When outgoing superintendent Nancy Wells signed her first contract with the Coast Mountains School District, she intended to stay six months.
She ended up staying three-and-a-half years – in part, because she didn’t want to leave the district with work unfinished.
But Wells, who handed off the reins to new superintendent Katherine McIntosh May 1, is now confident the district is “on the cusp of some hugely exciting times” and believes that as long as the district remains focussed and on track, learning outcomes will improve going forward.
“In education, things don’t happen quickly. It’s taken us three-and-a-half years to get us to a place where we feel we’re a moving, improving school district, and it will take more years to see the results improve,” said the veteran administrator, who first worked in the district in the early ‘80s and then worked throughout the province before she was approached to take on a six-month contract as superintendent following the sudden departure of superintendent Rob Greenwood in 2010.
“The district had been through some rough times,” she said, of that time. “Morale was low, teamwork wasn’t really happening. There wasn’t a focus on what I believe the focus should be, which is student learning, so I just tried to bring everybody in line around a focus of student achievement.”
A lack of confidence on numerous levels, teacher job action in 2012, and, most recently, uncertain student enrolment numbers due to the housing crunch are just some of the challenges the district has seen. But Wells said the key to moving through challenges is to stay focussed on the students – and the end goal of making sure they all graduate and move on to some form of post-secondary education.
“Stick to it and focus on getting those kids across the stage,” she said. “No kids on the sidelines.”
There are “numerous indicators the district is on the move,” Wells said. A high interest in professional learning amongst district workers, administrators, and teachers, a positive sense of school community in district schools, and a solid focus on early learning and aboriginal education are just some ways the district has begun to set the groundwork for future success.
“Across the district, but particularly with the aboriginal community, focussing on relationships has really paid off,” she said, pointing to the aboriginal learning success committee which see participation from area bands at regional and district-wide meetings.
And work that has taken place in the Hazeltons over the past year – district officials engaged with community members to identify what that community would like to see in its schools – has led to “a very solid idea of how to move forward.”
Wells is leaving behind a district which is much more engaged with industry than it was three-and-a-half years ago. While she didn’t see the economic boom coming, she did sense that trades training was going to become an issue for the district. “It’s a natural resource industry area,” she said. “With the support for trades here now and the wonderful way the education community and industry are coming together, the opportunities for young people here are unbelievable.”
But she stresses the focus on trades doesn’t come at the expense of academics. “We’re saying post-secondary. Post-secondary for everybody. Walk the stage with dignity, walk the stage with choices, and take some kind of training after you leave secondary school.”
And while the opportunities for district students are improving, in part because of partnerships and the various systems and programs which have been implemented over the last few years, there could be improvements in how the provincial government views rural school districts.
“I’d like to see the government change their funding formula for rural communities,” she said. “Rural school districts could be more fairly managed. And I’d like to see the government truly support public education … Because we do struggle financially and we rely a lot on staff who will carry on despite all of the difficulties. You would think as a society we could figure out that spending money and resources on education is the best way to spend your money.”