For the next year, Janet Meyer has taken up the position of acting superintendent at Coast Mountains School District 82 while superintendent Katherine McIntosh has been seconded to the Ministry of Education.
Before her new position, Meyer spent two months as the district’s director of human resources following years of service as its director of instruction. She signed a new contract for interim superintendent before the end of June, and has been in the role since the beginning of July.
Meyer’s academic background includes a bachelor of education degree in elementary education from the University of Victoria and a master of education degree in leadership studies from the University of Victoria with a focus on Indigenous parent participation in schools.
Following last spring’s shuffle — and subsequent reversal — of three school administrators, Meyer says she recognizes the need to rebuild trust and relationships between the school district and the community while moving forward on initiatives focussed on student learning.
With your background with the school district, did you see yourself in the superintendent role before?
“I saw the potential for me to assume this role. I didn’t think that it would necessarily be in this school district, but I have entered competition, one other competition, for the superintendent of the school district and I was unsuccessful, which I’m totally okay with.
But I have an opportunity. You can look at things from whatever angle you want, and you can choose to look at it in an optimistic way. And I choose to be optimistic and say, we have 10 months to do good work for kids. How exciting is that?”
What are the district’s top priorities for this school year?
“It always has to be children and learning, and improving the outcomes for kids. Whether it’s around academic outcomes, the social and emotional outcomes, whatever the outcomes are that will make life better for our kids — that’s my priority. Always, first and foremost.
Having said that… our school district culture has some challenges in the last six months. We need to do some work around culture. We need to do some work around the people who work with kids and taking care of them as well.
In the next nine or ten months, we’re going to be focussing on kids and learning, and school district culture. There’s a big trust piece there. There’s a whole piece around consultation and communication, so those are some areas of focus that the district team and I will be working on, hopefully bringing as many people on board as we possibly can.”
What are some next steps?
“I’ve made a conscious decision not to live in the past. Our team here has articulated that vision to the principals and vice-principals in August when we met with them. We said, yes, that’s where we were six months ago. We’re not there anymore — we’re looking forward, we’re not looking back. We have 4,500 kids that count on us. They need us. They need our adults who are in front of them or alongside them to be as well as they possibly can. Because the better our adults are, the better our kids going to be.
We had a difficult year last year, there’s no question about it. We’re continuing with all those threads, around support for violent threat risk assessments, we’re continuing some work with Dianne Turner, the independent investigator that came in.
As we speak, we have a person in the boardroom who is an expert in the area of productive, healthy workplaces. Anybody who works in this school district has had the opportunity to put their name forward to talk about strategies for productive workplaces. At the end, [the expert] will have a debrief with the secretary-treasurer and I around themes she discovered, and what she believes is some of the work that we need to do to move forward.”
Can you describe independent consultant Dianne Turner’s mandate?
“Her mandate is to come into the district and do a scan, mostly in Terrace, and interview people and identify themes that are going on in this community and possibly district-wide. Themes that need to be addressed in terms of our school district, whether that be around kids and learning, whether that be around culture…whatever identifies itself as a theme. She will share with the Board of Education and then I suspect the district staff will be charged with the responsibility to put some strategies in place to deal with those themes.”
What about the one-year transition plan for those three administrators?
“The transition hasn’t started yet, but what is going to start is a conversation between me and every principal or vice-principal. First, as the acting superintendent, I will choose to have a conversation with those people so I have a clear understanding of their passions so I can better fit people to the needs of a school.
If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone. If you want to get somewhere and make lasting change, slow down and do it together. That’s my plan. There’s nothing set in stone — the district educational team has a mandate from the board that is a transition period. As we make our way through this school year, through consultation and communication with the principals and vice-principals, we will do what’s best for the children in our district.”
What is being done to address vacancies at the district level?
“My human resources position has been filled by Kiran Bath, who’s the acting human resource director. Her position is acting like mine, because the superintendent is on a one year leave from the district. I have no idea what Katherine [McIntosh]’s plans are in terms of whether she’ll be gone longer than a year. It’s a ‘wait and see’ situation.
We have a human resources officer that’s still outstanding to fill. There was a position in maintenance that I’m not sure is filled or not filled.”
Do you plan to lead the district differently this year?
“District staff is excited about moving forward and helping improve the outcomes for kids. It’s why we do what we do — we’re passionate about it, and we plan to move forward.
I want to be careful and clarify that I have learned a great deal from Katherine McIntosh. She is an extremely intelligent human being and I value the time that we have spent together over the five years.
Having said that, I am not Katherine McIntosh. I will not come into this office and do this work like someone else, I’ll only do it if I can do it the way Janet Meyer would do it. I don’t intend to be anyone else but myself.”