Ken Sampson's Blog

Superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

2020-21 School Year – Opening Remarks

I consider it a privilege to welcome our division to a new school year as superintendent. This is my first welcome address. I want you to know that I truly see this as a privilege. The most basic reason I applied to become Superintendent is because I am capable because God qualified me. That is a very BIG privilege.

We share the journey that has brought us through the end of the 2019-2020 school year and all that precipitated from the pandemic, through the uncertain and anxious summer, to this brink, namely the opening of the 2020-2021 school year. I feel the same excitement as you feel to greet our students when they return because we truly have missed them! I share in the anxieties and worries that we all have about the resumption of in-school learning. However, I choose to focus on something else that we share and I ask you to do the same. The pandemic represents an opportunity calling to each one of us. The opportunity is to recall and reaffirm our priorities, employ kindness and gratitude and move forward confidently anyway, certain that the transformative power of our Father is at work. He is in charge of the journey!

When we examine our priorities against the backdrop of our current circumstances, we have to recognize that our world has most definitely changed. What has not changed, however, is the never-ending presence of our loving and eternal Father. Regardless of our circumstances in life, God is there to fill us with His Grace. Our invitation from Him is to recognize and employ the gifts He bestows to better the lives of our brothers and sisters so as to bring them closer to reaching their heavenly reward. As Fr. John Bartunek tells us,
“since grace is the seed of divine life within us, as it grows, it makes us more and more like God, restoring the image and likeness of God, in which we were created.”

Kindness and gratitude are transformative in and of themselves. In His wisdom, God invites us to cooperate with Him as He develops these virtues in our hearts. In year Two of our Three-Year Faith Plan, we celebrate actions to be grateful and to be gracious. When we are grateful and gracious we allow Jesus into our lives and thus become followers of Him, seeing the face of Christ in everyone we meet.
I’d like to share an excerpt from a literary piece, called The Great Realization by Tomos Roberts, a Welsh poet. It contrasts the grim realities of pre-Covid life, such as pollution and over-consumption, against a post-pandemic, brighter future.

The Great Realization – by Tomos Roberts
It was a world of waste and wonder of poverty and plenty

Back before we understood why hindsight’s 20/20.

But then in the year 2020, a new virus came our way.

The governments reacted and told us all to hide away.

But while we all were hidden, amidst the fear and all the while,

The people dusted off their instincts. They remembered how to smile.

They started clapping to say ‘thank you’. And calling up their mums,

And while the car keys gathered dust, they would look forward to their runs.

Some people started dancing, some were singing, and some were baking.

We’d grown so used to bad news, but some good news was in the making.

And so when we found the cure, and were allowed to go outside,

We all preferred the world we found than the one we’d left behind.

Old habits became extinct and they made way for the new.

And every simple act of kindness was now given its due.

But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?

Well, sometimes, you’ve got to get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.

Now lie down and dream of tomorrow and all the things we can do.

And who knows, if you dream hard enough, maybe some of them will come true.

We now call it the Great Realization, and yes, since then, there have been many.

But that is the story of how it started and why hindsight’s 20/20.

I want to recognize and acknowledge the ongoing wonderful work that our staff has been doing, most particularly since the onset of this pandemic. I will be the first to admit that ending the 2019-20 school year was without a doubt the craziest that we have ever experienced. Hands down!! However, we’ve learned from these experiences and are poised to move forward with intentionality, purpose and vigor. Our Catholic faith leads us to embrace this global pandemic as an opportunity to do things differently. It is not the end of the world. Our response shouldn’t be to hide in fear or cease actions, but by virtue of our faith, we move forward with excitement and boldness. We must do so with love and compassion as the guiding forces, respecting the inherent dignity of each person entrusted to our care and those who work within our division. Most Holy Spirit parents have opted to send their children back to school on Sept. 1st – TOMORROW! Nearly 600 of our children and students from K – Gr. 12 will receive their formal instruction in an “at-home” scenario, involving approximately 25 teachers. That we will deliver education in different ways to different groups makes our success more complicated, but NOT unreachable.

● Support staff both at the school level and at our Catholic Education Centre have been busy preparing for the reopening of school in so many thoughtful and committed ways;
● teachers have been planning within specific timelines and frameworks to guide our curricular deliveries;
● administrators have been collaborating and sharing physical and human resources and rebuilding schedules to accommodate our children and students, whether in a face-to-face classroom setting or learning at-home;
● our custodial staff have been diligent in operationalizing protocols to maintain clean, disinfected and sanitized school environments for our students and staff;
● our IT department works day-to-day to support all the changes in every aspect of our operation, most especially for our learners; and finally …
● our maintenance staff have been working in earnest to install necessary equipment, receiving and organizing as well as arranging for shipping the much needed PPE supplies out to our schools.

As illustrated, this TEAM is a very dynamic, dedicated and tenacious group of individuals. This team’s cooperative efforts support the advancement of the whole division, most especially the growth and development of our children and students. Yes, we will succeed in getting the square peg into the round hole by changing the way we do things and looking to the future with a solutions-focused approach. There is no question that this will be very hard work. There will be setbacks and hurdles to cross and there will be uncertainties, frustrations and fears. However, as long as we place our trust in our loving Father and humbly ask Jesus to accompany us on our journey, we will weather this and ANY storm. We are called to be agents of change to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. Remember, we are transformed by and for the journey.

We must also recognize that because of the uniqueness of our current reality, there are varying degrees of uncertainty, trepidation and fear. Know that this is completely understandable. We are strong and adaptable people whose sights are always on our first interest – the children, whose resilience will be supported by nourishing and cherishing staff in all positions. That is how our learners will reach their fullest potential.

Back to the words of Tomos Roberts

But if we strive for improvement, then the evils can fade …. pull together, be loving, be wiser, be kind;

Stop for a moment, relax and unwind.

And slowly, yes s-l-o-w-l-y, you’ll see as you work evermore,

That the suffering is much less than you remember before.

Look, I’m not being naive to suggest that the future could be bright;

But I’d rather be an optimist proved wrong, than a pessimist proved right.

The new paradigm for learning will see students grow in resilience; acquire, synthesize, create and transfer knowledge in a variety of learning environments; and be empathetic and compassionate towards fellow man. This will be rewarding and inspiring. As educators, we’ve often said that we are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. This is very true – and NOW is the time to be even more creative, flexible and intentional in terms of how education can be delivered. In due time, I am confident that our students will respond with eagerness and enthusiasm because they have an amazingly thoughtful and dedicated team supporting them.

Welcome to the 2020-21 school year. It’s going to be GREAT!!!!
May God bless each and every one of you in all of the work you do.

Relationships are Foundational to Learning

From every possible angle and perspective in the field of education the development of meaningful and purposeful relationships with other people is of utmost importance.  While the development of many different relationships in schools are essential, like those with colleagues and parents, we know that the primary focus needs to be on the students entrusted to our care.  Students rely on being able to connect with and develop trusting relationships with those who care for them, whether a teacher, administrator or support staff.  Dr. Jody Carrington, author of Kids These Days, tells us that “schools and educators are the most significant connection point to most every child on this continent.”

As educators we recognize that strong genuine relationships are the starting points for all learning. Before we can begin to worry about teaching lessons, delivering content, and facilitating learning, students need to feel that they are welcomed, cared for, and as though they truly belong.  I’m fairly confident that each of us can remember caring adults in our past who embraced, supported, and encouraged us to develop to our greatest potential.  Our accomplishments in life can very likely be attributed to these relationships. 

Though we are all well aware that our children socialize and connect differently now, I think we are also very aware of how important it is for them to continue to develop close, real-life relationships.  The isolation that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this truth more evident. Perhaps more than anyone, our youth are struggling with the restrictions of not being able to gather as larger groups of friends. They may rely heavily on technology to link with each other through various social media, but they are not able to connect in-person which, in many ways, is devastating to them.  Connectedness and secure reliable relationships are critical to their mental well-being.

While we navigate through this temporary and difficult time of not being in the typical routine of our in-school classroom environment, we must remain mindful of the importance of our relationships and interconnectedness with students. Matthew Kelly from Dynamic Catholic tells us, “It is those things that are unchanging that allow us to make sense of change.  So, at a time when change has never been more constant or intense, what is unchanging is more valuable than ever.” Although the pandemic has changed the way we do many things, let us continue to develop and foster the most fundamental of all human needs – the never-changing need to develop and sustain positive relationships.

Easter Message 2020

Dear Staff, Students and Parents:

As we enter into the Easter Season, the holiest of liturgical seasons for Christians in our church, amid this time of uncertainty which is centered on the world pandemic, we are reminded daily of the ultimate love that Jesus Christ poured out for us.  Today, as we begin the Holy Triduum (the three days leading up to the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus), we do so with a hopeful and grateful heart. By sacrificing his own life by dying on the cross, he gave us the ultimate gift of everlasting life. 

Staff at all of our schools have been reaching out to students and families over the past four weeks, making individual connections and, to varying degrees, providing learning opportunities for our students.  Although teaching and learning looks different from school to school and from student to student, we are continuing the process in a very modified fashion.

Looking into the Easter break next week, we know that all students and staff will be away from their school-related studies and instruction to pause, relax and rest.  This will be a time to reflect on what is most important, knowing that we will get through this unprecedented difficulty with the Holy Spirit as our guiding light.  

The entire Holy Spirit Catholic School family continues to be in my daily prayers.  My prayer for EACH of you this Easter Season is that your lives are blessed abundantly with the special presence and grace of the Risen Christ.  

God Bless!

Ken Sampson,

Superintendent of Schools

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

What Will Remain After Our COVID-19 Anguish?

There is absolutely no question that our current reality is a now normal. One month ago, nobody would have ever thought that we would have to physically distance ourselves from family, friends and colleagues; that we would have to be super vigilant with handwashing and sanitizing frequently touched surfaces to the extent that medical experts are now requiring. Every bit of broadcasted and written news is focused on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Global Pandemic and how it is wreaking havoc on every community around the world. 

Although not all citizens are taking this deadly illness as seriously as they ought to be, most people are. Self-isolation and adhering to the recommendations and directions from Alberta Health and other government authorities needs to be everyone’s number one priority. These people are the experts in the field, going to all ends of the earth to provide us the safest and healthiest environment, and we need to follow their direction. 

While this pandemic crisis is a temporary and worrisome scenario, we will undoubtedly get through it all. It is through stressful situations and unfortunate experiences that our resilience is built, moving us to become a stronger people. I suspect that for many of us, when we look back on all of this turmoil and commotion, we might not even give it much thought, or even remember specific details about COVID-19. 

We don’t need to look far to see the number of beautiful and uplifting stories and random acts of kindness that we have witnessed amidst this crisis. People are volunteering to make care packages for affected citizens and providing donations to charitable organizations. Offering to shop and run errands for neighbours or shut-ins and finding creative and innovative ways of reaching out to friends and families. All of this clearly speaks to our calling to be our brother’s keeper. 

It is well known that strong faith is a significant coping mechanism and can assist people in adapting their lives after a highly stressful life event. Faith helps us better understand these stressors and utilizing our faith assists in the management of the stress itself. There is no question that when we turn to prayer, God is there with us.

Once all the anxiety, worry and uncertainty settle from this world pandemic and things return to a relative degree of normalcy, trust and hope will remain. Where there is life, hope abides – hope in and for the future. We must trust in this new way of being, with a watchful eye to always do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. In general, we will have learned a great deal from this turmoil but perhaps most specifically that we will be educating our students with profoundly different approaches and pedagogies. Regardless, let us move forward with our collective wisdom; holding our heads high and looking to tomorrow with optimism, trust and hope.

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” – April 1, 2020

Catholic Education: A Precious Gift

Many families new to Canada in general, and specifically to the province of Alberta, are not aware that Catholic education is publicly funded in Alberta.  Those who come to us from abroad know that, in many cases in their home country, Catholic education or any faith-based education for that matter, comes with very high tuition fee rates in order to access a private education, making it virtually impossible to enroll in any such school system unless one is very wealthy.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only Canadian provinces where publicly funded taxpayer dollars provide K-12 Catholic education at no costs to families whose children qualify to be educated in our province, whether Catholic or non-Catholic.  Established by the Grey Nuns in 1859, Catholic education began in Lac St. Anne, Alberta more than 160 years ago.  This rich, vibrant tradition has continued to this day. 

Not unlike our public school neighbours, we pride ourselves in providing welcoming, caring, safe and respectful schools as well as a place where literacy, numeracy and critical thinking, amongst other skills, are taught and reinforced on a daily basis.  What distinguishes our Catholic schools from those of the public systems is that our Catholic faith is permeated throughout all curricula and programs.  In so doing, we are not only sharing knowledge, skills and attitudes with our children and students, but more importantly, we are developing and fostering the whole person in terms of body, mind and spirit. 

In our system, and other Catholic jurisdictions across the province, we are guided by Five Marks of a Catholic School.  These fundamental understandings provide the basis of our very existence, beginning with the first, where we believe that each person was created in the image and likeness of God.  As such, we view each and every individual with inherent dignity as a precious child of God.  Our schools have visibly and intentionally marked spaces that allow for prayer and liturgical celebrations.   Our faith is permeated or infused into the academic curriculum within the learner outcomes and teaching strategies.  We view staff as those who provide witness to the Gospel and live as intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.  Further, we recognize that each stakeholder is responsible for the common good.

After 29 years in various Catholic Education divisions, both within Alberta and abroad, I moved to the public system for four years with a small jurisdiction that was very progressive and innovative.  While I truly enjoyed this experience, there was one very noticeable void for me – the ability to practice and declare my faith in schools.   Returning to Holy Spirit Catholic Schools provided the opportunity to share my beliefs about our faith, primarily through the gift of prayer.  When individuals within our community are experiencing troubles and hardships, we collectively turn to God and offer intentions and prayer for them.  How better to support one in need than to offer up a prayer?  What a beautiful and faith-filled gift that Catholic education provides. 

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” –
February 19, 2020

With a Grateful Heart

More so than ever before, educators are called to personalize educational experiences for each and every student in their care.  To the extent that each student is uniquely different, instruction must be differentiated and tailored so as to support each individual student.  In this light, the needs of struggling, average and high-flying academically-oriented students are being addressed.  This diversity provides unique opportunities for teachers and staff who are supporting these children.  However, with all of this, comes a tremendously busy schedule and often an unpredictable set of circumstances and outcomes.

The negative effects of this uncertainty can most definitely be mitigated.  Fostering and nurturing strong interpersonal relationships with students is arguably the single most important responsibility of any educator.  Perhaps equally important to knowing the content material in a given subject area is the importance of developing fundamental relationships.  Once these important relationships are established, then effective pedagogy and instructional practices can be employed to maximize student learning.  In these environments, the initial focus is on the student rather than on the material. As the old adage goes, “Teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning.”

Through all of this, we must constantly reflect upon the many gifts and blessings that have been bestowed upon us.  How very fortunate educators are to be responsible for programming and support to all of these children and youth in our schools.  For many of these students, school is the one secure place that they feel consistently safe, cared for and loved.  This alone is the predominant reason why so many enter this profession; it is a rewarding vocation and something to feel grateful to be called towards.  One of the greatest gifts any educator can receive is for students to willingly share thoughts, stories, interests and goals with them.  Because we are relational by nature, we want our students to keep coming around, asking questions, seeking advice and sharing laughs. All of this is really music to our ears. 

Henry Adams, a famous American historian and educator, tells us that, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”  As we reflect on our own experiences in school, we are all aware of the influence that a great teacher or support staff has had on us.  As educators, let us take a moment each day to be thankful for the many gifts and blessings that we have received.  I challenge teachers and support staff to express this gift of gratitude to one another regularly and see what kind of a different world we can create together.

Written for the Lethbridge Herald’s “Eye on Education” – January 8, 2020

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