September 20, 2019 Message to Members
On the Road Again
I can hear the sweet strains of Willie Nelson in my head: “On the road again …”
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the very best part of my role as President is the opportunity to be on the ground and to meet our members. I get to do that when we gather together at events, and I have the chance to breathe your air when I visit your communities.
This week I journied to the Central Coast, SD49, residing on the traditional territories of the Nuxalmc, Heiltsuk, and Wuikinuvx peoples. The district covers a vast area, and I landed in Bella Coola to be greeted at the airport by Dave, who was handing out keys from Bella Coola car rentals. But there were no cars to be seen: the #1 rental is the 4×4 Jeep Liberty… lots of colour choice though! It was a fun reminder that I just landed in the Great Bear Rain Forest!
My next stop was Bella Coola Elementary School where I was greeted by Principal Sharon Beloin. Sharon and I spoke about her transition to her role in the ‘city’, as she spent several years in Shearwater at a one-room school. She is now with students from Kindergarten to grade 4 at the only school in Bella Coola, and supervises both a Strong Start and a licensed day care centre. The kids are very excited about their new playground which is designed to be accessible for all.
I met with Sharon, Chapter President Kevin Gianakos and PLD representative Scott Barnes over dinner at Freddy’s Restaurant in Bella Coola; I was sorry to miss Lela Walkus, who was out of town. It was a perfect opportunity to hear more about local contexts and how the responsibilities of these leaders connect them with their communities. This fulfils an important community value for all of them.
I began the next morning at Nusatsum Elementary in Hagensborg – just ‘up the valley road’ from Bella Coola – with Principal Kevin Gianakos. This is Kevin’s second year at NES and his first year as Chapter President. An interesting personal connection: a good friend and former colleague of mine from Trail, Joel Tremblay, took over the teaching position at Shearwater on Denny Island when Kevin and his family made their move to Hagensborg.
NES is a Grade 5-7 school that was recently re-opened due to an increase in the student population. It’s a close neighbour to the local high school, Sir Alexander MacKenzie Secondary, which is affectionately referred to as ’SAMS’. NES is even closer to the School Board office: the Superintendent’s office is just down the hall from Kevin’s.
After a visit and tour of the school, I met with Scott Barnes, Principal of SAMS. Scott is about 2 months into his new role and he is excited to be supporting staff and students in their 8-12 high school. One of the amazing strengths for both NES and SAMS is the close proximity to the extraordinary natural beauty of the Great Bear Rain Forest. The SAMS outdoor education class has created an outdoor classroom that is also accessible for their neighbours at NES: sharing with each other and connecting with nature are consistent themes in this community.
I rounded out my visit with a chat with Superintendent Steve Dishkin. Steve is a former band teacher and he still enjoys engaging directly with the students in his schools. I was there on picture day and when it was time for the teachers to get their photos taken, Mr. Dishkin was off to help out! Steve and I talked about creating and sustaining opportunities for connection and networking and using BetterEducate.com to overcome the barriers of geography.
It was a beautiful day, and I could sense the relief at the airport terminal as the shuttle bus driver was told there was, ‘no need to be on stand-by to run air passengers ‘up the hill’ to Anahim Lake‘, as the plane was on its way. My visit to Bella Coola and Hagensborg came to a close with an iPad slideshow of Kathleen’s new gazebo. Kathy is a long-time resident and at the airport for her sister-in-law’s departure to Vancouver. When I return to Bella Coola, I have a standing invitation for tea.
Although the surrounding mountains, forest and waterways provide a stunning reminder of nature’s beauty, it’s the people of the Bella Coola valley that warmed my heart and made me feel at home.