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Horizon School Division
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September 29, 2017 - A Message from Kevin C. Garinger, Director of Education

October 03, 2017

“I am honored to be able to tell my story so that others may benefit and understand, and maybe other survivors will feel comfortable enough to share their stories.” This quotation by Phyliss (Jack) Webstad, not only speaks to her experience in a residential school, it also speaks to her inspiration for Orange Shirt Day. This year, Orange Shirt Day fell on Saturday, so many schools, organizations and interest groups chose to recognize the day on Friday, September 29. The day honours the Indigenous victims of residential schools by encouraging people to wear orange and bring awareness to the challenges of residential school victims. In Horizon, we are very fortunate to have many partnerships that enhance the safe and caring environments for our students and staff. Parents and caregivers, community organizations, First Nations authorities and government agencies each play a significant role in support of our need to ensure our schools remain safe and caring for our staff and students. The Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report hold us all to account and provides necessary guidance toward a future where that will be far greater than our past.

Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for conversations about residential schools – to listen, to be heard, to learn, and to honour the children affected by this dark chapter of our nation’s history. I had the opportunity to speak to students, staff and community while attending the grand re-opening of the Punnichy Community High School (PCHS) gymnasium and I spoke about the cultural significance of the gymnasium and the opportunity the students and staff have to take the newly painted blank canvas, the gym walls, and create a mosaic that will forever encapsulate the cultural milieu of the communities that make up PCHS. When Chief John McNab of George Gordon First Nation spoke, he also elaborated on this wonderful opportunity that is before our youth and our educators. I believe healing will need to continue with our children and students and providing them ownership of their culture and community is certainly a positive step. As best-selling author Brandi Bates stated, “No matter what the industry you choose to ultimately invest all your time and energy in, be sure you're the owner, founder, and CEO. Remember, if you don't own it, you can't control it nor can you depend on it.”

This past Tuesday, my Director’s Leadership Team (DLT) comprised of principals, vice principals, supervisors, coordinators and senior leaders, participated in a professional development session in Humboldt. The focus was directed at improving Horizon’s graduation rates. As I shared last week, Horizon’ graduation rate for the 2016-17 school year is 84% -- 1% short of the Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP)’s target of 85% by 2020. I am proud of the work of our staff, parents and students to achieve this continued improvement level but I also recognize much work remains to meet our system goal of ensuring that 100% of Horizon’s students graduate. Discussing our ideal school and our ideal classrooms is part of the journey and the learning from the best practices found within Horizon will certainly continue us on a necessary path toward realization. As I reflect on our work, I also recognize the importance of ensuring that graduation continues to be held in high acclaim. It needs to remain a culmination of years of hard work and years of highly held expectations on learning. Our work is not about making it easier for all to graduate; rather it is to find out what is preventing 16% of our students from crossing the stage in June and then helping them on their individual learning journey to success. I heard one of my principals tell the story of a student who was a regular attender. All of the sudden, he stopped coming and his grades fell off. In finding out his story, it was understood that his parents were challenged with significant issues. In order to get his younger siblings out the door to catch the bus, it meant this young man wouldn’t be ready himself. As he had no way of getting to school, he had to make a choice between his own education and that of his siblings. I suppose examples like this are why I believe education to be the most noble and significant of all professions. Who else but those of us in education, working with students and families, could achieve a significant goal like seeing a young person succeed in the face of great adversity. As we are all leaders in this journey, I am reminded of this quote by John Kotter who said, “Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there.” We all know one of the most important strategies lies in our relationships.

Travelling to Englefeld Tuesday for a Board meeting was another exciting opportunity to discuss the impending transition the school division is making toward becoming part of Horizon School Division beginning the 2018-19 school year. When amalgamation was looming in the spring of this year, there was great trepidation in many school divisions across the province. Now that it seems to be a distant memory, two school divisions have decided to make it so. To our families and communities, know that this is no small feat but a culmination of years of relationship building. These Boards have strengthened their partnerships and paved the way for this transition. In working with them, I know they are comprised of people who are as passionate as any I know around doing what is best for students. As the processes move forward, I know it will be incumbent upon all of us to ensure their shared and inspired passions and visions remain focused on ensuring the high quality of education both systems pride themselves on. As British novelist and poet, Charlotte Bronte put it, “There are certain natures of which the mutual influence is such, that the more they say, the more they have to say. For these out of association grows adhesion, and out of adhesion, amalgamation.”

As I mentioned, travelling to Punnichy Community High School was an uplifting event on Thursday. The gymnasium project benefitted from a grant through the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, which provided approximately 50% of the funds needed for the project. Horizon’s Board contributed the other 50% of the renovation cost which brought with it a new gym floor, new doors, high-efficiency lighting and a number of other improvements to a facility that is used by students, staff and the community at large for a number of activities and functions. To celebrate the project, I was grateful to be joined by some of my staff and Horizon Trustees, Albert Pinacie, Jolene Koopman, Paul Crow-Buffalo and Nathan Bitternose, as well as members of the surrounding community, including Chief McNab from George Gordon’s and Councillor David Crow-Buffalo of Day Star First Nation. As part of the ceremony, we enjoyed an honour song and round dance lead by the Buffalo Drum Group, which included some of our own students. It never ceases to amaze me the unique and wonderful talents exhibited by the youth in Horizon and across our country.

I have been involved in one other round dance last spring at our Aboriginal Day flag raising ceremony at the Horizon office. I know that I have observed our communities across Horizon lead in numerous humanitarian efforts such as Pride events, Terry Fox Runs, Anti-bullying events, and cultural events. I thought it was fitting that, on Friday, our office staff joined this particular humanitarian effort and wore orange in recognition of Orange Shirt Day. Across our system, the coordination of events to honour Orange Shirt Day in our classrooms and schools took place and I want to thank our staff and our students for the encouraging conversations I know were had around this important societal issue.

Shirts of other colors have been worn over the past few weeks in support of the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research. I am very aware of the work that our young people and staff have done to raise money to support this worthwhile foundation. Their efforts and those of our communities, combined with the donations of so many have gone a long way to provide a future for those of us, who like me, have been impacted by the disease. At the same time, I know more needs to be done and I am grateful our schools continually rise to the challenge. I think of some of our young people and staff who are still battling. I also think of former staff members like Muenster librarian, Brenda Britz who recently retired and lost her own battle this past week. She is sadly missed in our schools and communities and our thoughts go out to her family and loved ones at this most difficult time.

As I wrap up this week, I hearken back to a story I heard on Saturday; still another act of utter human kindness. Volleyball athletes from Muenster School provided care packages to the girls’ team from Annaheim in order to support their peers who continue to grieve the loss of their coach and teacher, Mr. Ricky Block. As Ghandi once said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” I remain humbled by the humanity that I am witness to every day in Horizon by adults and youth, alike.

Have a great week, everyone.

- Kevin

Kevin C. Garinger, B.Ed, M.A.Ed
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205