in each school will be bringing these recommended changes to you, or already have for your input now, before bringing back once more to the Board for final review and adoption. These recommended changes reflect that it is 2016, and that we are Board on the move, and that our future is growing!

The last few months have also signaled that we continue to work closer and closer with NAN, officially known as the Nishnawbe-Aski-Nation; a legal governing body representing 49 first nations and approximately 45,000 people including roughly a quarter of this number being students and children. I have been working behind the scenes very aggressively with our own folks and their representatives including Federal (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada: INAC) and Provincial officials from EDU to bring the long reach of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board further into all areas of Northern Ontario. There will be much to share in the months and year ahead as we continue to move the yardsticks further on this front as well, and you can be sure that your Efficacy rep again, and admin will keep you posted. I suspect some of this work over the past year is one reason there may have been a feeling of “fatigue” at the start of the March Break, although it took the Break to realize it for me.

In the schools, we now draw to a close the longest uninterrupted period of time, that span between January and March, and begin the spring season where more activities are focused outdoors and not-so-much indoors, and with it a reminder of what it is like to be from Northern Ontario. And speaking of Northern Ontario, we have been receiving messaging from the Ministry (EDU), that while we should expect the annual Grants for Student Needs (GSN’s) 2016-17 funding later this month, we also will begin to see the impact of our work and advocacy for Northern Children, all Northern Children. With this in mind, Special Education remains a top priority as it should be, and I want to assure all of our staff, especially those who work with our most needy and vulnerable children, that our protection of “Spec Ed” will be fierce, and resolved. We simply will not accept additional funding reductions on the Special Education envelope that in turn means less for our kids. If we cross paths in schools over the next few months, please be encouraged to ask me what I mean about this and why it is so important; because as I said earlier about needing everyone’s best and their advocacy, nowhere more important than in Special Education is this evident.

Finally, before I wrap up this post, I also want to draw direct attention to the ongoing and pressing matter of bringing everyone to a consistent student data application system, the “one-stop” shop program that our staff have been asking for and more than that, a decision on the “En Compass/Markbook/Students Achieve” file. By the end of the month a decision will be made, in finality, and a dedicated plan for implementation and support looking ahead to the Fall of 2016, and throughout the entire year will be put in place for you. I have heard loud and clear feedback from staff that a decision needs to be made and I have committed us to making this decision before the end of this month. So please be on the lookout for that. 

Not having been a person historically who necessarily used to enjoy the heat and warmer climes, the ideal March Break for me was ice fishing on the south side of some island on a nameless Northwestern Ontario lake, and always definitely off the grid (Don’t get me wrong, I certainly still love doing all of that!) As time goes on though, the heat appeals more and more to me, being close to water always will as does fishing, and admittedly…so does being off the grid actually too. A week ago this very Monday morning, I realized just how tired I was as my two new best friends (Captain Doddy and First-Mate Jose) took me within a mile of the north coast of Venezuala, fishing for yellow-fin tuna and wahoo. I say tired because after 5 hours of deep sea fishing in 30 foot waves, and constantly reeling, I was ready to go in and lie down! I also realized that while we all work very hard, and often over-extend ourselves without realizing it, life is definitely too short to not take time for ourselves and those things that make us appreciate having what we have, and being able to enjoy each day. I know that the staff of Sioux Mountain Public School will especially appreciate this, having just lost suddenly one of their own recently in Jennifer Fenelon, a young education assistant who has gone too soon and not able to experience more of what life can share, and us back in return. Jenn’s sudden passing while impacting a school that has had its share of attention and challenge over time, should serve to all of us as yet another reminder, of why it is so important to make the most out of our days, for ourselves, our families, and definitely our kids.

Welcome Back! I look forward to seeing all of you soon. (And please see below, “Caught at Vermilion Bay Lodge”, at least that’s what my shirt says, my two best friends Doddy and Jose and a 35 pound yellow fin tuna!)

Sean Monteith

Sean

Extraordinary People Remembered

Good Friday Afternoon, Everyone

I recognize that receiving a Friday afternoon blog post from me breaks with my normal practice, but I have decided I want to send it today and not Monday morning; I believe you will understand.

Working in an organization that is made up almost exclusively of people, who work for and with people, can often be among the most rewarding and gratifying experiences a human being can have. Memories created, moments of inspiring success stories witnessed, and incredible friendships built.

However, on this last point, the legacy of building friendships and relationships can at certain moments….also be the most heart breaking. Tracy Morwood, Grade 1 Teacher at Valleyview Public School in Kenora passed away last evening, of cancer. Her cancer was so fast and came on so aggressively that I actually cannot ever think of an occasion where a person was attacked so viciously with this cursed disease. Tracy also taught at King George and Lakewood Public Schools; she was forty something and she leaves behind a devastated son Elliot, and husband Grant. I had my chance to say goodbye to Tracy on Tuesday afternoon before I went to the Board meeting, and grateful I did, because I would not have been given another chance. Interestingly enough, while she was so medicated for pain, she still had her wits about her and was able to coherently know what was happening. She looked at me as I gave her a hug and she said to me “You came to say good bye, Sean”; it wasn’t a question but rather a statement.

I have had many thoughts about what I might say, but as your colleague and an educator myself, I can tell you I have been through my share and then some, of tragedies. And it never gets easier; or do I not experience heart-break myself. In that way, I suppose writing this blog post is somewhat therapeutic for me, admittedly.

Our whole system is comprised of and made great by individuals who make the lives of others extraordinary, especially children. It also is made great by unmatched influences of human beings on each other. It also, I think, explains why we cry at graduations when someone we really don’t know crosses the stage and looks like the have beaten the odds; it’s why we go home at night distraught over whether the kids in front of us each day are going to be safe when they leave….or even if they will return to class on Monday morning? And it also is why we cry when we lose someone, someone who is part of our family. When we lose someone like Tracy Morwood.

This past week I was in Toronto with the trustees for an annual event of the Ontario Public School Boards Association symposium. I also managed to get away twice while there to go to the Ministry of Education’s Queen’s Park offices. I had some unfinished Special Education funding and capital planning business to attend to and that needed to be addressed. While away I was presented a really unique opportunity, but when I looked at my beloved Keewatin-Patricia, what was glaringly obvious was that the greatest and most amazing opportunities are right here at home! People have bought into the KPDSB vision of “Kids First”, they have bought into Efficacy and advocacy, they have bought into each other and they have determined that the future for us has never ever been brighter and more hopeful. To my staff particularly in Kenora, please remember this last point; there is cause for optimism and even in the difficult days ahead…the sun will most certainly shine again😊!!

Recent events in the Board have risen our profile and our presence in the region and province. Our administration is pleased, our parents and communities are pleased, our trustees are pleased…..(and wait for it!) I am proud, very proud. This unusual Friday afternoon blog post will be different than the others, not just because of its timing, but also because of what initiated it, the loss of one of our own and the collective hurt we feel as a system.

The days are getting longer, certainly warmer, and reassuringly brighter! And during the night skies, well, there now will be a bit of added brightness as a new star has joined the ranks. And all of us who knew her, are the better for it.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Sean

“Off the charts…”, “Hit it out of the park…” or how about “lights out!….”

Good Morning!!!   If you are required by job description, your role within the Board, or maybe just having had one on one conversations with me on school visits…these quirky little sayings above, are what one staff member told me recently that she called “Sean-isms”. I certainly hope she meant it in an endearing sense, because upon consideration, she was absolutely right! These are things I say all the time; and depending on the environment might actually say them all in one day! (Can you imagine Susanne and Caryl’s reaction when I make such statements??!!) Regardless of the metaphorical language, all three together could be used to describe the efforts over the next few days and weeks about the coming energy to promote the Board, our staff, our schools, and the most important consideration of all…the needs of Northern Children.

I will explain in a minute, but the agenda that has been established for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and in service to the Strategic Goals of this organization, is to grow the Board, make it strong and assertive, creatively develop progressive and innovative programs, set high expectations for ourselves and certainly kids…and ultimately give this organization the presence and the respect it (and all those who are employees and supporters) rightly deserve. If you are still confused about the euphuisms’ above that’s OK, I regularly confuse those around me by my frequent Sean-isms…but as a helper, recall last October when Jose Bautista hit his infamous homerun for the Toronto Blue Jays to essentially knock out the Texas Rangers of the playoffs. I bet when he went up to bat that infamous game now, he wasn’t telling himself with 60,000 people watching at the Rogers Center “I am going to try and swing the bat and make some contact.” No! I think he told himself, “We need to win the game, we need to win it now because we’re losing and on the verge of getting beat out of the playoffs, and I’m going to hit it out of the park!!!” And what came next will go down in the annals of Blue Jays’ history as the famous “bat flip” because he did exactly as wanted and needed to do. And the team won the series.

And so will we…

By the time you receive this and hopefully read it, Peter Mansbridge of CBC National fame will have been on the radio several times doing interviews with regional broadcaster Q 104, speaking to and celebrating the Keewatin Patricia District School Board. He will also be promoting a major segment on The National to be aired Monday night a story about the Board, specifically its Hockey Academies in several of our communities, and you will see a few of our own highlighted and interviewed. But the story is not about hockey, it is about kids and the fact that kids are coming to school, they are attending, they are doing better in school, they are graduating (as Dave Tresoor, BBSS, will tell the country), they feel good about themselves and getting healthier (as Steve Dumonski, QEDHS, will proudly share)…and everyone who tunes in will see the KPDSB celebrated on a national scale. Prior to the story air, CBC will also put on its website nationally, the KPDSB story and a promotional video that gives registration information and contact numbers.

Earlier in the day on Monday, every attendance area in the Board with more than one school will have all of the area schools’ information, and innovative student-focused programs and staff promoted house by house, street by street sharing where and how families can consider and learn about out programs and staff. And of course how to become part of the KPDSB family. Over the next weeks, you will hear your colleagues sharing stories on the radio airwaves the successes students have in KPDSB schools, and why this Board truly is in a league of its own, exemplary in its efforts and ultimately attaining that lofty but realistic goal of putting kids first in every conversation we have and every decision we make or need to make. In some communities, you will be hearing about KPDSB symposiums that focus on all programs but particularly celebrate our Kindergarten classrooms and teams. You will hear about Explore and Fine Arts at Open Roads Public School, and French Immersion and Hockey Academy at New Prospect Public School.

In Red Lake you will hear about the aggressive expansion of the Academy Program concept and will see your principals facilitating the planning of the Hockey Academy concept in all of our schools there. I can tell you that already Scott Urquhart has made contact and established the framework for the Jump Start/Canadian Tire folks to come into the Red Lake Area en masse for next year. While in Dryden, I can share that I have asked and met with vice-principal Brad Bartlett (Dryden High School) and asked him over the next 6 weeks to coordinate and construct a very aggressive Dryden-Area schools strategy that promotes and strengthens our enrolment there.

And perhaps equally exciting for me, will be the re-engagement of the Teacher Efficacy Working Group, where they will be charged with taking some incredibly enhanced system responsibilities as staff, and now get us all to that place where we can say we have “flattened the organization”. After three years into my role as Director, and after several months of job-action oriented static….we are moving on to that place where can look upon our beloved KPDSB and say, we are an organization that is growing, getting stronger, never resting on our laurels and satisfied that the job is done, and always believing we can get better and improve. And in doing all this, keep our kids at the center of our attention! You can’t see me right now (lucky for you!) but if you could, the sense of pride would be obvious. Share that pride, because it is well-earned and hard-fought for, but we have done what we set out to do.

This Blog is perhaps a bit different because it is about the pending celebrations of the Board, and highlighting our work, all of us, regardless of what school and office you work in. I am attaching a couple of links below for all to share about encouraging families and new parents to register their children in our kindergarten programs, please click on them (and make Sheena very happy!!).

Later this morning, I will be meeting all the Vice-Principals and Principals and laying out more of the Efficacy journey and “The Keewatin Patrcia Agenda” looking ahead. I have updates from my meetings in recent days with the Minister of Education and the Nishnaabe Aski Nation (NAN); and also progress on Adult Education across the district as we step up our efforts to engage a “Kindergarten to Diploma” strategy. Lots to talk about for sure, but for now…revel in the days ahead in the glow that is about set on all of you as KPDSB staff and supporters.

Earlier this week, I met and had a conversation with Dave McLeod, our first Director of Education out of the Red Lake area, and the man who hired me years ago. Even with Dave now being retired for about 14 years, he commented to me, he feels the pride in the Board as he sits back and gets to watch us evolve! That comment really made me proud, and made me feel like I am part of something special in our Board. We have had amazing leaders in our Keewatin Patricia District School Board, but I have to tell you all, I really feel that we are entering our glory years, and I would not want to be anywhere else!!!

Have a great day, reach out and email or call anytime.

And always take care,

Sean

2015 in Review – A Year for the Books and Perspective

2015 Christmas Card

Good Morning, Everyone!

It is that proverbial “last day before the Holiday Break”, and while every year there is likely comments made (including my own) about all of us deserving a recess and downtime, if there was ever a year in recent memory to express it, “Christmas 2015” is the year to say it with emphasis. We, not just you, but all of us…have made it. I have to tell all of you, it is hard sometimes to come up with an original or compelling start to a post or entry, when people are expecting it, and you want your entire system to know that you mean it with sincerity.

Thank you to all of you for working through the difficulties of the past few months, thank you for protecting relationships as best as possible, and thank you for embracing the fundamental tenets of “Efficacy” and Putting Kids First, amidst challenging circumstances. I want to single out some people as well, and knowing that by doing so I open myself to criticism for not acknowledging others: I want to thank Jocelyn Bullock, my Manager of Human Resources who represented the Board at the bargaining table with every bargaining unit and with her respective teams; thank you to my Superintendent of Business Dean Carrie who has worked incredibly hard on overseeing the new high school project in Sioux Lookout behind the scenes and has managed this file balancing the demands of students, community, staff, and the Ministry of Education (and yes mine!). Thank you needs to go out to others like Dave Tresoor who has steered the KPDSB Hockey Academy onto a stage that many of us, including myself, are in awe of. I want to thank staff like Erin Boyko (Lillian Berg PS), Patti Chisolm (Beaver Brae SS), Alison Allen (Open Roads PS), Michelle Parrish (Golden Learning Center) just to name a few who continue to exemplify everything that this organization strives to be and is good. Thank you for Putting Kids First. And with thank you in mind, I would be remiss if I neglected to also thank both Louise Gale (Valleyview PS) and Sandy Martone (Red Lake DHS) for their years of service to the Board and to children in their different capacities; we wish you well in the future with new beginnings! I could go on and on, and to those who I may have left out, your turn will come!

I find it rather difficult to summarize in a page what I want to say to all of you as we end 2015, and look back pensively on the last 12 months; it is most definitely impossible actually. Our enrolment is up and growing, the Board engaged on many levels an adoption of a “kindergarten to diploma” philosophy that is not only challenging traditional education, it is rewriting it through incredibly innovative and unprecedented programs; and I assure you we are getting noticed, everywhere. Schools are surging, new staff have been hired at elementary in unprecedented numbers, our Board marketing and profiling machine firing on all cylinders. I recall from a recent staff meeting at Evergreen Public School a few weeks ago with Joan, experienced and very respected teacher Lori Rasmussen commented to me “There is pride in the Board, that I didn’t know would be there, and one that for many wondered if it ever would be.” I am heartened by Lori’s comments because they are sincere, honest and reflect a belief that teacher and staff voice matters…it is Efficacy.

Whether it be kindergarten, FNMI Grad Coaching, work in FASD, Adult Education, staff leadership, strong school administration, hockey academy, French Immersion, or experiential learning opportunities, we are doing it; we are changing the organization, and as I said last night to my Executive Committee of Trustees, if you’re not proud of the KPDSB, you should be! We have had many historical successes over the years, and we also have had many hard lessons, but one prediction I want to make to everyone who is invested in this organization…I assure you, our finest hour is coming and not far away.

We also continue to battle many serious challenges, and while I was in recent days bemoaning the fact that my wallet was “borrowed” on a trip north to a couple of our communities by someone who has yet to return it; I was reminded (and humbled) by the fact Thursday that as I attended the Parents At Secondary School (PASS) Christmas Luncheon, we have many in our communities who have very real and serious challenges. PASS is the alternative learning program at BBSS that Sherry King teaches and works mostly with young teen moms, including one who had her baby less than two weeks ago. Principal Tracey Benoit and I gave the young moms gift cards for groceries, baby items, and clothes so that for a few moments this holiday season they could feel value in their own lives and feel good about themselves. It doesn’t matter how or why they had babies while in high school, what matters is that they did; and there are now two human beings that we as system work to support. It made the theft of my wallet this week seem puny by comparison and was a good reminder on keeping things in perspective.

I have enjoyed immensely the efforts, the victories and yes, even the serious challenges I have faced in my first three years as Director of Education; but mostly I have been inspired by the system and those that work every day in it, to further the aspirations of kids. I am grateful to you and for the opportunity to serve you as staff; and as I approach 2016, will take some time over the next couple of weeks to recharge my own batteries because we have some serious imminent campaigns coming. Which leads me to give some predictions for 2016 in Keewatin-Patricia:

I predict that Special Education funding and the battle to address it appropriately that meets the needs of the students and staff in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board will take on a new level and with a new sense of urgency, likely not seen before.

I predict that the Hockey Canada hockey academies currently in Dryden, Sioux Lookout, and Kenora will expand to Red Lake and Ear Falls, and possibly even Ignace.

I predict that we will formally break ground with the beginning of the construction of our new high school in Sioux Lookout, and with it the engagement of students and staff of a process about what they want to call their new high school.

I predict that the KPDSB will become the leader in the province in an unprecedented relationship with the Northern First Nations Chiefs and communities, that will bring us, provincial and federal parties together in an unmatched way to ensure that both children and adults can learn and graduate.

I predict that early in 2016, a national news broadcaster will do a feature story on the KPDSB for the country to see (wink wink….there are always irons in the fire and cards close to our chests, when it comes to promoting our Board!)

I predict that early in 2016, the Trustees of the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board will meet with me over a weekend to re-open and revisit our 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, when we are only in the third year of a five year plan, with an eye to determining if things have changed so much, that our goals need to be reviewed and revamped now, and not in two years.

And finally…I predict that the three years of Efficacy that have allowed me to visit every one of your schools and to speak of and share with all staff, will be eventually be turned over to a team of teacher representatives by June, who will work with several school administration and make recommendations on “change and reform” to the Senior Administration, as opposed to the other way around, on a regular basis!

I am grateful that as we end 2015, I have my health and the health of those closest to me and around me; and with that in mind, on behalf of my family both personal and professional, wish you the absolute very best of holidays and a hopeful new year in 2016!

Take care,

Sean

 

 

 

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Get Busy Living…

I think most of you would agree and find it hard to believe that over the past number of weeks, since we started up our classrooms and schools, the leaves have now fallen, the days noticeably cooler and  nights bordering on cold, Thanksgiving has since passed, we have a new Prime Minister and federal government, and we are almost half way through the first semester and terms. Of course high school football continues as both Dryden High School and Beaver Brae Secondary football teams have put together spectacularly successful seasons; and that rivalry I mentioned earlier this fall has the potential to climax with a playoff head-to-head showdown….here’s hoping!

And speaking of sports, while the 2015 season of the Blue Jays made most Canadians fans again; it reminded me of how the excitement of competition and rallying for your team can bring people together. As a little boy, I dreamed of being Darryl Sittler, wearing #27 for my Maple Leafs, switching to wanting to be Bobby Orr and “Number 4”, sometimes going to bed with my jersey on, or even in earlier days wearing Toronto Maple Leafs Pajamas to bed (that long ago, YES!!!). Last week I have to admit, there was one night, where the day ended and finding myself imagining that I was Jose Bautista hitting a homerun 440 feet over the left-field wall of the Rogers Center; not sure if other men in their 40’s were imagining the same thing, but watching the Jays was proving to be a wonderful and healthy distraction! And one night, as I understand it, the bargaining teams of the Board and one of our unions actually met together in the lobby of a local establishment and watched Bautista hit that famous shot together, putting aside even if for only a few moments, the realities of the day!

I know the past two months have been difficult for a number of you, with much uncertainty around labour; confusion about “what should I do, or what I am not supposed to do?”. Those kinds of questions that have become regrettably too frequent in our day to day actions and conversations. I suspect many of you may have wondered whether I would speak to the ongoing provincial labour difficulties? Those that know me well, would expect nothing less and so I will speak to this head on and quickly. I admit I share the frustration that many of you do as well. The fact that school boards at the local level, with relationships built over years, and with the majority of the “issues” provincial in nature, continue to be the grounds where action is playing out is incredibly frustrating. I have expressed this frustration to our provincial leaders and have commented recently, that while I expect certain behaviors from some groups, I absolutely expect leadership from the Government…and that candidly has been missing and absent from the picture. When good people at the local level are left to fend for themselves, it is hard not be angry, I admit that as well. Do I have an opinion on this? Absolutely! But as I said earlier this week to one of our newspapers, it will remain my opinion; however, and my attentions focused on keeping the system running, schools safe for our students and all staff, and continued confidence from our communities and parents.

Which brings me to my next important point I want touch on; the confidence that has been instilled and for some re-instilled, across the entire organization. We released a media release last week solely dedicated to our enrolment picture which is incredibly bright! One of my goals as Director was to apply unprecedented promotion and marketing muscle to the KPDSB and to all of our schools. However, marketing doesn’t amount to much when you don’t have innovative programs, talented staff and exceptional schools. Our enrolment has increased more than it ever has in one year, in the Board’s entire history. We have had to hire more teaching and ECE staff, and we have been able to expand more programs and bring more new opportunities to our kids and those that work with them everyday! And I am very, very pleased. No more true is this statement on increased enrolment than in Kenora, Sioux Lookout, and Dryden. Thank you to my staff and administration, and thank you to Sheena for getting the message out!!

Sioux Lookout has been particularly pleasing as we have been able to sign more than 110 students to our Hockey Canada hockey academy program…at Sioux Mountain Public School alone!!! This is even more impressive when you consider that hockey is not the real story, but rather that we have already determined in the first two months of school, students in the academy program have reduced their absences by 2/3 in comparison to previous years and their classmates. We are looking at how subject areas such as mathematics might be positively impacted, taught after the actual on-ice program, and hoping that with increased stimulation, that proverbial challenge known as “numbers, fractions, and problem solving” might be improved! We also are excited that after months of drawings, applications for rezoning and amendments to by-laws, and approvals from our Ministry of Education friends….the fencing will go up and the trucks will start to roll onto our new high school site in Sioux Lookout today! Next week, before the actual site preparation begins, we will meet on the site with the Chief and elders of the Lac Seul First Nation and ask for a blessing and good wishes for the building of a brand new high school, and with it the promise and hope of so many students, their parents and for some, their home communities.

It is important to note, that in spite of the challenges we face at present, we continue to experience spectacular achievements and improvements. We continue to be reminded that our purpose is built around kids and built on the backs of my school staffs and administration, and that we remain an exemplary organization with a determined and dogged resolve to be better. As I stated in a message I wrote for the upcoming OFSAA Volleyball Championship program (being held at BBSS) later this month, if you want “to be champions, then you have to play and act like champions.” Similarly, for all of us in the Board, if we want to be a board that punches above its weight and be the best….that is precisely what we need to be. We are close to realizing this dream, and will be successful, but only when we accept that our common interests are getting better and improving.

Recently, I was in one of our schools when a staff member that I have known for some time was complaining about the weather, which turned to complaining about the Government, and then her kids, then her school administration, and ultimately her colleagues. I asked her what all of these things had in common? She didn’t know, until I asked her, were all of these people that bad? Was everything around her that negative? There was a common denominator here, and it had absolutely nothing to do with all of these other people, but rather it had to do with the person unhappy about them. In my favorite movie of all time “The Shawshank Redemption” the character known as Red and played by Morgan Freeman, upon being released from prison after 40 years of being behind bars and grappling with how to cope in the new world considers his choice: the choice to live and enjoy life and be happy, or to take his own life because life just simply isn’t worth living.

His comment is one that I will always remember and often tell myself and those closest to me have heard me say many times: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Recall why you went into the profession in the first place, and reflect on how happy many people are when they exit, after a long and memorable career. Make a choice and accept the fact there are simply conditions that swirl and exist that are out of our realm of control and that is just the way it is. It is also something that I ask all of you to consider after reading this, this morning that there are some people who are just simply not happy, and there is not much you can do about it. How sad and unfortunate for them; but you get to make your own independent choice of how you approach each day. And of course there will always be a tiny handful who are only happy with conflict, disagreement, and thrive on its existence. I save my opinion for that very minuscule minority for a later date and another time, which as I said to the newspaper reporter yesterday, remains my opinion.

I believe that the next time I post a blog, the waters will have calmed and the wheels begun to be put back on the tracks; because as Red said in the memorable clip…we have a choice and we can get busy getting on with our lives and those things that make us smile.

I look forward to seeing all of you, who I have not yet met this year since we started, very soon.

Take care,

Sean

Welcome Back!

It Is Monday, August 31st, Good Morning, and Welcome Back!

As I understand it, in a number of our communities and schools, we also have a new staff, in a few cases many new staff…and so to you just joining the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board this fall, I say “Welcome Home!” To everyone, I am glad you are back, and I am grateful in advance that you return to school with the enthusiasm and invigoration that only the turning of leaves and cooler September nights can bring. I make this comment because in education, September and all that it brings means school and youth have returned (unless your Geoff Zilkans and Chris Penner from DHS and BBSS respectively, where it means football season too; looking forward to a renewed rivalry this year gentlemen!).

I have had some challenges penning this first 2015-2016 blog, partly because it means the end of summer (although I wouldn’t count out some hot days just yet; seems to be the new normal), I also know that for many of you it is hard to tell where the past few months have gone; I would concur with you. The weather impacted July and August, but having said all of that, I really hope that you, those closest to you and your friends, and your colleagues, made the most of your days and took in some well-deserved downtime. I also, like many of you, have wondered what the start of September might look like for us in public education in Ontario given where we were in June. I will freely admit, that even as recent as four weeks ago, I was not feeling as optimistic as I am now, that school, kids, their families, and of course our staff and your families would be looking at an uninterrupted start-up. I am feeling buoyed by recent events and agreements and with the knowledge of where and how things are progressing in that place we call Toronto, am confident that the turbulence of the past year is well behind us. Of course, there will be a very few who continue to desire acrimony and disruption over stability, collegiality and cooperation. On the cusp of a new year I would gently and respectfully ask everyone “what cause did you have for entering into this profession in the first place?” Joining an organization that so stridently puts kids first, you can feel confident that answering this question with the same views puts you in lock-step with the overwhelming majority, and is what distinguishes the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board.

For those of you returning to schools, you will shortly meet your staff colleagues and be introduced to new staff this morning with your school principal, and you will watch the new Board video “Kids Come First”. As you listen to one of my favorite bands, Lady Antebellum, please take note of the words, apply them to yourself, look at the faces of our students and those who make their lives extraordinary; and make a commitment to yourself and every student who comes through your doors, that any and every time a comment or statement is made that compromises the goals of this organization, the most important being that we are here for kids, your kids, my kids, our kids…you make a stance and ask that person why they went into education. I ask you to advocate for our students, all students regardless of social background, culture and language, family history and special needs. Every student that comes to us every day, regardless of how good or how poor their lives at this moment may be… is a human being. And they come to us with the dreams that by going to school and completing their education with us, they can open doors to a life of opportunities. For some, finishing education means interrupting a cycle of poverty and dependence. Throughout the year, through the sunny days of fall, the cold mornings of January and February, and the spring thaws of April and May….please remember these things, and remind yourself of what we stand for, and what you as an agent of the Board stand for.

I also have wanted to draw attention in this post to what can only be described as the rise and resurgence of the KPDSB, something that we have worked incredibly hard at, and will continue to doggedly pursue over the months and years ahead; or as I have recently messaged to my Senior Administration and school administration: “as long as it takes.” We have created a blended learning platform across the system to support all of our students and schools, most particularly Red Lake District High School so that students there can have the same course offerings as any student elsewhere. We have introduced more Graduation Coaches at our high schools to support students who may have felt completing school and graduating was only a far away dream. Joan Kantola has worked tirelessly to recoup our special education funding losses and introduce an attendance center in Kenora, an innovative Section 23 partnership at Red Lake-Madsen Public School, as well as more specialized central staff supports for our most vulnerable and needy kids. With that in mind, I would be remiss if I did not share that everyone should expect me to talk about Special Education all year, every chance we get, and you should be prepared to hear a sense of advocacy that could be considered relentless.

We have brought Hockey Canada certified Hockey Academy programs to Dryden with acknowledgements to Bill Reid and Randy Allen; to Kenora with thanks you to Dave Tresoor and Brooks Meija; and to Sioux Lookout (where over 100 students have already registered!) on the strength of Steve Dumonski and Jason McMillan. We also have made capital improvements to many of our schools giving them a new roof, a new face or new rooms as in the case of Evergreen Public School where there is not only a new parking lot for staff and families, but a new fully constructed daycare in Partnership with Firefly. To my friends and colleagues at Beaver Brae, I would also add with a bit of an admitted grin, that the infamous “rocks” out front, are also now gone, and gone forever.

I suppose as you read my musings, you can see why I have had a bit of a hard time landing a precise and specific theme for my first blog, there is simply too much to talk about and no shortage of pride to share with it! To my new KPDSB colleagues, you are joining a first class, progressive and exemplary organization that lives and breathes what public education means and represents. To the majority of our staff, returning this fall or continuing to work out of our Board offices, we will continue on our journey of “Efficacy and Change.”

When we will stop the changes and measures of reform?? The easy answer from me to you is: when the job is done.

And we can say that when all of our students and their families have equitable opportunity AND outcomes.

2015-2016 will mark some significant milestones and achievements for us, and I invite all of you to join in. But as you embark on this new year, I want to share these three philosophical principles that we in KPDSB stand for every day: Kids, Learning, and Leading. It really boils down to that; your principal will be articulating for you what these three things mean and represent in the weeks and months ahead. For thousands of our students, they represent one thing more than anything, they represent hope. And you are the conduit to that end.

Before I close, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the entire Maintenance and Custodial staff across the system who have worked tirelessly these past two months to ensure that our classrooms, hallways and grounds are sparkling and spot on. Thank you to every one of you that has worked when there was no one around this summer, stripping and waxing floors, washing desks, and polishing gymnasiums; thank you to all of you from all of us who are about to return to schools. Tomorrow, the sound of laughter and giggling from kids, maybe even a few tears from those who send their 4 year olds to school for the first time, and bells going off…will mark a new beginning, and with it the dreams and aspirations of so many.

As always, please email or call; and I look very forward to seeing you all soon.

Best Wishes!

Sean

Suddenly, It’s Summer

It is the last day for us officially of the 2014-2015 year; did it fly by at pace that makes you feel today like it was a blur??!

It could be questionable whether many of you will have time to read a final year-end post with graduations, final marks, awards ceremonies, school year-end celebrations (and rightful celebrations) with your colleagues and students today. If you do, perhaps you will end reading this submission with a feeling of reflection, validation in many ways, and gratification in many more. You also might end this week, a bit wore out, tired and in some cases even exhausted; people who work hard, have high expectations and give of themselves tirelessly, in my experience commonly do feel that way.

If you are like me, you are looking forward to summer. And…from me to all of you, regardless of where you are, what school or office you work in, and role you have…you deserve it. It is summer, and it has come with the annual anticipation and expectation that the warm months in our beloved Northwestern Ontario bring. After you read this, or maybe while reading this, I want you to go on to YouTube Music, and look up a song that always, always reminds me of the summer times. Yes, it is from the “80’s” (go figure), but you will likely have heard before the song by The Motels “Suddenly Last Summer”; listen to it and think about what the downtime of summer can bring to you and do for you. (Hint: I didn’t realize until my oldest son pointed out to me that it is also the theme song for “Breaking Bad”, so you may have to look it up under that heading!!) As you listen to it, I hope that it brings a pensive melancholy feeling about summer, and not last summer, but the one you are about to begin!

However and at this moment, I know from talking to many of you personally in recent weeks and from your emails to me, you are looking for commentary about where are in the KPDSB, what we have achieved, how hard some of the work has been; in essence about the year that has passed…and with that what we collectively together and I personally hope for looking ahead. As I write this, I have just completed my final visit to Crolancia elementary and secondary school in Pickle Lake after a very full day of meeting with the students and staff and its principal Darryl Tinney. My visit with Darryl was quite interesting, as he spent most of the day talking with me about plans for enhancing more programs and ideas for his students. It was made more interesting because I sat with the new SERT Nerina Facca who shared with me a file of a new student to Pickle Lake with significant needs, and listening to her detail what programs and assessments the boy will require when we come back in September. Still other teachers were talking about unique summer programs, and even more talked about how they were going to supervise a Canadian Ranger canoe trip for students. I was tired leaving, listening to them all. “But wait a minute…aren’t you tired and ready for a holiday, it’s June??!” The response was that they will enjoy and have a great summer, but they are in it for kids, and while it can be painstakingly difficult work, it is work worth doing nonetheless, and as Kayla Blakney indicated to me “It doesn’t feel like work anyways!”

It has been a very significant year in the evolution of the KPDSB, as it grows and matures, and continues to assert itself and its presence across a vast region known as Northwestern Ontario. Yes we were visited by the highest ranking officials in the Ministry this year several times, we opened several new programs and student-focused learning environments like: the Meno Ya Win classrooms in Sioux Lookout, the cultural room at Sioux Mountain Public School, the new Board Office in Kenora, the new rubberized track and field at Dryden High School, the new Confederation College campus in Red Lake District High School, and new kindergarten and special education wings at Valleyview Public School and King George VI Public School. We initiated more hockey academy programs, we expanded French immersion into Dryden, we expanded our adult education programming with Seven Generations to have the largest graduating class of adults in our history, and we watched the growth and success of the Graduation Coach model at our secondary schools. We did lots.

We also, had to face very real challenges and as I write this, I want to share with the entire system, from me to you, that I am good with where we are at as we end 2014-15. We addressed head-on longstanding and very thorny issues of recruitment of students in Kenora, we asserted ourselves and our schools when others might have attempted to publicly detract from us, and the entire staff of this organization responded in a way that some of us in administration have not seen before. In Kenora, we did not avoid a NorWOSSA issue that had some attempt to denigrate the organization, and when my administration and staff of Beaver Brae Secondary School became the front lines of a very necessary conversation and action, they were supported by every single secondary school in this system. All of our secondary principals rallied behind Clinton Bruetsch, who in his last year, did not take a path of least resistance, but took the most difficult and silent path, and we persevered.

The KPDSB System Efficacy Review allowed us to challenge ways of thinking and ways of doing business if we could not demonstrate how actions and decisions did not put kids first. Sure, there were times where these decisions were not received well by some, but tough decisions seldom are in my experience when they need to be made; and anything worth doing is arguably not easy. We challenged the status quo, and empowered a collection of teachers to become a “teacher-advocate” group as Teacher Efficacy representatives advising and working with me personally to help us get better. And they have done that, and I am extremely pleased.

As we look ahead there is unquestionably uncertainty around the political environment, provincial teacher and government bargaining, and how that will impact us. I do believe it will impact us; and there will be some who feel it is a perfect opportunity to step backwards into an adversarial time of confrontation. This Senior Administration and this organization will not do that. We value our staff, we know each other and we know the commitment our people give not only to their schools, their students, and communities but to the profession and public education. As I said last month and several times over the region’s radio stations this past week in year-end interviews, the dust will settle and we will come back, and when we do….we will be welcoming and very happy to return!

As I look forward to the next couple of months myself, I do so on the heels of having watched our own son, our oldest, Aoedan graduate last night from Beaver Brae with over a hundred of his colleagues. It is a particularly interesting and circumspect event as a parent to watch your own child cross the stage at the end of high school, when the only other times you have been part of graduations have been as a teacher and principal. Having the chance and experience to be simply a Dad, and not as a Director or Superintendent or even principal, really does provide you with the moment to realize just how important educators, teachers, assistants and principals are in the lives of our kids. I look forward to seeing Tracey Bichon, COOP teacher from Beaver Brae on this last day of school to thank her for the impact she had, as did many others, on our son. She made the difference, and as we say in the athletic world…she made it happen for Aoedan. Thank You.

As I sign off, a couple of things to close with. First, Antero, that 80 year old father in law of mine is home, and while sore and somewhat more nimble than before, he is upright, walking and giving directions to his son-in-law about what are weeds in the garden and what are flowers. I tend to be more indiscriminate when I weed gardens and pull everything out, but hey, he is there is to give orders, and we are all thankful he is.

I also want to tell you that there a few things I hope for this summer, that include of all you in my thoughts. First, I hope the weather is hot and the ice machines stay working! I hope that our friends Shelley and Dave Sabeski will be able to make it out to camp for a pontoon boat ride and fish fry. I hope that the many of you who are on the road this summer travel safe, and are as aware of the “other guy” driving in the other lane as you are of yourself. I also hope that those of you sending your kids off to school in August whether it be college or university, do so with the reflection you have done a good job. I really hope you catch up on some sleep after the past 10 months of tireless work in the service of kids, but don’t sleep the whole summer! I hope that the books you read are for pleasure and not Ministry memos (wait that’s my wish!!), and that your fishing lines are always tight. And lastly, I hope that you remember that the KPDSB is your home and when the day comes to return to your classrooms and schools, and offices, we will most assuredly, be very, very pleased to welcome you back!

Have an absolutely fantastic and restful (and safe) summer.

Your colleague,

Sean