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

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Down-Time

To be honest, it wasn’t only until in the last couple of months, that I actually considered what downtime really represented. Here is a question, and ask yourselves honestly, how many of you can make down-time a priority? I feel confident in suggesting I know the majority of our staff….and with that relationship with you, am confident in saying most of us would really struggle with giving ourselves the time to rest our heads, our thoughts, and our eyes in a way which other professions perhaps do not. And I say that respectfully, to all.

I know I need to be constantly vigilant with this…allowing myself time to slow it down; sometimes even needing a gentle reminder to do better on that front. This particular year, especially.

However, if there was ever a time of the year to rest, reflect and rejuvenate, it is July and August; or as we affectionately refer to it: SUMMER. One of the best aspects of my job, and also one of the most demanding is that I am privileged to get to meet all of you and visit your schools, classrooms and students. It is an amazing component of the job that I have come to love, even if our furthest school away from my Kenora office is 6 hours! While the travel can be heavy at times, the diversity and character of our KPDSB is also one of our most endearing qualities.

However, the sole reason for mentioning this unique opportunity of going to visit all of our schools, is that it has become quite apparent in recent weeks that people are ready for a break, some downtime; people are ready for summer. And you deserve this too. It has been an incredibly busy, action-filled, and successful year. It has also been emotionally challenging and draining at times. The needs of our kids, affecting our own needs have become so evident it is palpable. I thank the Efficacy Group for speaking candidly with me; and with that said, want to share directly with all of them, that our March Efficacy meeting in Dryden has not been lost on me, nor will it fade from memory for a very long time.

In conversation yesterday with a colleague and a school representative on the Efficacy group as we were chatting about her school and staff; I indicated I recognized that people are tired and in some cases, exhausted. I feel the same way to be honest. However, when you work with kids (lots of them) and you give of yourself everything you have both physically and mentally, little wonder that on this morning of the last day of school, there will be lots of red eyes filled with emotion today. Over the last while, I have been challenging a commonly held belief that I have had since starting teaching 23 years ago; and that is summer may not just be the time away from school that many kids look forward to. In fact summer may represent less stability in their lives, more chaos and disarray, and completely opposite than what they would get from you each day in their lives at school. And I now know full-well that many of you in the KPDSB worry a great deal about your kids while away from school during the summer, and if they are OK; as you would with your very own families.

This latter point is what defines KPDSB staff in a way that many can’t even comprehend. The level of care that you give our kids. 2015-2016 will go down in my mind as the year the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board moved into another league in what it means to put kids first; a league of its own. This post will be nothing about media coverage, hockey academy, EDU visits, partnerships with NAN, or even new schools. This last one of the year, is meant to be a direct message from me to all of you, in which I want you to know that as you worry about your own kids and colleagues, I worry about you as Director. I want to say thank you, and as I do, to tell you how inspired I am by what you do, every day. It is a privilege to work and serve you as Director of Education, and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, other than part of this team here in KPDSB. And that as tough as it will get for us in schools in continuing to meet the needs of our kids, I will do everything I can in my power to support you.

Have an amazing summer, please rest now. When we come back in the fall, I assure you there will be some significant updates and achievements to share!

Your Colleague,

Sean

Thank you Dryden!

Good Monday Morning!!

“Come in and jump in the bouncy castle, Mr. Monteith” Dawn-Marie Terry, Full-day kindergarten teacher from New Prospect, yelled to me Saturday morning as I walked up the front lawn of Dryden High School. I have to admit I have seen many things outside the front of high schools, most typical of what one might expect from high school life; but what I have never seen is a blow-up bouncy castle with dozens of children lined up to go inside and play. And yet, there on Saturday morning at DHS was an almost carnival like-scene of games, face-painting, balloons…and a sea of green. Green, as in green “KPDSB Proud” Hoodies and KP green-t shirts of all sizes being worn by so many people, you couldn’t count.

As I walked in front doors, visitors got a double whammy of welcomes, from Susanne Bastable and Mary Helie, both exuberant and enthusiastic…and very welcoming (can you imagine those two in stereo??!!!). I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I came to the Dryden Area KPDSB Schools “Family Fun Open House” Saturday morning, but I did not expect to see what was playing out before my eyes. I suppose I should have known better having sat in on the planning team’s meeting earlier that week with Sheena Valley, Jennifer Bartlett, Megan Gadd, Lindsay Rettie, Arin Boyko and Dawn-Marie (just to name a few), and hearing of the plans. On Friday, as I checked in with Sheena before the end of the day, she commented to me “I just hope some people will show up”. Well, people did show up.

In the three hours between 11 AM to 2 PM on a beautiful Saturday in Dryden, over 1000 people came through the doors of Dryden High School to be met by our Dryden staff, and shared our programs, ideas, and amazing schools. Sounding a bit Romper-Room”ish” I saw children, infants, grandparents, and of course moms and dads. I saw our students from Lillian Berg, Open Roads, New Prospect, and of course Dryden High. Students were face painting little ones, and DHS students from Ryan Graham’s amazing music program were performing in the hallways.  Education assistants, SERT’s, ECE’s kindergarten staff, Dryden Board Office staff, high school shop teachers, special education and curriculum staff, and my administration, they were all there! As you walked in Cindy Palermo and Lynn Pateman were advertising DHS paraphernalia promoting the School’s entrepreneurial programs. Dave Darling had kids working on paddles for canoes in his shop, and the gym….looked more like a sports show one might see at an outdoors exhibition! From French Immersion at NPS, to the Hockey Academy, to Lillian Berg’s renowned Churchill trip and Open Roads’ Explore Program with Deidre McQuade….it was all there, and it was indeed impressive. Newer staff like Celeste Harrison and senior staff like Scott Urquhart and Caryl Hron alike, mingling with residents and new students registered to the KPDSB Family.

But the reason for my wanting to send out a quick post to all of you, was what was most impressive, was the staff. I know people are likely tired of hearing me share how proud I am our staff and KPDSB, but how can you not be?! Green, being the adopted universal colour for all KPDSB schools …was EVRYWHERE!! In fact the only staff or admin not wearing green was probably ME!!! And that was solely due on account (yes, I will admit it as a Beaver Brae graduate and alumni myself), I was wearing a Dryden High School Eagles sweatshirt picked up earlier this year from the DHS Tuck Shop! However, and the reason for sharing this should not be lost; I wore my DHS hoodie because all Dryden area high school students go to DHS, and no where else. Why? Because DHS has a history of excellence, achievements and success. Its staff are exemplary and after what I saw on Saturday, I can tell you that if people feel they can do better in Dryden than DHS, they are fooling themselves and kids, because you simply can’t! As one elderly grandfather I knew personally from Dryden, and who attended DHS himself said to me….”Sean, all kids in Dryden grow up to be Eagles!” And he is right.

I know that sometimes I can be a bit hard, asking a lot of people and also from myself but I also very much believe in giving credit where credit is due, and while I know that there were well over 100 staff in attendance on Saturday giving up there day, I simply cannot mention you all. I apologize for names I may have left out, but want I really want to say and need to say, is “Thank You Dryden”. Getting to the top is hard in itself, Todd Desaultels and Geoff Zilkans will tell you that themselves having taken DHS teams to championships; but staying on top is just as hard if not moreso. In Dryden, we are on top and that is where we plan to stay. And Dryden High School is where kids go to be Eagles and to be inspired, motivated and to learn so that they in turn can graduate and become DHS alumni. And that too is what plan on continuing. Just before I left the house to drive to Dryden Saturday morning, I had emailed all of our trustees an update on a couple of matters I wanted to bring them information. I ended the email to them as I often do, by telling them how proud I am of our staff and our schools; nothing could have supported that statement than those three hours in Dryden on Saturday.

And Sheena, well thank you too kid; because you should feel pretty proud of your efforts to showcase our staff and their kids and our schools; Saturday might just have been the best I have ever seen! Thank You.

Have a great week everyone! And email any time, take care.

Sean

Recent Events In The KPDSB: Red Lake

Hi Everyone,

In my recent conversation with the Ministry of Education’s Assistant Deputy Minister Gabriel Sekaly regarding our work on the QEDHS file, he stopped in the middle of the topic at hand and asked me: “How are you guys doing up there anyways?” Normally such a question would be simply a courtesy being extended to us, from a Ministry official checking in with us northerners. In this case, the somber tone and inflection really spoke of the folks that work far away from us, and how they really see us as being a unique setting. Gabriel was asking about how the Red Lake area was managing in the light of the recent Bearskin Airlines crash that occurred last Sunday night between that little stretch of highway between Balmertown and Cochenour. He had seen the news story on CBC’s The National a few days before.

When my phone started to ring at home on that Sunday night, from the principals in the Red Lake area, initially the call sounded like this: “Our lights flickered for a second, and then that was it. But we’re hearing a Bearskin flight has crashed and knocked out power.” My first thought was one of instant panic that we had staff or kids on board, or extended families. While by fate’s hand we did not have staff on that flight, we did have family members, a mother and a grandmother on board, coming home. We had students affected, and we most definitely had staff affected. The exceptional staff at Red Lake District High School, where one of the students who was directly affected attended, suggested that from their crisis events’ experiences, which have gone from being in the infancy stage to the experienced stage (and very quickly), they wanted to try and manage this surreal incident in-house, and they did. They pulled together, they supported one another, and while there are unquestionably difficult days ahead, they did just that; they got through it. On Saturday, the staff and students of RLDHS hosted and facilitated a community funeral in their gymnasium that approached 700 people. Last Friday, when I met with the families and family members of those whose lives were lost in the crash, I was caught off guard by the closing comment of husband and widower of one of the deceased; he said to me as I got up to leave his house “Take care of my son Sean, keep an eye on him.” His son attends Grade 12 and will graduate next spring, and while I know personally the family members involved, I won’t have direct day-to-day interaction with his son. I assured his Dad I will check in on him, on my travels. More importantly though, is not my limited involvement, but the daily involvement and support the staff in Red Lake will have.

As I drove home with Joan on Friday afternoon, I found myself drifting off and thinking of what it means to be a staff working in our schools, every day. What it means to live and breathe all the time, the experiences of our kids, their families, and their communities. If you work in any of our schools, your life often is intertwined with the events and lives of the communities in which we call home; regardless if you have immigrated to the North, or whether you have called it “home” from early on. Unfortunately, tragedy, while not exclusive to the North, often impacts us on a greater scale simply because we know one another. We celebrate the good with each other, and we support each other through the lows. Red Lake, your colleagues around the Board and the region again, are thinking of you and ready to support you in any way we can.

As we move forward together, with a feeling of change in the air, I feel it important to draw simple attention to the fact that one of my long-term goals is to reinforce the belief that we are all family, and that we are all in the greater work of closing significant deficits of our kids together. Meeting head on the challenges of the North’s needs and our kids, will remain one of the biggest efforts we have seen. Feeling like we’re all in together from you to me, is what it is going to take, and when we need to stop and smell the roses and check on our colleagues in other communities to make sure they’re OK, then that is what we do. I also promise you that as I continue to write these notes (Sheena calls them Blogs!), I will remain committed to the essence of us being Northerners and being proud of it!

Take care, and talk soon,

Sean