Keewatin-Patricia Family: ‘I Lived’

Good Morning, Everyone! Hope you enjoyed your Family Day Long Weekend!!

Recently, about 4 weeks ago actually, I was fortunate enough to have been able to land in Kenora on Bearskin just in time for my phone to start ringing, non-stop…the caller being our 17 year old son Aoedan. Now, I am not an expert on teenagers (although attempting to raise one and also having being a former high school principal does give me some insight), but when your 17 year old son (who coincidentally also has your vehicle) is calling you steady until you pick up, it can only mean a couple of things right? In this case, he was considerate enough to call me to tell me that Celias’ SUV was sitting on a precarious incline with one rear tire actually not touching the ground. How did it get there? Well, that is for him to share, but I don’t mind telling you that as I pulled up to the accident scene, two cruisers with flashers going, I had enough information already to know that Aoedan had experienced his first “fender-bender”. Having established that no one was seriously hurt, other than pride, one of the OPP who attended to the scene after I got there, asked me “anyone hurt Sean?”. My response was a quick negative, followed by my in-jest comment as I looked at my son, “well…not yet at least!”. However, and this really is the only reason I am sharing this with all of you, because hearing of another person’s side-swiped collision I suspect for you is neither newsworthy or warranting of your time; but the response from the officer was: “You never did the same when you were his age, were you any different?? You’ve lived a bit haven’t you?”

Which brings me to my whole purpose of writing this, this Family Day weekend, as many, many thoughts have been going through my head these last few weeks. As. I was driving home from the accident scene, with Aoedan alongside me, no worse for the wear, a song came on the radio that I had heard several times, but this time taking on a purpose I think. I am going to send you the link to the video at the end of this Blog, and I am going to ask all of you to click on it and watch it, and most importantly listen to the words. Now I am not at all an American Top 40 listener and I don’t spend a lot of time on YouTube, unless I am watching fishing videos posted from anglers working the waters of Lac Seul during summer months. But you will likely have heard the song “I Lived” by One Republic, these last few months. When you travel around the region as much as I do in your vehicle, you make lots of phone calls and you listen to lots of radio music. However (and I assure you I am not benefiting from royalties in any way by promoting this) this particular song, and more specifically its lyrics obviously were telling a story. I kept listening to it while driving: its words about living, doing it all, no regrets….and it had a message. When I finally went on You Tube to watch it, it did make an impact as I am sure it will on you. After driving home from my son’s accident, it took on a meaning that I felt many of you could appreciate. Why?

Because in essence what was being pointed out to me by the officer, who I have known a long time, through his question was “haven’t you lived Sean?”

Over the past number of weeks, I have been fortunate enough to really put on some serious miles across the District visiting schools and staff. Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a joint staff meeting of all Sioux Mountain Public School and Queen Elizabeth District High School staff together and updating them on progress made to date with the new high school on its way! That night I had dinner with the “four guys” as I call them, the administrators of our schools in Sioux Lookout. As I sat there having a ginger ale and wings, I listened to them continue to tell me how proud they were of their staff, and the work that their colleagues accomplish every day. The next morning I attended an Honour’s Breakfast at QEDHS for students, parents and staff; an event that many schools hold to celebrate academic achievement. However, what many don’t or wouldn’t know is that the staff had come into the school and started cooking breakfast as early as 4 AM that morning! Not for fanfare or recognition, but because they wanted to celebrate.

On my way home to Kenora later that day, I called several principals to return messages and check in with them as I frequently do; and I can tell you unequivocally that everyone I spoke with, said the same thing to me: “Sean, people are working so hard for kids, for our school, for this organization. It is impressive!” In the case of Liz Sidor (RLDHS Principal), she added, “I am so proud of my staff of this Board, of what we are doing and where we are going!” Another principal (Heather Mutch, KPS) shared with me the day before the work we are doing, is “becoming legendary for kids”. I would add, the work and the freedom to encourage this work from all staff, is because OF the staff. It is because of a burgeoning sense of family, of pride, of a belief that regardless of who you are or where you work, we are into this enterprise together, united.

Which brings me to another unfolding event that his been occupying my thoughts in recent weeks; and it has to everything to do with living, and having lived to the fullest extent possible. Last year in one of my posts, I referenced the incredible work that teacher Patti Boucha and education assistant Shelley Sabeski were doing in the Section 23 Class, otherwise known as Firefly, at Evergreen Public School in Kenora. Maybe you will recall that blog. Anyways, in the last few weeks, Shelley has been given some news and information that she was neither expecting nor I think it safe to say, wanted to hear. In fact, it is that kind of news that, you know, “only ever happens to someone else, not me or my family.” However, this time it happened to Shelley, a member of our KP family and one of our colleagues, enjoying life, the future, and her grandkids. You get the picture. I also assure you, that her news is not news anyone wants to hear. I say this, because I have a favour and a reminder too. My favour is to ask of you, to let her know that this journey she undertakes (and as feeble as it may feel for us) we enter this journey with her, as we keep her and her family in our thoughts. Last week her own kids all came home for a family picture, on a cool Sunday afternoon, to be taken together.

The reminder now, is to ask you to click on and watch the video, and listen to its words, because it’s message is universal to all of us. Do it on your prep, it is worth it!

I am in Pickle Lake and Savant Lake this week meeting with the staff and the schools there, and of course the kids. I will see extraordinary work going on in little classrooms with staff as dedicated as any could ever be. I look forward to having dinner Wednesday night in Savant Lake with the SLPS staff at the Four Winns Motel, and hearing of how proud they are of their kids, and how proud they are to be part of the KPDSB. I will see actions in motion, underlying the feeling that we are here to live and make the lives of those around us extraordinary, to live every day making sure that we have given it our all. It is a choice to look back and say, “I wish I had done that?” or “Why didn’t I take that chance or opportunity, when I had it?” Maybe we want to take that chance or not lose an opportunity, any opportunity, before it is gone.

As I see everywhere I go, there is an intertia (thanks Wayne) that is underway across the entire Board, a surging energy and pride for taking on tough issues, and not backing down from the adversities we face. Following the recent events in Kenora and across all of our schools, the NorWOSSA incident seems to have reenergized folks to believe we are incredibly strong, and advocates for all students, essentially for public education. We are the best chance for kids. I would suggest that the recent Kindergarten campaign was more than successful; why? Because we are at our Kindergarten enrollment projections for next year….ALREADY!!!! And we have 7 months to go, before the start of school this September!! Unprecedented, I would argue. Why the draw?? Well, I think parents are looking for a breadth of programming and vast opportunities, that any parent would want for their kids. They like what the see, and they recognize what I think we are all seeing now, and that is our staff have pride and care; they are about kids and they definitely care about our success and future. We are surging indeed!!

When I was asked by a colleague from another board recently, why I “took it so seriously” and in fact took our KPDSB “future to heart so personally”, I replied that I didn’t know any other way how to take our future. I indicated that to not take our future, our schools, our programs and our staff personally, I didn’t think would be doing my job necessarily. I then asked back, “don’t you want your own leadership taking your future seriously and to heart too?” So I want to echo what I am hearing everywhere, and that is I too am also very proud of this Board, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, and all who come here every day, be they students, staff or community members. And as far as the future goes, and to those who want a challenge and feel that we are a Board that they are competing with, my message is this….it’s game on, and it’s a game were going to win, because everyone of my staff is invested as much as I am in its success….make no mistake, we are going to win this. We win together, experience set-backs together, and we hold each other together when we are called on to do so. Shelley’s email is shelley.sabeski@kpdsb.on.ca

I will meet with staff Efficacy group next week, and we will take empowerment and advocacy for us, and the KPDSB to a whole new level!! And P.S. We have winter licked!

Link to watch: http://youtu.be/z0rxydSolwU

Call or email if I can be of any help, and take care,

Sean

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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

Taking the KPDSB Through an Efficacy Review, Making Us Not Just Better, But The Best

“First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.”

Welcome to June Everyone!!

I am going to make an assumption that the last couple of weeks have done an impressive job of letting us all know that summer has arrived and with June now here, welcome relief from the past eight months. We have made it, although I am sure that at times we wondered if the sunny and warm weather would ever come? This will be my second last post of the year, with my last one coming on the final day of school.

However, my notes and thoughts to you today I think are not only fitting, but also timely, especially when you consider Aristotle’s comments above and why I chose to include them this early June morning. As we begin together this final month of the 2013-2014 school year, and while we are all likely close to the empty tank in our own energy levels, this is no time to stop our work nor shut down efforts to support our kids. This past year for myself has been one, that I will never forget and one that has been a living, learning experience that continues to evolve with each day.

If you are feeling tired and weary at this time of year, maybe you’ll gain some energy from my comments below.

As you read this June post, the senior administrative team, manager group, school principals, and school teaching and support staff will be in the beginning stages of the Board’s first ever system “Efficacy Review and Assessment”. The term or title may not do much to inspire you or energize, but I assure you, that over the next five days, the KPDSB will undergo a system review that at least in my experiences, is unprecedented. The management and administration of the board have known about this for several months now, but I suspect that for most this will be the first you have heard of this process set to begin this morning. As we start the Efficacy Review a very special thank you to Kathi Fawthrop from the Golden Learning Center, and to Chris Penner from BBSS for representing all teaching staff, sitting alongside the senior admin team keeping the classroom perspective at the forefront.

Please consider Aristotle’s quote at the beginning, and then qualify it with this question from me to you: if there was one statement that I asked of every stakeholder in the KPDSB to identify, and that has become synonymous with our organization this year in our conversations in all of our schools and offices, what might it be? I would hope that for the overwhelming majority it would be the stance, we put “kids first”. I have heard it everywhere this year, Caryl and Joan have heard it everywhere; and Dean and his management team have come to cite it regularly. But here is the thing, putting kids first is often difficult when you consider the regulatory and bureaucratic machine that is required to manage and lead an organization as geographically spread out and diverse as ours. In saying that, putting kids first is an incredibly clarifying position to take, and one that is non-negotiable for all of us.

Today and throughout this week, leading research teams from Pearson Learning Services, coming to us from North Carolina and Boston, will walk the entire senior administration, as well as four school staffs (representing all aspects and elements of the Board) including teachers, education assistants, administrative assistants and principals through a system efficacy assessment to determine from an external and objective perspective how we are doing in our efforts to put kids first at every decision we make or need to make. I want to know how the senior admin team is doing in identifying how our roles support each other and all of you, and personally I want to know how I am doing as the Director of the Board.

Why??

Because putting the needs of our kids in the north first is the most important work and responsibility, after our own as parents, we in the KPDSB could ever take on. And there is no room for error or stalling. If there are efficiencies to be found or practices that need changing, I believe Sir Michael Barber’s Efficacy framework, and being assessed by external teams who have never been to the KPDSB over the next week will identify them; and following the Pearson executive report that will be completed, I with the help of my senior and management team will act and implement the report’s recommendations.

If you are reading this in your classroom, office or staff room you might (and fairly I would agree) ask yourself why this is at all important to you? It is a fair question, but here is my reply…because it matters. It matters because what comes from this KPDSB Efficacy Review, will cause more reforms and it will become the framework for my own Director’s Work Plan and Goals for the next several years. And those goals could be considered similar to a teacher’s goals at a PLC, driven by what the system, staff and students’ needs are.

Another thought to consider too as we enter the last month of this school year: our staff and our kids deserve the best. Being good is not good enough; we need to be better, and we need to give our kids our best. If we are going to ask you to give of yourself your all, the organization needs to give you our all. In the last couple of weeks, I have attended a kindergarten PLC at Sioux Mountain listening to Carol Murray, Lindsay Young, and Natalie Northway articulate how they do whatever they can, to give their kids what they need. I sat through a musical performance of intermediate and high school students at Open Roads led by Stephen Cortens and Ryan Graham, absolutely and personally motivated by the connection these two young men had with their kids. I went to a Master Chef competition at Beaver Brae organized and led by “master” teacher Tara Pitre, where she got the very best out of her kids who were so proud to serve guests, their faces beaming! And I visited Keewatin Public School last Friday to attend a spring fish fry and drumming event, to be followed by a display that I had never seen before; pictures of every single student in the school with a few short words in front them identifying what they would hope to be some day…ranging from an astronaut, to a princess, to being just like “dad”. When I asked whose idea it was for such a presentation neither teachers Andy Simons nor Diane Flynn were wanting to take credit, offering praise to the other.

Believing in our schools and staff in the KPDSB has led us to this place where we are going to undergo the system efficacy review, beginning this morning. I used to think that being in a role of leadership in the Board brought an acute awareness of how much I really still had to learn, when I watched the staff in our schools work every day with kids. After the past few weeks, I have come to realize something even more important, that being how humbling it is to watch you work day in and day out in our schools with kids who rely and count on us for so much.

Our kids and our staff deserve the best, and we plan on delivering nothing less to you.

As always please call or email if you have thoughts of your own; and I wish you the very best as we head into June together.

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

2013-14 School Year Well Underway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean