Leadership in Times of Challenge and Controversy

Good morning everyone,

I thought it would be a good time to send the first blog post of 2015 as we begin the last week of January, which for many of you that know me well, is the longest month of the year (in my opinion). Both for duration of calendar days, but also because the days typically in the north are shorter of daylight, colder, and harder on many people than we might think or admit to ourselves at times. But this last week of January also represents a bit of a hump; that we have made it through potentially the coldest month of the year, days becoming longer, the end of first semester at secondary and the beginning of the report “card-itis” syndrome that becomes a part of the elementary reality as well.

Over the past few months the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has been involved in several very significant, and not-for-the-faint-of-heart situations, that needed both addressing and firm resolve to take them on, and to bring them to forward. These challenges have not been matters suddenly appearing out of nowhere, but rather simmering for years. While not alone in the sense that the recent NorWOSSA sanctions involved all of our secondary schools and athletic departments, they most directly put the community of Kenora and our six schools in the area in the direct spotlight, and under intense scrutiny. It has not been easy for the staff of Evergreen, King George VI, Keewatin, Valleyview, and Sioux Narrows Public Schools; and it certainly has not been without effect for all staff at Beaver Brae Secondary School.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated in1959 that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” While Dr. King referenced man, the symbolism of his comments really are not gender-specific. As you read the next few paragraphs, please consider the power of its meaning. It is relatively easy to lead when times are smooth, the future certain and when struggles or challenges minimal, or even non-existent. However, when adversity shows itself, and tough and difficult events face you every day, (at times unrelenting) how we act, and how we respond is indeed the mark of us in KPDSB.

Events in recent weeks have tested us, as an organization, and some of us personally, as we were forced to respond to statements made in the media and in public forums, unwarranted and as I have termed them “indiscriminately and from the hip”. But those who have challenged us, and attempted to denigrate our staff in the media circles have failed; plain and simple they have failed to diminish the work that staff do every day, in every school, in every one of our communities. I mention this not to raise ire, but rather because over the last few weeks, I have received hundreds of supportive emails and calls from you as staff and community members indicating that our beloved KPDSB is indeed strong, and firm in its unconditional support of each other. And as we enter a new era of reasserting our system, our goals and actions needed to achieve our goals, there is feeling that with staff working together whether it be Sioux Lookout, or Dryden or Kenora, we are absolutely a formidable lot. As a powerful example yesterday, Sunday, January 25th, a Kindergarten Symposium kicking off Kindergarten registration week (and not just in Kenora but in all of our schools) was held and was incredibly successful. Thank you to those staff involved, the Kindergarten teams across the area, and thank you to vice-principal Shannon Bailey (Valleyview PS) for the coordination of such a wide-scale event.

I respectfully call on all staff, elementary and secondary alike, to promote our registration week for Kindergarten programming, in all KP schools. It is in our interests to talk this up and to vigorously advertise in our communities, arenas, grocery stores, restaurants, and social gatherings when the opportunities arise. And why wouldn’t you? Our Kindergarten programming under the leadership of our Kindergarten teachers and Early Childhood Educators together; and with Education Assistants working with our most vulnerable children alongside, create formidable teaching teams anywhere and indisputably. Thank you to all of you from all of us.

However, and back to the point of discussion, the NorWOSSA actions which somewhat centred around events at all of our secondary schools and originally out of Kenora, were as much about taking a stand, taking the high road, and ensuring any who we choose to compete with, abide by and follow the rules established for all us; not just some of us. In the days ahead there will be communication in the media and across our schools through our administration about the work that we, and more importantly you do in every one of our schools, and at the system level. Your administration will be able to share with you the action we have taken at the senior level in regards to students with Special Education, Aboriginal children, NorWOSSA athletics, and done so now at the provincial level, at the Director level, and at the local level. And…I encourage you to talk with your school administrator to have them share with you the details of what has transpired over the last few weeks and recently last week in Toronto, after having apprised them myself on several matters.

The rules of engagement, whether it be in sports or how we treat kids or enrol students, are rules for everyone and one system does not get to opt out of them. In the weeks ahead we will work hard and closely with others to clarify what the rules ares, and that all abide by them. I am proud of the KPDSB secondary administration, and especially proud of the KPDSB Athletic Directors who espouse fairness and competition with development of young people in mind. Thank you to Mike Lalonde and Geoff Zilkans (DHS), Janine Lavoie ( QEDHS), Darrin Bausch (RLDHS), Reg McDonald (BBSS) and George Lotsios (IHS).

I am proud of you, and I am proud of our coaches and our students.

I have been inspired by my staff, in a way that I have had difficulty putting into words, not unusual for me. But our staff are talking about what we are doing, they are talking about it in person, and they are talking about us on social media. They are speaking up about specialty programs like the new Grades 1-8 Hockey Academy Program at Sioux Mountain Public School with Steve Dumonski, or the Aboriginal Mentor Coach effort at Dryden High School with Kieran McMonagle. In short our staff, are speaking up and they are promoting us in an unprecedented way, and what we are seeing is good; it feels very good.

There is much to extrapolate from this blog, as it is about tough leadership and the requiem for making difficult decisions. We have been through a fair bit these last months, but it is over, and we have prevailed; adversity often bringing the best out of people. And now I ask for more out of you: having spoken with so many of you in the first several months about the Efficacy Review, and the impact on staff, we now require the voice of front-line staff. As a result, I am now inviting each school and board office in this organization to submit one person to represent your school and staff to participate in a staff/teacher Efficacy Working Group with me, meeting once a month. I will rely on your voice to help me act on the school and teacher efficacy needs and associated with concrete goals, and I assure you we will meet those goals. Please consider putting your name forward, by speaking with your school principal or vice-principal, and let’s now work together to deliver on needs that impact our school staff, using the Efficacy Review as our guide.

As I prepare to close, I want to share a passage a friend and colleague shared with me earlier this month, as I was responding to media requests that “challenged” our work with Aboriginal children and communities. Ironically, while I had to respond to serious statements about the KPDSB from one member of the Treaty 3 community, others did feel that our work was so valuable that as Director, I received a beautiful sweater jacket as a gift from several First Nation chiefs who did believe our rich history in helping Aboriginal students achieve and better their lives, simply reinforcing our already strong relationships with many Aboriginal and Métis families.

Before I end with this passage, I leave you my regular request, but this time more impassioned and more emphatically, ask questions of myself, or your leaders, and speak up. If you feel you have something to say about the KPDSB, please…..email and reach out to me as I ask of you. February is around the corner!

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship in a Republic” (1910)

Take care, and if I can be of any assistance, please ask,

Sean

November Post

Hi Everyone!

Have you ever noticed that during the late fall days and weeks that make up the latter part of October and early November, the sky at times turns into an amazing blue hue, with colors that can be nothing short of spectacular?

It becomes even more noticeable and even omnipresent, when you travel as much as I do within the Board’s reaches on our highways and you find yourself looking ahead into the horizon. On several occasions in the past couple of weeks, I found myself driving along Highway 17 from Dryden towards Kenora, under a heavy cloud cover of grey only to look westward where the sky opened up as a definitive line separated a deep blue from the clouds. I also found myself during these drives home, thinking and reflecting on many things, most of which I doubt would interest you, but on a couple of thoughts, most definitely I would speculate.

October and early November have been incredibly busy months for many of us, you, your families, your colleagues, your principals and administration, and absolutely for us in Senior Administration. For myself, I have probably and admittedly in hindsight, overextended myself a wee bit by trying to fulfill my commitment of meeting with every single staff in the system to discuss the Efficacy Review. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have managed to make it to Upsala, Ignace, Pickle Lake, all of our schools in Red Lake and Ear Falls, a few more schools in Kenora and in Dryden, and of course back and forth to Sioux Lookout on a couple of occasions. In total, I have now been to 17 of our schools, and have the remaining ones in Dryden and Kenora to go, before calling the “Efficacy Tour” complete. The visits and staff discussions have been as diverse as the Board is itself, and have been more than productive, sometimes challenging, but always a learning experience. I have also been working with the school administration team across the system to continue to impress the belief that Efficacy can mean change, and can make us better. But on this last point, is where my greatest learning and candidly, my greatest challenge of recent, has emerged.

I should add that after the last Efficacy email that I sent out, I did receive a criticism (I will call it friendly and perhaps even constructive) that I should not be so candid, perhaps even so open with staff. I have thought about that, and I have to tell you, while I appreciate the feedback, I disagree. So with this in mind, I want to tell you what has been stirring me; and in sharing this with you, I also invite your comments and thoughts too.

The Keewatin-Patricia District School Board has prided itself, on being a Board that is home to everyone, and a Board that can serve everyone. We have gone to great lengths, spent energy and much capital on celebrating our diversity and our challenges. I suspect the latter comment, because we have achieved so much when you consider how big our challenges are, specifically when it comes to the wide-ranging needs of our kids. We have celebrated, and in fact promoted our work in Special Education, Aboriginal Education, and even as recently as last week, our work in FASD. We have received national recognition for our work, and frequently are called upon to share our success stories with provincial leaders and other Boards, because as we have often identified, our work and our achievement when you look at where we start with our kids is truly nothing short of heroic. And yet, and for myself….a personal struggle, accepting that some in our communities might look at our accomplishments and agree it is noble work, but feel it is not the environment for their kids?

Recently, Susanne raised this question to me, that is “Can celebrating our challenges at times work against us?”, and while she and I may not always agree on the color of the sky, I do respect and value her opinion and experience a great deal. I also know that she, like all of my Senior Administration would only do and accept their best work for the good of the organization. So when she raised this question, I admit, I had to struggle with the notion that some in our communities might turn away from the KPDSB because we are a system for all, and include all. To complicate further my own internal questioning, is like many of you the fact that I too am from the North, and that we live, work and play in the very communities we have grown up in. The fact that a few of my own lifelong friends could consider looking away from the KPDSB because we have many different students and challenges, remains a very difficult concept to accept, to be honest. The KPDSB remains the biggest school board in Northwestern Ontario, outside of Thunder Bay, and is the face of public education, that I will not concede anything on. If you say you believe in equity and fairness, you need to live it, because talk is cheap. In other words, if you actually believe in all students then you accept all students, and that this stance is not merely a punch line.

What am I talking about? Perhaps the best example that I heard in the last couple of weeks, was when I was told of a situation of a new family who had moved to one of our communities. The family was looking at schools, and when they heard that the school closest to their home had an “FASD” dedicated program, felt that it would be an environment similar to contagion that they could not have their child in. As if to suggest FASD is a contracted disease, as opposed to the brain impediment that it is. I could rail against ignorance in our area or put the spotlight on racism and bigotry, or I could reflect on what this is telling me and all of us. And that is we need to work harder to get our message out, we cannot be nonchalant about our schools and we cannot under any circumstances take anything for granted.

We need to support our system.

We need to be champions of our schools! I have challenged staff everywhere I go to look at Efficacy, to question the status quo, to look at us from a different perspective and asked you all to consider how we can do things, a little or even perhaps a lot differently? If I can go school to school to school, and door to door to door, then I need to believe at the very least that every single staff will take ownership of their school too.

When I think back to my recent Efficacy Staff meeting at Golden Learning Center, Michelle Parrish and Kathi Fawthrop asked me to consider the following: if we are asking teachers to look at students from a growth mindset, then can we also not look at our teachers from a growth mindset as well?? Michelle, we certainly can and we will.

We will do better, and efficacy is all about believing we can do better, and that anything is possible, if we believe it to be right. Efficacy is also about asking tough questions, like can we compromise our beliefs that all students have a right to be in our schools, regardless of their background, their race, their needs, or their family circumstances? Efficacy also requires, as I have learned first-hand, tough true-grit leadership too. I am glad Susanne asked me the question, because it only reinforced my belief we are a system for all, and on that point I will never waver, not ever. It matters not to me, how challenged our kids are, they are human beings and they are the best their parents have got; we will never close our doors or send them down the street.

At my recent Ignace School Efficacy visit, Kevin Goudie surprised me with his comments; not because Kevin is opposed to expressing his views, but because of what he said. He remarked that we have been in very difficult circumstances where the environment had been extremely tough, and when you might visualize us as being at opposite sides of the table. But he also commented, that never, ever did our position about children and helping students waver, even in the face of extremely difficult conversations. He made my ride home that night, seem to fly by, as I clipped along the highway trying to get home to our youngest son Tristan’s birthday supper. I can tell you Kevin’s comments as have many of yours over the last few months, reenergized my belief and faith in the pursuit of public education and uncompromising support of KPDSB.

I am asking you to give of yourselves in support of the KPDSB, and more specifically your own schools. I remain steadfastly committed to my promise to you that I will never ask of you to give more than I am myself am prepared to give, and I am asking you to lead efficacy by example, by being strong and supportive of your colleagues and schools.

And for myself, I do plan on trying to slow down, for a little bit anyways, but I have a few more Efficacy visits to go.

Please think about what I have asked of you, and I encourage you, to as always, give me your thoughts.

Take care,

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

In Praise of Summer

Good Morning, Everyone!

Have you ever noticed that with the various seasons also come certain or particular monikers and phrases that capture the essence of the changing months? For example, with the changing colours of the leaves comes Fall, or a time for thanksgiving, the start of a new school year and the period that preludes that other season we don’t want to talk about. Spring brings new beginnings with leaves and flowers, vibrancy and life, shorts and t-shirts, and the well-deserved reprieve from winter. And Summer, well summer brings with it sunshine, fishing of course, days on a boat, barbecuing and family holidays. For us in education, summer also means something else, and I will publicly state it…well-earned downtime for educators, and staff alike.

 Folks, summer is here.

 It seems like it was really only a few weeks ago that I was sending out a call for all of us in my first post in August, asking you to embrace the “Kids Come First” stance, as you prepared to watch a new Board video that we had worked on over the summer to kick off the school year at your first staff meeting. And yet, there have been times where the days were long and exhausting, and sunlight was in short supply. In between the bookends of September and June of course have been many school and system achievements and accomplishments. At the classroom level, there have been many achievements of individual student success that I likely don’t even know about; examples of kids reading for the first time independently, understanding that regrouping is actually a skill that can be mastered in long division for a 10 year old, and watching a grade 10 student make lasagna for the first time in their “Foods Class” (and you know what, it was pretty good!). I got to witness JJ Hardy at King George two weeks ago peddle a bike independently for about 10 feet with education assistant Margie Collins watching and supporting him. Not much of a big deal on the surface I suppose except it was a year ago this June that Celia and I visited him in the Children’s ICU ward in Winnipeg thinking it was going to be the last time we would see him. And yet there he was last week peddling away and trying to grab my hand; resiliency on a scale many of us can’t appropriately describe. And I watched as many of you did, life-long friend and colleague Dave Tresoor from BBSS, continuing his waged war on cancer, often reminding me that he knows how this will turn out, with him on top although the journey to winning is often a rough one.

I got to meet a young man by the name of Andrew Edwards, from Hudson who had some interesting challenges this year of his own going through grade 12 at QEDHS, and wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to ride the bus each day without some level of torment. He will graduate Thursday night, top of his class, and then head off to the University of Ottawa where he will start this fall in physics and chemistry; look for Andrew to be your doctor some day. And oh yeah, he attended his first ever dance and prom wearing a tuxedo for the first time, and probably feeling like a million bucks; in other words feeling good about himself and seeing value in his life. Andrew, I am proud of you!

I visited Mel McCready and Violet King’s kindergarten class at Open Roads PS last week and learned that several of the children in the class had lost their parents to suicide and addiction throughout this year, yet the kids still came. Mel asked me, “do you think we could give a value for giving kids a hug and telling them they will be OK?” Not hard to understand why we are all so exhausted at the end of June is it?

Yes, this is narrative of the KPDSB, and every single school and classroom across the system has stories and personalities like the ones I have shared today. At the recent system Efficacy Assessment and Review that concluded last week, the team from Pearson Learning Services commented to me in their private debriefing with myself, that the only word they could use that even approached describing the KPDSB was “Inspiring”.

There have no doubt been times throughout this year where you may have felt overwhelmed, frustrated and even angry with the challenges you faced each day. If you did, then we’re in the same company because I know I have too. But you know what, I wouldn’t want it any other way, and I wouldn’t want to be part of any other organization. Would you? We are the real deal, and we are going to now put all energies forward to become the best. Saying you are the best, means you are the best. As I said to the senior admin team a few weeks back, I want to be the team holding “the Cup” over our heads at the end of the day; I don’t want us to be good enough or second best, I want us to be the best.

As I close for 2013-2014, I want to ask you this: do you know what Dr. Stuart Shankar, Dr. Gideon Koren, Dr. Jean Clinton, Barry Finlay, and the Pearson Efficacy Review Team all have in common?? They all say we are the best chance for our kids and their families, and in many cases we are the difference between life and hope, and tragedy and despondency. As I have said many times, I am proud of our organization, proud of my staff and administration, and am now ready to take a little bit of time to reflect on the year, and prepare to get better, because our students and staff do deserve nothing less than the best.

Let’s enjoy summer, and see you in September,

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

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

New KPDSB Media Campaign: Continuing to Celebrate Our Staff

Hi Everyone!

As I write this edition of the Director’s Journal (Blog I suppose!), I am actually reminded of a couple of things that characterize and define part of what it means to work in the KPDSB! It is early November, there are a few flakes falling to the ground, meaning that really we are on borrowed time, and one of the first road closure on our highways has occurred. My plans for early this morning were to leave my house, and begin the drive to Savant Lake, then onto Pickle Lake, but not before stopping at QEDHS to visit the folks there first. Many of us travel these highways all the time, and while my messaging and priority remains committed to reducing time out of schools, time off the roads, and time away from meetings, this morning’s trip was to be my final school visits for round one of this year. Unfortunately, fourteen tractor trailer units collided and piled up on the highway between Kenora and Vermilion Bay closing travel down for about 12 hours! Why I am sharing this little anecdote; how often do we travel our roads living in the Northwest, for personal, family, recreational, and work related reasons? As my wife Cecilia reminded me this morning “do people from Southern Ontario, really understand where we live, and what we have to do, to get around?” Good question; I wonder myself sometimes.

You may or may not have heard some of the recent radio messages across the airwaves lately that are on behalf of the KPDSB. We typically do some promotion and radio advertisements for matters such as kindergarten registration, open houses, or special wishes such as “Merry Christmas”. What is new this year, and what I have asked Sheena (our communications assistant) to help me with, and for many of you to help with, is for our grass roots staff to do these ads for us now! Before, we would have a generic radio voice bring messages to the public; however, in keeping with my commitment to celebrating and recognizing our school staff and front-line personnel, I will be having Sheena contact many of you to do the ads for us. For example, last week, we brought wishes and a message of being safe at Halloween. This week we have Remembrance Day ads running.  The next two weeks will involve ads celebrating National Child Day and National Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Why is this important? The messages are important to be sure in themselves; what is more important is that we have exceptionally real people who are making lives of others extraordinary! I want us to showcase real staff, with real narratives representing the organization. The entire system can expect this approach to continue and to gather momentum as we go forward. To those that have already recorded announcements on our behalf, thank you!

The strength of our system is reinforced by the efforts and on the backs of our staff, we can never forget this. As always, I welcome and encourage staff to call or email me at any time, to express concerns or ask of me questions, my office is always open.

The highway just opened, Savant Lake and Pickle Lake, here I come!!

Take care,

Sean