My ‘Triple C' Chapter Visit

April 21, 2023 Message to Members

Greetings colleagues,

I noted in a previous column that spring break is no longer a shared experience in our province. Typically, the president does not get an invitation for a Chapter visit in the busy week before a holiday; this year, while much of the province geared up for the break, others still had time ahead. What emerged was what I call the ‘Triple C’ Chapter visit: Courtney-Comox, and Campbell River. 

With thanks to Chapter President, Jason Cobey, I was able to visit a series of schools in SD 71 (Comox Valley) during my day and a half visit. Jason had mapped out an ambitious but efficient route. Our first stop was Glacier View, whose calm, patient, and caring Principal Karma Taiji is just the right person to lead this community. As we toured the school, I saw the province’s special food security funding in use, as staff prepared hot lunches for some of the district’s most vulnerable students. The menu that day included home-made soup, and the delicious smell wafted throughout the halls.  

Brian and Principal Karma Taji

Our next stop was Lake Trail Middle School. Middle schools tend to be busy places that reflect the energy and enthusiasm of their young adolescent students. The Principal and Vice-Principal team at Lake Trail is the equally energetic Kyle Timms and Alissa Pratt. After a whirlwind tour (and a quick photo op), Kyle headed off for the end-of-day announcements and supervision of the students as they boarded buses for home, while Alissa attended to some student support issues.

Brian with Chapter President Jason Cobey and Principal Kyle Timms

As we transitioned to a Chapter dinner meeting, we stopped by the Comox Valley School Board Office for an informative chat with Superintendent Tom Demeo. I am grateful when my Chapter visits can include a conversation with district leaders, as these are excellent opportunities to share about the collaborative work the BCPVPA is doing with the Ministry, and how we support the important work that Principals and Vice-Principals undertake as a vital part of the district’s management team.

The following morning, Jason and I headed south to Cumberland Community School, where Principal Erica Black gave us a tour of the sprawling campus of her very full K-9 school which is housed in three separate buildings. Along the way, we met Vice-Principals Dwane Mills and Dan McKee, who were both fully engaged in their teaching and support duties around the school.

Brian with Principal Erica Black

We met next with the administrative team of four at Vanier Secondary – Principal Julie Shields, and Vice-Principals Lee McKillican, Wayne Kuhnert, and David Mayert. After a brief meeting in the office with the team, Lee gave us a tour of this vast educational complex. Along the way, I had a chance to connect with several grade 11 and 12 leadership students who were developing a program for their fellow students; to chat with students in an automotive apprenticeship program; and to see performing arts students in the theatre as they put the final touches on an upcoming show. Vanier is a very busy and dynamic learning place in the heart of the Comox Valley.

Brian with VP Lee McKillican

North Island Distance Education School (NIDES) has been providing education to BC families since 1989, and the school pioneered distance and online education in BC. On my way north, Jason and I made our last stop together at Tsolum, the former elementary school that is now the ‘headquarters’ for NIDES. Enrolling about 7,000 students, the diverse course offerings include Russian, Veterinary Science, Science for Citizens, Work Experience, as well as secondary subjects. The administrators leading this enterprise are Principal Gerald Fussell, and Vice-Principals Marieke Holtkamp, Meghan McMillen, and Alison Kavaliunas, and I was pleased to connect with both Gerald and Marieke on my visit.

Brian with Principal Gerald Fussell and VP Marieke Holtkamp 

Jason and I parted company, and I continued ‘up Island’ to Campbell River, stopping along the way at Miracle Beach Elementary where I met Principal Zale Darnel, a recent import to SD 71 from SD 36 (Surrey). At Miracle Beach, I sat in on the Spelling Bee Assembly with some remarkable young spellers, then had a quick tour and chat with Zale. 

I was on to the third ‘C’ of my ‘Triple C’ tour, SD 72 (Campbell River). Chapter President Laird Ruehlen was my tour guide and driver. I think everybody in Campbell River knows Laird, and Laird knows everybody! Our first stop was Ecole Phoenix Middle School. Phoenix  literally rose from the ashes, as the school had burnt down and was rebuilt some years ago. It is a beautiful and spacious building with spectacular views of Campbell River and Discovery Passage. My tour of Phoenix was led by Principal Rachel Nelson, and she proudly showed me the amazing totem pole, carved by a local Indigenous carver, that was erected last fall and dedicated by the local First Nations group and the school community.

Left to right: Rachel, Laird, Brian, and Mike

Vice-Principal Mike Munsie completed my tour, and it was an excellent opportunity to connect with  one of our newer members. Mike was appointed Vice-Principal last fall, and he and his family moved to Campbell River from Langley. 

At Cedar Elementary, I met Principal James Zlatanov, another young and enthusiastic newcomer to Campbell River, this time from northern BC. This older school, situated in the heart of Campbell River, is on the list of Campbell River schools that need to be replaced, but James is continuing to make it a great learning place for his students.

Brian with James Zlatanov

The last stop was Laird’s own school, Timberline Secondary; it shares space with North Island College, which is a partnership that benefits many local students. Laird did a quick check-in with his capable Vice-Principal, Christine Middleton, before leading me on a tour of his school and a few check-ins with  students. We popped next door to the College to meet Superintendent Jeremy Morrow, who showed a keen interest in the work of the BCPVPA and how the Association supports the work of Principals and Vice-Principals.

The scheduled Chapter meeting that day was held at Timberline in their spacious library. The executive members reported on local association business, and I then had the opportunity to speak to Campbell River members about the work of the BCPVPA, issues facing members across the province, and our support of BC’s Principals and Vice-Principals.

As I travel about the province, I am struck by the level of pride Principals and Vice-Principals have regarding their schools and communities. It is infectious! I also note that while we share many similar challenges, there can be marked regional differences. In this case, both SD 71 and SD 72 have proven to be desirable locations to work, live, and play, and they are not currently experiencing the same recruitment and retention challenges as other parts of the province. I look forward to connecting with our members in the coming weeks on Chapter visits, and at Chapter Council, to talk about and better understand some of these commonalities and anomalies.

And, no: that is not the Matterhorn! It is Mount Rundle, as I am writing this column in Banff and attending uLead 2023 as part of my own professional learning.  More about uLead in a future column.

Until then…

Have a great weekend!


The BC Principals' & Vice-Principals' Association is a voluntary professional association representing school leaders employed as Principals and Vice-Principals in BC's public education system. We provide our members with the professional services and supports they need to provide exemplary leadership in public education.

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