It is with a whirlwind of mixed emotions that I share this year-end message with our students, staff, families, and communities. In addition to my usual sentiments brought on by the completion of the school year, there is a profound sense of finality for me as I bid farewell with my last message as Director of Education. After more than 38 years, this Friday is my last day “in the office” at Bluewater District School Board.
As I prepare for the bittersweet moment of retirement, I feel tremendous gratitude in my quiet reflections of the many adventures and rewards that I have been so fortunate to experience during my career. It has been an amazing honour serving the students and families of Bruce and Grey counties, and to have been in a position to witness the growth and transition of so many young lives. I think about the former students I have known and taught, and their progression from kindergarten and elementary, to secondary and eventual career success. Many of them have become parents of a new generation of Bluewater students.
I also think of the colleagues I have been privileged to work and learn with over the years. While the list is far too long for the purposes of this message, I acknowledge all of them for their support and expertise in a vast range of capacities, which has helped to shape, guide, and inspire my path. This extends to the wonderful families, volunteers, trustees, and partners who have made a positive difference, not only on a personal level, but especially in the lives of our students through their contributions to local public education. I could not be more thankful.
Moving forward, it is an absolute pleasure for me to pass the torch to Lori Wilder, my successor as Director of Education. A longtime colleague and dedicated member of Bluewater’s senior team, Lori will be a great leader and advocate for ensuring our students continue to have the best opportunities for their success and well-being.
Without question, the next few months will be anything but ordinary as Ontario proceeds with caution in attempting to slowly reopen the economy and lift restrictions related to COVID-19. I know there are many questions surrounding the return to school in September. While we do not have all the answers at this time, I can say that we are following the provincial government’s directives in planning for a few possible scenarios (please also see below the attached parent/guardian letter from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce). These could include a modified routine with smaller class sizes (limit of 15 students) where cohorts of students attend on alternate days or weeks, a hybrid format of in-person and/or remote learning, or a full reentry plan that follows a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols. We must be prepared for these various models and have the flexibility to shift between them, based on the advice of our public health officials. At this particular point in time in Bluewater District School Board, we are focusing our reentry planning on a hybrid model that would combine face-to-face and online learning opportunities for the month of September, depending on local public health approval.
Other considerations being discussed provincially involve ways in which to strengthen online learning, solutions for those with limited access to technology and/or internet connectivity, and child care for families and staff during a possible phased in reentry. Where we land will depend on where we are at in the province in terms of the severity of COVID-19 cases. Over the
summer, Bluewater will be maintaining close contact with other school boards in the province and Ministry of Education representatives to help inform reentry planning. As always, new information will be shared with our school communities as it becomes available.
In the span of my entire career, I have never encountered anything quite like what we have seen over the past several months. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude and deepest respect to all our students, families, and staff for stepping up to the challenge in the face of a very difficult situation and adapting to this new reality. Everyone’s experience and personal circumstances are different, and I fully understand that not everyone was able to engage in remote learning in the same way. I stand by my earlier statements in that our plan in Bluewater was always meant to be flexible without adding unnecessary pressure to families. Students will not be penalized if they were unable to fully participate, and no one should feel the slightest bit of shame or guilt over this. Our students are a very resilient bunch, and I am fully confident that our staff will meet them where they are at and work to narrow any gaps when school resumes.
It has also been a difficult end to the school year due to the postponement of elementary and secondary formal graduation ceremonies until the fall, or when it is safe to proceed. Despite this setback, I know that when the time comes, these events will be meaningful and well worth the wait for our deserving graduates. That said, please join me in congratulating those students celebrating special milestones as they prepare to make exciting new transitions, whether they are entering Grade 1, Grade 9, or pursuing post-secondary for the first time in September.
At this time, we extend our goodbyes to our retiring staff and share thanks for their years of service and dedication to enriching the lives of the students of Bluewater. I wish them all the enjoyment, rewards, and continued learning opportunities that retirement offers. This year, it feels surreal for me to address this particular cohort as I get ready to join them!
In closing, it only seems fair that every student, staff, and family receives special accolades in the wake of an unprecedented school year. While this is not quite how I envisioned ending my career in public education, I am deeply humbled by the resilience, support, and collaboration shown by so many over the past several months. I also personally thank our trustees, my senior team colleagues, and Corporate Services staff, whose daily encouragement and support in my role as Director of Education have brought great fulfillment during my final years in Bluewater. You are all in my thoughts and deserve the very best.
Stay safe, be well, and enjoy your summer! Signing off @BWDSBDirector.
Director of Education