From the Desk of the Superintendent- October 2019

Well, that was quite the way to end September!!! We’ve closed all schools in the division three times in my days as superintendent, but this was certainly the earliest. It is not easy coordinating closures given that we cooperate with our neighbouring school divisions and the City of Lethbridge on busing but I was extremely pleased at their responsiveness to make a decision early so that we could do the same. The closures kept our Communications Coordinator, Anisha Gatner pretty busy and gave us a chance to utilize our new School Messenger software. All in all, I would say the communications going out were excellent and a big thank you to Anisha for that!

I never imagined once the beginning of this school year arrived, how many times I would be asked, “Are you counting down the days?” In the beginning, I was either a little annoyed or insulted but, I’ve come to realize, that is a logical question once an announcement of retirement is made. The simple answer is no, but I think it requires a little more context as everybody knows the excitement I have with the thoughts about being around our grandchildren more often and ultimately seeing them at the drop of a hat. Counting days until my retirement means to me that I’ve lost the passion for what I do and really don’t have anything left to contribute. While I need to be the judge of the first (passion), the division community needs to be able to weigh in on the second.  It would sadden me greatly if at the conclusion of my tenure as Superintendent of Schools, the rumbling in the community was that I should have retired earlier because my “best before date” had expired. Holy Spirit has been extremely good to me and as such, YOU deserve nothing but my very best until the day of my retirement.

September has come and gone in as usual…record time! We had some blips in our enrolment projections around the division. That can be understandable given our “rurban” configuration and also the diversity within Lethbridge. We grew a little less than 1% from last year’s numbers but unfortunately didn’t meet our enrolment projects of about 1.5%. While that doesn’t seem significant, it equates to about a quarter of a million dollars in lost revenues. This is cause for concern given that our board has consistently dipped into reserves to balance their budgets and maintain supports for students. Spending today’s dollars on today’s students has always been a priority of this board but the accumulated operating surplus that has been our saving grace in past years is close to drying up. With a new funding framework being implemented for 2020-21, I am hopeful that school divisions with a regional context and those who do not hoard money in reserves are recognized for their fiscal stewardship. The provincial budget is to be tabled on October 24th and it is out of control and so, as I communicated in my opening address, let’s just keep moving forward on things within our own sphere of influence.

One of the items within our own sphere is around professional learning. I’m so pleased with the initial outcomes of our first collaborative day. I think the opportunity for staff to gather in non-homogeneous groupings and focus on student competencies throughout K-12 rather than grade or subject specific lends itself so well to the reasons we collaborate. In my upcoming article for the Lethbridge Herald, I quote the following from author of Limitless Minds, Jo Boaler,

“An important change takes place when students work together and discover that everybody finds some or all of the work difficult. This is a critical moment for students, and one that helps them know that for everyone learning is a process and that obstacles are common.

Another reason that students’ learning pathways change is because they receive an opportunity to connect ideas. Connecting with another person’s idea both requires and develops a higher level of understanding. When students work together (learning math, science, languages, English— anything), they get opportunities to make connections between ideas, which is inherently valuable for them.”

My contention is that we are all students and the opportunity provided in these three days can have a great impact not only ourselves but the students we have in our schools and classrooms. Our new Director of Learning, Carmen Larsen and our two Learning Coaches, Louise Knodel and Dianne Brodie were instrumental in organizing this first day and my gratitude is extended to all those who volunteered to facilitate the various sessions. During that same time a group of our staff were involved in professional development on traditional games to support the learning of Indigenous language. I was able to pop in and witness some very engaged staff participating in beneficial professional learning as we continue to keep First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning as a priority. Our Division Principal, Annette BruisedHead organized this excellent opportunity as part of the Mioohpokoiksi Indigenous Language in Education Project Grant.

The September board meeting was a lengthy package and was highlighted by presentations from Director of Religious Education, Joann Bartley, who spoke on our new 3-Year Faith Plan and Director of Learning, Carmen Larsen who presented on our Collaborative Days. This was incoming Superintendent of Schools, Ken Sampson’s first board meeting. One of my comments during the board meeting was an affirmation of this board in allowing senior administration and ultimately school leaders to be “free” to be innovative and creative in their practice. This was well illustrated in the visit with the Minister of Education and the touring of St. Francis School and would have been similar in any of the schools in our division. While this approach by our board to be supportive of creativity and innovation should be seen as routine, it is not always the case and it is a gift I have experienced throughout my tenure as Superintendent of Schools. For more information on the September Board Meeting check out Board Meeting Briefs here.

I’m hoping that we will still have some fall weather even though winter hit hard this past weekend. Many of our administrators are heading to Red Deer at the end of this week for the 2nd annual Marked by God conference and so, hoping road conditions are good. The southern Alberta Bishop’s Dinner is scheduled for October 11th, on the eve of the Thanksgiving long weekend. Principal growth plans and continuous improvement plan reviews will also occur in October. I’ll be continuing with my school instructional visits and I head to my last Education Research Development and Innovation conference this month too! It is the norm for all in the world of education; a busy September runs into an equally busy October.

Keep warm, keep healthy, and may God continue to bless you in this most important work you do!

Adult Relationships with Students Matter

September is quickly coming to a close, and teachers have been busy assessing students’ current knowledge to personalize instruction in order to go deep into the curriculum. But the first part of any school year or the teaching of a new course must have a focus on fostering effective relationships with students. While connecting is important for all students, it is essential to those students who have or are experiencing trauma in their life. Unfortunately, the percentage of students in schools who have adverse childhood experiences is increasing dramatically. In the recent article, Why Schools Should Be Organized to Prioritize Relationships” author Katrina Schwartz writes about the importance of strong relationships with students and how they can mitigate some of the negatives caused by trauma.

In every school, every student needs to have a “go to” person. And while that is most often the teacher, it can be anybody in the school (or the bus) and that is why I’ve titled this blog post, Adult Relationships Matter to Students.” I was reminded of that importance through a story of a custodian in one of our buildings. She was that “go to” person for a little girl who just happened to come to school a little earlier than other children. There was no family situation or trauma, just a little girl who was dropped off at the school and who bonded with a custodian because she took the time and gave attention. Years later, that same little girl, now grown invited that custodian to her baby shower. Adult relationships with students really do matter and what may seem to be almost trivial (like crafting) can mean so much to a child.

We all have the responsibility to make a child/student feel valued and cared for and most times it just requires a little bit of time and attention. In my role as Superintendent of Schools, I don’t have the same opportunities to engage with students that I did when I was a teacher, principal or coach. But I’m fortunate through children of staff members or families that I know better to be able spend time and pay attention with them. Whether I see them in the hallways of the school, in the mall or they just come in with their parents because they know I have chocolate in my office, I recognize the importance of the adult relationship with students.

While we can never minimize the importance of academic goals in schools, they can never supersede the critical nature of relationships. For kids, whether experiencing adverse childhood experiences or not, that connection with an adult in the school is crucial. When we know that a strong adult relationship can prime learning, then we need to ensure that relationship building is always a priority!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- Opening Address 2019

Good morning,

Before I give my opening comments, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce the leaders of our employment groups: President of the local ATA, John Templin, President of CUPE 1825, Joanne Lavkulich and representing CUPE 290, Geoff Court. Thank you for your service to not only your respective organizations but to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as a whole. 

Welcome to the 2019-20 school year. It is always such an honor to be able to address our entire community especially on this day when we begin with our opening mass, a pillar for us in Catholic Education. My sincere thanks to the staff at St. Teresa of Calcutta and all those who have contributed to this day- whether custodian or maintenance, tech or food services, music ministry or any other behind the scenes support. Thank you to Bishop McGrattan, our clergy, deacons and all who served today. And I especially want to thank Joann Bartley who continues to do all the right things to ensure that faith is at the forefront of all that we do here in Holy Spirit. 

I’m excited about this new year and not because my new year is only 4 months long. It is the same excitement that I’ve felt every new school year since I began in the education world in 1985. It is the fresh start, the new beginnings, changes, challenges and possibilities that cause that excitement and anticipation. 

This year we begin our new 3-Year Faith Plan  Making our Mark: Journey of an Intentional Disciple. To me, it is the word intentional that causes me to be most reflective. I’ve come to learn that I can do a number of things in my life, check off a bunch of items on a list in the hopes of doing something better but without intentionality, there is little chance for improvement. Simply hoping or going through the motions or maintaining the status quo doesn’t result in an improvement. Being intentional, having a purpose and maintaining a focus are the only ways to truly improve. This statement is not just for our personal or social or emotional life, it is also for our spiritual life. No matter your religious affiliation, if you want to be more Christ like, you need to be more intentional about being Christ like. And in a Catholic system, that is our call…to be Christ like, to create Christ-centred learning environments, to see the face of Christ in our colleagues, in our students, in our parents, in our community and that takes intentionality. Last year we began and were far more successful at being intentional in our social justice projects. We began to ask ourselves how we were unique and different as a Catholic School System and how someone might be able to tell we were a faith organization. Now that same intentionality falls on us. Our call to action this year as we begin this journey is to, “Be Mindful of God’s Presence! Be Prayerful!”  

Our world has adopted the mentality that until you see something you won’t believe it. Being mindful of God is quite the opposite. It suggests that “When you believe in God, you will feel His presence, His touch and His love.” Be mindful of God’s presence in your own life and share the glory of that presence with your students, colleagues and community.

Our second call to action is to be prayerful. Matthew Kelly says this about prayer: “Nothing will change a person’s life like really learning how to pray. It is one of life’s most powerful lessons.” And so I ask you to be intentional about your prayer life. Practice it in private and in public, in your classrooms, your schools, your homes and your church. Be a model to all those you interact with on a daily basis. 

Now, did I mention that my school year only last 4 months and those four months will not be without challenge. We don’t have a budget and won’t have one until at the earliest mid-October and the government is making decisions on the future of education and of course on the curriculum. My message will be the same that you’ve heard for years regardless of who has been in power…stay the course. We are still committed to improving literacy and numeracy, still have a priority for equitable educational outcomes for our First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and we will always focus on effective leadership, quality teaching and optimum student learning. Don’t let things beyond our control impact what we can and should do. 

I’ve been blessed to be Superintendent of Schools since June 2009 and that has been what I’ve always seen happen. Staffs rally around, support each other and ensure high quality Catholic education is offered day in and day out. No matter your position in the division, always answer the call to do what is right and what should be done. Don’t ever lose that passion and that hunger. 

I’m extremely proud of the Board of Trustees’ choice of Ken Sampson as the incoming superintendent. He is a compassionate man and an excellent Catholic leader. He has the ability to step into this already strong division and make it even better. It is strong because of you and it will also continue to improve because of you… the people in these seats! These next four months will pass quickly but I will work diligently to make the transition smooth and seamless. The Board of Trustees deserves my very best in these next four months and so do all of you. 

As this will be my last official school opening address, I want to thank you for making my tenure as superintendent most rewarding. I won’t be counting down the days because I love this job too much. Instead, I’ll be breathing in all of the moments, reflecting on the experiences and remembering the many friendships I have made here in Holy Spirit.  

May God bless you in your work this year and thank you for everything! 

Thinking about 1st Year Teachers

Each year, I get an opportunity to meet our brand new teachers and provide them with some thoughts and hopefully helpful hints going into their first year of teaching. This year will be a little different as: (1) With my impending retirement, this will be my last official address to 1st year teachers as Superintendent of Schools and (2) My daughter who graduated from education in 2016 and has been a full-time mom since, begins her own teaching career this year. Given that, I’m hoping to provide some advice to not only my own daughter but to all those beginning this wonderful vocation we call teaching.

Priorities- I have extremely high expectations for myself and for all of my staff in terms of workload, but not at the expense of hijacking priorities. My message to new teachers and to all staff as a whole is to keep priorities in the right order as much as you can. Faith, family and then the job are the three most important priorities and the order provided, counts. As a Catholic Superintendent, faith is essential in finding the balance required especially for busy people. Faith might translate to prayer or mindfulness or some other form that acknowledges there is a higher power and forms a belief that our lives are not fully complete without it. I don’t begrudge those who don’t have that sense of faith, it is just what I believe has provided me with my grounding all these years. Regardless, family has to be your next (or first) priority. Great teachers and leaders will always spend considerable hours away from one’s family- that’s just part of the job, although many outside of the education world only see holidays and in school time. But you cannot become so consumed with your teaching assignment that you forget to spend quality time with your family. Just as they are your support, you must also be their support. They need you too and feeling guilty that you’re not there enough is not good for you, them or the “kiddos” in your classroom. It takes time to find the right flow that allows you to ensure family first and there will always be times in the school year that your priorities get mixed up, but seek to readjust when you are out of balance. I have found in my experience that those who can keep their priorities in the correct order, always give the very best to their students.
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Relationships- What are the 3 Rs? Relationships! Relationships! Relationships! Students need to know that their teachers care for them. Parents/Guardian need to know the same. You cannot establish a supportive learning environment without building strong relationships with your students and their caregivers. And it will always begin by getting to know them, what they like and their strengths before you ever delve into what they can’t do or struggle with! I grew up in the teacher preparation era that said, “Don’t smile until at least Christmas or they won’t respect you!” Really? Let’s start with “Be Kind!” Let’s continue with “Be Compassionate!” I would never ask a teacher to become a friend to a student- you are the adult and that is a line one must never cross. But be approachable and show that you care and the relationships you have with the students and parents/guardians will certainly be enhanced.

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It’s okay to make mistakes- Oh, how we always want to get it right but that is not how learning occurs. Please don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go right. Learn from those mistakes, reflect and move on. Seek support from a colleague or your administration if your errors in judgment are weighing you down. But remember to not let the fear of making a mistake paralyze you into never trying anything new. You are practicing your craft as a teacher just like a professional and it never starts at excellent! Be patient with yourself and your mistakes and be persistent in learning from them.

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Know that you are making a difference- It always saddens me when I hear disparaging remarks about teachers. Everybody seems to believe they are an expert about teaching because they went to school. The fact is, that most of the public would never be able to do what you do in your classroom and let me be even more honest, most would never survive a day! You may be the only significant adult in the life of a student in your class. You might provide the only positive interaction that a student has on a daily basis. You may not even or ever know the change you’ve made with just one simple comment or gesture. Parents send their children to you… what a great honor and what a great responsibility. Feel privileged for that honor and accept that responsibility, knowing that you will make a difference in the life of a child today!

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You will have some really difficult days ahead and you will also have days that are just about magical. Try not to get lost in the highs and lows but rather just breath in the experience of this first year. Know that you are a teacher and be proud that you have chosen this most worthy vocation!

Don’t forget about numeracy!

How many times have we heard a person say, “I don’t do math” or “I’m not good at math” and walk away honestly believing those are acceptable statements? Would we look differently at an individual who made similar statements that involved reading or writing? We are generally pretty quick to judge those with poor literacy skills but those with poor numeracy skills are far more accepted because you know, “I’m just not good at math!”

It is easy to get mesmerized into thinking only about the importance of literacy. How many children don’t love to be read to, especially at bedtime and how many parents don’t love to read stories to their children? Those are extremely important bonding moments that hopefully foster a love of reading. But working on numeracy with your child can also support those parental/child bonds. So often, numeracy can be enhanced through games or simple questions. Pull out a deck of cards and play cribbage or Crazy 8s or any other game that involves counting or patterns. I can remember with great delight the hours my grandfather and I would play cribbage growing up. Simple questions can elicit some powerful numeracy learning in the home. Here’s some simple questions that can be asked as the table is being set for dinner:

  • How many forks, knives or spoons are there on the table?
  • If we had two more or two less people eating at the table tonight, how many forks, knives or spoons would we need?
  • If we had “X” number of people eating at home tonight, how many forks and knives combined would we need?
  • Each person eating tonight requires a fork, knife and a spoon. If we have a total of 18 utensils, how many people will be eating at the table tonight?

The possibilities are endless on how we can incorporate numeracy into our daily lives. And, we must do so whether at home or at school since the evidence suggests that numeracy is a better predictor of school success than literacy. “Good numeracy is the best protection against unemployment, low wages and poor health” says Andreas Schleicher from OECD. Further research from the UK emphasizes the importance of possessing adequate numeracy skills.

  • People with poor numeracy skills are more than twice as likely to be unemployed
  • There is a strong correlation between poor numeracy and poor health and depression
  • 14 year olds who have poor math skills at 11 are more than twice as likely to be truant
  • A quarter of young people in custody have a numeracy level below that expected of a 7-year-old, and 65% of adult prisoners have numeracy skills at or below the level expected for an 11-year-old

It can no longer be acceptable to say, “I don’t do math!” Students need to possess both strong literacy and numeracy skills. While this certainly starts at home, schools must continue to carry the torch by ensuring that numeracy is as much of a focus as literacy from the early grades onward.

So, how are you going to encourage numeracy learning tomorrow or in this next school year?

“It’s Moments That Matter!” – Graduation Address for St. Michael’s Bow Island 2019

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured guests and a very special greeting to our St. Michael’s Graduates of 2019. I always look forward to attending this graduation ceremony and am honored to bring greetings on behalf of the school division. This graduation ceremony, has a little extra meaning for me, as this will be the last graduation ceremony I attend as Superintendent of Schools for Holy Spirit, given my retirement at the end of December. So as your graduation theme suggests, “It’s Moments That Matter”, this moment matters.

We wake up everyday and are often lulled to sleep because of our daily routine. Maybe we wake up at the same time or eat the same thing for breakfast or have the same classes or… We get caught up in our routines and not that routines are bad, but sometimes we forget to take ourselves off of autopilot and really enjoy life. Sometimes we forget about the magic of the moments we are experiencing daily and instead, only look for those gigantic moments. We remember those incredible moments, weddings, births, graduations, victories but forget about the ordinary moments that often are far more impactful.

If we truly believe that it’s moments that matter then we must recognize those moments, not just in the extraordinary but in the ordinary. Simple things like manners, saying hello, giving someone a smile or lending a hand are moments that you might believe are ordinary but to someone else, those gestures, those moments, might be seen as extraordinary.

Each year when I meet with our new teachers I talk to them about the impact they can make on a student and often never know it, because it was one of those ordinary moments. While that is great advice for new teachers, it applies to all of us. We all have the ability to make the most of each moment and to make an impact on everyone we meet.

We live in a world that often doesn’t value those ordinary moments. Yet this small school and the community of Bow Island values these ordinary moments better than most. God’s kingdom, with His quiet whispers and His warm light lives here in the simplest of moments. Every time I walk the hallways of St. Michael’s I see how ordinary moments are made extraordinary, just because of who you are and what you do.

Graduates, you have been blessed to be part of this school community that understands, believes and acts knowing that “It’s Moments That Matter!” Now it is time for you to ensure that you carry that understanding, those beliefs and your actions forward making every moment matter!

I wish you my sincerest congratulations on behalf of the school division and may God bless you in all of your future endeavours knowing that “It’s Moments That Matter!” Thank you!

“Celebrate the Present, Remember the Past” – Graduation Address for St. Mary’s Taber 2019

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured Guests and a warm welcome to our St. Mary’s Graduates of 2019. It is always a pleasure to attend your graduation ceremonies and bring greetings on behalf of the entire school division.

Many celebrities are often told to never forget where they came from. In other words, don’t become too big for your britches. There is an important lesson there in that although your past doesn’t necessarily define you, it certainly can assist in shaping your present and be helpful in framing your future. But often, we make the mistake of not just honoring or remembering the past but instead many, especially us as adults, live in the past. We yearn for days gone by, how things used to be and ultimately remember the past much better than it actually lived. For too long, education lived in the past. We believed if only we could only get back to basics, or if students could just sit still and be compliant or if there were less PD Days or… But that is not the present and it is certainly not the future.

Remembering the past is more about learning from it and reflecting on the lessons it has taught us. We can’t afford to live in it. We must build on the successes of the past and move forward, not move back. And that is why we celebrate the present. Graduates, it is your time now. It is your time to take what you’ve learned these past years, both in school and the many life lessons out of school, celebrate your accomplishments and then move forward to forge a better future.

Just as you can’t live in the past, you cannot stay in the present. All of us must be future oriented. Regardless of whether you are continuing to post secondary or jumping right into the job market, today must lead to a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow is rarely about personal gain and doesn’t come as one big event. It is quite simple and it has been with you in your years in Catholic Education. A better tomorrow is about being more kind and more gentle, more patience and more positive, more giving and more grateful. It means being a better son or daughter, a more loving parent or grandparent, a more supportive friend and just being a more caring individual.

When we do that then we can truly celebrate the present because we are now building a better future. Graduates, you’ve been given all the tools in the past from school, home, parish and community to move from your current present to a preferred future. It is your time to remember. It is your time to celebrate! And it is your time to build the future you want to live in!

Congratulations grads of 2019. May God Bless you on your journey!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- 2018-19 Year End Message

It is hard to believe that we are in the last week of the 2018-19 school year. June seemed to sneak up on me and for some reason, this June appeared to be busier than previous from the perspective of many of our schools. There might be many internal reasons but certainly with the provincial election and no budget announcement, the end of the year has been a little bit of a frenzy.

The board will review and pass the budget on Wednesday this week. As part of the process dictated by the province, school divisions were required to complete their budgets making their own assumptions. The assumptions that we are going with are that student enrolment growth and collective agreement items negotiated at the TEBA table will be funded but temporary grants for Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF) and nutrition programs will be eliminated. What this means, is that positions funded by these temporary grants will not be replaced, a tightening of all belts and some very minor reductions in staff. Division office and schools were asked to limit spending for essential purposes only, as the more that we can put back into surplus, the more funds we will have available to meet needs in September. While not quite a status quo budget, I’m quite pleased of what I’m taking to the Board of Trustees for their approval given the cuts I’m hearing about that are occurring around the province. We really will not know more until the province provides funding and grant rates later in the fall.

As I got in the office early this morning and began writing, I realized that this will be my last year-end message in my role as Superintendent of Schools for Holy Spirit. You’ll still be subjected to a few more From the Desk of the Superintendent messages in the new school year but this is my last official year-end message!

With that, let me begin by offering my congratulations and sincere best wishes to all who have chosen to retire at the end of this school year. I know what a difficult decision this can be as you plan out your next journey. Regardless of where that journey will take you, please always remember the impact you have made to the students, staff and ultimately the entire community of Holy Spirit. I wish you God’s blessings for health, hope and happiness in your retirement.

While no division is ever perfect, I’m confident that the students entrusted to our care are and have been well taken care this past year. That is attributable to all who are in the schools right up to the decisions made by the Board of Trustees and everybody in between. Everyone in an educational system has the ability to be “difference makers.” It is why we put in extra hours and give of ourselves just a little more. But there seems to be something special in Holy Spirit that sets us apart and I’m extremely proud of leading such an incredible organization filled with so many committed and dedicated individuals. Thank you for being difference makers in our schools and in our communities. YOU ARE BLESSED!

Have a wonderful summer!


From the Desk of the Superintendent- June 2019

June is here and two common statements that you’ll often here in the education world are, “It has finally arrived” or “I can’t believe it is June already!” Regardless, we are about to enter into the last month of the 2018-19 school year.  It will be a busy month but then again, so have the previous nine. However, this month has students writing final exams which can bring about some added stress to even our most confident students. This is where our Catholic faith can assist with the teaching and modeling of prayer as part of a calming routine. I have come to recognize the importance of that quiet conversation with God during each busy day. I know that it is a blessing for all of us to quietly listen to the voice of God on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. As our students prepare for and write exams and as many become anxious about their future over the summer, please keep them in your prayers.

It is official, Ken Sampson has been appointed by the Minister of Education as the new Superintendent of Schools beginning Monday, January 6th. The transition to lead learner of the Division will begin with Ken assuming the role of Deputy Superintendent on August 1st. I am extremely pleased with the Board’s selection of Ken and believe he will serve Holy Spirit and Catholic Education as a whole with great faith, integrity and compassion. It will be different for me when Ken comes in, as the only Deputy Superintendent I’ve every worked with in my tenure as Superintendent is our soon to be retired Brian Macauley. I cannot begin to say enough good things about Brian and his loyal support of me through not only these years here at Holy Spirit but throughout most of my career. He shys away from the limelight and prefers to do his work in the background which generally sees him get few positive strokes and more often listen to a brunt of complaints. Having lived his world for many years, I know how thankless the human resources role is and yet he always strives to make those tough decisions, deal with some nasty issues and respond to some outrageous requests through the eyes of a Catholic leader. You have to develop a very thick skin and learn to bite your tongue when people throw negative comments your way about a range of issues without losing a compassionate heart and Brian has never lost his compassionate heart. He is a man of great integrity, a faithful Catholic leader and I will miss him greatly!

We also announced our new Director of Learning, Carmen Larsen earlier this month. What a great choice for this position in so many ways given her many talents, background and experience. She will be able to pick up from our current Director of Learning, Lorelie Lenaour and carry on that strong learning culture that has been developed in our division. Carmen is Ken’s first official hire for his, not my team and Lorelie was my first hire in central office as I became Superintendent. Looking back, I remember there was some pretty significant friction (that might be an understatement) between central office and leaders, schools, parents and the overall community. I needed someone who could develop a strong learning culture but most importantly, build immediate rapport with first our Learning Leadership Team and then teachers as a whole. There was only one natural fit and that was Lorelie Lenaour. Looking back over the last 10 years that she has been in central office, I’m truly amazed at the learning journey she has led us on. We do so many things right in our Division and lead in so many areas provincially and nationally because of her quiet leadership. I have learned so much from her over these years and her influence has made me a better Superintendent.

What a blessing it has been to work with Brian and Lorelie and all those who will be “hanging up the blades” at the end of the school year. While I’ll speak more at the Board’s Retirement Banquet, I just want to say how grateful I am for the years of commitment to Catholic Education, all of our retirees have given. May God bless you with good health, abundant joy and much hope in your next journey.

We’ve already celebrated two high school graduations this year and at the end of June, our grade 12 students from St. Mary’s Taber and St. Michael’s Bow Island will be walking across the stage. It is always a pleasure for me to attend these four graduations, provide my remarks and witness the various traditions and uniqueness of each. St. Michael’s will be the last graduation ceremony that I will attend as Superintendent and it will be special for some obvious reasons but especially given my history with Bow Island. As we get closer to the end of June, I would ask that you keep our graduates in your thoughts and prayers.

I’ll provide my year-end message as our school year comes to a close but until then, enjoy the month of June. God Bless!

Developing Strong Resilient Kids

The following article was written for the Lethbridge Herald and published on May 15, 2019.

During my career in education, and especially these past ten years as Superintendent of Schools, I’ve witnessed an almost epidemic rise in student anxiety. School systems continue to support the hiring of more counselling staff and offer programs to build resiliency in students, but unfortunately the cost continues to outstrip the resources available. Most often a reactive approach does not fix a problem and so the question becomes, “What might be some proactive strategies at home and in school to foster healthy students?”

Let’s begin with play and, more specifically, unstructured play. Too often our children are not permitted to engage in unstructured play. The Canadian Public Health Association lists these benefits from unstructured play: promotes creativity, strengthens problem solving and conflict resolution skills, promotes positive self-concept and self-esteem, promotes healthy weight, improves gross motor skills, positively impacts learning and attention at school and promotes resilience and independence. It is time to stop bubble wrapping our children, get them away from the TV or other electronic devices and let them head outside and experience age appropriate risky play.  

Secondly, it is time to stop giving stress a bad name. As suggested by Dr. Sharron Spicer, a pediatrician in Calgary, “It is a normal, even healthy, part of life for all of us.” There are different types of stress and children need to understand the difference and respond accordingly. The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative has some great resources to assist parents and educators in understanding the differences between positive, tolerable and toxic stress. Supportive adults who work to calm a child’s stress response and teach coping skills are necessary for brain architecture to develop resiliency. Jumping in and “saving” children rather than helping them through that “tummy ache” or other stress indicators may make the adult feel better but does nothing to build a resilient child. also has some great suggestions for adults like keeping calm, encouraging rational thinking and talking openly.

Thirdly, we need to allow our children to fail. That is a hard one for many adults, especially parents, but failure should be seen as a process of learning and not a permanent condition. I’ve used the term “fail forward” in our school division for most of my tenure and, though some don’t like that terminology, it really allows for students to be learning and engagement driven rather than simply achievement focused and perfection seeking. Learning is a process and if we continue to not allow our children to fall and scuff their knees or stumble, we are doing a disservice to them. They will learn that perfection is everything and will almost become paralyzed at trying anything new for fear of not being successful right out of the gate. I like to use the FAIL acronym – First Attempt In Learning – to support my belief in this strategy.  

All kids, just like all adults, will experience some sort of anxiety in their lifetimes. Simple strategies like ensuring proper sleep and good nutrition are excellent at mitigating that anxiety. Finding the right balance so that children are not negatively stressed with competition or overloaded with schedules is also important. Kids, just like adults, need time to decompress. Finally, real social connections, NOT via social media, have to be encouraged and maintained. Our society can ill afford to raise a generation who are unable to talk face to face to one another and build real friends, not just simple “likes” on social media. We are a busy society, but if we don’t slow down and put some proactive strategies in place, our children will not grow into the resilient and healthy adults we desire.