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

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

We have one week to go, before the annual and affectionately known time we call that “long winter’s nap” arrives. I have heard two things consistently from staff over the past few weeks: one, how quickly time has flown by since we returned to school in August and two, how people are looking forward to the Christmas recess. Not to be confused with being unhappy and forlorn, what staff are telling me is that they are tired; very happy and supportive, but still tired.

My response to that?  You should be tired; we are engaged in the hardest work we have been in, here in the KPDSB. We have many, many challenges with our kids and their families. We are engaged in cutting-edge learning and we have challenged each other and ourselves to be leading the learning process. And it’s tough, true grit and very difficult work. The needs of the KPDSB are immense, and they require an all-out effort, so when people tell me they are tired and ready for a break, I can relate, because I feel the same way. However, in sharing this with all of you, I recall myself promising all staff and stakeholders, that I would never ask you to do any heavy lifting that I was not prepared to do myself, and I remain passionately committed to that.

Now, having said this, I have one really important question to ask you: have you ever been to Savant Lake, more specifically Savant Lake Public School? If you haven’t you are missing out on one of the true gems of the KPDSB!! At the end of the stretch of highway, known as the Marchington Road, and a little south on Highway 599, you come to a several-room school house that is home to three teachers, and 17 little souls who attend school at Savant Lake PS each day and night. Why do I share this with you? I suppose for a couple of reasons. First, I am going there on Tuesday of next week to attend their annual Christmas concert, to be followed by a street hockey game outside between myself (and staff) , and then a community Christmas dinner. Aside from my lacking hockey skills, I am excited about going and can’t wait!  The second thing though I want to tell you is that every time I have gone to Savant Lake, the kids are always, always smiling and happy! They are the same kids that you will see smiling in a sleigh in the Board’s Christmas card that will be sent out next week to all….and make no mistake they are smiling. They are simply happy to be there.

Aleea, Irene, and Larissa, the three teachers that call SLPS their home, make these kids feel extraordinary!  They are extraordinary staff doing extraordinary things with their kids, and as a result, these children, who to some might seem to not have a whole lot of worldly possessions, have something even better and more powerful, they have teachers who care about them, very deeply. So to Aleea, Irene, and Larissa (and of course Chris and Lis) Merry Christmas and enjoy your well-deserved break, you truly put kids first.

One extension to this conversation, please see the picture below that I took yesterday outside the Ministry of Education’s infamous “Mowat Block” head office in Toronto.

Jump Start

I was there yesterday meeting with Ministry officials and a couple of the Assistant Deputy Ministers discussing (again) the QEDHS file, and the unique needs of the KPDSB, and asking them once more for consideration to help us across the system. If you take a close look at the picture you will see a large Canadian Tire trailer unit, with staff from the program “Jump Start” unloading its hold of toys. They were bringing the toys into the foyer at the Mowat Block for a publicity event and toy drive promoting toys and Christmas for kids.

I want to share with all of you, that last night Scott Urquhart (Student Success  Leader) and I met with representatives from the Jump Start Initiative to begin partnering with them and Canadian Tire to bring the program to the KPDSB. The program is about reengaging kids in activities, athletics and involvement, to get moving again, and to get energized. I look forward to sharing more with all of you about this in the weeks and months ahead, but we will make the lives of our kids and staff extraordinary, as I said in the video earlier this fall. And we will start in Savant Lake.

Before I close this edition of my thoughts (blog), I want to add one further comment about the toys, Jump Start, the kids in Savant Lake who are like many of the kids in every one of our schools; they all count on us, they count on you. As I walked down Bay Street yesterday after my meeting, and noted the feeling of Christmas in the air, it was very clear to me that there are many in our world who have much and enhanced privilege. But as my good friend and colleague Chantal Moore said to me a couple of weeks back, “there are so many in our communities, who have so little.”  She is right, but what our kids have in our communities, that no one can pick up off of any shelf, is they have us, and we have each other in the KPDSB, and you will never be able to put a value on that.

I am so proud of this organization, that I am not able to appropriately articulate in words, and couldn’t do my feelings justice. I am proud of my staff, and proud of my students, and I am extremely proud of all of you.

From my family to all of yours, happy holidays and enjoy that long winter’s nap that you all so very much deserve.

See you in 2014!!

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