Welcome Back, We Are Family

Good Morning Everyone, Welcome Back….Welcome Home!!!

Over the next couple of days as you reconnect with your colleagues, students, and families, you will have opportunities to hear what exciting things those around you have been doing the past couple of months! And of course people will want to know how your summer has been, and where you and those closest to you have gone. For some of you, you may have stayed close to home, and enjoyed the long sunny days of Northwestern Ontario. I always chuckle that as many of us go on vacations across the country, just as many (and more) come to visit our area because of the beauty and endearing qualities we possess…we live in the greatest part of this province, this country if you asked me. From me to all of you…Welcome Back!

Later this morning, at your first staff meeting, such as it has become custom these past four years now, you will watch the 2016-2017 Keewatin-Patricia District School Board Video “Kids Come First”. The tradition started four years ago, as I began my first year as Director of Education, and I suppose in reflection was only meant to be a one-time project. But staff each year and increasingly, ask for another to be created with a new theme. This year the Efficacy group members determined the theme, and picked the song. I mention this because the first three have been energized and jazzy in the sense that they are quick, light and celebrate the best in us, in you. However, this year the theme is “We Are Family”; and if it couldn’t be more fitting, the song (entitled the same) is the Tragically Hip with Gordie Downie singing. His reality and our reality in KPDSB gives this year’s video a no less celebratory feel, but also a very serious cerebral one as well. For New Prospect Public School staff, the video and message will have an even more profound meaning and impact I suspect as you will notice two of your own students remarking for us all “We are resilient!” Indeed we are and need to be, but their story and background is one you will know well. Use their comment as inspiration for you, for all of us.

Over the summer, the Senior Administration team consisting of Scott, Caryl, Joan, Susanne, and myself were finally able to have a private meeting arranged together with the Deputy Ministers of Health, Education, Child and Youth Services, as well as couple of Assistant Deputy Ministers from the same ministries. The meeting was a promise filled by our good friend and outgoing Deputy George Zegerac. As a parting effort and in recognition of truly how heroic our work is with our kids, but also in recognition of the toll it takes on our staff….he brought us all together in Toronto at the Deputy Minister’s office and for two hours my Senior Team and I advocated as hard as I think we possibly could for our Board, our schools, our staff, and our kids. Our needs are very, very different. The traditional teaching and learning “box” is not our reality in many, many cases. The meeting in itself was unprecedented. None of us have ever experienced anything like it; and as George’s former assistant told me afterwards: “It hasn’t happened before; George wants to help you, we all need to help you in the North.” We have asked for unprecedented help with school-based supports, that are bigger than Special Education; they include Children’s Mental Health, behavioral supports, and staff, student (and their families’) wellness supports, and we have been charged with formulating a comprehensive plan to provide to the three Ministry’s, and fast. Joan is leading this and we hope to have action and movement as soon as reasonably possible for you.

Why did we do this? Over the last year, and in particular this past spring it became obvious that staff overwhelmingly have adopted a “Kids First” stance in their daily lives at work, and after work increasingly…helping children. This putting “kids first” adoption by staff though, as it has become evident, has impacted my staff across the system be you teacher, education assistant, early childhood educator, administrative assistant, librarian, custodian, principal…and it has affected the Senior Administration ourselves. Never, has a sense of cause or urgency been so palpable for us at the executive level, hearing and learning daily of the challenges our staff face regularly with their children. It has become a mission to do more, to help more and to support more. As I indicated to Senior Admin at our August meeting two weeks ago, “If staff can’t count on us to help, who can they count on?” For this reason, the meeting took place in Toronto in July; and for this reason it likely is the impetus for the serious undertone we begin this year with.

You will also receive communication later today from me as well regarding a pilot concept that promotes “staff-wellness” and your health through daily physical activity; please support this and your own health. Please read and consider sincerely and carefully; I ask you to support us, and in turn support your own health.

We are an academic organization that has redefined our work as educators by reshaping what classrooms look like and how we interact with our Northern students; and this work has caught both provincial and national attention. But we also need to continue to set the highest of expectations; we need to ask the most out of our students, and encourage them for their absolute best…for excellence. If you have watched the Olympics over the past few weeks, you can see what demanding the best and excellence out of yourself can achieve. Whether it be Penny Oleksiak, Andre Degrasse, or the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team, asking for our very best can produce results! In DeGrasse’s case, his trajectory four short years ago was not one headed for Olympic achievement and national heroism; it was one spiraling in the opposite direction. A few around him demanded more, supported him, and pushed him to work hard. Watching him walk around the Olympic Stadium with a Canadian Flag over his back, for me as I’m sure it did for you, instilled pride I have in Canada and who we are. It instilled the same pride as I felt last Saturday night when I watched Gordie Downie sing “The Hip’s” final concert in their hometown of Kingston, particularly when they sang “Bobcaygen”….a reference to a small town in Northern Ontario. And it instilled the same pride I have in us and you, when I watched the new Board video with “We Are Family” sung by the same Downie, the first few times I did earlier this month.

As you watch and recognize many faces in it of your students and your colleagues, I ask you for a moment to put yourself in my shoes as Director and reflect on the many, many changes, reforms and successes that have occurred over the past three years and why I continue to tell you how proud I am of us, of you, and of your work. I ask you to work hard, but also promote to you that we will never ever ask you to work harder than we are prepared to ourselves in administration. I have often commented that the Director must be the hardest working person in the Board; if they aren’t, then asking people for their most in their work is completely undermined. We are family, and yes we have a lot to contend with but we are also moving in such a spectacularly successful direction that we are smashing barriers along the way. As the Evergreen Public staff declare in the video “We Are Proud!!”…and indeed we are, and as we begin a new year, I couldn’t be more so myself!

All the best, have a terrific start-up, and I look forward to seeing you soon in your schools!
Sean

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

2014 Reflections and Wishes

Happy Holidays Everyone!!

I will simply start this last blog of 2014, by thanking everyone in the organization, from custodians, to early childhood educators, to administrative assistants, teachers, principals, parents, elders, and of course the kids themselves, for a memorable and overwhelmingly successful year! I think 2014 will be remembered as a year in the KPDSB that saw great change, greater impact, and accomplishment for our schools, those that serve them and are served by them everyday.

Thank you.

As I write this last post, I can share with the organization that since September I have now been able to visit, and meet with every single school and staff in the entire region known as KPDSB; we even brought both Board office staffs together last week to meet with them together too. It has been at times, challenging (driving our northern highways can make this so), informative, but more than anything rewarding and extremely validating. I have enjoyed my visits to all of your classrooms, your staff-rooms and libraries, your assemblies, and our meetings focused on Efficacy and reform. I hope by now, that when you read comments from me about efficacy, and change, you will have a better understanding of what it is we are talking about at the system level. And of course if you have more questions, you can always email and ask me! However, the one thing that the Efficacy staff visits have also been and represent is “investment”.

As I sit back and reflect on the hundreds of conversations with staff, I have come to appreciate how important it is that we, who work at the system and senior level, remain connected and in sync with what is happening every day in our classrooms with our teachers and educational assistants. While I will admit that getting to every school in three months was a slight undertaking, I have always felt that it was an investment in our system, our schools, and in you. I have come to believe, like any good investment, the return will be greater, and that the return on the Efficacy visits will be ten-fold. I believe this to be true. Why??

Because the last several months, have not been just about efficacy, have they? They have been about empowerment, openness, challenging the status quo, getting better to become the best, motivating and activating new thinking, new beginnings, and ultimately about change and leadership. It has been about flattening the organization, so that each one of us is not just colleagues in name, but in importance, that the traditional hierarchy of doing business is removed. It is about seeing the same sense of value in two new teachers at Beaver Brae in Tyler Greenwood and Brooks Meija, as we do with experienced teachers at Dryden High School like Todd Desaultels and Rick Lindquist. It is about recognizing the incredibly hard work that folks like Mike Lalonde do on behalf of all student-athletes for NorWosaa, or what Suzanne McIntosh does with her vocal musical group “Good Fortune”. It is about the seeing the same value in the support that Deb Liedtke provides as an educational assistant at Red Lake District High School, as new teacher Brennan Flickinger provides his students at Crolancia in Pickle Lake….and as Caryl Hron provides school principals as the Superintendent of Education. We are integral to the success of each other, and we motivate those beside and around us; in our work though this is particularly rewarding because a lot of “those” around us, are students, young people looking for someone to inspire them and in turn inspiring us with their stories of resiliency.

I have also come to the realization over the last number of months, that leadership is very important, and that true leadership is tough. Being a leader, can be very difficult, because making decisions can be easy to criticize and judge; that taking a stand isn’t always popular and that taking the high road also means taking the hardest and silent road. But it also is the right road, and I myself am reminded daily by staff in schools, it is what defines the KPDSB, it is what marks our organization, and it is what people have to come to expect from us and from me. To make tough decisions, to take a stand, and to represent our interests and the interests of our kids. I find that as we enter the holiday recess, I am motivated by many of you, and in the same breath continuously humbled by your commitment to our organization. As I commented to our new Board of trustees recently at an orientation, our strength collectively is our people, and I believe that.

2014….well for us in the KPDSB meant many additions to our schools, especially with kindergarten and special education programming in mind. We moved into our new Board office in Kenora downtown and overlooking the lake, and we were visited by the Assistant Deputy, Deputy Minister, and Minster of Education, and all within one month. No other Board can say this (by the way, you need to check out the Minister of Education’s annual Christmas card to all school boards….there is a KPDSB flavour to it!!!). We had improvements in all of our student achievement measurements in Grades 3,6, and 9; and we installed video-conferencing equipment in every single school, keeping people off the roads, in classrooms and principals in schools. And oh yeah, we also announced that we had been successful in securing the funding for a brand new $30 million state-of-the-art high school in Sioux Lookout!! Yes it has been quite a year.

On the personal front, some of you became parents, some of you became known as “no longer bachelors: Jason McMillan”, some of you became grandparents, some of you were diagnosed with cancer, and some of you are beating cancer. And you put kids first throughout all of it; so again thank you.

As I close, I want to share with you, that while 2014 will be hard to top, we will start the new year with the same renewed energy and focus that we started this current year with, and I encourage you all to feel empowered and to take a hold of your learning and your own personal leadership. I predict that we will face tough decisions in 2015, and that we will face challenges in the new year; but in doing so we take the approach that we neither seek nor avoid our challenges and problems. We deal with them.

I wish everyone of you and your families to get the “long winter’s nap” that we hear about at this time of year, rest, and enjoy those around you as you, like myself contemplate the year was, and the one that will be.

Here is to an optimistic and hopeful 2015,

 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

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

Embracing Change and Celebrating Our Accomplishments

Welcome Back, everyone, from what I hope was a relaxing, restful, and at times self-directed March Break, wherever that may have taken you. It was clear from the large number of responses to my email sent to all of you before the Break, that most were ready for it!

We will still get one or two more blasts of winter, living in Northwestern Ontario has taught many of us to expect that at this time of year, and even into April….but make no mistake, spring is coming and with it, the melting of snow and the sun’s warmth. And with it, the acceptance and relief that we have managed the most difficult winter in memory.

I send this version of my Sean’s notes to you, with many thoughts about where we are as an organization, and as we head into the “third period” of the year (hockey fans that’s a tribute to you as the playoffs are just around the corner and Hockey Night in Canada becomes a nightly pleasure as opposed to just a Saturday evening event!!!), it is a good time to reflect. There are many, many efforts, on a scale so diverse as the Board itself, taking place in everyone of our schools and in everyone of our classrooms, it is difficult to keep up. However, in saying this, and even though we are coming off of a restful March Break, I do feel it imperative to share with you that the pace of change now in the Board is not slowing down. We continue to work together with Confederation College as we bring them into more of our high schools as campus locations, we continue to partner and expand partnerships with Seven Generations and the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board (SLAAMB), we initiated the first ever partnership with a local hospital at the Meno Ya Win Health Center in Sioux Lookout by providing teachers and staff to young moms and their children who do not have access to education, and we continue to add to our FASD classrooms concept by expanding the program to include two more communities, strengthening our leadership as the only board in the province to do so.

On the Operations side of the organization, the staffing/budgeting process is virtually complete and was started this year in January positioning ourselves for a good and intensive conversation around staffing our schools based on their needs and in marked ways have overhauled how that looks. We have prepared a capital plan that is updated and will propose significant capital improvements to our schools including Red Lake, Upsala, Kenora and Dryden. And of course, we continue to await news on the biggest capital project application we have ever submitted to the Ministry: QEDHS.

Our IT department has been reorganized, and added muscle to it, and look for more changes to HR so we can help them in assisting our schools in hiring of staff in a fluid and nimble way, as well as be there for when any of our staff need to call upon them.

And for us on the Academic side of the organization, we continue to push very hard on some clear non-negotiables for me: less time out of classrooms for teachers and support staff, less absences out of schools for principals and vice-principals, more hands-on in schools, less meetings meaning less travel and greater utilization of beefed up video-conferencing equipment in all schools, and of course fewer initiatives. As Terri Forster, exemplary teacher at BBSS, commented to me earlier this year, it is a very “boots on the ground” approach. What a great term of reference.

And when I sit back now as I return home from another meeting with Ministry staff again last night, I consider this work and I am well-pleased. The Board is not perfect, no one has ever claimed us to be, and I will be the first to admit that; however, we are the hardest working group of staff and team-members that a director could ever ask for. I want the system to know that I have pushed the Senior Administration team very hard this year to work on implementing the very items identified above, and in the process reflect on how we do business. Change is very hard, but change is constant, and if with a purpose, can be a non-negotiable too. I am particularly proud of my senior team folks. We will be going through a very intensive self-efficacy review as senior administration soon, in which we will not only be challenged to look at ourselves and asked to consider our responsiveness to the needs of our system and staff, but how we are now preparing the team and system for the next decade and succession. It is exciting!

And amidst all of this, we continue to celebrate our schools and their accomplishments: we celebrate the fact that RLDHS under the tutelage of Darin Bausch went all the way to OFSAA championships from Red lake with his basketball team and performed admirably; we celebrate Tyanna Carpenter’s bronze medal at OFSAA in wrestling for BBSS; we celebrate the fact that as winter grinded along the staff at Ignace, Crolancia, and Savant Lake Public Schools continued to open their doors and provide not only learning opportunities for kids, but a place for them to go after hours in a healthy and positive way. We celebrate the fact that currently in Dryden, while the recent DHS 7-12  public consultations have evoked strong emotions, they have also brought out powerful public messages from parents in the community that they are so completely enamoured and pleased with the programming at Open Roads, New Prospect and Lillian Berg Public School, they couldn’t ask for anything better (at a recent public meeting, I stayed behind and talked with several parents for an hour in which all they could rave about was how welcoming and inclusive ORPS and Syrena Lalonde were!!). And we celebrate the day to day extraordinary efforts of classroom staff such Patti Boucha and Shelley Sabeski in the Firefly Classroom at Evergreen PS, which often go without any fanfare or recognition. We as a system are doing amazing things as I stated earlier and you as staff make the lives of others exceptional on a daily basis for so many.

Thank You.

After my last blog, I received quite a number of responses from staff, and I do try to respond quickly but personally. Your feedback and connectivity to me as Director is not only welcomed, it is vital. I have asked many staff who email me why it is they feel like they should take five minutes and read the musings of a guy who shares his thoughts on the system, our purpose and work we do. What I found interesting is that many of you indicated you feel it gives you insight into where we are going as an organization together. I do have a strong vision for the Board, replete with the Strategic Plan guiding us, but it is a vision and there is an agenda; a kids first agenda that is unwavering and uncompromising. Considering all of things I have tried to articulate for you above, I myself get a feeling of increased energy and dynamism! I like where we are going.

We are the face of public education in the region (we accept all who come to us), and we are the big kid on the block (benevolent as we are), and you all are on the front lines and part of an era now that is filled with excitement and change!

As always, please feel free to drop me a line at any time, and take care. And please keep your fingers crossed for big, big news coming soon!

Sean