From the Desk of the Superintendent- Opening Staff Address 2018

Good morning,

Before I begin my short address, I would like to introduce the leaders of our employment groups: President of the local ATA, John Templin, CUPE 1825 Jane Meeker and representing CUPE 290, Robert Reid. Thank you for your service to not only your respective organizations but to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as a whole.

While most of you know my love of a microphone and a crowd, we are recognizing four Share the Mission Award winners today, lunch is scheduled for noon and we have training back at the board office at 1:00 PM and therefore my comments will be very brief.

I want to begin by welcoming back all of our staff and welcoming all of our new staff to Holy Spirit. I hope you had a great summer, whether it be  connecting with family, travelling, studying or just doing a “staycation” like I did. Regardless, I hope that you are well rested and feeling a sense of great enthusiasm and excitement as we begin 2018-19.

Those who work close to me saw a person who ended the school year a bit jaded because of decisions made and conditions set that were beyond my control. I got sucked into a vortex of frustration, with maybe a little anger and I was definitively negative. Not necessarily the person I want to be or the leader that you deserve. Obviously some time spent with our grandchildren helped my mood but I think the real shift came while sitting in church this summer and watching some of our own students with their parents. I realized, (after God smacked me across the head), that this work that I do is not about me and it is also not about government decisions or policies or anything else; its about them…the children, our students! And that is what it is about for all of us, no matter your position in the division.

I made a conscious decision that day when I left church that my frustration wouldn’t rule my world and cause me to forget that it is always about the students in our schools.  

When our students walk back into our schools and buildings next Tuesday we need to remind ourselves that our three priorities and therefore our focus must be on achieving our goals of faith, literacy/numeracy and First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning. Leave the noise behind and shut out the clutter because if we continue to build on what we’ve done in the last 2 years, our students will continue to benefit from our laser focus.

We are not perfect, we all have flaws that we will always need to work on but I’d put us up against any other school division. As I said yesterday at our new teacher orientation, we may be the best kept secret in Southern Alberta because by and large, you (all of you) do just what you are supposed to do and with little to no fanfare. I continue to be so proud to lead this Holy Spirit community and am so very grateful to be able to witness day in and day out the commitment of each of you to the students in our system.

May God bless you in your work this year. May you continue to walk in holiness and may you share your holiness with your school community each and every day!

Support for Instructional Leadership

Tomorrow we will be gathering with our entire Learning Leadership Team to start the school year. I always start with an address to set the tone and share my excitement and enthusiasm for the upcoming school year. In last week’s blog post, Quality School Leadership, Teaching and Optimum Learning, I touched on the importance of being an instructional leader and therefore I would be remiss if I didn’t focus on that role in tomorrow’s address.

It is easy for people to hold on to the truth that the teacher the student has makes a difference. Research is pretty clear that the teacher has the most in school influence on student learning. Teaching quality matters! What is less well-known or ignored by some is the impact of leadership on student learning. While not as important as teaching quality, it is still number two!!!

Given the importance of school leadership on student learning, it makes great sense to support the role of instructional leader. That support must begin at the top, with the Superintendent of Schools and must be operationalized in a couple of ways. One, as I’ve stated before, is my own commitment to being an instructional leader and that comes from research AND practice. Although I still teach adults, I left the classroom in 2001 and so it is imperative that I keep up with current research on practice. Lead learner  cannot just be a title, it must be the ongoing action of the superintendent. Practice comes not only from sharpening my own skills through cognitive coaching but also getting into schools and working elbow to elbow with our school leaders. I’ve committed to being in every school in our division (morning or afternoon) for formal instructional leadership work twice per year. It is in my schedule and principals will sign up their preferred dates tomorrow.

The second way to operationalize commitment to instructional leadership is my direction to senior staff. I’ve asked each of them to have the same focus on instructional leadership in their own work. In other words, it should be part of all that they do. Now, this makes sense for our educational leaders but I’ve also requested our business services personnel to do the same. Obviously they are not providing instructional leadership direct, but I have asked them to in essence, “Create efficiencies and effective processes to free up time for all leaders to focus their time and efforts on instructional leadership.”

I’m not suggesting that because I’ve made this an expectation, it is going to suddenly free up time in our principals’ days to become more involved in instructional leadership. Education is still a multi-billion dollar business and there are procedures that are non-negotiable and internal controls that are simply law. Insurance and liability concerns are grossly limiting learning opportunities in today’s educational world and although new health and safety legislation is positive, the time commitment of our principals to support and manage is exceedingly high.

But, if there is not commitment from all senior staff and we are all singing from the same page, instructional leadership will fall down on the list of just another thing to do when there is time. My message tomorrow will be quite clear, “Quality teaching and optimum learning requires instructional leadership.” Without clearing my own calendar and making it a priority, I can’t ask any of my leaders to do the same. This year and going forward, make the commitment to support instructional leadership.

 

 

 

Quality School Leadership, Teaching and Optimum Learning

This past week, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating with our Director of Learning, Lorelie Lenaour, the “Leading Learning” module at the inaugural CASS/ASBOA Summer Conference. The focus of the conference was to bring all system leaders in the province of Alberta together under one roof and begin to support the implementation of the new Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard as well as offer other learning opportunities for our business and financial leaders.

The Superintendent Leadership Quality Standard reads as follows: “Quality superintendent leadership occurs when the superintendent’s ongoing analysis of the context, and the superintendent’s decisions about what leadership knowledge abilities to apply, result in quality school leadership, quality teaching and optimum learning for all students in the school authority.” Leading learning is one of seven competencies attached to the standard and requires that, “A superintendent establishes and sustains a learning culture in the school community that promotes ongoing critical reflection on practice, shared responsibility for student success and continuous improvement.” While this is the standard specific for superintendents, ALL system leaders must be working toward achievement of this competency.

The learning cultures within the entire system and individual schools are of critical importance. They must support quality leadership and teaching in order to achieve optimum learning for all students. Our division has a very strong focus on quality leadership because, quite honestly, the most powerful position in any system is the principal. Providing the right type of support and mentoring to your leaders will result in quality teaching and optimum learning.  But what is the right support and mentoring?

I’ll always believed in transformational leadership, which focuses on relationships. Every education standard that you read and the vast majority of business excellence literature understands the importance of fostering effective relationships with your people.  It is impossible to move from good to great and then sustain greatness without first cultivating a culture of trust. That trust is most effectively developed through face to face interactions and that means getting out of my office and into schools to connect. But even though I’ve committed to spending a half day in each of our schools twice during the school year, my attention to transformational leadership won’t impact quality teaching and optimum learning to the level necessary.

What is required is a shift from transformational to instructional leadership. This shift, which results in the greatest impact on student learning, is best explained in a short conversation with Viviane Robinson. http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB7wP8WJZeU  You may also read more about her research in this short brief entitled, “The impact of leadership on student outcomes: Making sense of the evidence.”

My visits therefore, must be focused on assisting our school leaders to become stronger in their role of instructional leader.  It makes no sense and is truly a waste of time, if teachers do not receive any relevant feedback on their practice when being observed (supervised) by a leader. The purpose of teacher observations must be on growth or affirmation of practice and not simply a check in the box of the supervision plan. It is an opportunity for leaders to engage their teachers to be reflective of their own practice. This is a skill, and in our division we have committed to the process of Cognitive Coaching to assist us. Reflective practice requires us to lead with questions and not simply provide advice.

Regardless of the position you hold in system or school administration, fostering a learning culture to enhance quality leadership and teaching in order to provide optimum learning for students is part of your job. It may not be an easy shift but given the research, it needs to be non-negotiable!

“New Roads to Travel” 2018 Graduation Address for St. Michael’s Bow Island

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, honoured guests and St. Michael’s Graduates of 2018. I always look forward to attending this graduation ceremony and am honored to bring greetings on behalf of the school division. St. Michael’s Bow Island is so unique not just because it is a small early learning to grade 12 school but more importantly because it functions as a true community. I believe it is because of that community spirit and that family atmosphere that the graduates of 2018 will be able to fully embrace their grad theme this year, “New Worlds to Travel.”    

There is an assumption that your grad theme, “New Worlds to Travel” means leaving Bow Island and for some or even all of you, that might be the case. But I think your grad theme speaks more about the new opportunities you will have in front of you. The question for you then is, “Will you take on those opportunities or will you simply be content with playing it safe and maintaining the status quo? “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

You weren’t formed by God, educated in St. Michael’s and reared with love by your parents and families to simply play it safe! And although we could use people like authors J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, entrepreneurs like Colonel Sanders or artists like Shania Twain to demonstrate how one can overcome adversity in life and persevere to make it to the top, it is not about becoming rich and famous! It is more importantly about stretching your own self, failing forward to learn and grow, and continually getting better. What I’m asking of you, along with your family and community, is to always strive to be the best version of yourself and not of anybody else.

The safe confines of this school, which you have come to depend on for many years is no more. You are about to embark on a new journey that is not necessarily physical in nature (i.e. a move) but rather a journey that will impact you socially, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Embrace it! Accept the challenges head on! Welcome the twists and turns that you will face as you live your life to the fullest! I’m not talking about reckless abandon but rather living a life with passion and purpose. Passion… and purpose!

Although you are just starting out on this wonderful journey, I want you to imagine yourself 25 or 30 years from now. What legacy do you want to create? How do you want to be remembered? It seems so far away but I’ll guarantee your parents will say how quickly these last 12 years have gone by. Imagine your preferred future and begin setting the stage to move closer each and every day.

New worlds to travel doesn’t begin out there but in here. It begins with your heart, your desires, your passions and your purpose. Your community has positioned you well to go forward and so… go forward!

I wish you my sincerest congratulations on behalf of the school division and may God bless you in your opportunities taken, challenges faced and roads travelled! Thank you!

“Small Town, Big Dreams” 2018 Graduation Address for St. Mary’s Taber

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, Honoured Guests and especially to our St. Mary’s Graduates of 2018. It is always a pleasure to attend our graduation ceremonies and bring greetings on behalf of the entire school division.  

A number of years ago I was asked to do some work in New York City and provide mentoring to some American principals. One of them was the principal of a high school with over 3000 students. Most would automatically assume that this school had everything to offer but as I shared some facts about our schools, locations, grade configurations and student population, she started to wonder what it would be like to be an administrator at a school like that and then the most important question, “What was it like to be a student in those schools?” She assumed like many people who grow up in the big cities that opportunities would be less and well the experience just wouldn’t quite be the same. The more we spoke, the more she came to understand that small doesn’t mean a lack of but rather, more of… strong values, family ties, close relationships and connectedness.

I’ve had the pleasure of being a principal in two small town schools, High Prairie in northern Alberta and right here in Taber. And I can think of many of my former students who had big dreams and more importantly are fulfilling or have fulfilled those big dreams. It is not the size of your town that limits your dreams, it is the size of your mindset. What are you prepared to do to challenge yourself, to continue to grow and improve? Carol Dweck, the author of the book, “Mindset: The Psychology of Success” says, “We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”  Big dreams are not limited to big cities. Country star, Miranda Lambert, pop artist Pink, the TV show Friends actor Matthew Perry, actor Matthew McConaughey, legendary Canadian director, James Cameron and numerous star athletes have made their dreams come true beginning in a small town and small school. And don’t forget the many saints who began their lives in the humble surroundings of small towns.

Taber and in particular St. Mary’s, has provided you with all the great values and traditions that make living in a small town and attending a small school valuable. And the school has also ensured that you’ve developed a strong growth mindset so that you could set your standards high, dream big and always strive to get better, whether it be in your personal, academic, athletic, fine arts and spiritual life.

As you leave St. Mary’s and chase your big dreams I want to leave you with this quote from Carol Dweck: “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of a growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” Don’t limit yourself to small ideas or small goals. Dream big and most importantly, always strive to be the best version of yourself. Your small town and your small school are excited to see your big dreams come true!

Congratulations graduates of 2018! God bless!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- 2017-18 Year End Message

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting here on my deck after returning from Calgary earlier today. I taught my last class of this semester for Gonzaga, but the bonus was being able to see our son, daughter, son-in-law and of course our two precious grandchildren.  Emerson was born 4 weeks ago and Carter will be 2 1/2 years old in July. Each time I see them I’m reminded of the saying (paraphrased), “The days are slow but the years pass quickly!” Tomorrow begins the last official week of school before summer vacation and it seems like only yesterday we welcomed the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.

While there are many things to celebrate this year, we’ve also had to deal with some tough times too. This week we will say our final goodbyes to long time Educational Assistant Maggie Gardin who passed away last week. Maggie is the third staff member that has passed away this year in our Division. Many of our staff members and trustees have also lost parents and other family members during this year. Unfortunately in an organization our size, sadness will hit us throughout every school year. I continue to ask that you keep all of your Holy Spirit family in your prayers and I pray that God continues to shower all of us with His unconditional love, compassion, comfort and mercy.

On Wednesday, the Board of Trustees will hold their last public meeting of the school year.  They also met with our MLAs on Friday and will be meeting with our local priests on Tuesday. The meeting with the MLAs was very positive, with our trustees advocating for Catholic Education and new capital projects. Holy Spirit is very deserving and is most hopeful to be in line for a new school and/or modernization in the near future. While some provinces look to abolish school boards and some individuals even here in Alberta would like to see their demise, I cannot stress enough about the importance of having political advocacy at the local level. Holy Spirit is a high functioning school division for many reasons, including the work our local trustees.

We still have a couple more celebrations this week with the graduation ceremonies for St. Mary’s Taber and St. Michael’s Bow Island taking place. While some may not be that enamored to attend graduations, I find it is both an honour and pleasure to be invited. Each of our high schools celebrate uniquely and that is part of the fun! This week, I would ask that you keep the graduates of St. Mary’s and St. Michael’s in your thoughts and prayers as they “cross the stage”  and start their new chapter. We also have 19 retirees who will be starting new journeys. We wish our retirees the best of luck as they begin their own new chapters and offer  much gratitude to them for all of their years of service. May God grant them good health, much hope and lasting joy in their years to come.

June 17th marked my 9th anniversary of being named Superintendent of Schools for this Division. I continue to feel so blessed to be the Chief Educational Officer (CEO) of Holy Spirit. Each year, I’m reminded of the quality of staff we have in our buildings  and the leaders throughout. Great systems only come about because of great schools and great schools become that way because of great staff. The level of commitment to professional learning in our system is exceptional and continuous improvement is just what we do! I say that because while WE may take it for granted because it is just our norm, it is not necessarily commonplace in other divisions. The upcoming holidays are well deserved because of the tremendous dedication you have shown to our students and communities.

Enjoy your vacation. Spend time with your family and friends. Relax and rejuvenate! Travel safely! May God bless you this summer!

Chris

From the Desk of the Superintendent- June 2018

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Red Deer completing this blog post, after spending a glorious morning in the pool with our grandson Carter.  This past weekend, I was in Calgary teaching (weekend 2 of 4) the course “The Principalship” for Gonzaga University. Rather than return to Lethbridge on Saturday night and then turn around and drive to Red Deer for Alberta School Boards Association Spring General Meeting which begins with registration tonight, I thought I would come directly here. This makes great sense from a travel point of view but of course, the birth of our new granddaughter, Emerson Taylor, exactly a week ago today might have been even more of a driving factor. 

We had some significant events this past May with two of our high school graduations, Feather Blessing and Metis Sash ceremonies, numerous Heritage Days/Pow Wows and award celebrations. In June we will be celebrating our graduates from St. Mary’s School in Taber and St. Michael’s School in Bow Island as well as saying farewell and best wishes to our grade nine students who will be off to high school.  Please keep all of our graduates and those transitioning to new schools in the fall in your prayers. We are also excited for our annual Division Pow Wow hosted at Catholic Central High School Campus West on June 6th. I’ll be looking forward to attending before I need to get on my way to Edmonton in order to get to my CASS Board of Directors meeting for an early Thursday morning start.

I’ll be back to Edmonton on June 11th, as I’ve been invited to participate in “A Convening about Adverse Childhood Experiences” and will remain on the 12th as part of the Curriculum Implementation Advisory Committee.  But, I will back that evening to celebrate our 18 retiring staff members who will be recognized at our Board Retirement function. While I will make comments that evening, I do want to express my sincere congratulations to all of our retirees and thank them for their dedicated service to Holy Spirit Catholic School Division. Each of our retirees have made contributions in various ways to positively impact the lives of our students and their own colleagues and I wish them God’s blessing in their next journey.

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division is just about the perfect size (although we still want to grow). We are a large enough system to gain some economies of scale but we are small enough that many of us know of each other. So, when tragedy or illness or celebration or joy occurs to one of our “family” it ripples its way throughout the system. May has been a tough month for us in Holy Spirit with the passing of staff, some critical illnesses and diagnosis and some very private and deeply personal tragedies.  Earlier this week at prayer I reminded staff at St. Basil Catholic Education Centre that we don’t always know personally who may be suffering in our community but it is important to always offer an open prayer to all those who may be in need. I think that is a great reminder for all of us…just pray!

We had two public board meetings this month. The first was a regular board meeting and the second, held on May 30th was to pass the 2018-19 budget. We are anticipating a modest growth in enrollment of approximately 2.5%. With this growth and the Classroom Improvement Fund we will be adding staff supports to those schools in greatest need. We will need a little over $800,000 from reserves to balance a budget that will see over 80% targeted toward instruction.  The use of reserves to balance budgets is a fairly common occurrence that will eventually dry up in years to come. But our Board of Trustees continues to desire to grow our programs and support the needs of our students and staff in a fiscally responsible manner.

After the ASBA Spring General Meeting this week, the Board of Trustees still have some work to do before the end of the school year. Our annual meeting with our parish priests will be held in late June and they will be meeting with both our governing and opposition MLAs to further advocate for Catholic Education and new capital facilities that we are desperately requiring to support our growth in west Lethbridge. While some governments across Canada are seeing fit to eliminate school boards, this political advocacy based on division context is one of the critical reasons why school boards must continue to exist and be allowed to exercise local autonomy.

I’ll provide a final school message but until then, please enjoy this last month of the school year. God Bless!

 

“Change is inevitable, growth is an opportunity” 2018 Graduation Address for St. Michael’s Pincher Creek

Oki! Bonjour Mesdames et Monsieurs, and Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen and especially to our St. Michael’s Graduates of 2018.

Your graduation quote, “Change is inevitable, growth is an opportunity” leads me to the question, “What opportunity?” We know that some of the growth we encounter is innate, it just happens, like getting taller. And maybe there might be an opportunity because of your growth in height for a great block in volleyball or for rebounding in basketball, but I don’t believe that is what this graduating class meant! I think what they meant around growth was much more personal in nature and more about  your own control rather than simply because of the genes passed on by your parents.

To me, growth speaks to potential and your ability to be a learner. In education, we speak of growth as continuous improvement. For years continuous improvement got a bad rap in education. People assumed that the reason for it was that we needed to get better or grow because we weren’t good enough. But that is deficit thinking or worse, arrogant thinking to believe that none of us in this room or out there are so good at what we do, that growth or continuous improvement are not required. Even if you are pretty satisfied with your accomplishments to date, there is always room to grow.

In your life you will have opportunities to grow professionally and personally but I would suggest that within those two areas you also welcome the opportunity to grow spiritually. In my career I’ve met some individuals who are professionally at the top, yet they haven’t grown equally in their personal or spiritual journeys. In fact, they really are not very nice people and quite honestly most don’t really want to spend time with them. Personal and spiritual growth are about balance in one’s life in order to give to others.

You live in the area of the Blackfoot people whose rich traditions in native spirituality are a blessing. Their culture and ceremonies are rich in spiritual growth. You are graduating from a Catholic school whose beliefs embody personal and spiritual growth. You will never lose your way by focusing on your own faith development and your own spiritual traditions.

Growth is a wonderful opportunity… but you must take it! It just doesn’t happen by sitting around and waiting for it. You must search for it, and find your potential in it. Growth is not easy because it pushes you out of your own comfort zone and once stretched by growth you will never be the same or see the world in the same way. Growth should be a never ending journey. And if you take on that commitment to constantly grow and be mindful of the lessons learned from your family, friends, community and school, you will live a life of few regrets.

Be bold in your growth! Seize your opportunity! Let your journey of continuous improvement never fade! You’ve been called to always be the best version of yourself- find it and live it!        

On behalf of the entire school division, I wish you congratulations and God’s blessings! Thank you!

“We are Glorious” 2018 Graduation Address for Catholic Central High School

Oki! Bonjour Mesdames et Monsieurs, and Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen and especially to our CCH Graduates of 2018.

Although I love movies, I’m not great at taking them in at the theatre and so unfortunately I’ve not seen the movie, “The Greatest Showman” from which you’ve taken your grad theme, “We are Glorious.” But I did listen to your theme song, “This Is Me” and reviewed the lyrics with much interest. I want to read to you a portion of those lyrics:

“I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.

Look out ‘cause here I come 

And I’m marching on to the beat I drum.

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies, this is me.”

I don’t believe we can teach you or leave you with a better lesson from our Catholic education system than from those lines. I am brave, I am bruised reminds us that life isn’t always easy. When you were younger, your parents and families seem to always be there when you were in trouble or kept you from getting hurt. But over time, they loosened the reins, allowed you more earned freedom and decision making which allowed you to become more resilient. That gradual release enabled you to become brave but also left you opportunity to be bruised. That same experience occurred in your schooling as we, your educators prepared you for more responsibility as you transitioned from early learning to elementary to junior high to high school and now on to your next chapter.

But I think the most critical line in the song is, “I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.” In our Catholic faith, we believe that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. How do you get better than that? You are a unique individual. You have been provided many God given gifts that you must embrace and use to be you! It may be your intellect or your compassionate heart. It may be your artistic skills or your ability to work with your hands. Maybe you are a natural leader or the very best team player. Whatever gift God has given you, be it your gender or your sexuality, or your heritage or any other gift…it is who you are meant to be. Don’t be apologetic, be you!

The only request from God is for you to be the best version of yourself. And the best version of yourself doesn’t involve Botox or plastic surgery. The best version of yourself is about being your true authentic self in order to serve others. Our world needs graduates like you, who without apology, will be themselves in order to serve others, especially those who are most marginalized. This is not about political activism but rather and most simply about serving for the greater good!

Take your grad theme to heart. Be glorious! Be brave knowing that you will be bruised but always be you. Remember that God created each of you unique but always in His image and likeness. Don’t ever apologize for that!

On behalf of the school division, I wish you the best of luck in your future and wish you God’s blessings. Thank you!

The Journey to Inclusion

Recently, my Director of Support Services and I have been meeting with a small group of parents from the system on our continued journey to inclusion. All of these parents have children with diverse learning needs, some more significant than others. This is not a formal committee of the board, but rather an opportunity to engage and provide a learning experience for all in the room. It is not a group of parents pointing fingers and laying blame – they are very solution focused, looking for ways to continually improve our inclusion processes. And so, the conversations revolve around perspectives and perceptions in order to eventually bring about a clearer understanding to all about what is meant by inclusion. We’ve also had similar conversations with many of our Inclusive Education Liaisons, because they too are instrumental in guiding this journey.

In order to move to a more inclusive education system there must always be an emphasis to shift culture and then align practice. It is recognizing each student’s unique gifts and challenges and celebrating every student’s successes. Fifty plus years ago, students with special needs rarely saw the inside of a school, let alone a classroom. The first iteration of inclusion began when students with special needs were integrated back into schools. Typically, and for all the right reasons at the time, they were segregated into a separate classroom. Often, our most compassionate educators and those who had background in the old “special education” were placed with these students. We believed that this was the best place for all of the students identified and, while some may have benefited greatly from this setting, we are now beginning to realize that it cannot be the default position for all.

The next iteration (which is becoming more commonplace in Holy Spirit) will be for students with special needs to be placed in regular classrooms with the necessary supports.  This means that inclusion decisions must always be made in the best interest of the individual child. While most would suggest that this move only benefits our diverse learners, the fact is that it is better for all of our students and society as a whole. Our children will develop a far greater sense of compassion and understanding surrounded by diversity in their classrooms. The lessons learned from students with special needs will greatly outweigh the lessons provided to them. Developing more inclusive classrooms will result in more inclusive communities, and that in itself should be enough of a driving force to continue the changes.

This is not a “flip the switch” change.  It requires strong leadership, tough conversations, capacity building and a shift in thinking and doing. We are talking about the goals and dreams we have for all of our children as they go through the K-12 system and then beyond. All of us want the best for the students in our schools and, regardless of ability, desire that they transition successfully beyond high school in order to experience a full and productive life. Schools may not know every “how” or “what” for full inclusion, but by knowing the “why,” they can make great strides.

I continue to look forward to conversations with our parent group. They’ve approached these meetings, not with an “us-versus-them” mentality, but with a strong commitment to supporting our school division and their own children. In the new year we will be providing further opportunities for parents and staff to engage on the topic of inclusion in our system. It is a journey that is important for all.