Sunday, 28 June 2015

With Heartfelt Gratitude

In November of 2003, I had just begun my third year as a secondary school principal when it was announced that two well established high schools in our district would be merged.  I remember my first thought was "Geez, I sure don't envy the principal having to work through that difficult process..."  A couple of months later I was asked by an Area Superintendent to move schools and I found myself in the middle of the amalgamation.  What at first seemed to be overwhelming soon became the most rewarding experience of my career.

Not to overstate it, but the processes involved in merging almost 1500 students, more than 160 staff members, two Parent Advisory Councils and deeply rooted alumni and community connections built over 50 years from two proud and distinct schools, all while undergoing a major construction and renovation project was a complex, multilayered challenge.  There were some significant construction, organizational and philosophical tests along the way, but very early on I recognized that it was also going to be a rare and special opportunity to create a new school.  (If you're interested, I have written at length about the merger process here).

I am grateful for the setbacks and the successes as I learned a tremendous amount about leadership and being an effective principal.   It reinforced that working hard, being organized and communicating effectively are important; however, people are not impressed by what you know, or how hard you work until you show them how much you care.  I learned that posting meeting agendas and staff announcements are never as effective as personal invitations and face-to-face conversations. I learned that you need to seek people out - those with concerns and those with other ideas and invite them into the process of creating a better school. Honouring disagreement is not only important but healthy, yet getting people to shift their focus to finding solutions and improvements is the key to doing this work well. 

I am grateful for the incredible staff I have had the opportunity to work alongside.  We went through a lot together and the teachers, admin team partners, office and support staff have been remarkably professional, collegial and open-minded.  It is not easy to acknowledge that there are other ways of being and doing and that we can all learn and improve.  Some will find faults and point out deficiencies, but it takes a collaborative professional to be willing to work together to make things better - to shift our pronouns from you and me to us and we.   I had the opportunity to work with some great people and very caring educators.  It was heartening when initially reluctant staff, who had been over 30 years at one school later spoke passionately about how merging, and working alongside new colleagues with different ideas actually made the last couple of years the most rewarding of their careers.  Similarly, a few diehard "Packers" and "Legends" staff have told me recently, "I loved our school, but Steveston-London is a better place..."

I am grateful for the incredible parents I have met.  The two PACs were the first groups to come together and they met regularly more than two years before we opened, as parents recognized that the new school would be bigger, newer, better equipped and offer more for their children.  To this day, the parents on PAC and Dry After Grad amaze me with their generousity and their ongoing involvement and support of school-wide, community-building endeavours have been crucial to our success.

I am most grateful for the incredible students I have had the absolute privilege of sharing this journey with. We met with the first graduating class when they were in Grade 9 and brought them together a couple of times a year up until they arrived at the new school in their Grade 12 year.  Still, being forced to "change schools" in Grade 12, add 150 strangers to your grad class, all while the "new school" is still a construction zone was daunting.  The resiliency, spirit and capacity of this "First Class" were inspiring and each grad class built on this foundation every year.  In 2012, the first "All Sharks Class" was an amazing and proud group and the grads of 2015, my last with the school, created and presented a gift I will never forget - a video tribute that clearly shows that SLSS students believe in and live our ethos of 'care and respect' and will proudly pass it on to all of those who follow.  

Steveston High (1956) and Charles E. London Secondary (1974) were both excellent schools.  I am a 'heart on my sleeve' kind of person and I was very proud of my time as a student, teacher, coach, vice principal and principal as a London Lord and Legend and as a Steveston Packer.  I will also give everything I have to my next school. However, I will never be able to fully express my gratitude, love and appreciation to everyone who attended, worked and helped create this incredible school called Steveston-London (2007) - my life is better for having met you.  Thank you SLSS and #GoSharks, always.

"To you from failing hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high."

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