November Post

Hi Everyone!

Have you ever noticed that during the late fall days and weeks that make up the latter part of October and early November, the sky at times turns into an amazing blue hue, with colors that can be nothing short of spectacular?

It becomes even more noticeable and even omnipresent, when you travel as much as I do within the Board’s reaches on our highways and you find yourself looking ahead into the horizon. On several occasions in the past couple of weeks, I found myself driving along Highway 17 from Dryden towards Kenora, under a heavy cloud cover of grey only to look westward where the sky opened up as a definitive line separated a deep blue from the clouds. I also found myself during these drives home, thinking and reflecting on many things, most of which I doubt would interest you, but on a couple of thoughts, most definitely I would speculate.

October and early November have been incredibly busy months for many of us, you, your families, your colleagues, your principals and administration, and absolutely for us in Senior Administration. For myself, I have probably and admittedly in hindsight, overextended myself a wee bit by trying to fulfill my commitment of meeting with every single staff in the system to discuss the Efficacy Review. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have managed to make it to Upsala, Ignace, Pickle Lake, all of our schools in Red Lake and Ear Falls, a few more schools in Kenora and in Dryden, and of course back and forth to Sioux Lookout on a couple of occasions. In total, I have now been to 17 of our schools, and have the remaining ones in Dryden and Kenora to go, before calling the “Efficacy Tour” complete. The visits and staff discussions have been as diverse as the Board is itself, and have been more than productive, sometimes challenging, but always a learning experience. I have also been working with the school administration team across the system to continue to impress the belief that Efficacy can mean change, and can make us better. But on this last point, is where my greatest learning and candidly, my greatest challenge of recent, has emerged.

I should add that after the last Efficacy email that I sent out, I did receive a criticism (I will call it friendly and perhaps even constructive) that I should not be so candid, perhaps even so open with staff. I have thought about that, and I have to tell you, while I appreciate the feedback, I disagree. So with this in mind, I want to tell you what has been stirring me; and in sharing this with you, I also invite your comments and thoughts too.

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has prided itself, on being a Board that is home to everyone, and a Board that can serve everyone. We have gone to great lengths, spent energy and much capital on celebrating our diversity and our challenges. I suspect the latter comment, because we have achieved so much when you consider how big our challenges are, specifically when it comes to the wide-ranging needs of our kids. We have celebrated, and in fact promoted our work in Special Education, Aboriginal Education, and even as recently as last week, our work in FASD. We have received national recognition for our work, and frequently are called upon to share our success stories with provincial leaders and other Boards, because as we have often identified, our work and our achievement when you look at where we start with our kids is truly nothing short of heroic. And yet, and for myself….a personal struggle, accepting that some in our communities might look at our accomplishments and agree it is noble work, but feel it is not the environment for their kids?

Recently, Susanne raised this question to me, that is “Can celebrating our challenges at times work against us?”, and while she and I may not always agree on the color of the sky, I do respect and value her opinion and experience a great deal. I also know that she, like all of my Senior Administration would only do and accept their best work for the good of the organization. So when she raised this question, I admit, I had to struggle with the notion that some in our communities might turn away from the KPDSB because we are a system for all, and include all. To complicate further my own internal questioning, is like many of you the fact that I too am from the North, and that we live, work and play in the very communities we have grown up in. The fact that a few of my own lifelong friends could consider looking away from the KPDSB because we have many different students and challenges, remains a very difficult concept to accept, to be honest. The KPDSB remains the biggest school board in Northwestern Ontario, outside of Thunder Bay, and is the face of public education, that I will not concede anything on. If you say you believe in equity and fairness, you need to live it, because talk is cheap. In other words, if you actually believe in all students then you accept all students, and that this stance is not merely a punch line.

What am I talking about? Perhaps the best example that I heard in the last couple of weeks, was when I was told of a situation of a new family who had moved to one of our communities. The family was looking at schools, and when they heard that the school closest to their home had an “FASD” dedicated program, felt that it would be an environment similar to contagion that they could not have their child in. As if to suggest FASD is a contracted disease, as opposed to the brain impediment that it is. I could rail against ignorance in our area or put the spotlight on racism and bigotry, or I could reflect on what this is telling me and all of us. And that is we need to work harder to get our message out, we cannot be nonchalant about our schools and we cannot under any circumstances take anything for granted.

We need to support our system.

We need to be champions of our schools! I have challenged staff everywhere I go to look at Efficacy, to question the status quo, to look at us from a different perspective and asked you all to consider how we can do things, a little or even perhaps a lot differently? If I can go school to school to school, and door to door to door, then I need to believe at the very least that every single staff will take ownership of their school too.

When I think back to my recent Efficacy Staff meeting at Golden Learning Center, Michelle Parrish and Kathi Fawthrop asked me to consider the following: if we are asking teachers to look at students from a growth mindset, then can we also not look at our teachers from a growth mindset as well?? Michelle, we certainly can and we will.

We will do better, and efficacy is all about believing we can do better, and that anything is possible, if we believe it to be right. Efficacy is also about asking tough questions, like can we compromise our beliefs that all students have a right to be in our schools, regardless of their background, their race, their needs, or their family circumstances? Efficacy also requires, as I have learned first-hand, tough true-grit leadership too. I am glad Susanne asked me the question, because it only reinforced my belief we are a system for all, and on that point I will never waver, not ever. It matters not to me, how challenged our kids are, they are human beings and they are the best their parents have got; we will never close our doors or send them down the street.

At my recent Ignace School Efficacy visit, Kevin Goudie surprised me with his comments; not because Kevin is opposed to expressing his views, but because of what he said. He remarked that we have been in very difficult circumstances where the environment had been extremely tough, and when you might visualize us as being at opposite sides of the table. But he also commented, that never, ever did our position about children and helping students waver, even in the face of extremely difficult conversations. He made my ride home that night, seem to fly by, as I clipped along the highway trying to get home to our youngest son Tristan’s birthday supper. I can tell you Kevin’s comments as have many of yours over the last few months, reenergized my belief and faith in the pursuit of public education and uncompromising support of KPDSB.

I am asking you to give of yourselves in support of the KPDSB, and more specifically your own schools. I remain steadfastly committed to my promise to you that I will never ask of you to give more than I am myself am prepared to give, and I am asking you to lead efficacy by example, by being strong and supportive of your colleagues and schools.

And for myself, I do plan on trying to slow down, for a little bit anyways, but I have a few more Efficacy visits to go.

Please think about what I have asked of you, and I encourage you, to as always, give me your thoughts.

Take care,

Sean

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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