Kids: April Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean

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