I want to begin This Week by sharing the incredible service focus I was witness to across Horizon as we all entered a weekend that had to rival, temperature wise, any of us has been used to in January. It was also a weekend that was needed for students, staff and communities as we finished semester one and continue to remember those who lost their lives in the La Loche school shooting. On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to travel to Holdfast to take part in the community skate-a-thon in support of grade one student, Joel Bachman. I joined a great number of adults and youth who were offering their support through service, financial gifts, or simply by their presence. I want to thank principal, Fred Curts and Superintendent of Student Services, Darrell Paproski for providing me this opportunity as I joined Joel’s friends, teachers, support staff and many other from Holdfast and area who were supporting him in his battle with cancer. I had the opportunity to meet individuals from as far away as Cuba who came to offer support for this young boy and his family. The motto printed on a t-shirt I had the opportunity to wear was “Never Give Up”. It is not only the catch phrase from Joel’s favorite wrestler, John Cena, it is truly the motto he lives by and inspires in others every day. In spite of the pain and difficulty his chemotherapy and radiation has required him to endure, Joel’s dad and grandpa told me his spirits remain strong. Joel has inspired others to share the stories of people in need around our system including some of our staff and their loved ones. I want to encourage all of us to keep those in need in our thoughts as they are challenged with these heavy burdens.
I was reminded of this need to think and serve others on Saturday and Sunday while I was officiating volleyball in Warman and Saskatoon at the first Sask Cup for girls’ 15 and under and 18 and under. It was gratifying to see how many of our Horizon students were part of the competition and even more inspiring was how our school communities join together to provide opportunities for students to continue to participate in their sport of choice. I noticed that several teams had purple ribbons in their hair and found out that the reason for this was in support of the community of La Loche and in a team from that community that competed in the tournament. It struck me, as I observed over 2000 parents and supporters who came to cheer on all of the participants, that there are “Harbours of Hope” within our communities. None of us are immune from tragedy and when it strikes someone close to us, we rally around and suspend our differences as we are reminded of what really matters. We keep these lessons in our hearts as we think of Joel and those who are “carrying their weather” throughout Horizon. We share our deepest condolences to the community of La Loche as they are challenged by the need to persevere through incredible adversity. Finally, we are inspired by the athletes who rivaled each other in competition but who held the common thread of the purple ribbons as they reminded us to support those who are carrying much heavier burdens.
With this idea of support in mind, the week began on Monday with an early morning meeting of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) with a focus to coordinate our Division’s response to the tragedy in La Loche. We recognize that such unthinkable events raise questions about the processes in place at our schools in our Horizon and Englefeld School Divisions and the SLT worked swiftly to ensure communication channels were open and supports were in place for our students, staff, families and community members. Deputy Director of Education, Randy MacLEAN and Superintendent of HR Services, Todd Gjevre, joined the meeting from Regina where they were preparing for one of a number of recruitment fairs. Following the meeting with the SLT, I convened a meeting with our central office staff to bring awareness to the current state of La Loche and to express condolences and support for all those impacted by the tragedy.
Further to this, the Provincial Leadership Team held a teleconference Tuesday morning to discuss the sector’s response to the La Loche tragedy. Representatives from the Ministry of Education including the Deputy Minister and Directors of Education from school divisions and First Nation authorities across Saskatchewan discussed how to best support La Loche and what needs to be done to ensure that provincial supports and processes are in place to address the aftermath of this tragedy. I certainly commend my colleague in the education sector including those in Horizon School Division for their work to support students, staff and families across our province. I’ve had a number of professionals from within Horizon who have volunteered to let their names stand to provide much needed support in La Loche, if the need arises.
On Wednesday, I travelled to Saskatoon to meet with Shirley Greyeyes who is the coordinator with the Saskatoon Regional Intersectoral Committee (SRIC). Horizon School Division is a member of the SRIC and as Director of Education, I have the privilege of acting as our representative to this organization. The SRIC works to create partnerships with senior administrators from federal, provincial, municipal, First Nations and Métis governments to shape policies, programs, funding and resources to meet the needs of vulnerable children, youth and their families. My meeting with Ms. Greyeyes was a great opportunity to build Horizon’s relationship with this vital organization and to strengthen my paradigm around the importance of our work together.
I travelled to a number of our schools on Thursday, including Humboldt Collegiate Institute, Three Lakes School and Rose Valley School, where I had the opportunity to meet with administrators and various members of our teaching and support staff. Thursday was also the last day of departmental exams for our high school students and I would like to once again thank our entire Horizon staff for helping our students prepare for the challenges of these summative assessments and to thank our students for their work and diligence to achieve success.
While travelling on Thursday, I received a call from Imperial principal, Mrs. Carol Baade, who informed me of a bank robbery which occurred in the community of Imperial. In response, a number of schools were placed in a state of “Hold & Secure”. The purpose of putting our schools in this state is so principals and staff are able to bring students inside any buildings students may be working in so all outside doors can be secured. In these situations, classes and programs resume as normal but no one enters or leaves the building until it is deemed safe to do so. As an example, in one instance on Thursday, students were participating in activities at their local rink and that building was placed in Hold & Secure along with the local school. Approximately half an hour after we became aware of the situation, I was in contact with the RCMP and was informed that the situation was safe for our communities and the Hold & Secure was lifted. I would like to thank our central office personnel including Crandall Hrynkiw, Superintendent of Learning Services and his team, as well as school-based administrators, our staff and our students for their cooperation in responding to this call from my office. I would also like to thank the RCMP for their collaboration as we worked together in ensuring the safety of all in our school division. When circumstances occur that threaten safety, our procedures are put to the test and as challenging as it may be, it is critical we respond with a professional urgency and with minimal alarm so that unnecessary hysteria is not created. It is important that in cases such as this, children are reassured that there are adults in charge who will keep them out of harm’s way. Our staff did an admirable job of doing just that. It is also important that communication with parents occur quickly and accurately so part of the procedure was to send out a letter to parents in each community where the Hold and Secure occurred.
Friday was a non-instructional day across Horizon and I asked schools to respect a moment of silence in honour of the community of La Loche and those students and staff who lost their lives on January 22. I joined the staff of Wynyard Elementary School and principal, Jeff Fisher for their moment of silence. I had the pleasure of facilitating the second half of the 7 Habits training at Wynyard and was subbed in later in the afternoon by Joanne Cunningham, Supervisor of First Nations & Métis Education Services so I could travel to Holdfast and participate in the skate-a-thon for Joel. 7 Habits training was happening in other schools across Horizon as Superintendent of Learning Services, Crandall Hrynkiw, lead a session at Lanigan High School and Todd Gjevre facilitated a session at Annaheim School. Mrs. Jan Paproski, Coordinator of Learning Services also lead training at Viscount School. I know other schools were involved in working with the Literacy Team and other professional development opportunities and appreciate each of you for your professional work and for taking the time to suspend the business of the day. The moment of silence was an extremely powerful way to show our support and I would like to thank the organizers at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations for coordinating this for everyone across our province in memory of those deeply affected by the tragic sequence of events in La Loche.
As many of our schools begin a new semester on Monday, I want to thank each member of our staff who continues to provide a safe and caring learning environment for our students. In reflecting on this work as the service to children it truly is, I was reminded by the quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But...the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
Have a great week, everyone.
Kevin C. Garinger, B.Ed, M.A.Ed
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205