Superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

Author: Ken Sampson (Page 1 of 2)

School Opening Message, 2022

I consider it a privilege to welcome our division to a new school year as superintendent of schools. This is my first in-person welcome address, since becoming Superintendent in 2020. I want you to know that I truly see this as a privilege; one that has been bestowed upon me by God, because He qualified me. That is a very BIG privilege.  

Having finalized our previous faith plan in June, our new Three Year Faith Plan, entitled, Arise, Pilgrims of Hope, was a result of significant consultation with many community stakeholders and is profoundly appropriate and inspiring, given the context of the past 2 ½ years.  As a Catholic community, we have hope because we believe in God and we have one another to support us along the way.  In essence, this is what has gotten many of us through these recent demanding times.  But, we are versatile & strong people.  BJ Morbitzer, in his poem, A Time to Believe, highlights the many things that inspire us to believe and to have hope.

To believe is to know that every day is a new beginning.

Is to trust that miracles happen, and dreams really do come true.

To believe is to see angels dancing among the clouds,

To know the wonder of a stardust sky and the wisdom of the man in the moon.

To believe is to know the value of a nurturing heart, the innocence of a child’s eyes

And the beauty of an aging hand, for it is through their teachings we learn to love.

To believe is to find the strength and courage that lies within us;

When it’s time to pick up the pieces and begin again.

To believe is to know we are not alone,

That life is a gift and this is our time to cherish it.

To believe is to know that wonderful surprises are just waiting to happen, 

And all our hopes and dreams are within reach.

If only we believe.

In a Catholic education system, we are blessed to be able to live, celebrate and proclaim our faith, while AT work.  We must never lose sight of this beautiful gift.  We are strong and adaptable people whose sights are always on our primary interest – the children and students we serve, whose resilience will be supported by the nurturing and thoughtful staff in all positions throughout our school division.  That is how our learners will be cherished and reach their fullest potential, as so aptly noted in our vision statement.  There is no question that this will be difficult work, especially in light of the disruption in learning that the past couple of years have presented.  There will be setbacks and hurdles to cross and most definitely there will be uncertainties and frustrations.  However, we have hope and as long as we place our trust in God and humbly ask Jesus to walk with us on our journey, we will have absolutely nothing to fear.  We are called to arise and be agents of change to do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do. 

While our world of Catholic Education has seen many challenges of late, there are some great opportunities that have been presented to all of us.  We know fairly well what we have to do and almost always realize how to do it.  However, in our vocational calling as employees in this Catholic school division, how often do we reflect upon the why?  Why do we do the things we do in our division?  Simon Sinek reminds us to examine our why, our purpose, our vision before we venture into what we do.  Is it to provide a robust Catholic Education rooted in the Gospel values of Jesus Christ?  Is the overall intention of our collective work to provide experiences that motivate our students to be faith-filled and to become contributing members of our greater community who will inspire others to live and proclaim their faith? If so, we are providing new and exciting experiences for them.  According to Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, “When we open our minds to new experiences, we find joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”

Now is the time to dive deep into our very purpose – to ignite a passion for developing and fostering strong personal relationships with our students so as to pave the way for their success, knowing that each person’s journey is uniquely different.  Now is the time to accept the ongoing challenge to be the unique person God created you to be.  Because I believe in each one of you, I want to share with you this very fitting and multi-pronged invitation, similar to what I shared with you a year ago. Given the important work we do, in the many facets of education:

  • (I invite you to …) Take calculated risks.  If you win you will be happy, if you lose you will be wise.
  • (I invite you to …) Embrace new opportunities and challenges
  • (I invite you to …) Ask great questions
  • (I invite you to …) Share your talents, for as Maya Angelou once said, “I believe that every person is born with talent.
  • (I invite you to …) Express your vulnerability.  “It is not about winning or losing.  It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” (Brené Brown) and finally
  • (I invite you to …) Continue to be faith-filled, for we learn in Matthew 21:22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” 

I leave you with Bettina Van Vaerenbergh’s poem, “The Time is Now”.

We have but a short time on this earth,

So value your life for what it’s really worth.

Your life has purpose – God sent you on a mission.

To live, to love, to learn – Is His commission.

The world needs you. Believe me, it’s true!

Some things need doing, that only you can do.

Character matters; be your own person,

Your own original self, not someone else’s version.

Develop your talents; they are unique.

Use your time well; listen only to positive critique.

Go after your dreams.  Be bold.  Be brave.

Swim against the stream; it’s more than okay.

The time is now to find your passion.

Time waits for no one, so get into action.

To be free of regret in your old age,

Never ever forget to fully live today!

May the Lord continue to bless each one of you as you begin this new school year – refreshed and renewed.  It is going to be a GREAT year.  Remember, we need YOU and YOU and YOU.  

March Madness – In Our Schools

When we ordinarily think of March Madness, it is typically associated with a month of anticipation and excitement surrounding NCAA’s Division 1 basketball. Fans from every corner of the globe ready themselves for binge watching game after game, either in person or with eyes glued to the television, centering on a physical activity that has been coined as the third most popular sport in the world. 

Most especially in the last couple of years it is very important for everyone’s mental health to engage in activities that will bring joy to the heart, for we know all too well the challenges and obstacles we’ve encountered.  Going forward, we need to begin to feel relative degrees of normalcy.  Without question, I understand that everyone believes this to be true.

From a significantly different perspective of March Madness, we are finding ourselves on the cusp of what could very likely be a removal of all COVID-19 related restrictions and health protocols. With a fair degree of certainty, we are positioned to see continued and augmented polarizing viewpoints which inevitably will lead to increased divisiveness and fracture in our communities.  Since the formation of our country, Canada has been a magnet for immigrant families all over the world for a multitude of very good reasons.   The negative attention that Canada has recently garnered in worldly news, from parades of protests to complete blockages of main highways at multiple ports-of-entry in and out of the country, is incredibly unfortunate.  

Now in Family Week where we have the wonderful opportunity to gather as family, let us take every chance to recharge, renew and reset. We are slated to return to classes on the eve of March, and let’s do so in the spirit of togetherness and unity where the focus is on learning, not on the political rhetoric that is becoming more and more common and damaging to our youth.  This facade of politics must be kept out of our schools. 

The past two years have caused tremendous obstructions in learning in so many ways.  As a society, we will feel the effects of this disruption for many years to come.  That being said, our school and divisional staff have gone to no end of the earth to ensure schools are safe, caring, respectful and welcoming environments for our students to learn and staff to work. This amalgamated work has been a collective effort and includes everyone from school administrators, teachers, program leaders, support staff, office administrators, custodial and maintenance staff, information technology, business services, human resources, learning services, support services and most importantly religious education.  We recognize the significant hurdles that lie ahead but we are certainly up to the challenge.

As we are about to head into March, let us join together as a true united community to create our own March Madness. A March Madness that burns with unquenchable desires for learning that recognizes the MOST fundamental reason for the very existence of schools – that children and students entrusted to our care will learn, be cherished and reach their fullest potential.  We all have a critical role to play in this formation.  We owe it to the key stakeholders in our division, our children.  

Christmas Message 2021

The special Christmas season is upon us. As part of our larger Catholic community, we join together to prepare for the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ throughout Advent and then we celebrate the blessing of His love through the miracle of Christmas.

Although this is a most joyous season, Christmas can be a difficult time of year for some individuals and families in our greater community. It is important to connect with those who may be struggling – lending a helping hand or being a supportive friend to those who may be in need is a very thoughtful gesture. In spite of the ongoing global pandemic, our students, staff and families have been unbelievably generous. Throughout Advent, we have witnessed so many touching and thoughtful examples of our school communities reaching out to those less fortunate, both here at home and globally.

This year, our school communities are attending to the third and final year of our Three Year Faith Plan, under the theme: Together on the Journey.  Specifically in December we are focusing on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God.  There are many natural and appropriate connections between this theme and the season of Advent.  In our schools, our students have learned about Mary and her role in the history of salvation.  We’ve learned of the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, the journey of the shepherds to gaze upon the newborn Christ child and the journey of the wise men who offered their gifts.  

As we all journey together this busy Christmas season, I hope and pray that you take time to pause and reflect upon the wonderful gifts of faith, hope and love that Jesus bestowed upon the world, so many years ago in Bethlehem. On behalf of the entire division, I wish you a joyous, restful and Christmas season and look forward to beginning anew in January.

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God bless you and Merry Christmas

Opening Address for 2021-22 School Year

Most of us here today have shared the journey that has brought us through the end of the 2020-21 school year and all that precipitated from the pandemic, through the uncertain yet somewhat more relaxed summer, to this brink, namely the opening of the 2021-22 school year. I feel the same excitement as you feel to greet our students when they return because we are looking forward to getting back on the learning track! I share in the anxieties and worries that we all have about the continuation of in-school learning, albeit in a different context.  Right now, however, I am choosing to focus on something else that we share and I ask you to do the same. The contextual development through the pandemic represents an opportunity calling to each one of us. The opportunity is to recall and reaffirm our priorities, employ graciousness, kindness, compassion and gratitude and move forward confidently anyway, certain that the transformative power of GOD our Father is at work. He is in charge as we move TOGETHER on our JOURNEY!

Last year we celebrated the many facets of our faith while being transformed by the journey.  We have certainly ventured far and wide in the process.  Today marks the beginning of our togetherness and unity as we move forward and how very appropriate this is, given what we have experienced in the past 17 months.  We have learned to be malleable and to adjust and tweak what needed to be done, but the bottom line is that we persevered in spite of the many challenges and obstacles.  Most importantly, learning continued for our students, thanks to the tireless efforts of our teachers and by extension, our greater support staff.  Yes there were many interruptions along the way, but had it not been for the unceasing and relentless commitment of our entire school and divisional staff, we would not have achieved the milestones that we did.  We continue to create learning environments that allow each of us to live, celebrate and proclaim our faith.

Our educators, in particular, have proven that perseverance and dedication beget resilience and results.   Some of the greatest learnings we experienced of late include the need to best reach ALL learners.  At-Home-Learning and learning from home have paved the way to the creation of our E-Learning Program that will allow students to learn and grow in an environment different from the conventional four-walled classroom.  While this platform of learning is not necessarily suited for all students, it does provide opportunities, for a variety of reasons, that these learners would not have otherwise experienced and mastered.   

We are strong and adaptable people whose sights are always on our first interest – the children, whose resilience will be supported by the nourishing and cherishing staff in all positions.  That is how our learners will reach their fullest potential, as so aptly noted in our vision statement.  There is no question that this will be very difficult work.  There will be setbacks and hurdles to cross and most definitely 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. 

I’d like to leave you with a poem by John Read, entitled “Inner Strength”.

Inner Strength

It’s only through mistakes we make we learn where we went wrong. It’s only when we’re far from home we realize where we belong.

It’s only when we close our eyes our dreams seem clear and bright. It’s only in our darkest hours we truly see the light.

It’s only when we lose our way we pray to the stars above. It’s only through times of grief we learn the true meaning of love.

It’s only when all hope seems lost and our weary journey seems so far, When all the world’s against you, we learn how strong we really are.

All things are sent to try us.  We must strive and give our best. I KNOW God is watching over us, and he guides us in our que​st.

My hope for each of you is that you will continue to accept the ongoing challenge to be the unique person God created you to be and I pray that you will be blessed, and receive the graces and the fortitude to do His work here on Earth.   I leave you with an invitation similar to what I left with our new teachers, at their orientation earlier this week.  

  • (I invite you to …) Take calculated risks.  “If you win you will be happy, if you lose you will be wise.”
  • (I invite you to …) Embrace new opportunities and challenges
  • (I invite you to …) Ask great questions
  • (I invite you to …) Share your talents, for as Maya Angelou once said, “I believe that every person is born with talent.
  • (I invite you to …) Make your mark on our collective work to support all learners
  • (I invite you to …) Express your vulnerability.  “It is not about winning or losing.  It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” and finally
  • (I invite you to …) Continue to be faith-filled, for we learn in Matthew 21:22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” 

Thank you and may the 2021-22 school year be fruitful and rewarding for each of us.  GOD BLESS.

Catholic Education – A Rich Blessing

Catholic Education Week is celebrated annually in our province. This year it is being held from May 10th to May 14thin and the theme is, “Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength” from the Book of Isaiah (40:31). It is during this week that we recognize the critical role that Catholic schools play in providing a publicly funded faith-based education to Alberta students. 

Like residents in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Alberta’s families have the constitutional right to choose a publicly funded Catholic education for their children.  Today, more than 180,000 Alberta students are blessed to be educated in Catholic schools. Catholic education remains revolutionary on both  individual and societal levels, and strong as a result of the support and participation of our families and communities.  Choose it for you. Choose it for the world.

Catholic education endeavours to achieve many goals, among them being to provide students with personal and social spiritual formation while fostering high academic achievement.  It invites our youth to see each other, and all those around them, as their sisters and brothers in Christ. The unity resulting from this common lens calls all students to respond to those in need.  This outlook of compassion helps young people to search for the common good and to bring Christ’s love and hope to others, locally and globally.

To guide and instruct our direction as a faith community, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division creates an overarching Three-Year Faith Plan.  Not that anyone would have anticipated this worldly context when the current Three-Year Faith Plan was developed and written a few years ago, but our theme for this year, Transformed by the Journey, could not have been more fitting and appropriately identified.  This past year has caused each of us to be transformed in our own faith journey, while simultaneously calling us to be grateful and gracious in all that we do.  It is often during times of challenge that we are forced to be mindful of the many blessings and graces that have been given to us unconditionally.  As a result, among many things, it demands that we: 

  • provide opportunities to creatively engage our learners,
  • examine our instructional practices, and
  • find new and innovative ways to collaborate with colleagues. 

As our Holy Father, Pope Francis, stated in August of last year, “The pandemic has given us a chance to develop new ways of living.” How about that for a profound, yet simplified, statement of purpose?  We will not be returning to the days of old, or to what has become known as a hopeful restoration to a ‘NEW-NORMAL’ — for many things will never be the same.  We need to continue to look for opportunities in this ‘NEW-NOW’ environment. There are certainly challenges ahead on many levels, but equally there are many golden opportunities waiting to be explored.  Let us graciously embrace them with a grateful heart and, in doing so, never cease to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.

Who are the Superheroes in your School?

Over the past year, there has been no shortage of news stories around the critical and absolutely necessary endeavours of front line workers in the many sectors of our society. Nurses, doctors and the myriad of healthcare workers in the medical profession certainly are atop the list, for without them, our environment would be unimaginable. Workers in food stores and other identified essential service businesses have been relentless in their pursuits to provide the necessities of life. We also know how school administrators, teachers and the variety of support staff in our schools have gone the extra mile to ensure that our students are safely guarded in a welcoming and loving learning environment. They have made learning come to life in creative and engaging ways in a very different learning context. There is no question that these people are real heroes. 

Those of us in the education system know that superheroes are not just those fictitious characters who wear capes and swoop in to save the day. I am always most impressed when it is our students, the young people we serve each and every day, who take on the role; when they inspire those around them by going well beyond that which is expected, when their strong work ethic, attitude and effort are undeniable. It is for this reason that the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division has initiated a special means of recognizing the missionary work that is carried out by the dedicated and hard-working students in our schools.  

The stories that have come back to us are heartening. We’ve heard of many students who act as peacemakers on the playground, encouraging the inclusion of peers and classmates in a variety of activities. Another small group of students organized a special fundraising activity and donated all of the proceeds to a charity that supports individuals in need. A third example involved a single student writing messages of hope to every schoolmate in the building. Just this past week, one of our grade one teachers delivered a special gift to our office that contained carefully illustrated and coloured posters with uniquely crafted messages from her creative-minded students. Special messages included, “We love you”, “You are just right” and “Thanks for being you” to name a few. One even said, “Just keep swimming!”  What an uplifting experience that was for everyone here at our Catholic Education Centre. It is people like this who make all the difference in our schools and communities. In spite of all the current difficulty and challenges in our world, we don’t have to look far to intentionally see young learners making our world a much better place. 

True superheroes lie in our students. We all recognize as educators that students learn well from their peers so when students go out of their way to make this world a better place, it is particularly important that we encourage and support them. Children and youth, at all ages, who make kindness their priority, who are empathetic towards others or who graciously see the selfless need to extend gifts of time, talent or treasure to others understand that we are called to be our brother’s keeper. We must be intentional to make and seek out these acts of kindness, whether overt or subtle, and appropriately recognize them.


Growing Pains

Do you remember growing up during childhood and adolescence when, for a short period of time, every muscle, joint and bone ached in your body?  Although the physical hurt and soreness was almost unbearable at the time, it was absolutely essential to our development.  These were physical indicators that we were growing and changing – never again to be exactly the same.  

In the arena of education, the year 2020 was figuratively similar to the physical pains we experienced growing up.  We experienced the irritating hurt of the disruption in the education process early in the spring, the aches of adhering to the health measures and public restrictions along with the discomfort of having to be immersed in the ways of learning relatively unfamiliar and to some degree undesirable.  These temporary hurdles and different ways of being have caused us to embrace educational diversity.  Whether we are ready or not, education is evolving.

Teachers and administrators have become proficient at using Zoom, Google Meets and Google Classroom as platforms to facilitate online instruction.  At the same time, students have become very accustomed to receiving instruction in this way, particularly for our secondary students, who have been learning from home since late November, in addition to those who chose to begin the school year in an at-home-learning environment.  However, the ongoing challenge in education is far more involved than being comfortable using technology.  The change we must provide our students with is a framework upon which they can create and direct their own learning at any time and place and at any rate or speed.  Technology then becomes the tool or the vehicle by which all of this happens.  The learning process needs to be personalized for each student so that he or she can grow and develop in accordance with his or her God-given potential.  When students become more engaged and invested in the education process, because it is more personal and meaningful, their learning is optimized.

As we wrap up this past year, I encourage everyone to move forward into 2021 with confidence, enthusiasm and optimism.  Having been challenged within our personal, economic and political circumstances unlike any we have previously experienced, we’ve learned a great deal this past year as it relates to the many facets of teaching and learning.   As we proceed one day at a time, my prayer is that all of our students, who are entrusted to the care of teachers and staff, experience the richness of educational opportunities presented to them.

Christmas Message 2020 – Joy to the World

Joy to the World!  The Lord is come; let earth receive her King.

Many of us have heard and perhaps have sung this song in church, while driving to work or while alone on an evening walk – Joy to the World!

Although we may not feel an over abundance of joy this season, in light of the pandemic and its related devastation, we anticipate the birth of Jesus, our Christ, and as such, we bear joy to our community.  Let us shine His light into our land.   Joy to the world!  

Although very difficult at times, proclaiming joy is good and essential work – especially now. Though we are saddened by what is lost in our lives, we have our families, and our communities – Joy to the world!

While we strive to bring happiness to those whose lives are filled with hurt, anger and confusion – Joy to the world!

While this is a strange year, God challenges us to be steadfast in our work.  As noted in our 3-Year Faith Plan, we are called to be intentional disciples of Jesus.  We will prepare room in our heart for Him: 

  • By doing His will here on Earth,
  • By caring for the needy,
  • By helping our neighbors,
  • By loving one another

Prepare Him room.  Sing joyfully to the world.   

In St. Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:7), we learn of the first Christmas, “She [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Imagine, in the simplest of beds, in the dark of the night, in a far away place, lies the One for whom no room was made.  Yet strangely, here lies the One King who later dies for us so that we can have eternal life.

In your hearts, in your homes, in your lives, prepare him room.  God bless you; and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.  Joy to the world! The Lord is come. 

On behalf of everyone at Holy Spirit Catholic Schools, I wish everyone a blessed and Holy Christmas Season. 

Christmas Blessing 2020 (Video)

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