Kids: April Blog

While I saved this post under the file name “Kids: April Blog” you’ll have to forgive me if I send it out while it’s still March; avoiding the references to the April Fool, or at least hoping to!

I also hope that whatever you did for the March Break, it brought you and your family some level of rest and rejuvenation; the solid block of time between January 1st and the March Break in our world of education always for me, marks the single greatest period of uninterrupted intensive work in our schools and for staff. I suppose that with the limited daylight and cold, it also brings added challenge. But we are entering spring, then Easter, soon to be followed by ice-out,  and of course “Opening Weekend” that many of you mark on your calendars, and onwards!

But timing is everything, and how quickly time flies, ever-amazing to me. Is it just me or do you find that time seems to move faster each year? I mention this because you will remember last year, on this very date (or April 1st to be a exact), that we endured a most severe winter storm that we had had in recent memory, as Mother Nature played an annual spring trick on us. It also marked the first time, we had to shut the entire organization down on account of weather, and cruelly was the date, that we had to reschedule our announcement for the new high school in Sioux Lookout. I recall thinking to myself “Really, we have waited so long to make this announcement and celebrate, and now we have to postpone because of a freak winter storm??!!” But in hindsight, and perhaps with a more pensive perspective, I accepted that we had waited years for this achievement, what was two more days?

It has already been a year since that time. As I write this today, Dean Carrie, our Business Superintendent and Caryl Hron are in Sioux Lookout, sharing with the staff of Queen Elizabeth District High School, the layout for their new high school, and next week I will meet with the Mayor and Council of Sioux Lookout to discuss the required future steps as we prepare for site readiness and municipal planning. My point is we continue to move forward and we continue to roll along, and we are making progress.

In my role as Director, one of the greatest aspects of this responsibility and privilege is that I get to visit all of our schools, meeting staff and talking with students, our kids. I know this will not surprise many of you, as I have frequently shared my experiences in schools. Lately though, I have been able to meet some pretty extraordinary kids from across the system, who not only are a pleasure to be around, but represent a certain innocence and oblivion to a reality that many of us adults find ourselves in. And ironically, for many kids an innocence influenced by necessarily dealing with many adult and very real challenges. For example, if you have not seen the 2014 Director’s Annual Report (and I am not suggesting you take up a lot of time reading through it), it is an annual report card if you will, on what we have done to date. However, I mention this though because this year’s report on its cover, represents what it is I am talking about. Please take a look: the little girl on the cover, whose name is Lilly and is from Ignace Public School, represents a visual that is worth more than ten thousand words. It reminds me of a picture that about ten years ago was a cover for National Geographic, of an young Afghan girl who possessed such piercing blue eyes, it represented the most popular cover for the magazine in its history. Little Lilly to me is our own KPDSB version of that cover, on our own Board report; please take a look.  Click here to view our annual report.

However, and there is a reason why I am sharing this with all of you; Lilly’s life looks very different I would suggest than many of our own, at times humble in its simplicity but undoubtedly impacted by life’s events that are so frequently beyond the control of many of our students. I won’t share Lilly’s last name or specifics of her circumstances, but upon reflection this thought came home to roost for me these past few days. I have just wrapped up two days of Public Council of Directors of Education meetings in Toronto. “CODE” as we are otherwise referred to, is a collection of all 31 public directors of education from across the province, and generally our meetings are held behind closed doors and in private. On Thursday and Friday we assembled together as all of the Grants for Students Needs (GSN’s) were announced and rolled out, one after another for the entire morning. With looking at budget cuts, provincial framework formulas impacting certain areas like Special Education, staffing or enrolment, there was much angst and concern in the room given that we have been bracing for a provincial reduction of somewhere between 1 and 2%.

Everything is relative. And as your Director, I am concerned; we have tough days ahead, and we will be required to make tough decisions, and in saying this I share with you, that my own belief is that we neither seek nor avoid our challenges. We deal with them, and we will. We have worked very diligently and very hard as a Senior Team to bring a staffing and budget process forward that mitigates any potential financial challenges, but most importantly does not adversely impact our kids. I have spent the past two days, looking at my Special Education budget, the impact on funding, and how we need to manage the challenges and present stalwart support for our most vulnerable and needy? As I write this, I look at the needs of Northwestern Ontario, all of our schools, and when we get right down to it, my own sense of ownership over all of our schools, staff, and students. And I often think, how did a guy who was going to be a math and physical education teacher end up with considerations like the ones we need to face?

And then I think back to Lilly, who is only 6 years old. Lilly and I have agreed to become electronic pen pals via the help of Ignace principal Chantal Moore. Little Lilly’s concerns aren’t GSN funding announcements, cuts to budget lines in Special Education, or enrolment declines at secondary schools; in fact Lilly I would argue is oblivious to these matters, as she should be. In our recent email exchange, she shares with me she has a dog and that her dog’s name is Sally, that she likes to spend time playing Minecraft on weekends, and then the times she goes outside for bike rides. She asked me last week to send a picture of my puppy, “Atticus Finch”, the 7 pound Pomeranian that calls us home because we both share an affinity for animals. There is an attempt at a message here, and it is this: our responsibility to all of the “Lilly’s” out there across the KPDSB is uncompromising. She needs to be a little girl, who while not able to articulate her expectations of us as adults in the school board, she also needs to know that we will not fail her or any of our kids, including yours and mine. “Kids First” is going to take on whole enhanced perspective in the future, because putting kids first means everyone else comes second. And those who put themselves on the line for kids need our support, unequivocally; I look at new teachers particularly and staff who have recently signed up to be part of the KPDSB team, and they will need our help. Their careers are just beginning, ready to empower and be empowered.

And so back to my initial comments about how quickly time flies and where many staff might be at themselves, professionally and personally. With time passing, and in our careers, also enters or exits (depending on how you look upon it) phases or chapters in our lives. For many staff, this time of the year serves as a ponderance about whether retirement and entry into a new way of living is what is next, while at the opposite end of the spectrum, we have new hires simply wondering if they will have a job next year. I have received a number of letters of retirement in the past two weeks, and have wondered what thinking must go through one’s head when making such a decision? With the pressures around us, and knowing that staffing is under incredible pressures this year particularly, I worry about how staffing will affect our newest teachers and staff; recalling my own personal experiences years ago at the time of amalgamation and my own levels of anxiety then. Thinking of this specifically, I encourage any staff who wish to have a conversation with me about their future plans as staff in the KPDSB to email or call me, for my perspective and when asked, my thoughts. Do not hesitate.

In closing, and in reference to my last blog: it generated a considerable amount of response and replies from many staff (and as I am learning from many that read it, who are not staff of the organization; a fact that surprised me, somewhat disbelieving people would give up time to read the musings of a guy who writes what he is thinking and feeling). Certainly, the video and the story of one of our was one that hit home for many, as was the idea that we live for each day, and accept it with the approach that it will be our best. Apparently hearing of my son, Aoedan’s first “vehicular mishap” also resonated as many of you shared personal stories of similar experiences with your own teenagers! I have to quickly add though that when Aoedan came home he promptly informed me that he had “heard a rumour” of my sharing his event with people “I work with” from a friend of his, and suggesting with a level of incredulity that I would never do such a thing. The mortification on his face as he read the blog for the first time, probably reflected my own upon my coming to scene of his inclined vehicle that memorable day back in January! Interesting though, as we talked about him growing up into adulthood, his younger brother Tristan thought it would be a great time to inform the table he had some “good news” to share himself; that being he had decided he is going to live at home until he was probably “30 or 40”; of course with his own “family and dog” he was looking to acquire. He wanted to make my day by disclosing his decision, and that he would financially support it by rotating occupations between being a “professional hunter” and logger (like his grandfather), with maybe a moonlighting job of playing professional hockey…..Coincidentally the next morning Joan indicated to me she was noticing that I was starting to grey a little more on the one side of my head than the other; thanks Joan. I think it might the same side that Joan tends to sit on as well, so maybe there is a connection???

This post is meant to be about kids, their reality in their classrooms, schools, families…..in their lives frankly; and the trust they put in us as adults to protect their interests and needs as children attending KPDSB schools. So as we now enter the season that we use to finalize preparations for next year, the premise about Kids Coming First, will mean everything, and it is a stance that I, and I know all of you take extremely seriously.

Welcome spring and all that is has to offer, and as always, anytime, email or call me.

Sean

“Hope: The Week That Was”

In my favourite movie of all time, “The Shawshank Redemption”, the character known as Red and played by Morgan Freeman is released from prison after spending virtually his entire life behind bars. His re-entry to society is not only difficult, it is overwhelming. When he was imprisoned in the 1940’s, the world was a very different place than the one he walks into over thirty years later; and his transition is predictably difficult. As he contemplates his future and considers his options, the very real decision to take his own life in an effort to escape what he sees as an impossible future, just as other cohorts of his have done previously, looms on both him and the viewer.

He has the option of going to visit fellow ex-con and good friend, Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who has migrated to Mexico; but his question is whether life is worth living on the outside. If you have watched the movie, you will recall just as I do, Red’s struggle when he looks at the overhead beam and the rope he is seriously considering using when he assesses life by saying “Get busy living, or get busy dying”; followed by him buying a bus ticket taking him to the US/Mexico border. As he rides the bus he considers the notion of hope….and the future.

This past week, in the KPDSB, could be argued to have been one unlike any other. We postponed a major event Monday in Sioux Lookout on account of weather, which later turned into the storm of the year, resulting in the decision to close all schools and board offices on Tuesday, a decision I might add I do not regret making, followed by Wednesday’s assembly at Queen Elizabeth District High School where we were able to finally announce that we had received the money from the Ministry of Education to build a 30 plus million dollar new high school in Sioux Lookout! If that wasn’t enough we headed over to Valleyview Public School Thursday to have some cake and officially open a newly constructed kindergarten wing with staff, officials, contractors and of course kids taking part. Friday, Dean and I joined our friend and partner Delbert Horton from Seven Generations as the Federal Government announced over 5 million dollars in funding for young people to be trained in the mining industry. Outside the Board, Joan was busy in Toronto on Thursday representing us at the provincial Children’s Mental Health Summit presenting on our work in FASD, while Caryl was meeting officials at the Meno Ya Win Health Access Center in Sioux Lookout to see how our new classes are faring there. Yes, it was quite a week; but aren’t they all? Poor Sheena can’t keep up.

Back to Shawshank; following his decision “to get busy living” Red initiates a conversation about the belief in “hope”, is it a good thing or not?? If you look at us in the KPDSB, I might ask you what does hope mean or represent? I would argue that “hope” is a dangerous thing, for hope represents no boundaries, no restrictions; it is limitless and the possibilities are endless because anything can happen no matter how far out of reach something may seem. Hope means we can dream, we can do more and we can believe that things could always be better…and that maybe just once in a while something amazing can and will happen.

It happened this week at QEDHS, even though I was told back in September our chances were less than one in a million of being approved for a new high school. I was proud to call myself an employee of the KPDSB listening to John and Rhonda McCrae, and Steve Poling who spoke more eloquently than I have ever heard him speak before. I received several hundred emails from staff across the system after the decision was made to close our schools on account of the weather on Tuesday, including a consistent theme from colleagues commenting that they would do anything for the organization because we really do put people first. I watched the kindergarten teams from Valleyview Public School give the privilege of opening the kindergarten wing and cutting the ribbon to the kids themselves, as I did when it was grade 9 students, not adults, who announced the new school in Sioux Lookout. I listened to Barb Van Diest from Ear Falls share with the Leadership group last week what it meant to her to put kids first in a way that brought it home like never before. And I chuckled when I teased first year Grade 3/4 teacher Mitch Kinger in Kenora about his literacy block, knowing that as a first year teacher we can support him to provide literacy instruction to his kids, but his admirable ability to connect with students is really what characterizes his strength. I could go on and on about the stories of the Board that take place every day, and in the process provide hope not only for kids, but inspire us as staff and senior administration too.

If you ever needed an opportunity to hit the reset button, feel good about your work and your place in the KPDSB, last week was about as good a chance as I have ever seen. I hope you are well, feeling buoyed by the sunshine and snow melting; we are coming into the last couple of months of the year, and the energy is good, and the future never so bright! How could you not feel positive??!! If you don’t, drop me a line, because as I was reminded this past week, I have more than enough energy to share!

And speaking of sunshine, QEDHS and Valleyview PS, let us all share in yours, for you and we deserve it. Bring on the sun!!

Sean