I am really lucky.
I have had the chance to spend the last 14 months apprenticing for my new role as Superintendent with one of the finest and most thoughtful educational leaders in our province.
This Friday brings to a close West Vancouver, Superintendent Geoff Jopson‘s 38-year career in public education. From early days as a high school teacher in Vancouver to returning to the community of his youth, West Vancouver, where he has spent the last eight years as Superintendent of Schools, establishing a level of excellence the envy of district leaders across the country, Geoff has built an amazing reputation.
The tributes to Geoff have come in from across the system and throughout the larger community. With words of thanks and praise from partner groups for his steady, ever-calm leadership, to a standing ovation at the Chamber of Commerce Christmas dinner, to a steady stream of visitors who want to share stories about how he has made the system better for our kids — there has been an outpouring of admiration for this remarkable man.
While many have benefitted from Geoff’s wisdom, probably none so more than I. There is one reason I am here in West Vancouver, and that is Geoff. When he first called me in the spring of 2007, I had no thought of working in West Vancouver. As I spoke with him and began to understand the district and the opportunities here, I realized it was the chance of a lifetime. I have spent the last three years working beside, and with, an exceptional mentor.
I had the added gift of being appointed the Superintendent-designate last October, giving me 14 months of transitioning groundwork. It has been an amazingly rich and powerful experience. On a daily basis, sometimes in a planned way, other times through his modeling, I have become familiar with my new role. For many of my colleagues who assume the Superintendent/CEO position, the transition or succession plan is often not much more than a lunch meeting and a sharing of files. I can say definitively, there is a better way.
Geoff has led by example. As I said on our district Opening Day this past September:
If I screw this up, it is on me – Geoff is leaving our district as a place of high repute, a reputation for class and excellence – a place where when we have a choice between easy or right, we pick right.
Geoff realized his role was to lead learning, and to do that he surrounded himself with the brightest people he could find. While others might be intimidated by a strong supporting cast, he saw it as a sign of strength. Geoff always focused on making decisions that were not in his best interest, but in the district’s interest. West Vancouver public schools exist in an extremely competitive marketplace along with some very fine private institutions; Geoff recognized the importance of keeping the face of a strong public education system in the forefront of the community. He also realized, while we work for individual Boards, we have a responsibility to the larger collective in this province and, to this end, Geoff included a stint as BCSSA President. In all his work, his “Good to Great” commitment was ever-present.
So, it has been a long road. For Geoff, 38 years of commitment to public education — to improving the life opportunities for all students. For me, a transition that has lasted longer than some of my jobs (I’ve had a one-year stint as an elementary principal). Geoff, leaves the West Vancouver School District as the highest-performing school district in B.C., and hands the superintendency over to me with my commitment that we will strive to become even better.
Thank you, Geoff – you have been a good mentor and a better friend.
The students, staff and community in West Vancouver, have been lucky as well.