For the last 34 years I have been connected to public education in British Columbia. The first 23 in Richmond included 13 as a student, five in university as a volunteer coach and five as a teacher. After Richmond, I spent six years in Coquitlam as a vice-principal and principal, and the last five years have been in West Vancouver, as assistant superintendent and now superintendent. Over these years, I have met many amazingly gifted educators. This past fall, I wrote about Mrs. Caffrey (here), who was one of the many great influences in my life. And, this week, three of the finest and personally influential people I know in the profession are moving into retirement and new opportunities.
Retirement in teaching is different, I suspect, than many other professions. Schools have such a rhythm — it starts fresh with September, bustles through December, and finishes with an even mix of anxiety and anticipation in June –finishing up work from the year, celebrating accomplishments and then about moving on, often to new grades and different schools. There is a build-up to the final week of school, and for our district it will culminate today and tomorrow with final events for students and staff. For my friends and mentors – Don Taylor, Ron Haselhan, and Warren Hicks, this June is also about moving on to new opportunities. While we will look to school next fall, they will look out to new opportunities outside of public education.
Don Taylor was my Grade 7 teacher in 1985-86, at Daniel Woodward Elementary School in Richmond. From Kindergarten, students looked forward to being in Mr. Taylor’s class. He was a teacher and vice-principal, but he also personified the school. It was a school full of opportunities. There were more sports than anywhere else, including school teams for cross-country, soccer, volleyball, basketball and track. There was also a school newspaper, an annual, a radio show on CISL 650, huge school productions, and so many more opportunities that seemed so much greater than in other schools. And, while Mr. Taylor did not do it all, he was the driving force behind many of them. That grade 7 year, we had 38 students in class (maybe the good ol’ days weren’t always that good), and in addition to enrolling the class, and doing his duties as vice-principal, Mr. Taylor was engaging in activities with students before school, at lunch and after school, almost every day. It is a small wonder that after his 19 years at Daniel Woodward they named the gym after him. Mr. Taylor was cool. He took an interest in all of us, was always full of energy, and recognized that there is great power in connections inside and outside the classroom. After my elementary days, I did return to Woodward to coach alongside him. He was also generous as a mentor, assisting me later on with my career path and application to education at UBC and to the Richmond School District, where I began my teaching career. We have reconnected over the last two years, and he still has the energy and passion that I encountered when I first met him in 1978. Since then, he has made a postive impact on the lives of thousands of young people in my hometown of Richmond. A very impressive 35 years.
Ron Haselhan was a department head and lead teacher at Riverside Secondary in Port Coquitlam, when I arrived at the school in 2001 and during my time as vice-principal and principal of that school. Ron was a quiet leader. He was part of the team that opened Riverside Secondary in 1996, an opening that had its challenges as multiple staffs came together to build the school. Ron, saw the good and possibility in everyone, and was someone who brought people together. It was Ron who would bring his motor home and park it out in front of the school during a teachers’ strike, turning it into a home base for hot chocolate in the morning and hot dogs at lunch. It was also Ron who would always look at the teaching profession with a critical eye; could he teach different, or better, and he was a leader on assessment well before it became vogue. He was also the kind of person who would never miss a school dance, would open the school on weekends for students and sponsor all-night charity fundraisers. During my time at Riverside, Ron shifted part of his role to teacher-librarian, bringing leadership in digital technology and the ability to work side-by-side with his colleagues. With over a 100 staff, Ron had credibility with all of them. Ron was that type of leader. He never wanted the credit, and shied away from attention, but in his more than 30 years in Coquitlam, he influenced students, schools and the profession.
Warren Hicks, and I have worked side-by-side for the last five years in West Vancouver on the District Leadership Team. Warren is a great example of a serious thinker, who knows not to take himself too seriously. He is also the most popular Human Resources Director I have ever met. Everyone in West Vancouver knows and loves Warren. He grew up on the North Shore and spent his 34 years in education in North Vancouver and West Vancouver, teaching, principaling and leading in the district office. In recent years, Warren has done amazing work with the Squamish Nation, increasing opportunities for our Aboriginal students, and awareness of Aboriginal education for all of our students. For me, in coming to a new district and taking on new roles, Warren has been a trusted confidante. He has challenged me, guided me and supported me, and was at his best during the most difficult situations. In every conversation we have had over the last five years, Warren has been unwavering and undaunted in his view that every decision we make must be done through the lens of what is in the best interest for students. Warren would cut through the noise, was willing to fight the good fight, and to make sure he left West Vancouver a better place.
My many thanks to Don, Ron and Warren, for all you have done for me and the students of BC. Your more than 100 years of combined service for young people has been key, and so worth it. We need to be sure that the next generation of Dons, Rons and Warrens choose public education in BC. Our profession is not ever about a special program, or secret strategy — our strength is our people.
There has been occasion this year that it hasn’t always seemed like the best time to be in public education in our province, but I am continually reminded about the fine people giving their professional lives to improve life chances and opportunities for our next generation. All the best to all of our retirees and a safe and restful summer to all.