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,