Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Christmas Presence Revisited

And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store."
"Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
                      from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"  Dr Suess

With the holiday break rapidly approaching, many may be anticipating the excitement of opening presents on Christmas morning. With work commitments soon complete, there's likely still some last minute shopping to be done in search of the perfect gift for friends or family.  Whether its figuring out just what's in that enticing package under the tree, or musing about what to get for somebody else, many are no doubt wondering what would be the best present ever?

Perhaps one way to go is to work on self improvement. Dr. Leslie Becker- Phelps in Psychology Today suggests concentrating on the four domains of better organizing personal and professional commitments, taking care of one's health, accepting present personal limitations and setting realistic goals for the future. Certainly such steps can help make any person more "present-able".

Another option is to choose experiences over things. Many studies suggest that experiences give people greater and more lasting happiness than the acquisition of more stuff.  A 2009 CNN report suggests experiences create a greater sense of connectedness with others, while the impact of material gifts, while initially well received, diminishes over time. Memories revisited, year after year can grow into treasured family traditions. 

In busy lives time can often the greatest gift of all, and using it wisely is one of the best ways to reward oneself.  Blogger Mari Hernandez-Tuten suggests that spending time with others, especially children, makes our presence the present. Just paying attention and spending creates connections and builds memories with lasting impact.

This holiday break, I hope everyone gets some time away from work, has some time to connect with loved ones, and maybe to reflect on how they might improve things for themselves and others.  May this holiday season bring you  you much joy and laughter and many happy memories!  

"and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"   
 from A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens

Monday, 20 November 2017

Snow Fun for Everyone

Gilles Vigneault wrote "Mon Pays" back in 1964. The iconic song includes the lines "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" - my country is not a country it is winter. Coming from a northern district experiencing record snowfalls this month, I can certainly relate. In the north Peace, winters can come early and stay long. We can have snow on the ground from October to April, and temperatures in the minus teens are not uncommon. Some folks lament the coming of the cold,  and I've yet to meet anyone who loves to endlessly shovel snow, but being a northerner does not have to mean six months of hiding from the elements.

Weekends can be filled with a variety of recreational activities including hockey, skating, sledding, snow shoeing, skiing and other outdoor activities. Students can keep active during the week as well. If the sun is out,  students should come dressed for the season so that recess and breaks can be happily spent out of doors. When the windchill or blowing snow conditions create an inside day,  schools meet the challenge with a wide variety of indoor games and activities ranging from reading to intramural games or activities in the gym.  Technology can help, but authorities such as Participation recommend limiting screen time as an alternative to more active winter pursuits.

This November, Mother Nature and Old Man Winter have combined early and often to bring us record snowfalls. Getting out and getting around can be a challenge, but there's no reason that students can't continue to be active learners through our winter months. Being outside and active helps rejuvenate the mind and can help students to deal more effectively with education matters.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Halloween Fun

Last week students all across the district celebrated Halloween.  The day may be eagerly anticipated by most children, but it can be fraught with anxieties for staff. Aside from the elevated energy levels costumed students bring to school, the event poses other challenges as well, like how to ensure costumes are appropriate, or how to ensure those who don't observe the customs of the day can still be comfortable? One significant question can be to what degree should staff join in?

At the central office staff don't necessarily get to interact with students but the question about whether or not to dress up still applies. While a festive atmosphere can help explain a costume at schools, at the Board Office a costume can raise eyebrows. I'm a strong proponent of bringing fun to work. Our office staff work hard but they also a fun group. This year staff embraced the opportunity to show some character, and a Halloween themed potluck lunch ensured everyone had a chance to get in to the spirit of things.

At the school level many of our principals used the day to model positive role models while joining in the fun. Our secondary school admin team agreed to "boldly go" where few had gone before, channeling their inner Star Trek characters, while at one of our elementary schools the office staff illustrated just how super they really are, donning their capes and familiar blue and red outfits.

Research clearly demonstrates the benefits of bringing a sense of fun to work. Students and staff alike get to see each other in a slightly different way. People who can enjoy a sense of fun together work together with greater confidence, are kinder and gentler on each other and achieve greater success on a variety of tasks. 

In his article Joy in School  Steven Walk supports these ideas writing"  "Schools need to find ways for students, teachers, and administrators to take a break from the sometimes emotional, tense, and serious school day and have some fun together." Walk further states that such events "help everyone get to know one another better, tear down the personal walls that often get built inside schools, form more caring relationships, and simply have a wonderful time together."  Creating positive shared experiences helps everyone get the most out of education matters.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Change is Coming - Public Meetings for Elementary Catchment Changes

School District 60 is looking forward to the opening of Margaret Ma Murray Community School, located in the northwest quadrant of Fort St John, in September, 2018.  Building this school has been an exciting, collaborative project that will enhance the educational offerings of the district as well as provide some relief for current space constrictions in a growing school district.

Part of the planning process requires the redrawing of some elementary school catchment area boundaries in order to populate the new school.  These changes will potentially affect families with children currently attending  CM Finch, Ecole Central School of the Arts, Charlie Lake Elementary School and Bert Ambrose Elementary School.  

It is very important that trustees gather public input on all of the issues and variables to be taken into consideration as the planning process proceeds.  In order to gather information, three public meetings have been scheduled as follows:

Monday, October 30th at 7pm at Ecole Central Elementary School of the Arts
10215 99th Avenue

Thursday, November 9th at 7pm at CM Finch Elementary School
10904 106th Street

Tuesday, November 28th at 7pm at School District 60 Board Office
10112 105 Ave

Written submissions will also be accepted by the Board up to December 22nd, 2017.  They can be dropped off at the School Board Office.  Your trustees very much look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Still on the Run - Cross Country revisited!

A superintendent's day can get busy. It can often feel like any number of issues are chasing you or trying to run you down. Once again this week  I had literally more than 2oo challenges behind me and it felt pretty good.  Our district held the final run of the cross country season and, as I have in past seasons, I was the rabbit leading the runners onto the  course. Admittedly I  have a bit of an advantage riding my mountain bike, but its still more than a little intimidating hearing the starter call go and hearing the thunder of hundreds of little feet charging on to the trail behind you.

I enjoy ferrying the leaders through the course, but I also like to make sure everyone finishes. 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 literally gets to "drag in" the back of the pack. Every year those at the front push me a little harder to stay ahead, but its often the conversations I have with those runners at the back of the pack that provide the greatest humour and inspiration. Over the years I've seen falls, nosebleeds, side stitches and other bumps and bruises, but in almost every case, the affected runners have bounced back and determinedly completed the course, finishing to the cheers and support of their team mates, parents and coaches. 

Cross country is a great participation sport. It allows the fastest runners the competition of racing against their peers and the clock, and it also allows others to challenge themselves against a distance. I have experienced acts of tremendous spirit, enthusiasm and sportsmanship at both ends of a race.  The smiles at the finish line, are ample evidence that every finisher feels the thrill of completing a race well run. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Facilitating Learning: New Portables Arriving

Providing our students with safe comfortable facilities is one of SD 60's core values. Meeting this requirement can be easier said than done in a growing district, replete with aging structures. Our newest school, the Margaret Ma Murray Community School, will be a great example of a 21st century learning space, but it is still several months from completion.  Most of our schools are already populated far beyond their normal capacities, with every available corner converted to classroom use. In such situations adding portables or modular classrooms becomes the go to option.

In BC portable classrooms have become synonymous with overcrowded schools. In Surrey, BC's largest school district,  50 additional portable classrooms were added this fall to bring the district's total to over 300. SD 60 is not quite at that level,  but a further 6 modular classrooms  are being installed this year in addition to others previously added to schools last year. Restored contract language with regards to class size, combined with a student population that is growing by about 200 students a year, means that classroom space has become increasingly hard to come by.

In the past, portables have had very bad PR. Once installed they rarely moved, yet their temporary nature frequently meant that they were inferior to regular classrooms in their construction, layout and feel. Students and teachers felt isolated and disconnected from the rest of the school. Such is not always the case with the newest modular classrooms. Separated from the bustle of busy hallways, they can be bigger, brighter and quieter than learning spaces in the main building. Upgrades in building codes and construction now mean that portables can be bright and vibrant spaces with the ability to better control their own environments. No longer afterthoughts, or a home for district furniture castoffs, they can be provided with new and innovative fixtures. In some schools, getting the portable can almost be an advantage, an opportunity to test out innovative ideas in teaching and classroom furnishings.

In a perfect world districts would have modern facilities designed with the comfort and learning of staff and students always in mind. Until that world arrives, SD 60 will utilize the available spaces and opportunities on hand, doing what we can to ensure all our facilities, portable and permanent alike, are designed to facilitate all learning matters.

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!