THE PRESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE - Brian Leonard
October 14, 2022 Message to Members
By far, what I have anticipated most as BCPVPA President is the chance to visit members in their schools and communities around the province. Many former presidents of our Association regard school visits and meeting members as the highlight of their time in office. Last week, during the most glorious and record-breaking fall weather in recent memory, I made my first official foray as president to visit and tour the Kootenays.
Flying in and out of Castlegar, I still managed to clock almost 1000 km as I toured and visited 18 school sites and two School Board offices in three districts, and met, mingled, and dined with members (and many District staff), in School Districts 51, 8, and 20.
On Monday, I landed in Castlegar and made my way to ‘Area 51’ (SD51-Boundary School District). SD51 is a vast sprawling rural district that supports students from Rock Creek in the west, to Christina Lake in the east, and as far as Big White (outside Kelowna) in the North, and it is home to the four-day school week!
My host and driving companion as we crisscrossed SD51, was Chapter President Peter Scott, Principal of John A. Hutton Elementary School in Grand Forks. Peter was a great host for the lengthy drive between sites, as we discussed the unique complexities of leading schools in a rural setting. Stable internet connectivity and bandwidth access is just one example, as Peter described how he must ask teachers and staff to disconnect from school WiFi when he conducts the online portion of the FSA, as only five students at a time can log on and complete the online portions of the annual assessments.
Another – personally – more alarming example of the unique flavour of rural education was during our conversation with Nick Bond – Principal of West Boundary Elementary School. As students played happily around us, Nick described how he recently had to call the local conservation officer to remove a rattlesnake, to which Peter added, “Oh, yeah, we also get lots of black widow spiders!” And I thought the bears of Coquitlam were a problem!
On a more serious note, whether in rural, urban, or suburban settings, we all share the same staffing challenges that can include teachers, educational assistants, custodians, bus drivers, and more. The lack of affordable or available housing is a challenge we all share. Something else we all share is the desire to create the best possible learning environment for our students, as demonstrated by the school-wide morning walk and warm-up led by Principal Shawn Lockhart at Dr. Perley Elementary, and the Post-Secondary Day experience at Grand Forks Secondary, where Vice-Principal Jon Dowswell personally shepherded students to the correct room as he will see many of his graduating students go on to UVic!
After a day and a half in SD51, I made my way to Nelson (SD8 – Kootenay Lake). Along the way, I stopped at Mt. Sentinel Secondary and listened in as Principal Shellie Maloff reviewed the school’s Fire Safety Plan with a local fire inspector, and then shared recess supervision duties with Acting Principal Rod Giles; Rod is a former BCPVPA Director and retired Principal, and is filling a short-term leave at Brent Kennedy Elementary.
Chapter President Tim Mushumanski took over the Principalship of Trafalgar Middle School this summer. Trafalgar is a revered institution in Nelson; the building is almost 100 years old, and it is a partial construction site! A former teacher at Trafalgar, Tim – along with Vice-Principal Mark Bonikowsky – is leading the way in juggling the competing demands of a major building overhaul (including an unusable Foods Room), with the ongoing dynamic educational leadership of hormone-infused middle-school aged youth. Start-up was rough at Trafalgar this year due to construction setbacks; however, with Tim’s experienced hands at the wheel, the school will be just fine.
Tim led me through a whirlwind tour of several schools in and around Nelson, including the School Board offices on the top floor of Wildflower Elementary. The day ended in grand fashion, when I met most of the Chapter members at a Chapter dinner at another Nelson institution – the Hume Hotel. The SD8 team are an engaged and connected group of educational leaders committed to making things great for the students they serve.
The final day of my tour started in Castlegar with Principal Wendy Cutler in SD20 (Kootenay-Columbia). Wendy is the Principal of the triple-track school Twin Rivers Elementary, that offers English, French-Immersion, and Russian! She is also responsible for Castlegar Primary School, on the other side of the Twin Rivers campus. A very busy, but dynamic leader, Wendy has also assumed the role of Chapter President. As we made our way around the school, I was tested by primary students on my rudimentary, cereal-box French, but was totally flummoxed when trying to communicate with a good-natured boy who is a recently-arrived Ukrainian refugee. If we think it’s hard to find teachers, imagine finding a Russian-language teacher in Castlegar!
Next, I moved on to Fruitvale Elementary and met with Principal Mike Page. Mike’s school is undergoing a full-blown exterior construction but, inside, the school is a beehive of learning.
My final school stop on this tour was at Rossland Summit School, a unique K-9 school housed in the former Rossland Secondary building. It’s unique in that the school has all the accoutrements of a high school – large classrooms, a cafeteria, an auditorium, a large gym, and equipment for woodwork – but the student population is mostly elementary-aged. The kids are very fortunate to attend such a well-equipped facility, even if parts of the school look like the set of Mad Men – genuine vintage! The clock in the foyer dates from 1951, when the building first opened.
Although students were dismissed by the time of my tour, I did get the opportunity to catch up on educational issues with Vice-Principal Nathan Robinson, and friend and colleague Principal David DeRosa (BCPVPA Director and former BCPVPA President), before heading to a Chapter dinner in Rossland where I connected with many members from the SD20 Chapter, including a couple of former Coquitlam teaching colleagues!
You only have to spend a little time in schools to realize that public education in BC is a vital and diverse resource that is brimming with innovation and vitality, while providing amazing learning opportunities for the students of BC.
To conclude this week, I would like to welcome Shannon Behan (SD47-Powell River) to the BCPVPA Board: Shannon was the successful candidate in last week’s by-election. Thank you to all the members that cast their vote – democracy in action! Shannon will hit the ground running, as the Board meets this weekend with a very full agenda.
Speaking of democracy in action, don’t forget to cast your ballot on October 15 in the local municipal elections that include Trustee elections: vote (and help to choose your boss!)
As I was taught by the Russian-speaking kids in Castlegar:
Have a great weekend,