Wednesday, 20 September 2017

And We're Off - The New Year Begins!

The start of a new school year brings with it a whole new set of challenges and possibilities. This year, in addition to all the regular anxieties that come with start up, our district faces the added challenges of recruiting enough staff and making every effort to operate within restored contract language that limits class size and composition.  Add increases to enrollment  at many schools and you have a recipe for lot of anxiety.

Our district is dynamic and growing. This year more than 6000 students will be attending our schools. With many schools already stretched beyond capacity, this expansion has required the ordering of portables for installation at a number of sites. While district maintenance staff stand ready to install our new classrooms upon their arrival, provincial circumstances including high demand for limited stock and transit routes and supply chains slowed by forest fires, have required some schools to improvise and house classes in alternate spaces for now. Portables began to arrive in district this week and the plan is to have them in place and operational as soon as possible and no later than early next month.

District recruiting efforts brought nearly 60 new teachers to the district. Impressive numbers but we still have openings for at least seven additional full time teachers. Increasing enrollment and restored contract language limiting class size and composition has created a high demand for teachers all across the province and many northern district are competing with us for available candidates.

Growth in town has sometimes made it difficult for families to have their students attend their schools of choice. Principals and district staff are working hard to ensure that all students have a seat in an appropriate learning environment, and we know it can be more than frustrating when things don't work out exactly as hoped. The patience and understanding of our community and staff are greatly appreciated. Creative talent and the ability to innovate have long been a strength of our communities.
As this new school year rolls out I thank staff students and community members for their patience and resilience and know that all our staff will be doing their best to make this a successful year for everyone!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Recruiting and the Road Less Travelled By

I encountered a colleague at our local airport recently. "Where are you off to?" she inquired. "Recruiting" I responded.  
"Good luck with that" came the response. "I'm not sure you'll find many willing to come"

As Superintendent of a northern district, I am well acquainted with the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining quality staff. Our staffing challenges have been recently  made more acute with the BC government granting interim measures funding to all sixty  districts to add additional staffing for the rest of the current year. In addition to competing with the perceived challenges of climate and geography, my northern district will now also face direct competition from all the other districts hoping to attract new teachers.

The fact is that all our students deserve quality instruction. Whether located in the northern reaches of the Peace River country or amongst the hustle and bustle of the southern metro areas, all students need to be served by eager enthusiastic and well trained staff. One of the questions yet to be answered is whether there are enough teacher candidates out there to go around? Of even greater pertinence for my district,  are there enough who are willing to take on the challenge of a northern teaching experience?

Teaching in the north comes with certain realities. Without a doubt the climate, the geography and the winter weather aren't for everyone. But then that's part of the beauty of the north. Its not for everyone, but  it is  a great place to start for the right sort of candidates.  While the weather might be cold, the people are warm and supportive. Our district motto is "Together We Learn" and its certainly true. We are all in this enterprise together. Opportunities for professional development and for new teachers to implement innovative ideas abound. For those willing and prepared to take on the challenge and opportunities afforded by smaller towns and districts, professional and personal rewards can be substantial.

Our district is full of outstanding professionals who came initially for "a couple of years" but found the district, lifestyle and opportunities to their liking and stayed. There's just something quintessentially rewarding about taking on challenges that others shrink from, and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of students is that much greater in a smaller community.  Even those who don't stay forever, come away with valuable experience and life long stories about the people they've met, worked with and for. Both the district and our employees are enriched by the time we invest in each other. 

When I'm  recruiting I may not find lots of people willing to come but I'm always optimistic that I can find the right ones: those for whom the north will be the right fit or that first step on the way to a meaningful career.  I frequently tell candidates that there's always room for one more good one. Present circumstances suggest that there's never been a better time for folks to start a teaching career.  Certainly northern districts will eagerly welcome those candidates looking for opportunities beyond the more easily accessed districts.

So we'll be looking for those who want to take the road less travelled.  We're confident  that when they do that they, like Robert Frost's traveler in snowy woods, will see that their choice will make all the difference. If you are one of those people, or you know someone who is, check out our available postings and give us a call. We'll see about  getting you to work on education matters!

Friday, 23 September 2016

On the Run

A superintendent's day can get busy. It can feel like any number of issues are chasing you or trying to run you down. Today I had literally more than 250 challenges behind me and it felt pretty good. It was the inaugural run of our elementary cross country season and, as I have for the past several seasons, I got to be the rabbit leading the fields of the the three event through the course. Admittedly I have a bit of an advantage riding as I do on my mountain bike, but its still a bit intimidating hearing the starter call go and hearing the thunder of hundreds of little feet charging on to the trail behind you.

I have the privilege of ferrying the leaders through the courses but I also get to circle back and make sure everyone finishes. As a student once told me, "For the leaders you're the rabbit, but for us at the back, you're the dragon!" I was taken a little a back by this fearsome description until I realized what she was saying was that I was the person who had to "drag in" the back of the packers.

Cross country is really a great participation sport. It allows the fast runners the competition of racing against their peers and the clock, but it also allows other students to challenge themselves against a distance. I have experienced tremendous spirit and enthusiasm at both ends of a race. Each year those at the front seem to push me a little harder to stay in front, as I clear a path for them to a finish line, but its often the conversations I have with those runners at the back of the pack that provide the greatest humor and inspiration.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Project Heavy Duty

This week Project Heavy Duty celebrated another year of giving selected secondary students the opportunity to learn about, and actually operate, many kinds of heavy equipment. Under the close supervision of qualified instructors and operators, students received five days of hands-on training with such equipment as crawler/dozers, excavators, graders, rock trucks and a variety of logging equipment as they performed industry standard jobs on a real work site.

Over the years many local contractors, businesses and other agencies have been generous in supplying equipment, operators, facilities, fuel, food, first aid, security, communications equipment and the other services required for the project. Over the years project supporters have included diverse businesses including a local paper, a financial institution, several contractors, oil companies and other community partners.  The project is scheduled for a full week in late spring Students selected for the project do not attend regular classes, but report for field work during that time.

Safety is a top concern for everyone involved. Students receive training in first aid and site safety. They must also attend presentations from Worksafe BC before entering a work site. All Worksafe guidelines for standard work sites are followed on site, and students receive one on one safety instruction from qualified operators before working any piece of equipment. At all times students are overseen by qualified operators, and site supervisors are assigned to each area of the project. Absolutely no horseplay is tolerated.. This is a working project, with real life equipment, rules and expectations.

Students who take part in this project benefit in many ways. Their hands-on experience with heavy equipment gives them skills for possible future employment, exposure to different career choices, opportunities to meet and impress potential employers, and to experience a real life job site.  The district benefits as well. This year the project was held on the grounds of the soon to be constructed Ma Murray Community Elementary School helping prep the site for the construction that is to come.

A project of this nature needs special people at the controls. District Principal Richard Koop has been with the program since its inception. Previously a school based administrator, Richard has been able to combine his lifelong passion for construction and industrial training, with his considerable talents as an teacher and administrator. Project Heavy Duty and the district's  Residential Construction Program are his key responsibilities. Selecting the students and guiding these programs, Richard has been instrumental in providing hundreds of students alternate paths to educational success. Working with Richard is Donny Goodbun. Now at an age where others might consider retiring, Donny continues to step up every year. His dedicated efforts and vast experience are appreciated by everyone. Heavy Duty has become a family project for the Goodbuns, as  sons Trent and Tyrell, former SD60 students, are now two of the operators working with our current students.

Project Heavy Duty is a great example of how SD 60 works to make learning relevant and important for everyone. Its curious that the benefits and learning outcomes from projects such as this one don't get the same level of recognition in school ranking processes as other more formal assessments or government exams. Certainly the students recognize the benefits. Many of them cite the week as the best learning they've ever had. From the organizers, to the sponsors, to the students, to our community partners, Project Heavy Duty is an opportunity where everyone comes away enriched.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Power of Published Product

Recently I had the opportunity to attend Taylor Elementary's "Meet the Author" gala celebration. Spearheaded by Donna Lee Cooper, one of the school's long time teachers, the day was to celebrate the arrival of the students self published books.  Through hard work and creativity the students, with guidance from their teachers, and with the assistance of a publishing partner, wrote and illustrated their own hard copy books, copies of which the student authors then signed and later had on display at the community library. From preschool right through to grade 6, the students experienced the satisfaction of producing a finished, published product.

Creating and publishing original pieces of writing is a true 21st century learning skill. Producing and polishing unique content is hard enough, but when students do so for an audience and to produce a tangible product visible for display and available for others to see, learning becomes more real and student investment in their product increases.

Micheal Niehoff of USC  identifies many ways that students can authentically publish work for a wider audience. In addition to traditional print media, today's student has online and digital capabilities. They can blog, upload to Youtube  and other social media platforms. They have easy access to a wider audience than ever before. With such access comes both a responsibility to publish responsibly and the potential to reach and interact with their audience in a way not available to writers of earlier generations.

Publishing allows students to find and express their own voice and has been linked to life long literacy skills. By starting early and continuing to develop their publishing skills through to grade 12 graduation, students gain confidence in expressing their own ideas, and a better sense of personal competence and confidence in communicating clearly with others.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What's In A Name Part 2

" Whats in a name? That which we call a rose would by any other name smell as sweet"
Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene ii

It was recently announced that our district's new school is to be called the Margaret "Ma" Murray Elementary Community School. The name was selected after lengthy and often spirited discussions by the board of trustees. After all, a name is important, isn't it? Shakespeare's sentiments aside, the concept that a name can really make a difference continues to spark considerable debate.

In selecting Margaret Murray as the name for the new school, the board has elected to use a person's name rather than the geographic location as an identifying label. This decision was driven in part, by the desire to add some gender equity to the names of our district's public schools. Previously, all schools in SD 60 that carried a persons name had been named after men. Selecting a new name for a school seemed an excellent opportunity to change that situation. After all, as pointed out by our new Prime Minister, it is 2016. Equal opportunity, regardless of gender is not only long overdue but entirely consistent with the values our district hopes to instil in all our students.

District naming protocols call for recognizing individuals who have made significant contributions to our community. As the founder of Fort St Johns longest running news paper Mrs Murray certainly fits that bill. Known as a strong personality who was resilient in the face of adversity and not shy about offering her opinion, Ma Murray provides modern day students with an example of how to develop and follow their dreams.

In naming the school's gathering space after Bella Yahey, the board also acknowledges important contributions made by First Nations and aboriginal women in the shaping of our community. Yahey, a long time community member was also daughter of Treaty 8 signatory Chief Attachie, and wife of Charlie Yahey, for whom Charlie Lake is named. She lends her name to the gathering space within the school, an area where all members of the community can come together to meet, share and work for the benefit of our students.

Enshrining the word "community" within a school's name may make for a longer than normal title, but the board feels strongly that the new school needs to represent a new attitude and approach to education. Strongly reflective of the personalized learning ideals expressed in the new BC Ed plan, Margaret Ma Murray Elementary Community School promises to kick off an exciting new learning experience for our district. With site preparation set to begin in June, watching the new school develop its identity will be an ongoing focus for the board and community as they consider "education matters."

Friday, 18 March 2016

What's In A Name?

With the recent announcement of a new school to be built in Fort St John people are talking . Our architects have drawn up an  exciting concept of what the new school will look like. Contractors have been selected and, with an aggressive construction timeline soon to begin, the new building will soon start to take shape in the north west corner of town.

The new school will be the first entirely new structure the district has constructed in many years. Additions have been made at North Peace Secondary both at the main campus and at the Energetic Learning Campus housed within the Pomeroy Sports Centre, but as far as free standing brand new facilities, the new school will be the first one constructed since the late 1980's.  With the promise of a larger than normal gymnasium and the possibility of connected day care facilities, the new building will be a tremendous addition to its community.

When one considers all the decisions that are going into what the new school will include, or look like, what to call it may seem to be a relatively minor decision. But names help forge identities and what a building is called can help set the tone for how it is regarded. Naming rights have become big business in the corporate and sports world. Many of us grew up recognizing such venues as Maple Leaf Gardens, the Form or Pacific Coliseum long before folks realized the  revenue opportunities created in the Air Canada Centre, Bell Centre or Rogers Arena.

Public schools don't sell their naming rights, but there are still many considerations to consider in naming a building. In SD 60 the traditional practice has been to name schools either after the geographic location they serve (Central, Clearview, Charlie Lake) or after persons of historic significance (Robert Ogilvie, Dr. Kearney, CM Finch). Recently trustees reviewed and endorsed the district's school naming guidelines. In considering whether new names should recognize people or places, the district is seeking input from the public. Nominated names should be in good taste, represent the cultural and gender diversity of town, be clearly different from the names already in use and be able to stand the test of time. Any names of people should be of persons no longer living who have made significant contributions to the history, culture or community of the area.

People wanting to give suggestions are asked to send them to the attention of Leah Reimer at The board will collect suggestions through to the end of April and then decide on a new name in time to make an announcement when construction starts later this spring. For now the new school is being referred to as the northwest elementary.  What its called in the future might depend on what trustees hear over the next weeks!