Kids: April Blog

While I saved this post under the file name “Kids: April Blog” you’ll have to forgive me if I send it out while it’s still March; avoiding the references to the April Fool, or at least hoping to!

I also hope that whatever you did for the March Break, it brought you and your family some level of rest and rejuvenation; the solid block of time between January 1st and the March Break in our world of education always for me, marks the single greatest period of uninterrupted intensive work in our schools and for staff. I suppose that with the limited daylight and cold, it also brings added challenge. But we are entering spring, then Easter, soon to be followed by ice-out,  and of course “Opening Weekend” that many of you mark on your calendars, and onwards!

But timing is everything, and how quickly time flies, ever-amazing to me. Is it just me or do you find that time seems to move faster each year? I mention this because you will remember last year, on this very date (or April 1st to be a exact), that we endured a most severe winter storm that we had had in recent memory, as Mother Nature played an annual spring trick on us. It also marked the first time, we had to shut the entire organization down on account of weather, and cruelly was the date, that we had to reschedule our announcement for the new high school in Sioux Lookout. I recall thinking to myself “Really, we have waited so long to make this announcement and celebrate, and now we have to postpone because of a freak winter storm??!!” But in hindsight, and perhaps with a more pensive perspective, I accepted that we had waited years for this achievement, what was two more days?

It has already been a year since that time. As I write this today, Dean Carrie, our Business Superintendent and Caryl Hron are in Sioux Lookout, sharing with the staff of Queen Elizabeth District High School, the layout for their new high school, and next week I will meet with the Mayor and Council of Sioux Lookout to discuss the required future steps as we prepare for site readiness and municipal planning. My point is we continue to move forward and we continue to roll along, and we are making progress.

In my role as Director, one of the greatest aspects of this responsibility and privilege is that I get to visit all of our schools, meeting staff and talking with students, our kids. I know this will not surprise many of you, as I have frequently shared my experiences in schools. Lately though, I have been able to meet some pretty extraordinary kids from across the system, who not only are a pleasure to be around, but represent a certain innocence and oblivion to a reality that many of us adults find ourselves in. And ironically, for many kids an innocence influenced by necessarily dealing with many adult and very real challenges. For example, if you have not seen the 2014 Director’s Annual Report (and I am not suggesting you take up a lot of time reading through it), it is an annual report card if you will, on what we have done to date. However, I mention this though because this year’s report on its cover, represents what it is I am talking about. Please take a look: the little girl on the cover, whose name is Lilly and is from Ignace Public School, represents a visual that is worth more than ten thousand words. It reminds me of a picture that about ten years ago was a cover for National Geographic, of an young Afghan girl who possessed such piercing blue eyes, it represented the most popular cover for the magazine in its history. Little Lilly to me is our own KPDSB version of that cover, on our own Board report; please take a look.  Click here to view our annual report.

However, and there is a reason why I am sharing this with all of you; Lilly’s life looks very different I would suggest than many of our own, at times humble in its simplicity but undoubtedly impacted by life’s events that are so frequently beyond the control of many of our students. I won’t share Lilly’s last name or specifics of her circumstances, but upon reflection this thought came home to roost for me these past few days. I have just wrapped up two days of Public Council of Directors of Education meetings in Toronto. “CODE” as we are otherwise referred to, is a collection of all 31 public directors of education from across the province, and generally our meetings are held behind closed doors and in private. On Thursday and Friday we assembled together as all of the Grants for Students Needs (GSN’s) were announced and rolled out, one after another for the entire morning. With looking at budget cuts, provincial framework formulas impacting certain areas like Special Education, staffing or enrolment, there was much angst and concern in the room given that we have been bracing for a provincial reduction of somewhere between 1 and 2%.

Everything is relative. And as your Director, I am concerned; we have tough days ahead, and we will be required to make tough decisions, and in saying this I share with you, that my own belief is that we neither seek nor avoid our challenges. We deal with them, and we will. We have worked very diligently and very hard as a Senior Team to bring a staffing and budget process forward that mitigates any potential financial challenges, but most importantly does not adversely impact our kids. I have spent the past two days, looking at my Special Education budget, the impact on funding, and how we need to manage the challenges and present stalwart support for our most vulnerable and needy? As I write this, I look at the needs of Northwestern Ontario, all of our schools, and when we get right down to it, my own sense of ownership over all of our schools, staff, and students. And I often think, how did a guy who was going to be a math and physical education teacher end up with considerations like the ones we need to face?

And then I think back to Lilly, who is only 6 years old. Lilly and I have agreed to become electronic pen pals via the help of Ignace principal Chantal Moore. Little Lilly’s concerns aren’t GSN funding announcements, cuts to budget lines in Special Education, or enrolment declines at secondary schools; in fact Lilly I would argue is oblivious to these matters, as she should be. In our recent email exchange, she shares with me she has a dog and that her dog’s name is Sally, that she likes to spend time playing Minecraft on weekends, and then the times she goes outside for bike rides. She asked me last week to send a picture of my puppy, “Atticus Finch”, the 7 pound Pomeranian that calls us home because we both share an affinity for animals. There is an attempt at a message here, and it is this: our responsibility to all of the “Lilly’s” out there across the KPDSB is uncompromising. She needs to be a little girl, who while not able to articulate her expectations of us as adults in the school board, she also needs to know that we will not fail her or any of our kids, including yours and mine. “Kids First” is going to take on whole enhanced perspective in the future, because putting kids first means everyone else comes second. And those who put themselves on the line for kids need our support, unequivocally; I look at new teachers particularly and staff who have recently signed up to be part of the KPDSB team, and they will need our help. Their careers are just beginning, ready to empower and be empowered.

And so back to my initial comments about how quickly time flies and where many staff might be at themselves, professionally and personally. With time passing, and in our careers, also enters or exits (depending on how you look upon it) phases or chapters in our lives. For many staff, this time of the year serves as a ponderance about whether retirement and entry into a new way of living is what is next, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, we have new hires simply wondering if they will have a job next year. I have received a number of letters of retirement in the past two weeks, and have wondered what thinking must go through one’s head when making such a decision? With the pressures around us, and knowing that staffing is under incredible pressures this year particularly, I worry about how staffing will affect our newest teachers and staff; recalling my own personal experiences years ago at the time of amalgamation and my own levels of anxiety then. Thinking of this specifically, I encourage any staff who wish to have a conversation with me about their future plans as staff in the KPDSB to email or call me, for my perspective and when asked, my thoughts. Do not hesitate.

In closing, and in reference to my last blog: it generated a considerable amount of response and replies from many staff (and as I am learning from many that read it, who are not staff of the organization; a fact that surprised me, somewhat disbelieving people would give up time to read the musings of a guy who writes what he is thinking and feeling). Certainly, the video and the story of one of our was one that hit home for many, as was the idea that we live for each day, and accept it with the approach that it will be our best. Apparently hearing of my son, Aoedan’s first “vehicular mishap” also resonated as many of you shared personal stories of similar experiences with your own teenagers! I have to quickly add though that when Aoedan came home he promptly informed me that he had “heard a rumour” of my sharing his event with people “I work with” from a friend of his, and suggesting with a level of incredulity that I would never do such a thing. The mortification on his face as he read the blog for the first time, probably reflected my own upon my coming to scene of his inclined vehicle that memorable day back in January! Interesting though, as we talked about him growing up into adulthood, his younger brother Tristan thought it would be a great time to inform the table he had some “good news” to share himself; that being he had decided he is going to live at home until he was probably “30 or 40”; of course with his own “family and dog” he was looking to acquire. He wanted to make my day by disclosing his decision, and that he would financially support it by rotating occupations between being a “professional hunter” and logger (like his grandfather), with maybe a moonlighting job of playing professional hockey…..Coincidentally the next morning Joan indicated to me she was noticing that I was starting to grey a little more on the one side of my head than the other; thanks Joan. I think it might the same side that Joan tends to sit on as well, so maybe there is a connection???

This post is meant to be about kids, their reality in their classrooms, schools, families…..in their lives frankly; and the trust they put in us as adults to protect their interests and needs as children attending KPDSB schools. So as we now enter the season that we use to finalize preparations for next year, the premise about Kids Coming First, will mean everything, and it is a stance that I, and I know all of you take extremely seriously.

Welcome spring and all that is has to offer, and as always, anytime, email or call me.

Sean

Advertisements

Leadership in Times of Challenge and Controversy

Good morning everyone,

I thought it would be a good time to send the first blog post of 2015 as we begin the last week of January, which for many of you that know me well, is the longest month of the year (in my opinion). Both for duration of calendar days, but also because the days typically in the north are shorter of daylight, colder, and harder on many people than we might think or admit to ourselves at times. But this last week of January also represents a bit of a hump; that we have made it through potentially the coldest month of the year, days becoming longer, the end of first semester at secondary and the beginning of the report “card-itis” syndrome that becomes a part of the elementary reality as well.

Over the past few months the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has been involved in several very significant, and not-for-the-faint-of-heart situations, that needed both addressing and firm resolve to take them on, and to bring them to forward. These challenges have not been matters suddenly appearing out of nowhere, but rather simmering for years. While not alone in the sense that the recent NorWOSSA sanctions involved all of our secondary schools and athletic departments, they most directly put the community of Kenora and our six schools in the area in the direct spotlight, and under intense scrutiny. It has not been easy for the staff of Evergreen, King George VI, Keewatin, Valleyview, and Sioux Narrows Public Schools; and it certainly has not been without effect for all staff at Beaver Brae Secondary School.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated in1959 that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” While Dr. King referenced man, the symbolism of his comments really are not gender-specific. As you read the next few paragraphs, please consider the power of its meaning. It is relatively easy to lead when times are smooth, the future certain and when struggles or challenges minimal, or even non-existent. However, when adversity shows itself, and tough and difficult events face you every day, (at times unrelenting) how we act, and how we respond is indeed the mark of us in KPDSB.

Events in recent weeks have tested us, as an organization, and some of us personally, as we were forced to respond to statements made in the media and in public forums, unwarranted and as I have termed them “indiscriminately and from the hip”. But those who have challenged us, and attempted to denigrate our staff in the media circles have failed; plain and simple they have failed to diminish the work that staff do every day, in every school, in every one of our communities. I mention this not to raise ire, but rather because over the last few weeks, I have received hundreds of supportive emails and calls from you as staff and community members indicating that our beloved KPDSB is indeed strong, and firm in its unconditional support of each other. And as we enter a new era of reasserting our system, our goals and actions needed to achieve our goals, there is feeling that with staff working together whether it be Sioux Lookout, or Dryden or Kenora, we are absolutely a formidable lot. As a powerful example yesterday, Sunday, January 25th, a Kindergarten Symposium kicking off Kindergarten registration week (and not just in Kenora but in all of our schools) was held and was incredibly successful. Thank you to those staff involved, the Kindergarten teams across the area, and thank you to vice-principal Shannon Bailey (Valleyview PS) for the coordination of such a wide-scale event.

I respectfully call on all staff, elementary and secondary alike, to promote our registration week for Kindergarten programming, in all KP schools. It is in our interests to talk this up and to vigorously advertise in our communities, arenas, grocery stores, restaurants, and social gatherings when the opportunities arise. And why wouldn’t you? Our Kindergarten programming under the leadership of our Kindergarten teachers and Early Childhood Educators together; and with Education Assistants working with our most vulnerable children alongside, create formidable teaching teams anywhere and indisputably. Thank you to all of you from all of us.

However, and back to the point of discussion, the NorWOSSA actions which somewhat centred around events at all of our secondary schools and originally out of Kenora, were as much about taking a stand, taking the high road, and ensuring any who we choose to compete with, abide by and follow the rules established for all us; not just some of us. In the days ahead there will be communication in the media and across our schools through our administration about the work that we, and more importantly you do in every one of our schools, and at the system level. Your administration will be able to share with you the action we have taken at the senior level in regards to students with Special Education, Aboriginal children, NorWOSSA athletics, and done so now at the provincial level, at the Director level, and at the local level. And…I encourage you to talk with your school administrator to have them share with you the details of what has transpired over the last few weeks and recently last week in Toronto, after having apprised them myself on several matters.

The rules of engagement, whether it be in sports or how we treat kids or enrol students, are rules for everyone and one system does not get to opt out of them. In the weeks ahead we will work hard and closely with others to clarify what the rules ares, and that all abide by them. I am proud of the KPDSB secondary administration, and especially proud of the KPDSB Athletic Directors who espouse fairness and competition with development of young people in mind. Thank you to Mike Lalonde and Geoff Zilkans (DHS), Janine Lavoie ( QEDHS), Darrin Bausch (RLDHS), Reg McDonald (BBSS) and George Lotsios (IHS).

I am proud of you, and I am proud of our coaches and our students.

I have been inspired by my staff, in a way that I have had difficulty putting into words, not unusual for me. But our staff are talking about what we are doing, they are talking about it in person, and they are talking about us on social media. They are speaking up about specialty programs like the new Grades 1-8 Hockey Academy Program at Sioux Mountain Public School with Steve Dumonski, or the Aboriginal Mentor Coach effort at Dryden High School with Kieran McMonagle. In short our staff, are speaking up and they are promoting us in an unprecedented way, and what we are seeing is good; it feels very good.

There is much to extrapolate from this blog, as it is about tough leadership and the requiem for making difficult decisions. We have been through a fair bit these last months, but it is over, and we have prevailed; adversity often bringing the best out of people. And now I ask for more out of you: having spoken with so many of you in the first several months about the Efficacy Review, and the impact on staff, we now require the voice of front-line staff. As a result, I am now inviting each school and board office in this organization to submit one person to represent your school and staff to participate in a staff/teacher Efficacy Working Group with me, meeting once a month. I will rely on your voice to help me act on the school and teacher efficacy needs and associated with concrete goals, and I assure you we will meet those goals. Please consider putting your name forward, by speaking with your school principal or vice-principal, and let’s now work together to deliver on needs that impact our school staff, using the Efficacy Review as our guide.

As I prepare to close, I want to share a passage a friend and colleague shared with me earlier this month, as I was responding to media requests that “challenged” our work with Aboriginal children and communities. Ironically, while I had to respond to serious statements about the KPDSB from one member of the Treaty 3 community, others did feel that our work was so valuable that as Director, I received a beautiful sweater jacket as a gift from several First Nation chiefs who did believe our rich history in helping Aboriginal students achieve and better their lives, simply reinforcing our already strong relationships with many Aboriginal and Métis families.

Before I end with this passage, I leave you my regular request, but this time more impassioned and more emphatically, ask questions of myself, or your leaders, and speak up. If you feel you have something to say about the KPDSB, please…..email and reach out to me as I ask of you. February is around the corner!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic” (1910)

Take care, and if I can be of any assistance, please ask,

Sean

October Post – World Teachers’ Day…Everyday

This October Blog, is actually the second version of my monthly post to you, and really represents a complete different effort than the original one I had penned last week which you will not see and will go into my x files. It has been quite a couple of weeks for us in the KPDSB, and for myself somewhat surreal at times; I’ll explain shortly. I went alone to my cabin yesterday for an exceptional day of bird hunting, and even a bit of teasing of potential moose hunting (I saw mine yesterday standing on my own road, looking at me as if to say, better check the calendar, guy!!). But mostly, as I was driving the far-away back roads of pure bush, I was thinking; and as a result threw the first copy of this post out of my mind and started over.

Why? Well….please consider this statement below:

“Within the past month, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has been visited by Ministry staff, including the Assistant Deputy Minister, the Deputy Minister and now the Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario. Our student achievement measures are all up and improving, our culture is strong and inclusive, and we are building a new 30 million dollar high school that we aspire will be a jewel of the north. The Minister will get to see first-hand what many of us in the KPDSB have felt and known for a long time; that our staff and schools are first-class and that all of our efforts to improve the lives of students are nothing short of heroic.”

You will see this comment later today in a media release that will follow this post, shortly. But the statement isn’t about visits of the highest profile Ministry folks to KPDSB, but rather about why they are coming to KPDSB? Yes, Minster of Education Liz Sandals will be arriving later today to visit two of our schools, and have lunch with the Senior Administration and Trustees reps on Tuesday; but what is really important is the “stuff” that goes on in between such visits, like the day-in and day-out work of all us. Three weeks ago, Deputy Minister George Zegarac also came, and I have to think he was quite enamored with us as he spent quite a bit of time with our staff and admin; he also trusted me enough to take him on a northern boat ride aways up a river north of Ear Falls!! But in the end what impressed me the most, was how he, and all of the Ministry staff have been so engaged with what our staff in our schools are doing….every day.

The 5th was World Teacher’s Day, so yesterday was our one day to celebrate teachers; I hope you enjoyed it!! But as I was driving Saturday afternoon looking for grouse, I began to really wonder….shouldn’t everyday for us be “Teacher’s Day”; and shouldn’t it also include EA’s, ECE’s, Admin, and our frontline and office people too? Everyday, we should be proud of who we are and what we do. For myself, I started as a high school math and Phys Ed teacher, never thinking or contemplating going into Administration; not that this is particularly important nor interesting other than my point being….before I consider myself a Director or administrator, I am a teacher, and I am proud of that.

My initial blog post was going to be more about the Efficacy work we continue to do, and about the changes that continue to unfold around us. I planned on mentioning the visit of the Minister, that is worthy of being included as it doesn’t happen everyday. I also was going to talk about it being October already, and use some superlatives that suggested how time flies fast, or something to that effect. And I was going to mention how exciting it is to be in the KPDSB during these times, because frankly it is! I think I was going to end by asking people to enjoy their Thanksgiving long-weekend, and that we have lots to be thankful for, which we do. (Spoiler Alert: I will still end with that!!)

However, I want to finish by commenting on something that happened last week, and that has been bothering me a great deal, to the point that it can be considered one of those things “that keep you up at night”. It was suggested recently in one of our community papers that we should move staff and administration around, out of a particular school (but for all intents and purposes, it could have been any school) because the school’s EQAO results were not at the provincial average. To go further, we were “advised” that we should only focus on numbers, statistics if you will, and judge our staff and administration by those very numbers and measurements. There was no mention of helping students, intervening when they were hurt, putting shoes on their feet when they had none, reaching into our own pockets to find lunch money because many had nothing to eat at school, hugging them tight when there seemed to be no one to hold our kids close after school hours. I could go on but won’t, although I am sure you get the picture. My first reaction was anger. If anything, I would staff my schools with people who put kids first, not measurements or numbers.

But after much thought, most of which was driving alone looking for chickens Saturday afternoon, I began to consider another perspective; that being ignorance. To suggest that our schools and our staff be judged alone on results and statistics, and not on interactions that underscore the basic good of the human condition, deserves not condemnation, but rather pity. Pity and awareness actually, because it serves to tell us that there continues to exist in our communities a mentality that all are the same, and have the same advantages in life. It assumes that every child that comes to us is in the same state and readiness, as opposed to the reality that we have many kids who enter our schools looking for a break, even though many may not be able to articulate anything remotely close to this concept. No, the individual who wrote about us moving people around because EQAO scores weren’t where they felt they “should be”, and then felt compelled to “sing” to the rain about it, will find the opera house a very lonely place to be. However, as I pulled into the cabin Saturday evening after a great afternoon of hunting, I came to the conclusion that there really are people who exist and believe we should judge our schools on standardized results alone. And in accepting that, I also concluded that it isn’t that these same folks don’t just “get it”; but rather they can’t sell it.

We are on the right track with our focus on the whole child, we are the right track when we put kids first, and we are the right track when we put faces to our children and not numbers. We are on the right track because we have stayed the course, and because of it, the Minister and her Deputies have come to call and see what the fuss is all about. These really are heady days for us in KP, and if you are like me, you would not want to be anywhere else! If you are proud of your school and colleagues, you should be; you are working alongside the best!

And yes of course, enjoy Thanksgiving, we have lots to be grateful and thankful for.

Call or email anytime, and take care,

Sean

In Praise of Summer

Good Morning, Everyone!

Have you ever noticed that with the various seasons also come certain or particular monikers and phrases that capture the essence of the changing months? For example, with the changing colours of the leaves comes Fall, or a time for thanksgiving, the start of a new school year and the period that preludes that other season we don’t want to talk about. Spring brings new beginnings with leaves and flowers, vibrancy and life, shorts and t-shirts, and the well-deserved reprieve from winter. And Summer, well summer brings with it sunshine, fishing of course, days on a boat, barbecuing and family holidays. For us in education, summer also means something else, and I will publicly state it…well-earned downtime for educators, and staff alike.

 Folks, summer is here.

 It seems like it was really only a few weeks ago that I was sending out a call for all of us in my first post in August, asking you to embrace the “Kids Come First” stance, as you prepared to watch a new Board video that we had worked on over the summer to kick off the school year at your first staff meeting. And yet, there have been times where the days were long and exhausting, and sunlight was in short supply. In between the bookends of September and June of course have been many school and system achievements and accomplishments. At the classroom level, there have been many achievements of individual student success that I likely don’t even know about; examples of kids reading for the first time independently, understanding that regrouping is actually a skill that can be mastered in long division for a 10 year old, and watching a grade 10 student make lasagna for the first time in their “Foods Class” (and you know what, it was pretty good!). I got to witness JJ Hardy at King George two weeks ago peddle a bike independently for about 10 feet with education assistant Margie Collins watching and supporting him. Not much of a big deal on the surface I suppose except it was a year ago this June that Celia and I visited him in the Children’s ICU ward in Winnipeg thinking it was going to be the last time we would see him. And yet there he was last week peddling away and trying to grab my hand; resiliency on a scale many of us can’t appropriately describe. And I watched as many of you did, life-long friend and colleague Dave Tresoor from BBSS, continuing his waged war on cancer, often reminding me that he knows how this will turn out, with him on top although the journey to winning is often a rough one.

I got to meet a young man by the name of Andrew Edwards, from Hudson who had some interesting challenges this year of his own going through grade 12 at QEDHS, and wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to ride the bus each day without some level of torment. He will graduate Thursday night, top of his class, and then head off to the University of Ottawa where he will start this fall in physics and chemistry; look for Andrew to be your doctor some day. And oh yeah, he attended his first ever dance and prom wearing a tuxedo for the first time, and probably feeling like a million bucks; in other words feeling good about himself and seeing value in his life. Andrew, I am proud of you!

I visited Mel McCready and Violet King’s kindergarten class at Open Roads PS last week and learned that several of the children in the class had lost their parents to suicide and addiction throughout this year, yet the kids still came. Mel asked me, “do you think we could give a value for giving kids a hug and telling them they will be OK?” Not hard to understand why we are all so exhausted at the end of June is it?

Yes, this is narrative of the KPDSB, and every single school and classroom across the system has stories and personalities like the ones I have shared today. At the recent system Efficacy Assessment and Review that concluded last week, the team from Pearson Learning Services commented to me in their private debriefing with myself, that the only word they could use that even approached describing the KPDSB was “Inspiring”.

There have no doubt been times throughout this year where you may have felt overwhelmed, frustrated and even angry with the challenges you faced each day. If you did, then we’re in the same company because I know I have too. But you know what, I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I wouldn’t want to be part of any other organization. Would you? We are the real deal, and we are going to now put all energies forward to become the best. Saying you are the best, means you are the best. As I said to the senior admin team a few weeks back, I want to be the team holding “the Cup” over our heads at the end of the day; I don’t want us to be good enough or second best, I want us to be the best.

As I close for 2013-2014, I want to ask you this: do you know what Dr. Stuart Shankar, Dr. Gideon Koren, Dr. Jean Clinton, Barry Finlay, and the Pearson Efficacy Review Team all have in common?? They all say we are the best chance for our kids and their families, and in many cases we are the difference between life and hope, and tragedy and despondency. As I have said many times, I am proud of our organization, proud of my staff and administration, and am now ready to take a little bit of time to reflect on the year, and prepare to get better, because our students and staff do deserve nothing less than the best.

Let’s enjoy summer, and see you in September,

Sean

“Hope: The Week That Was”

In my favourite movie of all time, “The Shawshank Redemption”, the character known as Red and played by Morgan Freeman is released from prison after spending virtually his entire life behind bars. His re-entry to society is not only difficult, it is overwhelming. When he was imprisoned in the 1940’s, the world was a very different place than the one he walks into over thirty years later; and his transition is predictably difficult. As he contemplates his future and considers his options, the very real decision to take his own life in an effort to escape what he sees as an impossible future, just as other cohorts of his have done previously, looms on both him and the viewer.

He has the option of going to visit fellow ex-con and good friend, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who has migrated to Mexico; but his question is whether life is worth living on the outside. If you have watched the movie, you will recall just as I do, Red’s struggle when he looks at the overhead beam and the rope he is seriously considering using when he assesses life by saying “Get busy living, or get busy dying”; followed by him buying a bus ticket taking him to the US/Mexico border. As he rides the bus he considers the notion of hope….and the future.

This past week, in the KPDSB, could be argued to have been one unlike any other. We postponed a major event Monday in Sioux Lookout on account of weather, which later turned into the storm of the year, resulting in the decision to close all schools and board offices on Tuesday, a decision I might add I do not regret making, followed by Wednesday’s assembly at Queen Elizabeth District High School where we were able to finally announce that we had received the money from the Ministry of Education to build a 30 plus million dollar new high school in Sioux Lookout! If that wasn’t enough we headed over to Valleyview Public School Thursday to have some cake and officially open a newly constructed kindergarten wing with staff, officials, contractors and of course kids taking part. Friday, Dean and I joined our friend and partner Delbert Horton from Seven Generations as the Federal Government announced over 5 million dollars in funding for young people to be trained in the mining industry. Outside the Board, Joan was busy in Toronto on Thursday representing us at the provincial Children’s Mental Health Summit presenting on our work in FASD, while Caryl was meeting officials at the Meno Ya Win Health Access Center in Sioux Lookout to see how our new classes are faring there. Yes, it was quite a week; but aren’t they all? Poor Sheena can’t keep up.

Back to Shawshank; following his decision “to get busy living” Red initiates a conversation about the belief in “hope”, is it a good thing or not?? If you look at us in the KPDSB, I might ask you what does hope mean or represent? I would argue that “hope” is a dangerous thing, for hope represents no boundaries, no restrictions; it is limitless and the possibilities are endless because anything can happen no matter how far out of reach something may seem. Hope means we can dream, we can do more and we can believe that things could always be better…and that maybe just once in a while something amazing can and will happen.

It happened this week at QEDHS, even though I was told back in September our chances were less than one in a million of being approved for a new high school. I was proud to call myself an employee of the KPDSB listening to John and Rhonda McCrae, and Steve Poling who spoke more eloquently than I have ever heard him speak before. I received several hundred emails from staff across the system after the decision was made to close our schools on account of the weather on Tuesday, including a consistent theme from colleagues commenting that they would do anything for the organization because we really do put people first. I watched the kindergarten teams from Valleyview Public School give the privilege of opening the kindergarten wing and cutting the ribbon to the kids themselves, as I did when it was grade 9 students, not adults, who announced the new school in Sioux Lookout. I listened to Barb Van Diest from Ear Falls share with the Leadership group last week what it meant to her to put kids first in a way that brought it home like never before. And I chuckled when I teased first year Grade 3/4 teacher Mitch Kinger in Kenora about his literacy block, knowing that as a first year teacher we can support him to provide literacy instruction to his kids, but his admirable ability to connect with students is really what characterizes his strength. I could go on and on about the stories of the Board that take place every day, and in the process provide hope not only for kids, but inspire us as staff and senior administration too.

If you ever needed an opportunity to hit the reset button, feel good about your work and your place in the KPDSB, last week was about as good a chance as I have ever seen. I hope you are well, feeling buoyed by the sunshine and snow melting; we are coming into the last couple of months of the year, and the energy is good, and the future never so bright! How could you not feel positive??!! If you don’t, drop me a line, because as I was reminded this past week, I have more than enough energy to share!

And speaking of sunshine, QEDHS and Valleyview PS, let us all share in yours, for you and we deserve it. Bring on the sun!!

Sean

End-of-January Note and Kindergarten Registration

Does January feel like the longest month of the year for you?? If it does, you can join the myriad of parents and staff who have told me the very same thing these past couple of weeks. Sure it has 31 days, which by mathematical terms makes it one of the longest months; but when you add that it also represents a period of the year where sunlight is lacking, add the three to four feet of snow we have received in some parts of the Board since January 1st, and that we have had more days than not below -40 degrees with windchill, and even a couple past -50 on a couple of occasions….is it any wonder people have felt that January grinds along?

But here is the thing, and it is worth noting, January ends in two days. The days are in fact getting longer, the warmer weather is coming, the kids will be going outside for breaks, “report card-itis” is almost done, and we have survived. It has been the longest and coldest January that I can remember, and while a few days ago, a colleague of ours remarked to me that it was colder in 1927, I am afraid I was not around to experience that winter. I send this end-of-January Director’s note, to draw attention to the fact, that we as northerners live in a special part of the world, by choice, and inherent in that choice is the resiliency that makes up part of our DNA.

(As an aside, a Director friend of mine last week, said he could relate to our weather, because they too were experiencing cold and frigid temperatures with the mercury dipping down to -12 at one point! How did they survive??!!!!)

I often feel that in my role as DOE, it is my responsibility to not only characterize why the KPDSB is different, but why that difference needs to be celebrated, and to communicate that celebration out to all stakeholders, including and particularly importantly, staff. If we were only talking about weather as being our defining characteristic, what a low-level comment on the KPDSB we would be making. However, when we deepen the conversation to our schools, all of them, our staff, all of you, and our kids, every one of them…..you begin to see that the Board is indeed very different.  So different in fact that our Ministry friends want to help and are trying to help us in the most unique ways and with that, we are trying to help ourselves in ways that we have never tried before, or had thought of even a few short years ago.

It has been raised to me by many staff over the past few months: has the nature of the Board, meaning the high incidence rates of kids with needs that years ago were not experienced, the diversity of our families and communities, the acceptance that we are a Board for all, and the fact that we are the Face of Public Education, in fact turned some people away?

It is a good question, and it requires a lot of thought, and reflection. Before I reply with (and this will surprise you) my opinion, let me first ask this supplemental question: if you were to be part of an organization, would you want it to be one that accepts all, welcomes all, and feels a responsibility to our most vulnerable? Would you believe that no matter how compromised an upbringing or home environment, (or lack thereof) that many of the kids who come to us face, we have an ethical responsibility to give them our best?

Or, would you close the door and turn the child away and say we can’t, because we really don’t have to, or “you’re not our problem”. Would you say that it’s Ok to exclude some by choice? If you believe in public education that truly is about closing gaps and levelling the field for all, not just some, I assure you, you have come to the right place. I say this, because I am incredibly proud of this organization, or as a principal said to me a few weeks back, “Sean, you bleed this organization.”

I suppose I do.

But these comments are not without a strong message to all of our staff: If I am proud of our organization, then I am going to assume you are too. And if you feel that the organization is good enough to call home as an educator, an education assistant, or office staff, and an education system to say “I am proud to work for the largest regional school board in the area.” (and I might add, one of the largest employers in the area too), then the assumption is that it is unquestionably equally good for everyone. The KPDSB sets the bar high for all and works relentlessly to improve, it is probably one reason we often feel our job is never done. It is also why we come up with amazing and innovative programs, and not wait to see what someone else is doing. However, I challenge you on this, if the system is strong enough for adults, then it’s good enough for kids, all kids, including yours and mine. This week is Kindergarten Registration Week for the KPDSB across the system; there are ads and media advertisements everywhere. I am not only respectfully asking all staff to speak up the KPDSB in your communities, I frankly expect it. The Board is surging and growing, and getting stronger; we have a bright future, and an impassioned vision of who we are and where we’re going. And if you had your choice, would you choose to get off the bus, or stay on the team?

Let the conversation begin, and as always, please feel free to call me.

As you ponder my comments, make sure you put time aside to cheer for our Canadians in the weeks ahead in Sochi!

Take care,

Sean

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!!

Sean