Principals, Vice-Principals in the spotlight for National Principal’s Day
Tim Brody - Editor
May 1 was National Principal’s Day.
On its website, the Ontario Principals’ Council recognized principals and vice-principals stating, “We celebrate, acknowledge and thank the principals and vice-principals who lead our schools every day. These front-line leaders are responsible for ensuring our students have access to learning opportunities to help them be successful. We are proud to be key partners in Ontario’s world-class public education system.”
The Sioux Lookout Bulletin took the opportunity provided by National Principal’s Day to ask area principals and vice-principals:
1. Why did you want to become a Principal / Vice-principal?
2. What is the most challenging part of the job?
3. What is the most rewarding part of the job?
4. How do principals / vice-principals enhance student learning?
5. Is there anything else you would like to share?
The following are their responses in the order in which they were received.
Alisha Dasti-Hill, Principal
Waninitawingaang Memorial School
1. I actually did not think this was a career path I would ever want, however, my Education Director saw something in me and asked me to step up to the challenge. It was the best decision I have ever made. As a Principal I am very lucky, we have a great team of teachers and staff. The strong relationships we have as a team make this a terrific place to work. I was worried that I would lose connections with students which has not happened and I am able to build even stronger relationships with staff. I have also seen time and time again that supporting the adults in the building is one of the best ways to empower students.
2. Right now the most challenging part of the job is connecting with staff and students when we go online. We have been online for only a few weeks this year but it can be a struggle to really understand how everyone is doing and making sure they know you are there for them. In-person I am able to have regular meetings with staff and students to check-in.
3. The relationships with staff and students keep me going. I have the privilege of living and working in the small community of Kejick Bay. Students come to the house for help to untie their skates, fill up their basketballs/bikes with air and even ask me to read a book. Watching teachers stay for years and build those connections with families and students is one of the most rewarding outcomes of being a Principal.
4. We are mentors for teachers, staff and students. We set high expectations for kindness, respect and patience as a staff which creates a school environment that is safe and welcoming for everyone. It can be as simple as showing staff and students that every student is capable of great things. It is also about supporting teacher professional development with PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) and other learning opportunities (book studies, opportunities to do Additional Qualifications, etc).
5. This has been a year like no other. It has been a challenge for teachers, staff, students and parents and yet we have all come together to make it a successful year. We have done our best to minimize the negative effects of working and learning through global pandemic. Due to the passion and commitment of all of our staff and parents, our students continue to learn and grow.
Emily Hamilton, Principal
Sacred Heart School
1. The thought of becoming a principal was intriguing to me. I could see the positive influence that a Principal can have within the school and community. I enjoy looking at the bigger picture and identifying how to best serve students, families and staff at Sacred Heart School.
Before taking on this role I spent time envisioning what my priorities would be as a Catholic school principal and how my strengths as an educator would best serve our school.
I have always valued the advocacy that educators do for students, and in my previous role as a special education resource teacher, I was able to advocate for services, programs and supports for students, educators, and families. In this role, I saw the impact of ensuring academic programming, educator training, mental health support, student nutrition, school environment, sense of belonging, etcetera, can have on a student’s experience and growth. I had also recently become certified as an Expressive Arts Consultant Educator through the Winnipeg Holistic Expressive Art Therapy Institute. When the Principal role became available, I was eager to apply this trauma-informed learning to the leadership and learning role.
It is always a difficult decision to step out of the classroom, but I knew that I could bring my strengths into this role and it would have an important impact on our student’s school experience and the Sacred Heart School Community as a whole.
2. There are a lot of moving parts as a principal. It is a balance between managing the inner operations of the school and leading the school and school community toward a common vision of student success, faith development and well-being. Being a principal of a school means caring for many different aspects of the school to ensure the learning environment is safe and inclusive for all students, families, and staff. This includes the instructional program, staff professional learning and support, student support for academics, behavior, and other needs. I must pay attention to the health and safety in our building and manage our budget and staffing. It is my role to ensure we are following school, board, and ministry policies and directives and much more. What I do know is that while the individual tasks can seem far reaching, each responsibility plays an important role in the success of our students as we support their well-being and academic goals.
3. It is extremely rewarding when the changes we lead and support shift school culture, staff morale, and student wellbeing, all in one. It feels like the decisions and actions we have taken as a team were meaningful, and support our school vision when it impacts the whole school community in such a positive way. It’s rewarding to support educator learning and development because this directly impacts our students and their learning. Each staff member needs to feel cared for, just as much as our students do. I have very much enjoyed being able to invest in the health and well-being of our school’s students and staff because this is foundational to our students achieving academic growth. Overall, it feels good to see a healthy, thriving school community for all.
4. Principals can enhance student learning in the same way that any educator does. We promote a culture that is student focused. We are reflective practitioners. We hold the strong unwavering belief that all students (and staff in a principal’s role) can be successful with the right support. We assess what skills we want to develop in those that we lead and also celebrate their successes. We identify and find solutions to known challenges or barriers. We also set and uphold a culture of care, welfare, safety, and security within the school. We understand that each individual has their own identity. We listen and learn to strive towards an inclusive environment that meets the needs of our diverse students and staff. We encourage a growth mindset with our students but most importantly with staff, because that is how we improve. As leaders, we are lead learners!
5. We are still accepting registrations for kindergarten. If you would like to register for our school, please go to schoolsofhope.ca/sioux-lookout or call the school at 737-1121.
We are also hiring! If you are interested in becoming a part of our amazing team at Sacred Heart School, please reach out to me by emailing me at [email protected]
Darren Johnson, Vice-Principal
Sacred Heart School
1. I loved being a classroom teacher and a coach because of the close relationships you form with your students and players, the daily interactions you have with them, and the sense of satisfaction you get from seeing them get excited about learning. I had taught at Sacred Heart for a few years. I loved the culture we were building. Our sports teams were excelling. Our EQAO scores were increasing. The staff was friendly, welcoming, and always willing to do a little extra to give the students a positive learning experience. It was really a fun place to come to work every day.
When the vice principal position became vacant, I was encouraged by some former students, co-workers, and most importantly my wife to apply for the acting vice principal position. They thought I would be a good role model for the Catholic faith. They also believed I had proven through past experiences that I was capable of building positive teams and was an effective servant leader. As a vice principal, I am able to extend my sphere of influence beyond the walls of the classroom.
2. All of our community members, staff members, administrators and board members want what is best for our students. Sometimes, however, we disagree on how to best meet those goals. These disagreements often put principals and vice principals in positions where they have to have difficult conversations, make unpopular decisions, pass along unwelcomed information, or dole out disciplinary actions in order to meet fiscal or policy requirements, maintain a safe and secure workplace, or promote a positive school culture. The most difficult part of the job is having to have those difficult conversations.
3. As a classroom teacher, I was able to form positive relationships with 25-50 students per year. As a coach, I was able to form positive relationships with 10-20 students per season, depending on the sport I was coaching. As an administrator, I am able to form a positive relationship with our 350 students, 40 staff members, parents, board members, and colleagues from other schools annually. That’s the most rewarding part of any educator’s job; forming positive relationships with the people you meet.
4. Principals are the culture shapers and culture keepers of the school. It is their responsibility to create and maintain a safe and inclusive environment which empowers all staff and students to strive for excellence in academics, broaden their experiences through participation in classroom and co-curricular activities, and serve their communities. We are in the business of making good people. How do you make good people? You keep them safe. You show them that you care for them. You provide experiences for them that will foster their emotional, physical, spiritual, and social development. You provide resources for them to succeed and then give them challenges to face. You empower them to take risks but are there to catch them when they fall. And you teach them that they have a responsibility to be stewards of the land and to serve others.
5. These last two years have been very challenging for all people involved in education. There has been job actions, pivots back and forth between in person and remote learning, and staffing shortages. Students have had to face the brunt of these difficulties. Their normal has been disturbed. They have had their co-curricular activities and field trips cancelled. Graduations and religious ceremonies have looked very different. All of this has caused a lot of stress and strain for our students, staff and parents/guardians. Yet, I still go into actual and virtual classrooms and see engaged students with smiling faces. The resilience of our students amazes me. The dedication, flexibility and perseverance of our education workers (EA’s, ECE’s, teachers and support workers) astounds me. And the continued support of our community members gives me confidence that we will rise from this and continue to shine! Rise and Shine! There really are superheroes in this building and we can’t wait to open the doors again and let you see them.
Kristin Ward, Principal
Obishikokaang Elementary School
1. When I began my teaching career, becoming a principal was initially not a path that I thought I would take. As I gained more experience in education in a variety of roles, I realized that I enjoyed many of the informal leadership opportunities that arose within the education setting, and wanted to make a larger impact, and support the staff who support our students to grow and improve their teaching practice. I also really enjoy the relationships that I am able to build not only with staff and students, but also with their families and other members of the community.
2. Being a principal involves taking on multiple roles, and often roles that you didn’t even think you would need to fill. We act as instructional leader, manager of the building, supervisor of many staff, and problem solver. There are also days when staff are absent, or unavailable, and you take on the role of teacher, cook, bus supervisor, driver, admin assistant, or whatever else is needed. We not only support the students overall well-being, but also our staff, and often spend a lot of time listening, problem-solving, and providing or finding whatever support is needed. Juggling all the necessary roles, prioritizing these roles by importance throughout the day, and maintaining balance is definitely the most challenging part of the job.
3. The most rewarding part of the job is watching our students grow and learn over the years. It is being able to support our students (and often also their families) through their most challenging times, and see them get through the difficult times and grow and learn from their experience. It is watching the academic progress of our students, and watching students improve as our teachers improve their teaching practice. It is watching students who struggled as young learners take on jobs and roles within the community as adolescents that others may not have thought they would have been able to achieve. It is the smiles from students and staff when they accomplish something they are proud of.
4. As a principal, we act as the lead learner in the building. We support our staff to learn along with us to improve their teaching practice and in turn improve the learning of their students. We create School Improvement Plans in collaboration with our staff that allow us to set goals and our vision to move towards improvement in student achievement. We work to provide opportunities for professional development that allows staff to directly impact the goals we have for student learning. We work to ensure that our students are always the main focus of our work and that student learning is our top priority.
5. It is truly an honour to be the principal at OES. I would like to thank all of my staff, who work tremendously hard to continually improve the learning environment for our students. We have been able to improve students’ reading scores, become a truly trauma-informed school that works to support all students, and worked to incorporate land-based learning, language, and culture throughout the school. I would also like to thank the community of Frenchman’s Head, our students, and their families for their support. When families and the school staff work together, our students are able to achieve to their fullest potential. We really have a wonderful school community, and we have a lot to be proud of.
Darryl Tinney, Principal
Sioux North High School
1. I was afforded some great leadership learning opportunities early in my career, I was able to coach and be the athletic director. I never had a plan or aspiration to be a vice-principal or principal, but was very fortunate to have some mentors along the way who saw some potential in me and encouraged me to consider getting into administration. I really need to thank Charles Fox, Gary Hannam and Gerson Agustin, who were all very supportive and helpful in getting me into administration. I also had many peers along the way who were positive role models and really helped me to aspire to be the best that I can be in my position. Early in my Pelican Falls career, Norma Kejick, Darrin Head and Jonathan Kakagamic all helped me and challenged me to become who I am today. Later in my journey Steve Poling, Wayne Mercer, Chris Conquer and Richard Hodkinson all took me under their wing and helped me navigate being a Principal in a public school with KPDSB. I also was fortunate to have many leadership conversation with my Superintendent Caryl Hron and Director of Education Sean Monteith that helped me grow in my role as a principal.
2. The most challenging part of the job the past 14 months has been navigating the ebbs and flows of Covid! As a school and a system, we have had to challenge ourselves to support students both academically and with mental health both in school and virtually/remotely. Personally, my number one priority has been around the health and safety of the students and staff at SNHS. This has to be the number one priority during a global pandemic. We also have to make sure we are providing students as many learning opportunities and supports as possible, yet because of Covid, many activities and sports that are normally part of the school experience have not been able to happen this year.
3. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be the principal of three different schools in Sioux Lookout: Pelican Falls, Sioux Mountain and now Sioux North High School. To be able to work in the community that I grew up in and graduated high school from has been something that I take great pride in. I have had the opportunity to work with many great staffs over the years who put students first with their work every single day. To have had a chance to teach and coach and be the principal to so many students over the years and to see them learn and grow, graduate and achieve their potential has probably been the most rewarding part of my job.
4. I view my role as part of a school team. My role is to work with staff and students and identify ways to enhance learning opportunities for students. Also to support other growth opportunities for students around well-being, mental health and extra-curriculars to name a few. Part of my role is to look for opportunities to connect the school with the community and the community to the school. Lastly a big part of my job is to remove any barriers for staff and students so that they can have the best opportunities for learning, development and growth.
5. I want to acknowledge the great work that my administrative colleagues are doing at Sioux Mountain, Sacred Heart, Pelican Falls, WAHSA, KIHS, Virtual School. There is no doubt that the Principals and Vice Principals of our Sioux Lookout schools are doing their best to support their schools, students, staffs and families. I also want to acknowledge the roles of parents and guardians and students this year. It has not been an easy year. Your perseverance has been admirable and helps motivate us to continue to support our students the best that we can. Stay safe out there everyone!
Principal KPDSB Secondary Virtual School
Principal Savant Lake School
1. I have always had a passion for education. I love being a teacher and being a principal is just being a different type of teacher. I find it extremely rewarding to work with students, staff, families, and community partners to help make learning work for kids. I feel like I have the best job in the world.
2. Right now, I would say the hardest part is not being in the physical school seeing students and staff.
3. Working with students and staff. Working in education is a team effort were we all need to work together to see student succeed. I’m lucky to work with some of the best educators in Ontario.
4. I think we are able to enhance student learning by working and learning alongside our staff to create the best possible learning environment for the students. When the students feel safe and are willing to take risks with their learning, we know we are doing our jobs.
5. The community of Sioux Lookout is the absolute best. When I first came up here 15 years ago to start my first job at Hudson School, I was just planning on staying a year or two. Now I am so incredibly happy to call Sioux lookout my home.
Wayne Mercer, Principal
Sioux Mountain Public School
1. I have always seen myself as an educator first. Principals and Vice Principals are teachers that have gone through additional training to be qualified in school leadership. Being in a school leadership position provides an opportunity to support families, students, and teachers in all grades and classes.
2. As with most roles in the education setting, there can be very stressful times during a school year. Usually aligned with various reports and timelines that are required to be met from time to time. It is often difficult to see a child and their family struggling at times. As a school leader, you are always mindful of the well-being of your students, families, and the staff.
3. Seeing a student graduate, without a doubt is the highlight. The feelings of pride and accomplishment with the students and their families. The satisfaction and positive emotion by all in the school. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work, guiding supports, and encouragement by all. After a long and sometimes tiring school year, graduation reminds us why we do the work we do, and the moral imperative with the job.
4. As a school administrator, or “lead teacher”, we are able to lead school communities through improvement planning process to identify goals and next steps in our own learning. We align this improvement plan with the school boards improvement plan as well. This process is continual and updated each year. It is our role to support our staff with the various aspects of their professional growth. This would include participating and providing professional learning opportunities, monitoring professional practice, and providing feedback.
5. After 30+ years in the profession and with more than 20 years supporting through school leadership, I can say that it is one of the most rewarding and exciting jobs out there. My wife and I, who is also an educator, migrated to the Sioux Lookout region to begin our teaching careers. We quickly fell in love with the area, and truly value the people that live here. We feel honored and blessed to be a part of so many people’s learning journeys and generations of children that have grown into adulthood. Many of these connections will last a lifetime.
It is also incredible to work alongside so many amazing professionals who work so hard for our students each and every day. Our teachers, Early Childhood Educators, Education Assistants, support staff, and custodial/maintenance personal are the pillars of our education communities. It is an honour to be a part of the journey with them.
Andy Schardt, Vice-Principal
Sioux North High School
1. Becoming a school administrator seemed to be a natural course for me, short of naming it as a “calling”. Even as a youth, I was always involved in some kind of leadership activity. My teaching career started in Thunder Bay, but few jobs there had me looking closer at heading north. My first job offer was a teaching principal in Wunnumin Lake. I was nervous about the prospect and leaving Thunder Bay, but my Director of Education at Lakehead at the time said, “Andy, you need to go. You will learn so much there and it would take you 80 years here to accumulate the same learning and leadership opportunities you will get working in First Nation communities”. He was right, that is how I got my start and I never looked back.
It may be a cliché to say I love working with kids, but it is so true. The kids drive the work we do as educators and administrators. I really enjoy being a leader/facilitator and working collaboratively with staff to see important work come to fruition; I enjoy seeing staff and especially students succeed to their potential because of that work.
2. Administratively there are always varying day to day challenges which is the nature of the job and you learn and grow from all of them. The unique challenge now though is working in an ever-changing Covid environment. If asked, I think most school administrators will say that the business and responsibility of keeping students and staff safe every day; maintaining a positive morale; making sure staff and students mental health needs are met; and encouraging everyone to be mindful to take time for self-care is the most important work we are currently doing. This work is certainly challenging, it is rewarding and honestly, at times, actually exhausting when combined with the other work we need to do.
Without getting too political, it is not hard to notice that a good portion of virtual student success right now seems to be a matter of privilege in terms of learning resources and various supports available to them. It has certainly been challenging (for everyone) to help level the academic playing field when you don’t have students in front of you to support and encourage, and when you are hand-cuffed by necessary restrictions as you try to come up with other creative means to help these students to be successful and reach their potential.
3. I would have to say that seeing students succeed, achieve their goals, and live and work to their potential is the most rewarding, and satisfying part of the job. Knowing that you had an active role in that process is certainly fulfilling. For me, engaging with students at any level every day is always my work “happy place”.
4. I think there are several important ways we strive to enhance student learning. For me, I believe building positive relationships with students, staff, parents and community partners is a critical foundation. We build on that foundation by facilitating and supporting teachers to provide meaningful and authentic learning opportunities for students and by supporting teacher learning to keep the instructional agenda moving forward. We work hard to provide a safe learning environment for students and we actively recruit, listen to and act on student voice. Their voice and knowing their needs allow us to plan appropriately and to provide programming that students can successfully engage and thrive in.
5. I just want to say and acknowledge how proud I am of all of our students right now, regardless of where they are in terms of academic success. These are unique and highly challenging times and they constantly demonstrate their resiliency and resolve. Like everyone else, I am certainly looking forward to a return to normalcy as it were so that students can experience all of the benefits and opportunities that come with being a high school student. I am also thankful and appreciative of all of our staff who have been under constant pressure all year due to the unending changes and unyielding demands of our current environment. Their dedication and resolve, along with a tireless work ethic while maintaining a positive attitude has been inspiring to me as an administrator. This is why I love my job.
Barbara van Diest, Vice Principal
Sioux Mountain Public School
At the center of my Life Path, I am a helper – whether as Mom, daughter, friend, teacher, mentor, colleague…. My philosophy of wanting to reduce and eliminate barriers and empower others has leant itself to being a servant leader in the form of a KPDSB administrator. Years ago, my Principal at the time, took me aside and said, “Barbara, you should consider becoming an administrator!” and really I hadn’t thought about it until that moment. I am glad I took the plunge and that my long and varied career path has found me in Sioux Lookout! Being here is the culmination of 30 years of working in education and I have worn all kinds of hats ranging from being a high school co-op student at Red Lake High and supporting kids in an elementary school in Ear Falls, to being an EA, an OCT teacher abroad and in Canada, coach, now Vice-Principal of a busy, and thriving school called Sioux Mountain PS. It is my privilege to lead an amazing school team with Wayne!
Getting obstacles out of the way to get at quality instruction for ALL our students is something that we strive to do every day and my ongoing goal. When, as a team of educators with the support of our stakeholders, which include caregivers and family being at the base of their children’s success, we are able to work together with the well-being of all students as the focus, then the rewards come for kids. When all students are given opportunities to do their best and grow as contributing community members, and that includes children with Special Education needs, from all cultures and walks of life, and there is evidence to support this, then that is the reward. This positive outcome through education is enhanced through precise instruction and intervention and collaborative team work with community partners.
I look forward to what is to come in the future for our Sioux Mountain students, staff and families! I remain optimistic and hopeful and I believe in the resiliency of our community!
Darrin Head, Principal
Pelican Falls First Nations High School
1. Early in my teaching career, I had no aspirations of becoming a school administrator. About 10 years ago, at a previous school, I was appointed to a vice-principal position on an interim, short-term basis. It was at that time that I developed an appreciation for of the role of school administrators. I found that I enjoyed that role and decided to complete the Ontario Principal Qualifications Program to pursue opportunities as a school principal.
2. As school principal, a significant part of my responsibilities are making decisions and providing direction. I recognize that, if I don’t perform these duties effectively, I limit my staff’s ability to perform their duties as effectively as they could. Which would have a significant negative impact on our students. It is important that I build trust in my staff so that they can count on me to make sound, evidence based decisions and direction, so they can perform their duties to the best of their abilities. I recognize that this is a challenging responsibility, but it is one that I enjoy.
3. The most rewarding part of my job is the relationships that I am able to build. It’s very rewarding for me when a student drops by my office to chat because I recognize that this is an indication that we have developed a mutually respectful and trusting relationship and that they know that they can come to me when life throws some challenges their way as well. Similarly, when one of my staff comes to me to bounce ideas off me or to seek guidance, I recognize that we have developed that mutually respectful and trusting professional relationship whose goal is to see them be the best at what they do. This relationship building is very satisfying for me as a principal.
4. As a school administrator, I have an influence on things like program development and instructional leadership. In my school, like any other, it is the education staff (Vice-Principal, teachers, education assistants, support workers, office staff, and custodians) that perform the bulk of the day to day duties that enable a school to function effectively. I feel my role as Principal is to put my staff in a position where they can perform their duties to the best of their abilities. I get a great deal of satisfaction in seeing my staff excel at what they do because I recognize that this leads directly to more success for our students. When I see our student achieving the highest levels of success, I know that we have all performed our duties with a high level of efficiency.
Nathan Hunter, Vice-Principal
Pelican Falls First Nations High School
1. When I began my teaching career, I didn’t have aspirations of becoming an administrator. As I became a more senior teacher, I started to understand more of what administrators actually do, and that the relationships that I would have with students would be different from that of a classroom teacher, but these relationships would be just as meaningful and important to me. I also felt that as vice-principal I would be better positioned to help make improvements to the school program that would benefit the students.
2. I would say the most challenging part of the job for me is finding enough time on the busiest of days to get to everything that I would like to accomplish.
3. For me, the most rewarding part of the job is working directly with the students. As vice-principal I get to know many of the students on a different level from what I might while teaching them in the classroom. But from helping students work through difficult times in their lives, or providing guidance on how to be more successful in their schooling, or even just being a responsible person, who they can trust and talk to, these relationships really leave me feeling satisfied that I am helping to make a difference for our students.
4. Principals and vice-principals support and enhance student learning by being leading members of the school’s program planning and school improvement strategies. Principles and vice-principals are also vital to supporting teachers in developing their own personal practice by providing experienced guidance, educational leadership, and professional development
5. In a typical school year a large part of a vice-principal’s daily work routine involves a great variety of tasks and responsibilities which see them out and about around the school, working with students and staff throughout the day. With the move to online learning during the pandemic I am really missing the busy pace and interactions and I look forward to when we can be working and learning all together again.