Last night, I was recognized at our annual CASSIX/ASBOA Christmas Dinner and Retirement Evening. Other than my own senior administrative team, these individuals (senior leaders from across zone 6) have been my closest colleagues. My relationship with this esteemed group goes back to 2001 when I entered senior leadership. During what I call my “retirement parade” (last one next Friday), I’ve been able to extend my gratitude to the many who have been instrumental in my career. This group deserves many accolades for helping me transform into the leader I am today.
I was very fortunate that Medicine Hat Catholic gave me an opportunity to work in the role of Deputy Superintendent back in 2001 and was blessed to be mentored by Superintendent Dr. Guy Tetrault. Guy, or “top shelf” which was a phrase he used often, (even though he could rarely ever reach the “top shelf”) proved to be one of the most innovative leaders I have ever known. Since he had ideas for everything, trying to follow him was extremely difficult, and so I often thought I should just nail one of his feet to the floor so he only went around in circles. I thought arrogantly in my younger days that I was a pretty good idea man but Guy taught so much more. I’ll always be grateful that I was able to work with the Medicine Hat Catholic team of Guy Tetrault, Bernie Girardin and Sherri Fedor and the vision of the “Men in Black” as they certainly had a positive influence on my leadership.
CASSIX is like a family in many ways because there is always someone around who can help and guide you and offer support in your lowest moments. I remember the support I received from many of my colleagues when my employment came to an end with Medicine Hat Catholic and will be forever touched by the first contact made by my colleagues in Westwind School Division. In my early years, I was able to learn from some wonderful mentors like Eric Johnson, Mal Clewes, John Bolton and John Darroch. Each of these individuals paved the way for me in my career; sometimes with their words but more often with their actions. And while I was never as eloquent as any of the four, they taught me about the importance of standing up for what was right in education, which I think our Alberta Education Zone Managers can attest to. And I’ve always appreciated the close working relationship that I have with my fellow superintendents in zone 6, especially in the south-west. Our monthly breakfast meetings, that started with former Lethbridge School Division superintendent Barry Litun, have always allowed me to learn from my colleagues and sometimes just given me an opportunity to share frustrations.
My greatest learning however, has always come from those whom I worked with most closely, at the senior leadership level. I was always taught to hire better than yourself and surround yourself with excellence. Over the past 10½ years I’ve worked alongside people who are the best of the best. They made me a better leader by challenging my own thoughts, questioning my actions and making me ask better questions. Even though they knew that when I would come to work rubbing my hands together, which meant I had an idea, they listened to see how we might implement it or massage it to make it even better. But most importantly, they were extremely loyal not just to me but to the mission of the division. I will be forever grateful for them sharing their talents with this “dumb old hockey player.”
There is something very special here in zone 6. While we work in 10 different school divisions all with different bosses, we find ways to work together, to collaborate. With some tough financial times ahead, these relationships must be maintained and I would suggest even strengthened. Even as good as you are as an individual school division, you cannot do it alone and so I ask that you continue to treat each other as professional colleagues and maximize the collaborative networks that have been established by those who have come before.
CASSIX and our parent organization CASS has provided me with some of the best support imaginable. While we don’t hold professional status, we are professional and always committed to system excellence. It has been an honour to be associated with these men and women since 2001 and I wish them all the very best in their educational journey.