Superintendent of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

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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

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

Relationships and Resilience

Relationships and Resilience
Superintendent Ken Sampson, Holy Spirit Catholic School Division
For Lethbridge Herald – September 30, 2020

Resilience is not something we are born with; rather it is generated and developed as a result of the experiences we face as we live our daily lives.  The first step in the process of cultivating and building resilience comes from primary relationships we have with our parents and, later, extended family members.  It stands to reason that the more positive and nurturing these early relationships are, the stronger the foundational building block structures become.

As children begin their journeys into our schools, the scope of the already established primary relationships expands to include friends, classmates, teachers and support staff to name a few.  These relationships become a source of strength for children so that, when they experience a stressful situation or an emotional pain, they have support available to draw upon and deal with them.  This process cultivates resilience.

When students returned to our schools at the beginning of September, there were many obvious changes, and perhaps some subtle ones as well.  Our administrators, teachers and support staff initially focused on ensuring that all of our children and students felt safe, reassured and welcomed into the new learning environment, whether through in-person classes or while learning at home.   Understandably, there were noticeable indicators of worry or uncertainty on the part of students in the first couple of weeks.  However, with the assistance of parents and school staff, it wasn’t long before our students understood the current reality and were able to adjust and move in a different direction, in spite of all the restrictions and health measures that were put in place.  Now, as we close the month of September, routines and expectations are well established and students have unsurprisingly settled in nicely. This is resilience at its finest.

A key factor in achieving mental wellness is our ability to understand adverse experiences and to learn from them.  It is often not overly pleasant, but going through the process is absolutely essential in order for positive growth to be realized.  Educators continue to support and encourage students’ curiosity, creativity and resourcefulness.  In doing so, students will grow in resilience and become compassionate contributing members of society.

As we move forward in our new reality, one thing remains certain.  The need for change will continue to be in our midst. This will involve new and challenging experiences in our lives, which will bring exciting opportunities.  Let us continue to encourage our students to embrace them, thereby enabling our children to become the strong, resilient people they were meant to be.

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

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