Welcome Back, We Are Family

Good Morning Everyone, Welcome Back….Welcome Home!!!

Over the next couple of days as you reconnect with your colleagues, students, and families, you will have opportunities to hear what exciting things those around you have been doing the past couple of months! And of course people will want to know how your summer has been, and where you and those closest to you have gone. For some of you, you may have stayed close to home, and enjoyed the long sunny days of Northwestern Ontario. I always chuckle that as many of us go on vacations across the country, just as many (and more) come to visit our area because of the beauty and endearing qualities we possess…we live in the greatest part of this province, this country if you asked me. From me to all of you…Welcome Back!

Later this morning, at your first staff meeting, such as it has become custom these past four years now, you will watch the 2016-2017 Keewatin-Patricia District School Board Video “Kids Come First”. The tradition started four years ago, as I began my first year as Director of Education, and I suppose in reflection was only meant to be a one-time project. But staff each year and increasingly, ask for another to be created with a new theme. This year the Efficacy group members determined the theme, and picked the song. I mention this because the first three have been energized and jazzy in the sense that they are quick, light and celebrate the best in us, in you. However, this year the theme is “We Are Family”; and if it couldn’t be more fitting, the song (entitled the same) is the Tragically Hip with Gordie Downie singing. His reality and our reality in KPDSB gives this year’s video a no less celebratory feel, but also a very serious cerebral one as well. For New Prospect Public School staff, the video and message will have an even more profound meaning and impact I suspect as you will notice two of your own students remarking for us all “We are resilient!” Indeed we are and need to be, but their story and background is one you will know well. Use their comment as inspiration for you, for all of us.

Over the summer, the Senior Administration team consisting of Scott, Caryl, Joan, Susanne, and myself were finally able to have a private meeting arranged together with the Deputy Ministers of Health, Education, Child and Youth Services, as well as couple of Assistant Deputy Ministers from the same ministries. The meeting was a promise filled by our good friend and outgoing Deputy George Zegerac. As a parting effort and in recognition of truly how heroic our work is with our kids, but also in recognition of the toll it takes on our staff….he brought us all together in Toronto at the Deputy Minister’s office and for two hours my Senior Team and I advocated as hard as I think we possibly could for our Board, our schools, our staff, and our kids. Our needs are very, very different. The traditional teaching and learning “box” is not our reality in many, many cases. The meeting in itself was unprecedented. None of us have ever experienced anything like it; and as George’s former assistant told me afterwards: “It hasn’t happened before; George wants to help you, we all need to help you in the North.” We have asked for unprecedented help with school-based supports, that are bigger than Special Education; they include Children’s Mental Health, behavioral supports, and staff, student (and their families’) wellness supports, and we have been charged with formulating a comprehensive plan to provide to the three Ministry’s, and fast. Joan is leading this and we hope to have action and movement as soon as reasonably possible for you.

Why did we do this? Over the last year, and in particular this past spring it became obvious that staff overwhelmingly have adopted a “Kids First” stance in their daily lives at work, and after work increasingly…helping children. This putting “kids first” adoption by staff though, as it has become evident, has impacted my staff across the system be you teacher, education assistant, early childhood educator, administrative assistant, librarian, custodian, principal…and it has affected the Senior Administration ourselves. Never, has a sense of cause or urgency been so palpable for us at the executive level, hearing and learning daily of the challenges our staff face regularly with their children. It has become a mission to do more, to help more and to support more. As I indicated to Senior Admin at our August meeting two weeks ago, “If staff can’t count on us to help, who can they count on?” For this reason, the meeting took place in Toronto in July; and for this reason it likely is the impetus for the serious undertone we begin this year with.

You will also receive communication later today from me as well regarding a pilot concept that promotes “staff-wellness” and your health through daily physical activity; please support this and your own health. Please read and consider sincerely and carefully; I ask you to support us, and in turn support your own health.

We are an academic organization that has redefined our work as educators by reshaping what classrooms look like and how we interact with our Northern students; and this work has caught both provincial and national attention. But we also need to continue to set the highest of expectations; we need to ask the most out of our students, and encourage them for their absolute best…for excellence. If you have watched the Olympics over the past few weeks, you can see what demanding the best and excellence out of yourself can achieve. Whether it be Penny Oleksiak, Andre Degrasse, or the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team, asking for our very best can produce results! In DeGrasse’s case, his trajectory four short years ago was not one headed for Olympic achievement and national heroism; it was one spiraling in the opposite direction. A few around him demanded more, supported him, and pushed him to work hard. Watching him walk around the Olympic Stadium with a Canadian Flag over his back, for me as I’m sure it did for you, instilled pride I have in Canada and who we are. It instilled the same pride as I felt last Saturday night when I watched Gordie Downie sing “The Hip’s” final concert in their hometown of Kingston, particularly when they sang “Bobcaygen”….a reference to a small town in Northern Ontario. And it instilled the same pride I have in us and you, when I watched the new Board video with “We Are Family” sung by the same Downie, the first few times I did earlier this month.

As you watch and recognize many faces in it of your students and your colleagues, I ask you for a moment to put yourself in my shoes as Director and reflect on the many, many changes, reforms and successes that have occurred over the past three years and why I continue to tell you how proud I am of us, of you, and of your work. I ask you to work hard, but also promote to you that we will never ever ask you to work harder than we are prepared to ourselves in administration. I have often commented that the Director must be the hardest working person in the Board; if they aren’t, then asking people for their most in their work is completely undermined. We are family, and yes we have a lot to contend with but we are also moving in such a spectacularly successful direction that we are smashing barriers along the way. As the Evergreen Public staff declare in the video “We Are Proud!!”…and indeed we are, and as we begin a new year, I couldn’t be more so myself!

All the best, have a terrific start-up, and I look forward to seeing you soon in your schools!
Sean

Down-Time

To be honest, it wasn’t only until in the last couple of months, that I actually considered what downtime really represented. Here is a question, and ask yourselves honestly, how many of you can make down-time a priority? I feel confident in suggesting I know the majority of our staff….and with that relationship with you, am confident in saying most of us would really struggle with giving ourselves the time to rest our heads, our thoughts, and our eyes in a way which other professions perhaps do not. And I say that respectfully, to all.

I know I need to be constantly vigilant with this…allowing myself time to slow it down; sometimes even needing a gentle reminder to do better on that front. This particular year, especially.

However, if there was ever a time of the year to rest, reflect and rejuvenate, it is July and August; or as we affectionately refer to it: SUMMER. One of the best aspects of my job, and also one of the most demanding is that I am privileged to get to meet all of you and visit your schools, classrooms and students. It is an amazing component of the job that I have come to love, even if our furthest school away from my Kenora office is 6 hours! While the travel can be heavy at times, the diversity and character of our KPDSB is also one of our most endearing qualities.

However, the sole reason for mentioning this unique opportunity of going to visit all of our schools, is that it has become quite apparent in recent weeks that people are ready for a break, some downtime; people are ready for summer. And you deserve this too. It has been an incredibly busy, action-filled, and successful year. It has also been emotionally challenging and draining at times. The needs of our kids, affecting our own needs have become so evident it is palpable. I thank the Efficacy Group for speaking candidly with me; and with that said, want to share directly with all of them, that our March Efficacy meeting in Dryden has not been lost on me, nor will it fade from memory for a very long time.

In conversation yesterday with a colleague and a school representative on the Efficacy group as we were chatting about her school and staff; I indicated I recognized that people are tired and in some cases, exhausted. I feel the same way to be honest. However, when you work with kids (lots of them) and you give of yourself everything you have both physically and mentally, little wonder that on this morning of the last day of school, there will be lots of red eyes filled with emotion today. Over the last while, I have been challenging a commonly held belief that I have had since starting teaching 23 years ago; and that is summer may not just be the time away from school that many kids look forward to. In fact summer may represent less stability in their lives, more chaos and disarray, and completely opposite than what they would get from you each day in their lives at school. And I now know full-well that many of you in the KPDSB worry a great deal about your kids while away from school during the summer, and if they are OK; as you would with your very own families.

This latter point is what defines KPDSB staff in a way that many can’t even comprehend. The level of care that you give our kids. 2015-2016 will go down in my mind as the year the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board moved into another league in what it means to put kids first; a league of its own. This post will be nothing about media coverage, hockey academy, EDU visits, partnerships with NAN, or even new schools. This last one of the year, is meant to be a direct message from me to all of you, in which I want you to know that as you worry about your own kids and colleagues, I worry about you as Director. I want to say thank you, and as I do, to tell you how inspired I am by what you do, every day. It is a privilege to work and serve you as Director of Education, and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, other than part of this team here in KPDSB. And that as tough as it will get for us in schools in continuing to meet the needs of our kids, I will do everything I can in my power to support you.

Have an amazing summer, please rest now. When we come back in the fall, I assure you there will be some significant updates and achievements to share!

Your Colleague,

Sean

Thank you Dryden!

Good Monday Morning!!

“Come in and jump in the bouncy castle, Mr. Monteith” Dawn-Marie Terry, Full-day kindergarten teacher from New Prospect, yelled to me Saturday morning as I walked up the front lawn of Dryden High School. I have to admit I have seen many things outside the front of high schools, most typical of what one might expect from high school life; but what I have never seen is a blow-up bouncy castle with dozens of children lined up to go inside and play. And yet, there on Saturday morning at DHS was an almost carnival like-scene of games, face-painting, balloons…and a sea of green. Green, as in green “KPDSB Proud” Hoodies and KP green-t shirts of all sizes being worn by so many people, you couldn’t count.

As I walked in front doors, visitors got a double whammy of welcomes, from Susanne Bastable and Mary Helie, both exuberant and enthusiastic…and very welcoming (can you imagine those two in stereo??!!!). I don’t know what I was expecting to see when I came to the Dryden Area KPDSB Schools “Family Fun Open House” Saturday morning, but I did not expect to see what was playing out before my eyes. I suppose I should have known better having sat in on the planning team’s meeting earlier that week with Sheena Valley, Jennifer Bartlett, Megan Gadd, Lindsay Rettie, Arin Boyko and Dawn-Marie (just to name a few), and hearing of the plans. On Friday, as I checked in with Sheena before the end of the day, she commented to me “I just hope some people will show up”. Well, people did show up.

In the three hours between 11 AM to 2 PM on a beautiful Saturday in Dryden, over 1000 people came through the doors of Dryden High School to be met by our Dryden staff, and shared our programs, ideas, and amazing schools. Sounding a bit Romper-Room”ish” I saw children, infants, grandparents, and of course moms and dads. I saw our students from Lillian Berg, Open Roads, New Prospect, and of course Dryden High. Students were face painting little ones, and DHS students from Ryan Graham’s amazing music program were performing in the hallways.  Education assistants, SERT’s, ECE’s kindergarten staff, Dryden Board Office staff, high school shop teachers, special education and curriculum staff, and my administration, they were all there! As you walked in Cindy Palermo and Lynn Pateman were advertising DHS paraphernalia promoting the School’s entrepreneurial programs. Dave Darling had kids working on paddles for canoes in his shop, and the gym….looked more like a sports show one might see at an outdoors exhibition! From French Immersion at NPS, to the Hockey Academy, to Lillian Berg’s renowned Churchill trip and Open Roads’ Explore Program with Deidre McQuade….it was all there, and it was indeed impressive. Newer staff like Celeste Harrison and senior staff like Scott Urquhart and Caryl Hron alike, mingling with residents and new students registered to the KPDSB Family.

But the reason for my wanting to send out a quick post to all of you, was what was most impressive, was the staff. I know people are likely tired of hearing me share how proud I am our staff and KPDSB, but how can you not be?! Green, being the adopted universal colour for all KPDSB schools …was EVRYWHERE!! In fact the only staff or admin not wearing green was probably ME!!! And that was solely due on account (yes, I will admit it as a Beaver Brae graduate and alumni myself), I was wearing a Dryden High School Eagles sweatshirt picked up earlier this year from the DHS Tuck Shop! However, and the reason for sharing this should not be lost; I wore my DHS hoodie because all Dryden area high school students go to DHS, and no where else. Why? Because DHS has a history of excellence, achievements and success. Its staff are exemplary and after what I saw on Saturday, I can tell you that if people feel they can do better in Dryden than DHS, they are fooling themselves and kids, because you simply can’t! As one elderly grandfather I knew personally from Dryden, and who attended DHS himself said to me….”Sean, all kids in Dryden grow up to be Eagles!” And he is right.

I know that sometimes I can be a bit hard, asking a lot of people and also from myself but I also very much believe in giving credit where credit is due, and while I know that there were well over 100 staff in attendance on Saturday giving up there day, I simply cannot mention you all. I apologize for names I may have left out, but want I really want to say and need to say, is “Thank You Dryden”. Getting to the top is hard in itself, Todd Desaultels and Geoff Zilkans will tell you that themselves having taken DHS teams to championships; but staying on top is just as hard if not moreso. In Dryden, we are on top and that is where we plan to stay. And Dryden High School is where kids go to be Eagles and to be inspired, motivated and to learn so that they in turn can graduate and become DHS alumni. And that too is what plan on continuing. Just before I left the house to drive to Dryden Saturday morning, I had emailed all of our trustees an update on a couple of matters I wanted to bring them information. I ended the email to them as I often do, by telling them how proud I am of our staff and our schools; nothing could have supported that statement than those three hours in Dryden on Saturday.

And Sheena, well thank you too kid; because you should feel pretty proud of your efforts to showcase our staff and their kids and our schools; Saturday might just have been the best I have ever seen! Thank You.

Have a great week everyone! And email any time, take care.

Sean

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

Keewatin-Patricia Family: ‘I Lived’

Good Morning, Everyone! Hope you enjoyed your Family Day Long Weekend!!

Recently, about 4 weeks ago actually, I was fortunate enough to have been able to land in Kenora on Bearskin just in time for my phone to start ringing, non-stop…the caller being our 17 year old son Aoedan. Now, I am not an expert on teenagers (although attempting to raise one and also having being a former high school principal does give me some insight), but when your 17 year old son (who coincidentally also has your vehicle) is calling you steady until you pick up, it can only mean a couple of things right? In this case, he was considerate enough to call me to tell me that Celias’ SUV was sitting on a precarious incline with one rear tire actually not touching the ground. How did it get there? Well, that is for him to share, but I don’t mind telling you that as I pulled up to the accident scene, two cruisers with flashers going, I had enough information already to know that Aoedan had experienced his first “fender-bender”. Having established that no one was seriously hurt, other than pride, one of the OPP who attended to the scene after I got there, asked me “anyone hurt Sean?”. My response was a quick negative, followed by my in-jest comment as I looked at my son, “well…not yet at least!”. However, and this really is the only reason I am sharing this with all of you, because hearing of another person’s side-swiped collision I suspect for you is neither newsworthy or warranting of your time; but the response from the officer was: “You never did the same when you were his age, were you any different?? You’ve lived a bit haven’t you?”

Which brings me to my whole purpose of writing this, this Family Day weekend, as many, many thoughts have been going through my head these last few weeks. As. I was driving home from the accident scene, with Aoedan alongside me, no worse for the wear, a song came on the radio that I had heard several times, but this time taking on a purpose I think. I am going to send you the link to the video at the end of this Blog, and I am going to ask all of you to click on it and watch it, and most importantly listen to the words. Now I am not at all an American Top 40 listener and I don’t spend a lot of time on YouTube, unless I am watching fishing videos posted from anglers working the waters of Lac Seul during summer months. But you will likely have heard the song “I Lived” by One Republic, these last few months. When you travel around the region as much as I do in your vehicle, you make lots of phone calls and you listen to lots of radio music. However (and I assure you I am not benefiting from royalties in any way by promoting this) this particular song, and more specifically its lyrics obviously were telling a story. I kept listening to it while driving: its words about living, doing it all, no regrets….and it had a message. When I finally went on You Tube to watch it, it did make an impact as I am sure it will on you. After driving home from my son’s accident, it took on a meaning that I felt many of you could appreciate. Why?

Because in essence what was being pointed out to me by the officer, who I have known a long time, through his question was “haven’t you lived Sean?”

Over the past number of weeks, I have been fortunate enough to really put on some serious miles across the District visiting schools and staff. Last week, I was lucky enough to attend a joint staff meeting of all Sioux Mountain Public School and Queen Elizabeth District High School staff together and updating them on progress made to date with the new high school on its way! That night I had dinner with the “four guys” as I call them, the administrators of our schools in Sioux Lookout. As I sat there having a ginger ale and wings, I listened to them continue to tell me how proud they were of their staff, and the work that their colleagues accomplish every day. The next morning I attended an Honour’s Breakfast at QEDHS for students, parents and staff; an event that many schools hold to celebrate academic achievement. However, what many don’t or wouldn’t know is that the staff had come into the school and started cooking breakfast as early as 4 AM that morning! Not for fanfare or recognition, but because they wanted to celebrate.

On my way home to Kenora later that day, I called several principals to return messages and check in with them as I frequently do; and I can tell you unequivocally that everyone I spoke with, said the same thing to me: “Sean, people are working so hard for kids, for our school, for this organization. It is impressive!” In the case of Liz Sidor (RLDHS Principal), she added, “I am so proud of my staff of this Board, of what we are doing and where we are going!” Another principal (Heather Mutch, KPS) shared with me the day before the work we are doing, is “becoming legendary for kids”. I would add, the work and the freedom to encourage this work from all staff, is because OF the staff. It is because of a burgeoning sense of family, of pride, of a belief that regardless of who you are or where you work, we are into this enterprise together, united.

Which brings me to another unfolding event that his been occupying my thoughts in recent weeks; and it has to everything to do with living, and having lived to the fullest extent possible. Last year in one of my posts, I referenced the incredible work that teacher Patti Boucha and education assistant Shelley Sabeski were doing in the Section 23 Class, otherwise known as Firefly, at Evergreen Public School in Kenora. Maybe you will recall that blog. Anyways, in the last few weeks, Shelley has been given some news and information that she was neither expecting nor I think it safe to say, wanted to hear. In fact, it is that kind of news that, you know, “only ever happens to someone else, not me or my family.” However, this time it happened to Shelley, a member of our KP family and one of our colleagues, enjoying life, the future, and her grandkids. You get the picture. I also assure you, that her news is not news anyone wants to hear. I say this, because I have a favour and a reminder too. My favour is to ask of you, to let her know that this journey she undertakes (and as feeble as it may feel for us) we enter this journey with her, as we keep her and her family in our thoughts. Last week her own kids all came home for a family picture, on a cool Sunday afternoon, to be taken together.

The reminder now, is to ask you to click on and watch the video, and listen to its words, because it’s message is universal to all of us. Do it on your prep, it is worth it!

I am in Pickle Lake and Savant Lake this week meeting with the staff and the schools there, and of course the kids. I will see extraordinary work going on in little classrooms with staff as dedicated as any could ever be. I look forward to having dinner Wednesday night in Savant Lake with the SLPS staff at the Four Winns Motel, and hearing of how proud they are of their kids, and how proud they are to be part of the KPDSB. I will see actions in motion, underlying the feeling that we are here to live and make the lives of those around us extraordinary, to live every day making sure that we have given it our all. It is a choice to look back and say, “I wish I had done that?” or “Why didn’t I take that chance or opportunity, when I had it?” Maybe we want to take that chance or not lose an opportunity, any opportunity, before it is gone.

As I see everywhere I go, there is an intertia (thanks Wayne) that is underway across the entire Board, a surging energy and pride for taking on tough issues, and not backing down from the adversities we face. Following the recent events in Kenora and across all of our schools, the NorWOSSA incident seems to have reenergized folks to believe we are incredibly strong, and advocates for all students, essentially for public education. We are the best chance for kids. I would suggest that the recent Kindergarten campaign was more than successful; why? Because we are at our Kindergarten enrollment projections for next year….ALREADY!!!! And we have 7 months to go, before the start of school this September!! Unprecedented, I would argue. Why the draw?? Well, I think parents are looking for a breadth of programming and vast opportunities, that any parent would want for their kids. They like what the see, and they recognize what I think we are all seeing now, and that is our staff have pride and care; they are about kids and they definitely care about our success and future. We are surging indeed!!

When I was asked by a colleague from another board recently, why I “took it so seriously” and in fact took our KPDSB “future to heart so personally”, I replied that I didn’t know any other way how to take our future. I indicated that to not take our future, our schools, our programs and our staff personally, I didn’t think would be doing my job necessarily. I then asked back, “don’t you want your own leadership taking your future seriously and to heart too?” So I want to echo what I am hearing everywhere, and that is I too am also very proud of this Board, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, and all who come here every day, be they students, staff or community members. And as far as the future goes, and to those who want a challenge and feel that we are a Board that they are competing with, my message is this….it’s game on, and it’s a game were going to win, because everyone of my staff is invested as much as I am in its success….make no mistake, we are going to win this. We win together, experience set-backs together, and we hold each other together when we are called on to do so. Shelley’s email is shelley.sabeski@kpdsb.on.ca

I will meet with staff Efficacy group next week, and we will take empowerment and advocacy for us, and the KPDSB to a whole new level!! And P.S. We have winter licked!

Link to watch: http://youtu.be/z0rxydSolwU

Call or email if I can be of any help, and take care,

Sean

2014 Reflections and Wishes

Happy Holidays Everyone!!

I will simply start this last blog of 2014, by thanking everyone in the organization, from custodians, to early childhood educators, to administrative assistants, teachers, principals, parents, elders, and of course the kids themselves, for a memorable and overwhelmingly successful year! I think 2014 will be remembered as a year in the KPDSB that saw great change, greater impact, and accomplishment for our schools, those that serve them and are served by them everyday.

Thank you.

As I write this last post, I can share with the organization that since September I have now been able to visit, and meet with every single school and staff in the entire region known as KPDSB; we even brought both Board office staffs together last week to meet with them together too. It has been at times, challenging (driving our northern highways can make this so), informative, but more than anything rewarding and extremely validating. I have enjoyed my visits to all of your classrooms, your staff-rooms and libraries, your assemblies, and our meetings focused on Efficacy and reform. I hope by now, that when you read comments from me about efficacy, and change, you will have a better understanding of what it is we are talking about at the system level. And of course if you have more questions, you can always email and ask me! However, the one thing that the Efficacy staff visits have also been and represent is “investment”.

As I sit back and reflect on the hundreds of conversations with staff, I have come to appreciate how important it is that we, who work at the system and senior level, remain connected and in sync with what is happening every day in our classrooms with our teachers and educational assistants. While I will admit that getting to every school in three months was a slight undertaking, I have always felt that it was an investment in our system, our schools, and in you. I have come to believe, like any good investment, the return will be greater, and that the return on the Efficacy visits will be ten-fold. I believe this to be true. Why??

Because the last several months, have not been just about efficacy, have they? They have been about empowerment, openness, challenging the status quo, getting better to become the best, motivating and activating new thinking, new beginnings, and ultimately about change and leadership. It has been about flattening the organization, so that each one of us is not just colleagues in name, but in importance, that the traditional hierarchy of doing business is removed. It is about seeing the same sense of value in two new teachers at Beaver Brae in Tyler Greenwood and Brooks Meija, as we do with experienced teachers at Dryden High School like Todd Desaultels and Rick Lindquist. It is about recognizing the incredibly hard work that folks like Mike Lalonde do on behalf of all student-athletes for NorWosaa, or what Suzanne McIntosh does with her vocal musical group “Good Fortune”. It is about the seeing the same value in the support that Deb Liedtke provides as an educational assistant at Red Lake District High School, as new teacher Brennan Flickinger provides his students at Crolancia in Pickle Lake….and as Caryl Hron provides school principals as the Superintendent of Education. We are integral to the success of each other, and we motivate those beside and around us; in our work though this is particularly rewarding because a lot of “those” around us, are students, young people looking for someone to inspire them and in turn inspiring us with their stories of resiliency.

I have also come to the realization over the last number of months, that leadership is very important, and that true leadership is tough. Being a leader, can be very difficult, because making decisions can be easy to criticize and judge; that taking a stand isn’t always popular and that taking the high road also means taking the hardest and silent road. But it also is the right road, and I myself am reminded daily by staff in schools, it is what defines the KPDSB, it is what marks our organization, and it is what people have to come to expect from us and from me. To make tough decisions, to take a stand, and to represent our interests and the interests of our kids. I find that as we enter the holiday recess, I am motivated by many of you, and in the same breath continuously humbled by your commitment to our organization. As I commented to our new Board of trustees recently at an orientation, our strength collectively is our people, and I believe that.

2014….well for us in the KPDSB meant many additions to our schools, especially with kindergarten and special education programming in mind. We moved into our new Board office in Kenora downtown and overlooking the lake, and we were visited by the Assistant Deputy, Deputy Minister, and Minster of Education, and all within one month. No other Board can say this (by the way, you need to check out the Minister of Education’s annual Christmas card to all school boards….there is a KPDSB flavour to it!!!). We had improvements in all of our student achievement measurements in Grades 3,6, and 9; and we installed video-conferencing equipment in every single school, keeping people off the roads, in classrooms and principals in schools. And oh yeah, we also announced that we had been successful in securing the funding for a brand new $30 million state-of-the-art high school in Sioux Lookout!! Yes it has been quite a year.

On the personal front, some of you became parents, some of you became known as “no longer bachelors: Jason McMillan”, some of you became grandparents, some of you were diagnosed with cancer, and some of you are beating cancer. And you put kids first throughout all of it; so again thank you.

As I close, I want to share with you, that while 2014 will be hard to top, we will start the new year with the same renewed energy and focus that we started this current year with, and I encourage you all to feel empowered and to take a hold of your learning and your own personal leadership. I predict that we will face tough decisions in 2015, and that we will face challenges in the new year; but in doing so we take the approach that we neither seek nor avoid our challenges and problems. We deal with them.

I wish everyone of you and your families to get the “long winter’s nap” that we hear about at this time of year, rest, and enjoy those around you as you, like myself contemplate the year was, and the one that will be.

Here is to an optimistic and hopeful 2015,

 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