Superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

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)

Catholic Central High School Receives a Blackfoot Name: Taatsikioyis – Centre Tipi


Wednesday, October 28, 2020, marked a very special day for Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as Catholic Central High School received a Blackfoot name at a small and personal gathering in the school’s Eggplant Theatre.  Led by Kainai Elder Tom Little Bear, the very touching ceremony involved a smudge, face painting and the Blackfoot naming of the building.

From time to time, we learn of when First Nations communities honour individuals with a Blackfoot name, but it is particularly distinctive and rare that such entities as buildings are honoured in the same manner.  As a former student in our Catholic school system, Elder Little Bear shared his experience growing up in a very traditional First Nations family on the Kainai Reserve with grandparents who were spiritual leaders in their community.  Together with the influence of those within the Lethbridge Catholic School District at the time, Little Bear’s experience was particularly inspiring.

Only the fourth building in the City of Lethbridge to receive a Blackfoot name, Catholic Central was beautifully named, “Taatsikioyis – Centre Tipi”.   As I have come to understand the significance of this name, I realize that, to have received it in one of our schools, is of the highest honour.  In their culture,  Blackfoot people gather annually in the summers on the Kainai Reserve for Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp.  Their traditions, relationships with each other and their Creator would be renewed.  At Aakokaatsin – Circle Camp, the central tipi is viewed as a very special place of sacredness, learning and relationship.  With this special honour now placed upon Catholic Central High School, this institution of learning becomes a beacon – a place where our Blackfoot students can connect with each other and with the entire school community  – a place where learning and prayer are interwoven.

I felt so privileged to have been a part of and to witness this powerful and beautiful cultural ceremony; listening to Elder Little Bear’s wisdom about the interconnectedness of our faith and the cultural beliefs and the ways of being and knowing of our Blackfoot people.  As a Catholic school division, we continue to be truly blessed by the presence and leadership of the First Nations people in our greater communities.  We are indeed grateful for this very special distinction.

A recording of the livestreaming of the event can be found here at this link.

Catholic Education Sunday – November 2020

https://youtu.be/c7ZOo6FQxjQ

Serving Holy Spirit Catholic School Division as Superintendent of Schools, we are a regional division that serves students in Bow Island, Coaldale, Lethbridge, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek, Taber, and surrounding communities.  

Catholic Education Sunday, traditionally acknowledged in early November, is an annual event that celebrates the importance of the truly remarkable gift of publicly funded Catholic Education.  Alberta is only one of three remaining provinces in Canada which offers a Catholic education that is publicly funded.  Our Catholic schools provide engaging educational learning opportunities for our students with a curriculum that is permeated by our Catholic faith.  Each year, more than 180,000 students are blessed with the opportunity to be educated in our Catholic schools, where our faith is passed on to our students.

This year’s theme is grounded in scripture – Isaiah 40:31 where we learn that, “Those who hope in the LORD shall renew their strength.”  Hope is a very impactful virtue. In the Alberta Bishops’ Pastoral Statement of the Impact of COVID-19 and the Call to Christian Renewal, this time is described as a “time for bold creativity and life-giving transformation for all.”  In the context of our current pandemic, Catholic philosophies and practices offer students and staff hope, comfort and safety.  There has never been a greater need to evangelize than now and Catholic education does that very thing.  

Currently, Holy Spirit Catholic Schools has moved into year two of our Three Year Faith Plan – Making our Mark – the Journey of an Intentional Disciple.  This year’s theme, Transformed by the Journey, draws our attention to our calls to action of being grateful and being gracious.  While on this journey, our faith focus is to use the many gifts that God has bestowed upon us and to see the face of Christ in everyone.  In the very context of our current reality, we have so much for which to be grateful and more so than ever before, we must be gracious towards each other.  This creates and sustains the hope we each have.

Jesus is the author of our hope and He writes it in humility, kindness, poverty, forgiveness and compassion.  He writes it in His Way, in the example He sets for us to follow.  We grow in hopefulness when we follow Him, through discipleship.  What the world needs now is hope.  It is impossible not to have hope when you view the world from the Catholic perspective.  Catholic Education is more relevant today than ever before because it offers the hope with which we need to be strengthened, as well as to live to sustain and improve our world.  As noted by Pope Benedict in his encyclical in 2007, people who live in hope live differently.

On this Catholic Education Sunday, I ask for your continued prayers so that our students are energized with hope and become stronger intentional disciples of Jesus.  Thanks to your prayers and support, millions of people learn about and appreciate the value of Catholic education, which is an evangelizer of the teaching of the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Thank you for being part of our family.  Happy Catholic Education Sunday and may God continue to bless each and every one of you.

COVID-19 Response and Update

As we are now into week six of the school year, we can safely say that we have made it through what we anticipated to be a very challenging September.  School and divisional personnel have gone over and above the call of duty to ensure that schools were ready to welcome children and students back into our schools after a six-month absence.  Our staff has done some great work in welcoming students in school communities to ensure they feel loved, safe and included.  Further, parents have been extremely supportive of our direction and we definitely appreciate your support throughout the entire process thus far.

Recently, we have begun to see an increase in the number of positive cases in the South Zone.  This could very well be an early indication of what is yet to come and seems to be in line with what has been happening in other areas of the province, as well as across Canada. In fact, as you may have heard, over the past weekend Alberta Health Services (AHS) identified a positive case connected to St. Teresa of Calcutta School.  I am pleased to report that school and division staff worked diligently with AHS to inform and isolate the impacted cohort as quickly as possible. We continue to follow the lead of AHS and use the Alberta Government’s resource guide to determine how best to proceed in informing those affected promptly, while still maintaining their dignity and privacy. 

To assist us in the future, so that we may contact you quickly should your child be part of a cohort that needs to isolate, we ask that you ensure that your child’s school has your most current contact information. We also highly recommend that you enable text messages, or download the SchoolMessenger App, so that you may receive timely information directly on your phone. Please know that the school division will only send you text messages in emergency situations.  See our website for more information on this, or contact your child’s school directly for assistance. 

We know that we need to remain vigilant in adhering to the health measures put in place by our Chief Medical Officer of Health, along with additional precautions that our division has identified.  As such, we continue to ask our staff, students and visitors:

  • Not to come to school if feeling ill, even if you are only a bit unwell. The Alberta Health daily checklist should be completed each day prior to attending school and if your child has any of the symptoms listed, fill out the online Alberta Health Services COVID-19 self-assessment or call Health Link at 811, and remain at home. 
  • To engage in proper and frequent hand washing or hand sanitization
  • To ensure physical distancing of 2 meters
  • To wear masks while in common areas, hallways and in classrooms. This applies to grades 4-12 students, all staff, visitors and volunteers 

Our schools will continue:

  • To maintain class cohorts. This reduces the number of individuals impacted should there be exposure to COVID-19.  We are seeing that this is of particular importance
  • To remain closed campuses.  All visitors and parents are required to call ahead and make an appointment before coming to school
  • To ensure heightened protocols for cleaning frequently touched surfaces

We know that everyone plays an important role in stopping the spread of this relentless virus and other diseases.  We also recognize that the current context in which we live is far from ideal.  We appreciate the support from our parent community as we endeavour to support our students’ mental well-being on a day-to-day basis in our schools.

As in everything we do in Catholic Schools, we are called to pray for each other.  Let us continue to hold each other in prayer as we navigate these challenging times.

Kind regards,
Ken Sampson, Superintendent of Schools

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

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