A Time to Reflect on the Values We Share
Fri Feb 15 00:00:00 NST 2019

We are midway through February and while Mother Nature continues to hurl adverse winter weather our way, the days are getting slightly longer and we dare to hope that spring will one day come.

February is also a busy time for the education system, and a time to reflect on some of the important values we share. February 8-15 was Teacher-Staff Appreciation Week in Canada. In this province, we joined with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (which spearheads the event in this province each year) and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to acknowledge the contributions of all District staff who support the education of children. That includes staff in our regional offices who keep the back office functions moving; senior management, program specialists, administrative support, administrators, teachers, guidance counsellors, teaching and learning assistants, school secretaries, student assistants, maintenance personnel, bus drivers and more. I take this opportunity to sincerely thank our employees for their commitment and dedication to our students, and for the countless times they go above and beyond to meet their needs, and enable them to succeed in a safe and inclusive learning environment. While there are always challenges to address and overcome, we will continue to focus on “students first” and do everything within our ability and authority to enrich our students’ educational experience.

February will also see schools throughout the District celebrating Pink Shirt Day on February 27. It is a time for schools and the District to reiterate and reinforce the message that we will not tolerate bullying and harassment in our schools - whether that be verbal, physical, via technology, or in any way whatsoever. We have made great strides in this area and, supported through Provincial Government policy and legislation, I believe we are getting closer to educating students, and creating school environments, where acceptance and inclusion are just part of our everyday reality. There will be exceptions and negative incidents - but maintaining a strong, consistent approach to unacceptable behaviours is critical to addressing these issues.

We are also preparing to join the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association in celebrating Education Week (March 3-9), which is a time to highlight the many exciting and innovative things that are happening in our schools, led by some of the most highly-educated teachers in the country. I look forward to seeing how individual schools choose to highlight and celebrate their successes that week.

On a final note, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to live in a society that supports and values public education for all children. It is easy to take that access for granted. So I encourage parents, guardians and students to recognize the enormous privilege we have to live in a part of the world where K-12 education is a fundamental right. I also encourage students to exercise that right every day, by attending classes and participating fully in their own learning experience.

PREVIOUS THREE ENTRIES
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!

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

Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706

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