Welcome to the blog for Sean Monteith, Director of Education
From time to time Sean will put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard!) to share thoughts about children and youth, education, life and other reflections. These will be Sean’s thoughts in Sean’s words.
May 4, 2020
First and most importantly, I hope you, your family and your loved ones are staying safe, and staying positive. We have to believe that we have made it through this far and we will make it through to the end of this COVID-19 crisis. Continue to tell yourself that, because with each other’s support, we will. It’s #HPEDSBtogether
Depending how you are looking at and feeling about the state of affairs at this moment, you might feel that being in self-isolation has caused your fun meter to run out of humour. You might actually feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, or maybe you feel that we are just settling in for a new normal. I, myself, have not come to the place where I want to believe this is the way we will exist or co-exist in the future. Clearly, we are much more social beings than perhaps we would have admitted before March 13, 2020, or likely not fully appreciated until we were ordered into self-isolation, a term that most of us arguably had not ever used or even heard of until recently.
And yet, as we enter this eighth week of the pandemic shutdown, away from our routines, schools and classrooms since Friday, March 13, 2020, we mark today as the start of two important commitments during May 4-8, 2020.
First, today begins Education Week in Ontario, always an important week-long commemoration of why public education is so important, and what public schools can represent for so many young people and their families.
The other important recognition is equally important in my view, always but most definitely during these times, and that is Mental Health Week, as identified and endorsed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
Both of these weeks are important for so many people: Education Week is significant for some, and Children’s Mental Health Week for others and likely for very personal reasons. But if there was ever a year where both were interconnected and had meaning for all of us, I would argue it is this year, spring 2020.
The CMHA is reminding us this week that “Connecting just doesn’t feel good, it’s good for our mental health,” quite literally a reference to our world today, and how important that we stay connected with each other, with our families, with our parents and our own kids. But it is also possibly the hardest time for most of us to connect because of the pandemic, the shuttering of our communities and recreation centers, our coffee shops, and of course our schools. All the more reason to find ways to connect and stay connected with our loved ones and people that we care about and that need to know we care about them.
I have always felt that anything worth doing and having was also the hardest to achieve; that’s why it is so hard but also why it is so worth it. There are, at present, more barriers than you can count preventing us from staying connected with people right now—especially young people—so many in fact that it would be easy to hole up, be alone and leave others alone. Even more reason to reach out and make sure we check-in with each other. Please do so, for their and your mental health.
Education Week 2020 is also here and I think it is most fitting and appropriate to create our own theme this year. Let’s make Education Week 2020, May 4-8, the Week of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, #HPEDSBtogether. If there was ever a time and a year when our schools and HPEDSB represented more than History, Math, Sciences, Technology, even Reading and Language, it’s this year!
As we enter Education Week, all HPEDSB staffs, together with the energies of the The HPE Learning Foundation, have provided students and families with care packages, food, clothing, firewood, Chromebooks and more, in addition to learning materials.
This year, after almost two months of being separated from our students, our families and colleagues and our staff, all of us at HPEDSB have represented laughter, smiles, tears and exhaustion.
For me, as Director of Education, the HPEDSB has represented hope. We have brought hope to our most vulnerable families and kids, and we have brought hope to our communities and colleagues. We have reminded ourselves and those right across the entire district that we are a lifeline for so many young people and their families that it transcends the classroom walls and school boundaries. Depending on how much longer this goes, we have to believe the worst and most difficult phase is over, and our actions as a system will long be remembered for how we responded. And, as a result, I believe the HPEDSB is emerging stronger than ever, and redefining who we are as an organization.
We have much to be proud of, for rallying and coming to the support of our kids, their families, our communities and the elderly. We could not have done it without the HPEDSB doing it together and from a physical/social distance.
The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board is a leader and we plan on remaining one. If you have not heard the radio message from Lucille Kyle, Chair of the Board and trustee for North Hastings over the last few weeks, please try and catch it. Lucille tells all of our families, students and staff that you/they matter and that we miss everyone—and we do.
I want to close by thanking our Board office staff: our Information and Technology Services and Facility Services folks for getting equipment ready and out the door, and for allowing us to access our buildings in a safe and secure way. I also thank our Accounting and Payroll folks for paying our bills and “keeping the lights on,” and for ensuring we are getting paid. I want to thank our support staff, such as EAs, administrative assistants, early childhood educators, child and youth workers, and social workers for reaching out to our families in innovative and creative ways. I also want to thank our Human Resources staff for moving the staffing processes along, and for ensuring that health and safety remains a priority for all of us. There are so many thank yous that I want to share that it will have to wait until we can come together, all together safely, to express appreciation for each other and for what we have done these last few months.
For now, let’s use the fact that today marks the start of both Education Week and Mental Health Week, and be grateful we can at least celebrate in our own way, and look forward to brighter days.
Take care, stay safe, stay strong and reach out anytime.
April 17, 2020
Good Afternoon Everyone,
As I always do, I am sending my hopes and support for you, your families and loved ones at this time, and that you are all safe and staying positive. It is hard to believe that five weeks have passed since we were ordered to shut down our operations, like all school boards provincially because of the global pandemic. Like many of you I suspect, I have regularly found myself drifting in and out of thoughts about just how surreal this situation is and has become. I have to admit though that in saying this, the unbelievable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications seem a little more regular now than three or four weeks ago.
I don’t want to say or suggest that our days at this time are our new normal, because I don’t particularly like this new normal and so my view is that this is normal for now. And I, like you, look forward to the day when we can see each other, interact with each other in person and enjoy the best of our communities, friends and the outdoors.
Through this email I am sharing share some important updates as we enter the fifth full week of remote and home-based learning and working from home. First, at this time, the messaging of HPEDSB around our focus being on equity, our emphasis on learning and less on marks and grades, and the safety and health of our students, families and staff, has been well received. I am glad because that message will not change nor are we going to deviate our course. We are committed to providing learning opportunities for our students, being reasonable in our expectations of families and each other, and compassionate for those in our communities who need us to never forget about them. This is the message, and it has become a defining moment for us in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board.
Earlier this week, the Premier of Ontario indicated that school would not be reopening on May 4, 2020 as communicated a couple of weeks ago. The Ontario provincial directive to extend the emergency measures order for 28 days was also made by the Premier. As a result, without having formal confirmation but using the approach of what is reasonable to expect, I think it prudent for all of us to anticipate this order applies to us in public education. Consequently, this would mean that our schools and normal HPEDSB operations will continue to be shuttered to May 12/13, 2020 potentially. I also feel that in the interests of transparency and responsive communication, that we should not hold that firm as an absolute return to school date either. In other words, the closure of all HPEDSB and Ontario schools could very well continue past that point. I promise all of you as staff and family members, that as soon as I know and receive confirmation, will know, too.
I want to also share, with pride to the HPEDSB family, that we have been working hard behind the scenes for the past five weeks with local civic leaders: the City of Belleville, Quinte Health Care and with support of our provincial government representatives including MPP Todd Smith, that the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board has successfully entered into a partnership to reopen Quinte Secondary School for the immediate future. As a result of the demands and strategic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, locally QSS is now being utilized as assessment centre to support local citizens and the regional health authorities. We are proud to be a willing partner, to do our part in our community and to see some financial improvements and investments made to repurpose this building. I want to thank Kim Horrigan and her staff for their leadership and tireless work to see this through to fruition.
Lastly, just before closing for the weekend, I want to share that on Monday I will be sending a letter to all Grade 12 graduating students and their families. Earlier today on our weekly Google meeting with principals and vice-principals, I indicated that I would be reaching out to our HPEDSB “Class of 2020” and their families to provide some information and clarity, and reassure them about what the end of their high school experience will look and feel like. I suggest the operative word to keep in mind for my letter to them is “reassurance.” They will graduate and they will be able to plan and look ahead to the next stage of their young lives. While that will most assuredly be different, they and their families deserve no less to receive that confirmation from us.
This is important because we all need to not lose sight ourselves that life is going to go on, and our young people are an incredibly powerful reminder of that.
I wish all of you and your families a safe, and restful weekend. Try and get some fresh air and remember that we are all in on this experience together.
April 3, 2020
I start by hoping and trusting that you are safe, staying safe and doing your best to remain positive during these times.
I have purposely held off until now to send my (what has become my Friday afternoon) weekly message for a couple of reasons. You can and should expect a Friday afternoon communication from me every week, until this current crisis and reality has passed and we have come out on the other side. The first reason I have waited until now was because I (like many of you), wanted to watch the Premier’s media conference about the future projections from the impact of COVID-19 in Ontario, on our communities, our families, our staff, our kids—both students and our own—and ourselves. The reality is very, very serious.
The second reason I waited was because I wanted to wrap up our weekly virtual meeting with principals/vice-Principal, Senior Administration and Management meeting that was held earlier today. We will also have these virtual meetings every week together until we are through, and we will get through. I suppose I wanted to wait until I was able to speak with them today, and to gauge how and where we are at.
Today’s message to Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board Principals and Vice-Principals was a very tough one; in fact I might even hazard to guess it may have been one they have never heard before. Do you know why?? Because Principals and Vice-Principals have a tough, tough job. They are frequently “on” all the time; even now. Especially now…
Now please don’t take this as minimizing the work and the heart and soul of the work that all of you do, that is not my point. But the P/VP’s often have to balance system messaging with school culture and nuances only they know in their building and with their staffs. Right now, as we speak, we have been asked for (and actually been preparing for, for two weeks already) the virtualization of education, teaching and learning the likes we have never seen. They are faced with a barrage of questions daily, maybe even hourly. Often the answers that are being sought, simply don’t exist at this time, because we are moving at light-speed, right now. We are living and writing history. Someone actually commented to me yesterday that this is this generation’s “Great Depression”: I suppose history will judge this statement to be true or otherwise.
Today, I asked the HPEDSB Principals and Vice-Principals (all of them) to have confidence in us as a system, in each other as colleagues, and most, most importantly…in themselves. Be confident in their own skin to make site decisions about what is good for their students, all of whom are at home right now. I encouraged them to answer questions that staff may have, that have never been asked before, and I urged them to trust their guts and their instincts. I asked them to direct rapid fire emails to their Superintendents that have only seconds before been asked by a staff. I asked them to work with their staffs in ways they never have before and to simply inform us at the senior level what creative and innovative, in fact ingenious, strategies that you come up with for the sake of our kids.
At one point I commented that while I had never ever believed or predicted that I would have to do this, we were in fact not going to be able to dodge history now; and that if there was one thing I could ask of them and they would remember…it was this: I need them all to stand upright and lead their schools, lead their school communities, and be truly independent and confident leaders. They will need our support, we at the Senior Team level and Board level have their backs, and you are going to too.
Why? Because this is about kids, families and why we went into education. They, with us, will make our decisions based on what is right, what is reasonable and what simply needs to be done. Everyone, I mean everyone, right now is going full steam; The Learning Foundation, the County Food Hub folks, our EA’s and ECE’s our CYW’s, our Custodians and Admin Support Staff…everyone. Everyone is doing what they feel they can.
Work together, support one and other, and trust yourself.
We are entering a very difficult phase, and a dark hour; I believe that by supporting each other, encouraging leadership of our staff and empowering my Principals and Vice-Principals, the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board will emerge very different, stronger and more resilient than ever…and folks forever changed. I ask you to respectfully consider and reflect on my comments as we look ahead to a very uncertain future. I ask you to find ways to laugh (and not drive each other crazy while in self-isolation😊). I ask you, as a former hockey coach of mine used to say, dig deep down to a place you didn’t know you had, and find that resiliency.
And as Staff, support your Principals and Vice-Principals like you may never had to before, as they have been asked to step up in ways that I know they will, and that will not long be forgotten.
I wish you all well, safety and good health; and not being an admittedly a religious person but a spiritual one…pray for those most vulnerable.
Until next week, Miiweh,
March 27, 2020
As I prepare to send this, I look out at a beautiful Eastern Ontario early spring day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and if it weren’t for the fact that there is an eerily different pace in the streets and in our communities, one would mistake this for a normal Friday afternoon, following March Break. But as I shared with all of you last week, these are not normal times, this is not a typical spring afternoon, and virtually most of society has bunkered down into “self-isolation”. Two terms, that even four weeks ago, were not part of my vernacular: “social distancing” and “self-isolation” have become so commonly used that they are almost omnipresent now; you can’t escape them.
I hope all of you, your children and families, and your loved ones are safe and taking care of each other. I hope that your friends and their families are safe; and I hope that our communities are safe. I also hope that our students and their families…all of them are safe. And I hope that regardless of where they live, or regardless of means and access to technology, all of our families know we have not forgotten about them. These are our priorities today, at this time, in this moment; the health and safety of our families.
I can share with all of you, that after being briefed almost hourly for the past week by government and health care officials, and in discussion around the province with other Directors of Education, the situation is real, and it is serious. Please do not think it otherwise.
So our job as Senior Leadership in the HPEDSB this week has been to steady an organization that has been called upon to provide on-line and virtual learning materials, and a plan to maintain such (and we have done that). We have also been asked to provide all the inventory we currently have of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE: such as masks, gloves, and sanitizer as examples) for our region’s health care professionals who are doing their best. They are heroes like all of you and support others selflessly, and to give of themselves under the most incredibly difficult of times. We have been asked to provide 3D printers to allow for masks to be produced for the same folks, and we have agreed. We have also been asked by municipal and provincial government officials to authorize the utilization and opening of Quinte Secondary School and Queen Elizabeth PS in Picton, to support community members and vulnerable citizens for triaging and providing feeding and safekeeping sites…and we have done this as well. And over the last week, The Learning Foundation has provided and distributed (as of today) almost one hundred thousand dollars ($100K) in food cards, staple supplies, and hampers of basic necessities (Thank Cheri, Kellie, Vicky, and Maribeth)!! One of our Trustees, Lisa Anne Chatten has organized efforts in conjunction with regional agencies to collect and then distribute materials and supplies to help our community’s most needy families. Just to name a few things and just in one week…
And…as a response to the call I put out to the entire system in my email last Friday asking all of you to share your ideas, online learning materials, and virtual opportunities for our families…you have overwhelmed us with your response. As I indicated today on our virtual google meeting we had with all of our principals and vice-principals, managers and the Senior Administration, we are living a new normal. Our work and the roles of teachers, early childhood educators, education assistants, custodians, administrative assistants, child and youth workers, our maintenance and tradespeople, Board office staff and principals and vice-principals is changing in real-time, and right before our eyes. We are living this change and we are living history, together. What it means to be a teacher today is very different than it was two weeks ago; and what it means to be a principal has changed, and it may have changed forever.
What I have not spent much focus on in today’s message to all of you at this moment, is what is not our number one priority right now. What we have started to term as “Continuity of Learning”, and what is well-underway in our planning and strategizing to be sure, is not what needs to be nor should be our primary focus today. That focus remains our families, our children, our loved ones…and our health. In time what teaching/learning, assessing/evaluating, and student achievement and performance will look like, will appropriately take its rightful place as a major priority; right up there with other priorities as we settle in for what is the new normal. And we will get to that continuation of learning; but today please remain assured your families, and our future together is ours, and as Director of Education my focus.
With this in mind, I also draw attention to the fact that we are fortunate in that we continue to be able to work from home, be paid as we would for most staff, and almost able to mitigate that financial hardship. However, many in our communities are not so fortunate and so I ask you so respectfully to bear this mind as we look ahead to the next few weeks, and a very uncertain future.
What you can count on though as we end “Week Two” of this shutdown, is that your Senior Team will continue to work very hard behind the scenes to support all staff. Your school principals and vice-principals will continue to work very hard to support their staffs, and that this system continues to run and operate. I have challenged my Team and challenge all of you to not just support one and other, and our kids…but also lead. I want the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board to lead even more. As I commented to Lorne Brooker earlier this week, the HPEDSB has emerged as a leader across the District because of your leadership and for not backing away from its legal, and perhaps even more importantly…its ethical and social responsibilities.
The Board is strong and the staff and Trustees have risen to this unprecedented challenge; I predict that we come out of this on the other side, the HPEDSB Community will be viewed very differently, and will “feel” very differently. I predict our confidence in each other will be at all-time high, and deservedly so. We have entered this time together, and we will emerge from it together as well.
Remain strong, remain safe, and be very, very proud. You should be.
March 13, 2020
Normally at this time, with the annual March “Spring” Break starting next week, I would be wishing everyone a restful and rejuvenating time with family and friends.
But these are not normal times given the COVID-19 pandemic. This is truly an unprecedented period for the education sector and Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board is no exception.
School closures March 14 to April 5, 2020
I am writing to explain more about the provincial announcement regarding schools closing for three weeks, from Saturday, March 14 to Sunday, April 5, 2020. I, along with the Senior Team, and the Chair of the Board Lucille Kyle, participated in a conference call with the Ministry of Education and all school boards in the province late in the day on March 12, 2020. During that call, Ministry officials provided background and more details.
The Ministry officials recognize that the decision to close schools is unprecedented in Ontario. It was a very difficult decision and was based on strong advice from the Ontario Medical Officer of Health and the provincial Command Table (the group which is the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19).
Information about novel coronavirus is posted to our COVID-19 page.
More importantly, and for everyone in our HPEDSB family, I want to explain what to expect here at HPEDSB. All decisions taken both provincially, and locally in HPEDSB are based on one premise: the safety of our students, staff, volunteers and families.
Consequently, we are taking the following actions effective March 14 through to April 5, 2020 (unless otherwise noted):
- Every employee will continue to be paid, as usual. No employee will be adversely affected financially.
- During March 16-20, 2020 extensive cleaning and disinfecting will be done at all schools. Contractors scheduled to work in schools during March Break will continue to do so. Following that, ALL SCHOOLS WILL BE LOCKED AND INACCESSIBLE FROM MARCH 21 TO APRIL 5, 2020. NO STAFF/ADMINISTRATION WILL BE PERMITTED TO ENTER OUR SCHOOLS; THIS INCLUDES MAINTENANCE/CUSTODIAL STAFF. The only exception will management and supervisors checking school heating and controls systems. It is imperative that NO STAFF/ADMINISTRATION enter our schools from March 14 to April 5, 2020 inclusive.
- All schools and administrative buildings are closed to lease and permit holders, including all day child care, before and after school child care and EarlyON programs.
- All community use permits are cancelled for the 3-week closure.
- Any March Break camps scheduled to be hosted in our schools during the March 16-20, 2020 are cancelled effective immediately.
- The Education Centre and administrative buildings will be closed to the public during March Break and the following two weeks. A small number of employees will be at work although anyone who is able to work from home is encouraged to do so after checking with their supervisor.
- The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) scheduled for March 31, 2020 is postponed until further notice. At this time we have no information as to whether there will be an opportunity to write the OSSLT at all this year.
- Further to the cancellation of international trips announced earlier this week, all extended/overnight school trips are cancelled until further notice. This includes any trips within or outside Ontario.
- All student co-op placements and dual credit programs are cancelled, during this shutdown, and will be re-evaluated once we return to school and normal work structures.
- The Centurion Hoops Basketball Program is postponed until further notice.
- All local negotiations are suspended until further notice.
During the conference call, the Ministry advised that the timeline for the “Support for Parents” website relating to childcare reimbursement during job action will not be extended. Some families may be able to apply for financial reimbursement through the federal program announced yesterday. No reimbursement for childcare or other expenses will be provided through HPEDSB. The Ministry also advised that a decision to extend the school year has not been made as of yet; it is on their radar and we will share more when we can.
As I said, these actions are unprecedented and speak to the level of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic.
To all of you, I appreciate these are truly uncertain times and that anxiety and emotions may be running high. It has been a very challenging year, and yet we have endured and made it this far. We will make it through this. Whatever challenges or divisions that may exist, I ask all HPEDSB staff and families to come together in an environment of support and comfort.
I wish you a restful March Break.
January 24, 2020
Greetings, She:Kon, Bonjour!
To all our families, employees, community partners, former employees, elders, and most importantly our students—our future—I present the 2019 Director’s Annual Report.
Having penned a number of these reports, I have always endeavoured to make them meaningful and relevant. Having said that, each one is always different. This year’s is most unique due to my new reality of being the proud Director of Education for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. I share the contents of this report with my predecessor Mandy Savery-Whiteway, who retired midway through 2019. As I offer my comments and observations looking ahead, it is important for me to honour her work and contributions to the organization, and to wish her well in retirement.
As I write this, I feel a sense of optimism and energy for 2020, building on the HPEDSB legacy of commitment and a future full of potential. Having visited every one of our schools already, and having met many staff, families and students, I sense that optimism is shared.
As you read this report, I ask you to take note of the students and employees who are celebrated, and the positive effect the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board can have on our youth. This requires the ongoing heroic efforts of our employees. I feel it important to point out that when I refer to them, I include teachers and principals/vice-principals. As an experienced Director, I can attest to the unquestionable reality that running an organization the size of the HPEDSB and across a diverse district like ours, requires a level of coherence and intricate commitment on the part of everyone. From educational assistants, custodians and maintenance staff, early childhood educators, secretaries to the Education Centre staff who all work together to make the lives of our students extraordinary.
As we look back on 2019, I am confident that the focus is on students. The capital work underway will put the needs of students first. The focus of the Board of Trustees will put the needs of students first and the decisions made by senior staff are always made through the lens of all students first.
I encourage you to become engaged in our work as we develop a 2020-2025 strategic plan, a new vision statement and new branding. I invite you to join us on this new journey for HPEDSB, an organization that welcomes everyone and strives for continuous improvement.
Director of Education
January 17, 2020
Good Afternoon Everyone,
As we head into the weekend and after a week that has had its share of political uncertainty I felt that it would be appropriate and prudent to address the “elephant in the room.” There is no denying that we are in the midst of uncertain times and with it, recognize that the ongoing provincial messaging and the subsequent federation actions in response to this messaging is impacting everyone. On Monday, a letter to all parents/guardians and families will go home from me on behalf of the Board. As I wrote it, I also (as I always do) kept in mind that staff and our community partners will read it, too. The messaging then is not private but for all who are invested in HPEDSB to receive. I want to ask everyone to try and remain grounded in the fact that the political turbulence we are currently experiencing will eventually subside and “normal” will return.
It is my expressed hope this occur sooner than later.
In the meantime and as I state in my letter, “we” in the HPEDSB are not just colleagues, staff, associates or administrators—we are family. The Board’s action and response to a rapidly unfolding situation and decisions by the government and the unions will be coordinated as best as possible, and always carefully considered through the lens of what is “the impact on our students, their families and our staff?” We will do our very best to communicate clearly, responsibly and decisively. Like you, many an the administration level are not always certain of what events may unfold day-to-day and are informed only a day or so before the public is. I promise on behalf of the Board and the Senior Administration, we will model responsible behavior that ensures our decisions and actions are made with the best information we have. I have often felt that when the going gets tough and times are uncertain, folks “look to the top” to see our response. With that in mind, we will not overreact nor behave in an indiscriminate way, but rather remain calm and measured in our approach and communication.
In spite of the uncertainty that circles all boards in Ontario right now, and at this time let all of us in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board model good behavior, supported by solid and confident conduct.
Please enjoy your weekend with your families and friends, and remember we will get through these next few weeks together.
December 16, 2019
Seasons Greetings, Everyone!
I had debated on whether waiting to Friday morning was most appropriate, or sending a message to start the last week more fitting. I have opted for the latter. We have one week to go, before the annual and affectionately known time we call that “long winter’s nap” arrives. I have heard two things consistently from staff over the past few weeks: one, how quickly time has flown by since we returned to school in September and two, how people are looking forward to our annual festive and holiday recess. Not to be confused with being unhappy and forlorn, what staff are telling me is that they are tired; happy and supportive of our students, their families and of course each other, but still tired.
My response to all of you? I don’t know how many of you could not be tired! We are engaged in the hardest work that anyone possibly could be, here in the HPEDSB. We have many, many challenges with our kids and their families. We are engaged in cutting-edge learning and we have challenged each other and ourselves, including the Senior Administration Team, to be leading this improvement process, this student-centered agenda. And it’s tough, gritty and very difficult work. The needs of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board are immense, and they require an all-out effort; and so when people tell me they are tired and ready for a break, I say “As you should be!” Remind yourself that in less than one short week, you will be able to relax, enjoy company, some snacks, perhaps a good book, and hopefully time looking back but even more importantly now . . . looking ahead to 2020!
2019 will be recalled for many memories that were made here in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. I have always found the end of the calendar year a natural time for reflection and with that a more pensive assessment of the last 12 months. For you, I am sure there have been momentous events in 2019 that you will never forget; and I hope that as you end this year you do so in good health, and as importantly hopeful for the future and what lies ahead.
For me, 2019 without question or debate, will not be lost on me and for many reasons. However as the year draws to a close, I have to say I feel an incredible emotion of gratitude. I’m grateful to be reasonably healthy and strong to engage a massive agenda of student achievement and system improvement. I’m grateful that I have a team around me and a Board ready to tackle our challenges, and confront our barriers and excuses. Professionally, I am most grateful that as a director of education, I have staff in this system, from school to school, community to community, and from occupation to occupation or role, the only fitting words to describe our folks are “first class. Other words: “champion, heroic, advocates, hope,” all which describe people here, they would describe our schools, and describe a call to an ethical imperative that is unrelenting on supporting our youngest and most vulnerable.
As we approach 2020, we would be naïve to not accept that we face significant challenges and just because we will turn the page and close the chapter on 2019, does not mean our difficulties remain behind. I have met with many of you now as I have made the rounds to our schools across the entire system and I hope you have heard my message that we must confront considerable difficulties. However, with great challenges comes great opportunities and for us in the HPEDSB we have so much potential for a vision of hope and optimism, it’s hard to not be excited about 2020!
I am excited to share with you that as soon as you come back in January 2020, we will have gone live with a full-scale district and organizational consultation for a brand new strategic plan (2020-2025)! We will be in the midst of creating several iterations of a new corporate identifier and branding trademark that reflects the character of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. We will be in the midst of the implementation of a explicit Student Achievement Plan, and we will be working on a brand new Long-Term Capital Accommodation Plan addressing capacity issues in a number of our schools, and hopefully opening the door to new and innovative ideas for our kids. Yes we have been very busy setting the stage for the future, both imminently and long-term/big-picture. How could you not be excited? And the first weekend back, I will be meeting with all of our trustees at a weekend retreat where we will begin the discussion in earnest, as to who and what do we want to be, and as importantly, how do we get there?? I suppose my primary intent of this message to all of you, is to assure or maybe reassure you, that the future is here and that I believe 2020 is very bright!
As we close off and as you head into this last week, I ask you to also take a moment each day to find the little people in your schools, or the adolescent folks if you’re intermediate/secondary, who just might not be as excited about the holidays as many of us are. There are many in our communities, our schools and in our midst that have little. Never underestimate the power that a smile, a hello, or a good morning! can have on the life of someone that might be struggling. In doing so, the implicit message that “you are not alone” with a reassuring face can give hope to so many of our kids letting them know that we are more than test scores, grades and rules. We are about human beings, little ones and big ones, and doing anything and everything we can to improve lives.
As I prepare for the first time in my life to spend a Christmas morning in a hospital room, with my Dad, who has (with medical assistance) made the executive decision that we need to make some more memories of fishing and hunting together, I feel very fortunate he will recover. But even in that state, his condition is still better than that of many of our families; let us not overlook them this holiday, and in doing so be the social champion of equity we should strive to be.
I hope you feel the same way,and are optimistic about the new year. I hope you are optimistic about our future and hope you are excited for the memories we will in the HPEDSB make together. Our future is bright and our achievements yet to be determined! Embrace 2020 as a proud member of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, and with it an instilled sense of hope and beginnings.
Take care, happy holidays and a hopeful new year!
November 15, 2019
Good Morning, Wacheya!
In these roles that some of us have with additional responsibility, we can at times subject ourselves to forgetting we are not immune from the personal impact of life and the interactions of others. As I get older and chalk up more and more lived experiences, being grounded by others becomes more and more humbling. Indeed, on two different occasions these past few weeks, being humbled and honoured would not be strong enough sentiments to appropriately describe my experiences. Trust me, adhering to the very sage advice that both as a supervisor and colleague I have often given others (for me personally over the past decade) is unquestionably humbling. I think perhaps upon reflection, it isn’t so much a question of acknowledging that, as much as it is a question of whether we are willing to see it? And perhaps even more importantly, showing ourselves to be a bit vulnerable and allowing others to see that we are human too, regardless of title and position.
But when it is you, yourself, facing directly into the mirror and having to abide by the very same offering of guidance, it is very different. That is when you tell folks that they need to put “Family First” before they put all else. Usually this is within the construct of work, or professional responsibilities. Sometimes it occurs when we are facing professional commitments that we may feel compromised, because we also might have something pulling on us at home, in our personal lives and within our very own family. To be very candid, there were two different occasions in the past few weeks when I had to say to two of my Senior Admin team members that they had to put themselves and their families first; and they did of course as they were advised. But it felt very different two weeks ago last Sunday, when I received a call myself from my parents telling me that my own Dad was having some serious pains in his stomach and they thought it might be a “good idea to go into the hospital and get looked at.” At the time and in that moment, it was both weird and also not a big deal (or so it seemed) because nothing is ever wrong with Dad. He is not even 70 years old yet, walks about 10 miles a day, and was out moose hunting only a week before, so what could be wrong??!! In fact, we have on occasion been confused for being brothers and not father/son…which doesn’t say much for how his only boy is aging does it?!
Even when I was told on that Sunday evening Dad was going into emergency surgery to have his appendix removed did I actually sense that it could remotely serious. Except it wasn’t his appendix, it was something else that led into a very bad surgical experience. Two days later after masking my concern through a Board meeting, and then again with my Senior Admin team, and continuing to try and convince myself that he would be fine, I finally relented. To be fair, his condition had caught all of us off guard; nobody was expecting this. I really didn’t want to have to go back to see what was going on because I was convinced he was fine; and besides I had so many commitments that Friday and weekend. I mean I had a staff meeting at Bayside Secondary with the staff there later in the morning on November 1st that I was looking forward to. I had been invited and was really looking forward to meeting and speaking with all of our CUPE folks and connecting with them before that even. Later in the afternoon I had been invited to Prince Charles Public School in Trenton to share some work that I had done on FASD. And to round out the day and over the weekend, I was supposed to teach the Supervisory Officer’s Qualification Program (SOQP) course at the Education Centre with candidates from around the region coming to Belleville. So it was really not a good time for Dad to get sick all of sudden and out of the blue.
But here is the thing, by Wednesday afternoon it had become clear that Dad was not doing well, and that his initial surgery was rendering his condition very grave, as in very, very serious. I was actually visiting Prince Charles School in Belleville when I took a call and was told how serious it was. The principal clearly knew something was up from my facial expression I guess, and so when I explained only a fraction of what was going on, she turned and looked at me and said something that I have on literally thousands of occasions myself imparted to others: “Family First Sean, I know what I would be doing.” I called my Senior Team together and told them I needed to make it back to be with Dad who was deteriorating. Shockingly you know what they told me: “Go, you need to go and be with your Dad.” I called the Chair of the Board and explained with some level guilt, and she said the same thing “Family First, be with your Dad.” I called schools I was to visit and CUPE representatives…and all gave the identical response. The SOQP folks: Family was the priority, not them. It wasn’t hard hearing the message “Family First.” I’ve been saying that to others for years, and will continue to. But faced with actually accepting that and living that myself; well, that was a lesson that no course, or book on leadership, or procedure could ever teach me. Not a religious person, but admittedly more a spiritual person of the Indigenous perspective, I even asked for a higher power to intervene on that Saturday night and give us a few more years of fishing and hunting trips, and even a few more baseball and football games. Dad’s recovery will be a very long time and I believe he will recover; but in the meantime, he has given cause for his (at times) stubborn son to realize that we all have to reflect and consider what is really important and what is “just” important. Judging by the emails from so many of you about your own family experiences and those of your parents, many have learned this firsthand, and so with gratitude I want to say thank you.
If there is a time that Family and loved ones makes us reflect and remember, it is usually around significant events or personal dates. Most commonly these are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays like Christmas or Thanksgiving, and one that has always had special meaning for many….Remembrance Day. It is always a day that has had prominent meaning for me, being the grandson of a Veteran of WWII, and still able to recall with clarity and vivid detail attending the cenotaph. I like many of you likely recall seeing Veterans and the “stories” on their faces, and impression of pride, honour, valour, and remembering. So it was with some level of enthusiasm that I accepted to go to Trenton High School for their Remembrance Day Ceremony at the school auditorium this past Monday. In fact, I think excitement to actually go to Trenton for Remembrance Day for this northern boy might be more appropriate as a description. The service, jointly presented and coordinated by staff and students was exceptional, and stirring. Pictures of Veterans both far and near, and with some of their loved ones and family members actually from the community or even the school in the auditorium, at times made the atmosphere virtually palpable. But without question, and unlike anything I have ever experienced came towards the end of the service when the student emcees shared that we would “now have the song Highway of Heros by the Trews played for the audience.”
What happened after that, I will never forget in my life. The song is well-known, it’s symbolic meaning for this area and the community of Trenton and CFB Trenton, its families, our families, our students and our staff undeniable. And something that many people including myself have only ever seen on television, the actual honouring on the Highway of Heroes. But as the song started to play…the entire student body, I mean every single student, stood and sang the song together, right on cue. I suspect the students of Trenton High School are like many other teenagers attending high school around the Board, and across the province trying to navigate that increasingly complex teenage world. I also suspect that many of the kids that attend Trenton High School have challenges and face situations that most kids elsewhere do not; and I also will speculate that the staff of Trenton High School are very well-aware of many of these challenges their kids face…both in school and at home. But for those brief four minutes while that song played and those kids sang, all I could I think of was how proud they should be of themselves, how proud their teachers and staff were, how proud their principal must have felt. The Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board was made proud by the kids of THS, and I’ll tell you what…on November 11, 2019 I had to have been the proudest Director of Education in Ontario because there was nowhere else I wanted to be than in that auditorium, that morning. I know that in every single one of schools and in communities extraordinary staff were doing equally extraordinary things with our kids, and I promise you we will celebrate them all!
We might find ourselves at times getting caught up with the “busy-ness” of our work and also our personal lives, but these past few weeks have driven home in a very visceral way the importance of Family, remembrance, reflection, and stopping to realize life’s lessons if we only are willing to stop and smell the roses. I thank you out there who have been motivated to share with me your thoughts for the future and your hopes, and I encourage you to keep them coming,. We are now well into the beginning of a great journey and one where we will all learn and grow together.
Miiweh, take care, and have a great weekend.
October 11, 2019
Good Morning, Everyone!
As we head into a long weekend and one we generally consider as Thanksgiving, I want to offer my own “Thanks” to all of you.
At this point, and as you read this to start your Friday, schools and classrooms have hopefully settled into a routine of learning and provocation. As we close the second week of October we hope our kids have adjusted to new learning environments, a new grade and one with enhanced expectations and outcomes.
And as staff, my hope for you as you begin a well-deserved long weekend, is that you are feeling confident and reassured that your employer, our HPEDSB Family, is headed in the right direction. I also hope you are feeling enthusiasm emanating from our Trustees and your Senior Administration. For myself, and still as the “New Guy” for a bit longer (like maybe a couple more weeks:)), I know I certainly am.
So what to be thankful for???
Well, I suggest we should be thankful for good health; sometimes we don’t have a choice in that and have to accept the hand we are dealt. But if you are in good health, perhaps we need to be thankful for that. If someone close to you is not in good health….be thankful you are and that you are there for them. If you are struggling, personally, be thankful that you need not be alone; your colleagues and your system, you friends are here for you. WE, are here for you.
I offer we should be thankful for Family, who see in us the good and the bad; and cause us to re-calibrate about what is important, and perhaps what is not so important. I would suggest that we are thankful for where we live. I can tell you bringing an experienced perspective from another beautiful part of the province, where we live here in Hastings County, Prince Edward County, and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory…we are blessed to live in one of the most stunning and gorgeous areas of the country hands-down. I think we should be thankful that in spite of sometimes feeling the day to day struggles and lives of working with and in service of young people, we also work in a first class organization. You work for an organization committed to getting better, and doing better by everyone who entrusts in us their most important asset, their children.
For myself as I head into a long weekend, hopefully spent at camp by a fire and good book, or out on a few remote bush roads looking for birds and maybe even something bigger, I will be reflecting and giving my own thanks.
I am thankful for being here.
There have been many days (in fact almost virtually all of them!) where I have come to work, the office, where I feel like I have won the lottery and am the luckiest guy in the world. I am privileged to be the Director of Education for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, and after having made it to just over half of our schools already, can tell you without reservation…I have first-class staff in schools and offices anywhere. I am thankful for my staff and the families here who believe in us and believe in a bright future, unrestricted in optimism. I am thankful that you have welcomed me and have energized me to agitate new ideas and opportunities. I don’t care how hard the work is ahead, or how intimidating the challenges we face, I am not going anywhere and we as an organization, are going to take them on.
I could go on and on (and for those unfortunately around me this weekend, I will!), but from myself to all of you I want to say “Thank You.” Now having been here for 3 months, I feel we are into something very cool, very big, and very energizing. I encourage you to share laughs with family and friends this weekend, and some good food and maybe even a ginger ale; but I also encourage you to think about the work we have done and are now about to do. And I offer to you, that you all are going to be part of a new beginning and a journey of change. In this journey, I will need everyone to be strong and brave and unafraid of changes, but assured that there are steady hands at the wheel. My Senior Team are poised for the future, and motivated to work very hard for you and our students; and we will not stop until the job is done. If it is ever actually done.
Yes, there is to be much to be thankful for.
So maybe the best way to sign off, is to say simply that, which one can never say too much of…Thank You.
Take care, and have a safe and terrific Thanksgiving Weekend.
September 3, 2019
This first post was a message shared with all HPEDSB employees on the first day of school—and his first ‘first day’ at HPEDSB.
Hi, Good Morning and Welcome Back!
I have often found myself drawn to and inspired by famous leaders, agents of change and agitators of the status quo. Consequently, I find myself looking explicitly at their words, and more so trying to interpret the words “between the lines.” John F. Kennedy is one of my favorites, and I suppose for many reasons. He was human, and like most of us in the human condition, he had his faults and was not perfect. But he also saw a greater world ahead, and one that equalized the field between those that benefited by having much, and those that went without. He did, although arguably stumbling out of the blocks initially, strive for a balancing of rights between cultures and ethnicities, specifically race. In other words, differences in culture, background, and colour were and always would be non-factors in advancing the opportunities for all citizens.
His famous assertion during a speech at Rice University, early September in 1962 (the start of a new school year): “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard” is my second favorite of all his sentiments. JFK of course in that moment was laying out a vision for his country that would put a human being on the moon and return them back safely to Earth. At the time, the notion was viewed with skepticism, under-ridden with a belief that such a goal was simply impossible. By the end of the decade his country achieved this act, a feat arguably not matched since and one that required a fundamental principle that people from all facets of life, business, beliefs, culture, and role and privilege had to work together to accomplish a common outcome. Please keep this in mind as you read through my introductory message to all of you as you start a new year.
I want to acknowledge the work of all of you in advance: to the teachers about to make the lives of our students extraordinary, to the support staff, early childhood educators and education assistants who work tirelessly with children who have special needs, or are coming to school for the first time in Kindergarten, I say thank you. I want to acknowledge the custodians and maintenance staff who have worked over the summer so that we may enter sparkling buildings on the first day of a new school year; and I want to acknowledge the principals and vice-principals who lead our work in our communities, often going above and beyond to improve the trajectory of our kids and consequentially their families too. I wish to acknowledge our Trustees who have entrusted in their new Director of Education the responsibility to lead an agenda that embarks on change and builds on the belief that hope is both a dangerous and wonderful thing, because when you have it, anything is possible. I want to acknowledge the Senior Team, whose skills and assets quite simply outweigh their evolving experience (“green-ness”, I believe was how it was framed to me recently) that I can see already! And to the staff who work in the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board Education Centre, thank you to all of you, for enabling the system to focus its energies on young people because barriers are removed at the central level.
Lastly, I acknowledge my predecessor Mandy Savery-Whiteway who served the HPEDSB with integrity and a commitment to making the tough decisions and within such limitations, that any educator might have grown weary.
So, as I send this initial commentary to all HPEDSB staff, I offer that there is much to be thankful for; however, here now remains even more work. I came to HPEDSB not because I knew the work would be easy and predictable, but because I knew it would be hard and prolonged. I am excited beyond words to work hard for all of you, our communities, our families, and most importantly our students. They deserve the best, they will get the best, and we will commit to them that our energies to improve their shot at hope and a future are unwavering and unrelenting. I ask you to consider as well, what kind of organization do you want to work for, and want us to be in the region, even in the province?
As you start this first day of school, be you in your last year, mid-career or just starting out, roll up your sleeves because we are just getting started, and I promise you my team and I will be right beside you every step of the way!
And . . . my favorite JFK expression of all time: “It is time for a new generation of leadership, for there is a new world to be won.” Compelling, yes. Inspiring, absolutely. Appropriately telling—just wait!
I wish you the best, and assure all of you, that we believe in you and in your work every day.
Take care, Che-Miigwech