Sunday, September 13, 2015

Week One

The first week of school is always very exciting and incredibly exhausting.  This year was no exception….

Tuesday, September 8th came upon us quickly, and though we were ready for Opening Day, I was still unable to sleep the night before.  Like many students, thoughts of what lay ahead and what may have been forgotten kept me up the night before school was to start.  I was very excited to see the familiar faces I had missed over the summer, was curious to see how much some of the students had grown during their time away, and of course, was worried that I would sleep through my alarm.

The first day went relatively smoothly, and once the homerooms were completed our staff had a great opportunity to reconnect with each other.  Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were incredibly busy (as they are every year).  Our Mini-school group made their way to Strathcona for their annual retreat (they are due to return Monday afternoon and have been enjoying magnificent weather-see photos here).
We now need to prepare for our first PAC Meeting (Tuesday, September 15th at 7 PM), host our Welcome Back Grade Assemblies (on Wednesday, September 16th) and plan for our Annual Grade 8 Retreat (September 22 and 23).

The greatest challenge of the first week was dealing with the new Information system many school districts across the province have adopted.  MyEdBC is an online information system for tracking student records and communicating with the Ministry of Education.  The new system has many advantages and as we become more comfortable with it, I am confident it will be a good thing.  But, as with anything new, there are some significant struggles as people become used to doing things differently. Unfortunately, the learning curve has been exacerbated by the system running incredibly slowly.  Many of us have been forced into doing work outside of regular hours, when the system has fewer users and is more efficient.  This past weekend I spent several hours reviewing our school timetable and getting my thoughts organized. I am feeling much better about where things stand and my awareness of what we need to do first.

On Saturday, my wife and I ventured up to Whistler to watch a friend ride in the Gran Fondo (I felt a little guilty about not having done the ride myself).  I also took the time to review my experiences from the summer.  I recall writing about how I would need to refer to it when work and life got more difficult.  They did this past week, and it was good to be able to look back at all that our family experienced and learned this summer (below is a video of the trip).
It feels good to be back and I am looking forward to this school year.  I also want to thank our Clerical team, Counsellors and Vice Principals who have worked exceedingly hard to ensure all the necessary organizational work of the first few days has been taken care of.  They have had to slog through some very frustrating circumstances, and done so very well.  Thank you also goes out to our students and parents who have had to be patient as we worked through the difficulties of the new information system.  It will get better, and please rest assured that our staff is doing everything they can to make the changes that have been requested as quickly as they can.

It was a good first week.  Let's see what week two brings...

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy New (School) Year!

It has been almost a year since I last posted to this blog…  I have no excuses, other than to say my first year at Matthew McNair Secondary School was spent getting to know the community (students, staff, parents etc).  I very much enjoyed my first year at the school and am eagerly anticipating my second.

A promise to both myself and the school community is that I intend to write more frequently here.  I will share my views on educational change, inspiring things I see around our school, and what we can do to help each other continue to improve.  The goal is for me to post at least once per month (and hopefully more frequently).

We also will be creating an online school newspaper, something where I enlist the support of students to tell the stories that happen all around our school and community that perhaps don't get all the attention they deserve.  We will look to post updates to the site every two weeks and hope to have the first issue posted before the end of September (check this site for the address).

Hopefully the summer has been enjoyable for all of you.  The weather was among the most warm and dry on record, and you had plenty of opportunities to enjoy our beautiful province.  Hopefully you did!

I got to spend 40 days travelling through Europe with my family and enjoyed every second of it.  If interested, you can read more on the blog I created for that trip.  It was educational, enjoyable and very tiring, so I am very happy to be home and looking forward to the energy that comes with a school building full of excited staff and students.

The video below is one for our teachers on the first day of the year….
For our students...

And for our parents…

Tuesday, September 8th will be here soon.  McNair starts with a homeroom class (10:00 AM for Grade 8-10 students and 1:00 PM for Grade 11 and 12's) on the first day and then we go to regular length days starting on Wednesday, September 9th.

We look forward to seeing you all again, and if you are new to McNair, "Welcome"!  You are going to love it here.

Have a great long weekend and we will see you on Tuesday!

Monday, October 27, 2014

McNair Mini School-Strathcona 2014

"Pushing the envelope"

Getting ready to go at the ferry terminal
Last weekend, October 17-20th, the McNair Mini-School program took its annual trip to Strathcona Pak Lodge just outside of Campbell River, British Columbia.  The trip, normally run the first week back to school in early September, had to be delayed due to the late start to school.  There was some worry that the trip would not be able to happen at all, but the teacher-sponsors and the coordinators at Strathcona worked very hard to come up with alternative plans, and we were able to take the 143 students and 10 teachers last weekend.  Despite extremely wet weather, the students all had a memorable time, made some great connections with new peers and learned some very valuable lessons about ecological footprints and how to conserve energy and resources.  
Overlooking beautiful Strathcona Lake
Some Sunshine!!!
6 guiding principles at Strathcona:
1.  More with Less-  Minimizing one's impact on the planet by making good choices.
2.  Stewardship-  Caring for one's environment and teaching others to care, too.
3.  Challenge by Choice-  Providing opportunities to take risks in a safe environment.
4.  Living on the Edge-  Being open to new ideas, experiences and differences.
5.  Generosity of Spirit-  Thinking of others with kindness, charity and respect.
6.  Happy Warrior-  Performing tasks with enthusiasm an being a positive contributor.
The low ropes course
Getting some instruction
On the high ropes course
Grade 8's problem solving
Working together
A good time at the barn dance
The entire Mini crew
A highlight of every school year for Mini-school students, this year did not disappoint. Included in the activities were: Team-building games, White-water canoe, Low Ropes, High Ropes, Zip-Lining, Kayaking, Rock-climbing and Survival skills.  The Grade 8's had an overnight out-trip where they paddled a canoe about 4 kilometres to a campsite on the edge of Strathcona Provincial Park and then had to set up their sleeping structure, build a fire, cook and clean up from dinner, then go to sleep.  The rain was heavy (especially underneath a tarp), but the spirit of the campers was not dampened.  The  support of the staff was first-rate, and the food was excellent.  The entire weekend was full of memorable excursions where all students learned about the environment, learned about themselves and each other and "pushed the envelope".  I know I certainly stepped "out of my comfort zone". 
All the teacher supervisors
Ms. Arvanitis climbing the wall...
Mr. Leslie reaching out...
And out of the mouths of many of our students:
"That was the first time I ever steered a canoe and I did not know if it was going to be easy or difficult, so I took a chance and tried it."
"I learned to never be harmful or disrespectful to nature because it is part of the air you breathe and the water you drink."
"What I took from this experience is to never give up in life and always take risks, even if you are scared."
"I appreciate nature and all living things a great deal more and I try not to waste as much as a I used."
"No matter what comes ahead, no matter how hard it may seem, if you push yourself, remain positive and never give up, you can do anything you set your mind to."
Congratulations to all those involved in yet another extremely successful Mini-school Strathcona Retreat!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grade 8 Retreat

On Friday, October 10th, McNair Secondary School hosted its annual Grade 8 Retreat. This event has been in effect for several years and serves as a way to have new students become more comfortable with the staff and students in their new school and as a way for students from five different Elementary schools get to know one another. In the past, the Retreat has been done over three days, with outings to Grouse Mountain's Eye of the Wind, Great Canadian Shoreline clean-up, and some Social Responsibility lessons. This year, due to the later start of school, we had to compress the events into one day and decided to go with Ice-Skating, Bowling and lunch at Triangle Road in Richmond.

Students met in the large gym at the start of the day, we took attendance and gave out McNair Marlins t-shirts.  We had 132 Grade 8 students, 15 Senior Mentors and 10 staff participate on the trip.  After taking care of the administration in the morning, we boarded the buses and headed off to the Zone Bowling Centre and the Richmond Ice Centre.

Lining up to get skates

Getting instructions from Mr. Hirayama

Rolling a few frames...

Skating on the ice

Fun times with new friends

This is fun!!

A great time was had by all, as students got to make new friends, have a few laughs and enjoy a very social day.  The Grads of 2019 look to be a very nice group of students, and we hope they had a great time.

Our next great outing will be the Mini-school trip to Strathcona on October 17-20th.  150 students alongside 15 staff make up this memorable event.  I know I am looking forward to it!!!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Happy World Teacher Day!!!

Sunday, October 5th, 2014….

After one of the most difficult stretches in British Columbia education history, it is time to acknowledge the amazing efforts of the teachers in this province.  Since mid-June of last school year until September 22nd of this year, public schools across British Columbia sat empty while teachers were engaged in a bitter labour dispute with the Liberal government.  After three weeks of rotating strikes followed by a lockout and 10% reduction in pay, teachers went on strike.  The reasons for the conflict were many, including the BCTF looking for a wage increase and some way of addressing class size and composition issues, while the government claimed that the provincial budget could not afford such requests. 

After months of negotiations resulting in no progress, on September 17th, teachers voted to ratify a new contract and returned to work.  Did the BCTF get everything they were asking for?  Absolutely not, but schools are once again buzzing with enthusiasm and excitement as staff and students try to get things 'back to normal'.  I commented in an earlier post about how much I missed the energy supplied by staff and students.  Despite being tired at the end of the first two weeks with people back in the building, I find myself energized and excited by their presence.  Many teachers are likely still feeling unappreciated and under-valued, but despite those feelings and the emotional and financial hardships that have been suffered by so many, teachers have managed to overcome feelings of anger and resentment, and the school is busily preparing for the Grade 8 Retreat, the Mini-school Strathcona trip and a variety of other fantastic opportunities for our students.

As a new member of the McNair community, I have been warmly welcomed and I am impressed by all I have seen.  Students are extremely friendly and engaging, and staff are caring and passionate about their profession.  The activities I have seen in classrooms and in the extra-curricular aspect of school have been exemplary.  Already, teams are up and running, teachers are sponsoring clubs and groups, and classroom activities continue to impress the observer and engage the learners in the room.

I want to thank our teachers for:

  • fighting and sacrificing for what they feel is important in education in British Columbia
  • giving so much time and energy to their jobs
  • providing students with first-rate instruction and learning opportunities
  • continuing to volunteer and do extras like coaching, student council and many different clubs
  • welcoming me as part of this community

On behalf of all members of the McNair community and from everyone with a vested interest in public education in British Columbia, I would like to say "Thank-You" and Happy World Teachers Day!  We can not thank you enough for all that you have done and continue to do for the profession and the children in your care.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Let the healing begin….

Tuesday, September 16th…  I probably should have written this post awhile ago…

I sit in my office at the start of what is supposed to be our third week of classes in British Columbia.  The hallways are quiet and I am in front of the computer screen watching Twitter for updates on the negotiations between the government (BCPSEA) and the teachers union (BCTF).  This dispute has been raging for over 20 years and seems to have hit its roughest patch yet, as teachers have been in a full strike since June 17th of last school year. 

I am thrilled that an end appears to be in sight (BCTF members will vote on Thursday to ratify the tentative agreement and our hope is that students will be able to resume school on Monday, September 22nd).  I will admit to missing the energy that the people in a school bring.  Conversations with staff, the excitement of students, the great deeds of both have been greatly missed and while I feel like I have not been very efficient in my days behind the picket lines, I go home more tired than ever.  Much of that is due to the ambiguity we have been living with, but also because we draw upon the energy that a full school provides.  That energy has been sorely missed…

I am new to this school community, and this is not a great way to forge new relationships.  The staff I have spoken with while in conversations on the picket lines have been very pleasant and I am eager to get to work more closely with them. Likewise, I am keen to meet the parents and students and begin to understand what makes this community work and how I can best support the students and families that rely on what schools are to provide (a safe, stimulating place to connect, learn, experience and make meaning). 

Principals and Vice Principals around British Columbia have been quiet during much of this dispute.  It is not our role to choose a side to support, it is our job to ensure the system runs efficiently and effectively and to provide leadership in difficult times. Staying neutral and calm in this conflict has been a challenge (especially since we are all teachers), but we (like everyone else in education) have persevered.  Without getting political myself, in observing this dispute, what follows has become painfully obvious:
Classes are crowded and composition makes teaching more challenging than ever before.  And teaching has always been a difficult, exhausting, rewarding and incredibly important profession. Sadly, teachers are now feeling undervalued and unappreciated. These feelings can cause long-term damage to what is one of the finest public education systems in the world.  It will be our responsibility to begin the healing process and attempt to rebuild the trust and respect between all members of our school communities.  This will be a huge task, but having staff and students back in the building will help...

I am grateful that there is now a light at the end of the tunnel, and there is much to do before staff and students return to the building.  I ask for your patience as the first week or two will be quite bumpy with timetable adjustments.  I would also like to thank everyone for their support of our teachers who have undergone huge financial and emotional strain through this dispute.  I know they are excited about soon returning to the work they love with the students they care so much about.  I want you all to know I am excited to get to meet many of you and work closely together to ensure our system continues to be something we can be proud of and serves the best interests of all the students in our care.

Jason Leslie

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hello, McNair!!!

It is Labour Day Monday evening.  A day very much like Christmas Eve.  Children eagerly anticipate tomorrow morning and adults frantically try to prepare for a huge day… the first day of the school year.  

I sit here watching Milos Raonic at the US Open tennis tournament with a sense of sadness.  After two months of summer holidays and the hope that the BCTF and BCPSEA would put to an end the labour unrest that marred May and June, no deal was reached and thus we will not have a regular first day of school tomorrow morning.  This is extremely frustrating for parents and students, and equally disappointing for all of us who work in the education system.  I know your teachers are upset that they are not working, doing the important job of helping fantastically talented young people learn.

I have just come to Matthew McNair Secondary School after 9 years at J.N. Burnett Secondary School, and I am very much looking forward to working with all of the students, parents and staff.  I have heard great things about the school and am eager to meet the people that make up this community.  To provide a little background of who I am,  I have worked for 22 years in the Richmond School District, at R.C. Palmer, Steveston and Burnett as a Physical Education, English and Math teacher, then Vice Principal and most recently as Principal.  The delay to the start of the school year is not the way I wanted to introduce myself, but the year will start at some point, and I want you all to feel comfortable coming to speak with me and asking me questions.  I am excited to hear and learn all about McNair.

I would like to welcome all the students back to school after what I am sure was an enjoyable summer.  The weather was as good as any summer I can recall, and our province is among the most beautiful places in the world when the sun is shining.  I hope you were able to enjoy it!  I also encourage you to remain curious, get involved, meet new people, set some goals for yourself and help each other this year.  How about a pep talk?!
It remains an unsettling time for all involved in education as the negotiations for a new teacher contract continue.  I remain optimistic that a fair, negotiated deal can be reached, and am hopeful because I believe in the important work our teachers do.
We will keep you apprised of any new developments.  There will be a resolution to the dispute eventually, and we will get information to you as soon as we have it.  You will be advised when and how the school year will start.

Again, welcome back and I am very much looking forward to working with all of you!

Once we get started, I want each of you to have a great year!!!