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

End-of-January Note and Kindergarten Registration

Does January feel like the longest month of the year for you?? If it does, you can join the myriad of parents and staff who have told me the very same thing these past couple of weeks. Sure it has 31 days, which by mathematical terms makes it one of the longest months; but when you add that it also represents a period of the year where sunlight is lacking, add the three to four feet of snow we have received in some parts of the Board since January 1st, and that we have had more days than not below -40 degrees with windchill, and even a couple past -50 on a couple of occasions….is it any wonder people have felt that January grinds along?

But here is the thing, and it is worth noting, January ends in two days. The days are in fact getting longer, the warmer weather is coming, the kids will be going outside for breaks, “report card-itis” is almost done, and we have survived. It has been the longest and coldest January that I can remember, and while a few days ago, a colleague of ours remarked to me that it was colder in 1927, I am afraid I was not around to experience that winter. I send this end-of-January Director’s note, to draw attention to the fact, that we as northerners live in a special part of the world, by choice, and inherent in that choice is the resiliency that makes up part of our DNA.

(As an aside, a Director friend of mine last week, said he could relate to our weather, because they too were experiencing cold and frigid temperatures with the mercury dipping down to -12 at one point! How did they survive??!!!!)

I often feel that in my role as DOE, it is my responsibility to not only characterize why the KPDSB is different, but why that difference needs to be celebrated, and to communicate that celebration out to all stakeholders, including and particularly importantly, staff. If we were only talking about weather as being our defining characteristic, what a low-level comment on the KPDSB we would be making. However, when we deepen the conversation to our schools, all of them, our staff, all of you, and our kids, every one of them…..you begin to see that the Board is indeed very different.  So different in fact that our Ministry friends want to help and are trying to help us in the most unique ways and with that, we are trying to help ourselves in ways that we have never tried before, or had thought of even a few short years ago.

It has been raised to me by many staff over the past few months: has the nature of the Board, meaning the high incidence rates of kids with needs that years ago were not experienced, the diversity of our families and communities, the acceptance that we are a Board for all, and the fact that we are the Face of Public Education, in fact turned some people away?

It is a good question, and it requires a lot of thought, and reflection. Before I reply with (and this will surprise you) my opinion, let me first ask this supplemental question: if you were to be part of an organization, would you want it to be one that accepts all, welcomes all, and feels a responsibility to our most vulnerable? Would you believe that no matter how compromised an upbringing or home environment, (or lack thereof) that many of the kids who come to us face, we have an ethical responsibility to give them our best?

Or, would you close the door and turn the child away and say we can’t, because we really don’t have to, or “you’re not our problem”. Would you say that it’s Ok to exclude some by choice? If you believe in public education that truly is about closing gaps and levelling the field for all, not just some, I assure you, you have come to the right place. I say this, because I am incredibly proud of this organization, or as a principal said to me a few weeks back, “Sean, you bleed this organization.”

I suppose I do.

But these comments are not without a strong message to all of our staff: If I am proud of our organization, then I am going to assume you are too. And if you feel that the organization is good enough to call home as an educator, an education assistant, or office staff, and an education system to say “I am proud to work for the largest regional school board in the area.” (and I might add, one of the largest employers in the area too), then the assumption is that it is unquestionably equally good for everyone. The KPDSB sets the bar high for all and works relentlessly to improve, it is probably one reason we often feel our job is never done. It is also why we come up with amazing and innovative programs, and not wait to see what someone else is doing. However, I challenge you on this, if the system is strong enough for adults, then it’s good enough for kids, all kids, including yours and mine. This week is Kindergarten Registration Week for the KPDSB across the system; there are ads and media advertisements everywhere. I am not only respectfully asking all staff to speak up the KPDSB in your communities, I frankly expect it. The Board is surging and growing, and getting stronger; we have a bright future, and an impassioned vision of who we are and where we’re going. And if you had your choice, would you choose to get off the bus, or stay on the team?

Let the conversation begin, and as always, please feel free to call me.

As you ponder my comments, make sure you put time aside to cheer for our Canadians in the weeks ahead in Sochi!

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