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

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

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

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