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!!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Commencement speech 2014

In my final post to this blog as the Principal of J.N. Burnett Secondary, I would like to share the comments made at the school Commencement ceremony on June 26th.  It was an enjoyable evening, celebrating the amazing achievements of this Graduating class.  I am sure all parents were tremendously proud, and so was I.  As stated previously, I will miss many things about Burnett Secondary, but what I will miss most are the students.  They are kind and compassionate leaders who are incredibly talented in a wide variety of areas.  Their diverse skills were showcased extremely well at our Commencement.  A special thank you goes out to all of the students who gave me a special send off and gift at the conclusion of the night.  You are amazing people!  Good luck!

Good evening distinguished members of the platform party, graduates, family and friends. To J.N. Burnett Secondary’s graduating class of 2014 we say “Congratulations.”  It is an honour to be addressing this outstanding group of young adults.

To begin, I must acknowledge that it has been another difficult year for education in British Columbia. Yet again, staff and students have had to endure tumultuous times of uncertainty and hindrance.  Despite these challenging circumstances, we are gathered to commemorate and celebrate your high school years at Burnett. And, it is with heavy hearts that your teachers are absent from tonight’s ceremony.  As an integral part, your teachers have devoted time and energy into your education; they have enjoyed connecting with you, and they are proud of your accomplishments. As a staff, we have been incredibly invested in your learning.

So, what is it about our work as educators that makes us so invested?  I believe it is the stories that make us swell with pride and feel as though we are helping to make the world a better place. Rarely do today’s headlines trumpet the good deeds of citizens; but at Burnett, the hallways and classrooms feature many examples of what is good and worthwhile. There are noble initiatives being led by members of this grad class which deserve to be chronicled: the amazing efforts of our Green Team to make an environmental difference; the leadership and governance of our Student Council; the conviction to raise awareness and to protect animal rights of JNB ARC and the passion and sportsmanship shown by our athletes.  Worthy reports continue when we recall our Leadership, Dance and Band Classes hosting the Seniors’ Brunch; when we are moved with gratitude by our annual Remembrance day ceremony; when we recall the student energy of Burnett’s first Open House; and when we look back at the fantastic Spring Production of Romeo and Juliet.

These examples are but a few. Each of your stories enlivens the school and makes Burnett such an incredible place to work. Despite all the turmoil that exists in today’s political climate, I cannot imagine another career I would rather hold than that of a teacher. It is our association with each of you that make this profession so rewarding. As educators, we value the lessons learned not only in the classroom but we treasure the knowledge gained from the connections to those around us.

Allow me to speak of a person I remember most from my education.  A friend and colleague, Mr. Lorne Bodin, once taught at this school and I had the pleasure of working alongside him as I began my career as a Vice-Principal at Palmer. I learned much from him and he continues to influence my practice today. Lorne demonstrated:

Compassion and Patience. Listen to each other and empathize with those who need support. Look to help those who need your time, your ear and your voice.

Loyalty and Leadership.  Speak well of others, even when you disagree. As you pursue your dreams, be an encouraging example - make those you know feel enriched for having known you.

Humour and Optimism. Be able to laugh at yourself and look for the good in all situations - even tough circumstances. 

Gratitude and Appreciation. Be thankful for all that you have. Show appreciation to your parents for their support, your teachers for their time and your friends for their care.

Lorne embodied these characteristics and he touched the lives of those with whom he came in contact. We lost Lorne to cancer 3 and a half years ago, and while we miss him greatly, his spirit lives on and his legacy is strong. In fact, I was introduced to cycling by Lorne. And, two weekends ago, I completed my third, Vancouver to Seattle, Ride to Conquer Cancer where, through the efforts of many, over 9 million dollars was raised to help fight this disease. We are extremely fortunate to be able to present the first Bodin Memorial scholarship to one of our graduates tonight. It is being awarded to an individual who makes a positive difference in the school, connects well with others, demonstrates kindness, and is generous with time. 

The qualities I have decribed are immeasurable. And, they are the most admirable traits I hope your parents and, we, the school community, have impressed upon you.  Yes, you have learned some valuable facts and useful formulas and many of you have done very well on your quizzes, tests and assignments, producing some extremely impressive results. But many years from now, what you will recall most are the relationships you nurtured - with your family, your teachers, your classmates - with those who have profoundly touched your life and positively transformed the way in which you think and the way in which you behave. 

This Graduating class is already in possession of these invaluable attributes. You are respectful, cooperative and compassionate.  You are mindful, intelligent and kind. Your efforts and deeds are influential. Continue to nurture what is noble and good because you are also the reason teaching, despite all the frustrations and difficulties occurring right now, is still the best job in the world.

Like all of you, I am also completing my last year at Burnett and beginning a new chapter. Like you, I will miss not only the great activities, but also the people who define this school. We bring together our individual strengths and we contribute to the community in meaningful ways. You have helped me to learn and grow and I will fondly remember all of you and this wonderful place.

Grads of 2014, we know that you have been equipping yourselves to face the many challenges and the endless possibilities available to you.  We want to thank you for your contributions to the school and the community. To quote the late Dr. Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people may forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

I am confident as I look around this room that you have made those around you feel proud, cared for, and valued.  Tonight is an important milestone in your lives. Please, feel proud.

In my final act as Principal of this great school, I want to do something to commemorate the evening...  It is time for a selfie... 

I encourage you to do the same.  Tonight, go take a selfie with someone you love...are blessed to know....has impacted your life......!