The following is the abbreviated text of my opening address to our staff.
Before I begin my opening comments, I want to take time to welcome to our Holy Spirit family, St. Michael’s Bow Island . Over the past couple of years our borders have continued to expand through parents desiring Catholic Education and using the 4X4 method. But this expansion is must bigger and constitutes a whole school and an entire community desiring to come to us. As a regional division our strength comes from the diversity that exists in each of our communities and all of our schools. And the addition of St. Michael’s will only serve to strengthen our division and ensure high quality education is offered in our part of southern Alberta. Please join me in welcoming St. Michael’s Bow Island!
Last year’s faith theme was “Taking Our Place at the Table.” Beginning with David Wells, we were called to come to the table, look around and see who was at our table and possibly even more important, look who was not at our table. Too often in education we have a focus for one year and then it passes. Been there! Done that! This cannot be the case with last year’s theme because before we can fully address this year’s theme of “Walking Together” we must ensure that everyone is at our table. We must ensure that our most vulnerable and the disenfranchised of our community are together with us at the Holy Spirit table. We must always work for the poor and stand up for the disadvantaged and ensure that they are welcomed to our table.
Because our table belongs to everyone and while we have many from our FNMI community sitting with us and walking together, we must fully realize that there are many who, for a multitude of reasons, do not feel welcome at our table. While we have made great strides in working with our FNMI community, on building stronger and more trusting relationships, there is still much to do. We must go beyond our invitation and instead go and bring them to our table. We cannot walk together with parts of our community not feeling a sense of belonging, not connecting with us and us not connecting with them. I ask you again this year to make a difference in our FNMI students’ lives. Learn about them and from them so that you can teach them. This is a message that comes from Pope Francis himself when he worked with seminarians, “You are going to learn from the people before you teach them anything.” We must continue to make reaching out and closing an opportunity gap that currently exists as a high priority for our school division. Education is the new buffalo for our First Nations people and education is a positive step forward to help eliminate the negative cycle that haunts many of our First Nations communities.
Walking together also means supporting each other in all things and at all times through our greatest strength, our faith. Last week I attended funeral services for a former teacher from St. Michael’s and a grade 5 student from St. Joseph. What I witnessed in both services was our staff walking together, providing support to families, students, and each other. While tragic events are never a good way to start a school year, it reminded me of how we come together in our own grief to support, to pray and to love- in other words, to walk together. While often taken for granted, it is what we are called to do as a Catholic school division and within a faith community.
Finally, I want to address our continued journey in Inspiring Education. We all know we are a high performing school division- being selected as 1 of only 5 divisions to travel to China in November and share our leadership practices around Inspiring Education is just another example. That recognition and the opportunity for 2 central office personnel, Brian Macauley and Lorelie Lenaour and 2 principals, Val Leahy and Kevin Kinahan, comes not from my leadership, but from the work occurring in our division, our schools and in our classrooms. But as a high performing school division we must continue to push forward, not willing to stand still and certainly not accepting the status quo. We must continue to review and reflect on all of our practices to ensure that we are making the greatest impact on learning for our students. We must use the data that we collect, both qualitative and quantitative, to demonstrate and assure our public that indeed the highest quality of Catholic Education is being offered in all of our schools and every one of our classrooms.
This past summer I had the opportunity to have conversations with both Minister Jeff Johnson and Deputy Minister Greg Bass. Both expressed their appreciation of what we do as a school division, what we do in our schools and most of all, how we continue to transform our educational practice to make an even greater impact on student learning. They are both very aware of my mantra to break the pedagogical traditions that don’t serve students well, to focus our teaching on the “need to knows” and thereby thinning the curriculum and they applaud our endeavor to do education different. It is a message that I highlight to you again today! Innovative teaching and creative endeavors will only abound in our schools if you fully believe that you have far more freedom than ever before to try different things, to risk take and to embrace a fail forward attitude! You have permission to continue to do things different!
I’m extremely excited about this coming year. I continue to love what I do because I’m surrounded by great leadership here and in the schools and I’m blessed to work alongside all you, the most gifted, talented and committed staff around. May God bless each of you as you invite all to the table and walk together in your ministry of Catholic education.