A Second "Fresh Start"
Tue Jan 08 00:00:00 NST 2019

Those of us involved in education differentiate school years from calendar years. September opens a whole new chapter for students and teachers alike, but January offers an opportunity to refocus after relaxing and regenerating over the Christmas holiday. More than half the 180-plus school days remain in the 2018-2019 school year, leaving plenty of time to achieve the goals we set a few months ago. There is ample time for us to challenge, motivate, inspire, and/or intervene. For students, there will many opportunities to engage, invigorate, and give a best effort to demonstrate their learning and to achieve their full potential.

Reflecting back on my own early experience as a classroom teacher, I can say that despite knowing over half a school year remained for students who had fallen behind, it was quite daunting to envision turning things around. I needed to cast aside preconceived notions based on what went on between September and December to truly appreciate the fact that my students and I could collaborate to allow them to learn new content or skills, or develop new attitudes. Would viewing January as a ‘fresh screen’ have helped? Maybe I could have found less conventional ways for students to demonstrate their learning.

I would like to think that if I was back in the classroom today, I would look at January as another fresh start. Perhaps I could find a way to focus on what students know, and find new ways for them to demonstrate it through activities that engage them. Maybe I would have the confidence and the freedom to enable them to achieve a better result.

What has occurred in the school year so far is important. It has laid the foundation for success in this latter portion of the school year. But we are not limited by what has occurred during the fall. The new year affords an opportunity for ‘fresh eyes’. Every day, teachers in our school system are enabling students to demonstrate evidence of learning, in formal or informal settings, because they believe and insist that their students can gain new knowledge, skills and attitudes that will ultimately result in a successful year.

For our administrators, teachers and support staff, as well as our students and families, it is my hope that you approach this new year with a clear vision of all the exciting opportunities to learn and to succeed. I look forward to pursuing these opportunities together.

All the best in 2019!

PREVIOUS THREE ENTRIES
A Personal Remembrance
Mon Nov 05 00:00:00 NST 2018

I am writing this blog immediately after returning to the office from a Remembrance Week school assembly at All Hallow’s Elementary in North River, with all the beauty and emotion of the event still reverberating in my heart. The Principal, Dr. Kevin Giles, presided over a solemn and thoughtful, yet at the same time inspirational and uplifting event.

A portrait of Corporal Jamie Brendan Murphy was unveiled in the presence of Jamie’s sister and niece, and witnessed by the entire school community, which included students, staff, parents, representatives from the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Legion, clergy and community groups.

It was especially poignant for me. Jamie was my student at Roncalli Central High School in Avondale decades ago. I recall a fun-loving little guy who I could not possibly imagine would transform into a robust young soldier just a few years later. In January 2004, Jamie was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, in Kabul, Afghanistan to do his part to establish peace and security in that war-torn part of the globe, when he was killed in action by a suicide bomber. He was 26 years old.

I had recently arrived in Kabul when I got the news. Jamie was the first soldier from this province to lose his life during the Afghanistan War. It was a huge shock to everyone at home, and to me personally. Every time last post is played, or a toast to fallen comrades is made at an event, I say a silent prayer in his memory. Jamie played an important role in nation building and will always be a part of history. I know I will never forget him, and it gives me great comfort to know that All Hallow’s Elementary will never forget him or his sacrifice, having dedicated its playground, and now its display case of prestigious awards, in his memory.

Assemblies will be held throughout the District during this Remembrance Week. This year, 2018, is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice which concluded the First World War. I am very proud to be the Director of a District where the levels of participation, preparation, and dedication that go into Remembrance Week observance by students, staff, and community are, I believe, unequal to anywhere else in this great country. Part of remembering is also ensuring that the efforts of those who served their country to establish and maintain peace and security are never forgotten, and that their stories are promoted at home and abroad.

We can all remember best by being peacemakers, and peacekeepers, in our own schools and communities. We can emulate what Canadian Forces soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have done and continue to do around the world - stand up to bullies, build confidence in others, and always show respect and kindness to others, both in actions and in words.

Lest we forget.

P.S. I would encourage all schools to participate in the Royal Canadian Legion’s “Youth Remembrance Contests”. The link to the contest page can be found here.

The Golden Rule
Fri Oct 05 00:00:00 NDT 2018

“Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like.” - Francois de La Rochefoucauld

The start of every school year is mainly a hopeful and happy time that marks the beginning of a new chapter in one of life’s most important journeys - the pursuit of a K-12 education.

But like any journey there are inherent challenges along the way. Some of those challenges are made necessary by the legislation, policies, rules and regulations required to govern the way in which human and physical resources are deployed in support of the over 65,000 students we are mandated to educate. Decisions are made by various levels of leadership at the District and school level, with a ‘student first’ philosophy firmly at the forefront - while being mindful of the effect our decisions have on the entire student body, school community, or District.

Parents and caregivers have every right to question and challenge those decisions as they pertain to their child, be they programming decisions or those related to school discipline or student transportation. District staff and school administrators must be prepared to articulate the rationale for their decisions. When there is constructive criticism and dialogue, we can often work together to arrive at a place where a student’s placement, bus stop, supports or other aspect of their education can be adjusted - without providing an inequitable service to others. In some cases, there is simply a better understanding of the situation by all involved and the status quo is confirmed. In other cases, decisions are challenged through our own internal appeals, or complaints are made to external oversight organizations. Although we wish to avoid processes that divert resources from the provision of services to students, we understand that this is necessary for a functioning democracy and can sometimes result in eventual systemic improvements.

Unfortunately, there are also times when parents/caregivers depart from civil discourse to express their displeasure with a school-based, or District-based (or government-based) decision. People resort to personal attacks levied at the District or a school-based staff member. Sometimes it is done through face-to-face confrontation or direct intimidation and threats. Increasingly, it is done through social media platforms that draw in the entire community. The commentary is often abusive, vile and would not normally be tolerated in a regular social setting. Even as we make every effort to educate children and youth as to the appropriate use of social media, they are seeing it used in highly inappropriate ways within their own homes and communities. Even as we implement anti-bullying protocols and codes of conduct within our schools and workplaces, our students are witness to disrespectful behaviour directed towards their teachers, principals, District staff - and even to other parents or students in their communities. None of this actually helps the student or students involved.

Our employees, whether they are school-based, at regional offices, or in the headquarters should not have to endure such behaviour or commentary. Nor should other parents or students. Nobody should. It can affect an individual’s well-being and impact their families as well. District employees work long and hard to provide our students with the best possible opportunities for success in school, and in life - with every resource at our disposal and within whatever flexibility we can find in legislation and policy. But we can’t do it alone. As they say, it takes a village. . .

It is always better to simply follow the Golden Rule and treat others with the same care and respect that you would like to be treated.

That is what we have been trying to teach our students. You can disagree with others, but you must do so in a respectful manner and care enough to consider differing perspectives that are presented appropriately.

Our students, and your children, are watching us.

Sincerely,

Tony

So Ends Another Chapter...
Tue Jun 26 00:00:00 NDT 2018

This week, we close the chapter that was the 2017-2018 school year.

To the Class of 2018, congratulations! Well done!  You’ve made it through your 13-chapter K to 12 book of school experiences.

No doubt, many of you are thinking of the support of parents, or of your most recent mentors, or your dedicated, engaging high school teachers who helped steer you towards your next book in life. I also encourage you to reflect on the contribution of your primary, elementary, and junior high teachers who helped to support and guide you through life and learning over the years.

You may not even realize it immediately, but there were also school secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, and other administrative and support staff in the various District offices who you may have never met, but who performed their roles with care and commitment unseen, to ensure your success. There are an amazing number of individuals who work within our province’s education system who are dedicated to ensuring our students are set up to be successful and strive every day to see that happen. Do take the opportunity to thank any or all teachers or supporting staff when you encounter them out in the community; I know it will make their day. I sincerely wish all the graduates from 2018 every success in your future endeavours. Good luck with your next book in life - trust me when I tell you what awaits you is certainly more than a chapter!

To those students returning for the 2018-2019 school year to begin your next installment in your education this September, take the time to enjoy the summer break! I hope you’ve achieved many of your goals this past year and I hope you use the down-time to enjoy time with friends and your new-found knowledge. Maybe you will look at the softball diamond this year and understand the angle the ball bounced off the bat. Or maybe you will know to explain to your family members exactly what that bee is doing when he flies from flower to flower.  While I hope you get the opportunity this summer to enjoy all the new information in your head in a relaxed atmosphere, you may use some time over the next few months to formulate new aims and objectives for the next school year.

To everyone connected to our education system, and I truly cannot emphasize this enough, please be safe! We all want you to enjoy what summer has to offer, but please think before engaging in an activity which could cause you serious harm or worse. Please think about that when it comes to ATVs and jet-skis, camping, swimming holes, cars, gatherings and parties, and potentially harmful substances. It may be natural to think of yourselves as invincible (unless you are an old guy like me) but unfortunately there are far too many summer tragedies that occur. Even one incident is too many and it is particularly tragic when it could have been preventable. Please, protect yourselves and look out for each other. If you see someone engaging in a dangerous activity or find yourself questioning a friend’s safety before they head off to an event or activity, speak up and share your concerns. Let’s all do what we can to ensure everyone has a thoroughly enjoyable, but safe summer.

We will see you back in the classrooms in September.

Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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