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

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“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