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

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