Kelly reflects back on her years here

Heather Latter

Heading into the final week of another school year, dozens of “Happy Retirement” cards already lined the desk of Mary-Catherine Kelly, who has been the director of education for the Northwest Catholic District School Board for nearly eight years.
Reflecting on her career here, Kelly expressed what a “wonderful experience” it has been.
“There were lots of exciting things that I enjoyed, first, from an academic perspective and from a personal perspective,” she enthused.
“It’s been an extraordinary opportunity to learn and to grow personally.
“But it’s also a wonderful job opportunity because you have an opportunity to shape a system, help set its direction, encourage and motivate staff, and to give them opportunities to learn and grow as well as teachers and administrators,” she added, calling her experience a humbling yet exciting one.
“Each year was kind of different,” Kelly explained, noting in her first year she had to learn about the whole system because she came from Peterborough, where she had held several different positions.
“Having a variety of experiences, I came with lots of ideas and experience shared from all different kids of boards, so I felt like I had something to offer,” she remarked, recalling it was a very different mode of operation than a large board and big schools.
“So I think for me, it was wonderful because we had a board who believed in policy governance and really supported the work of the director,” she stressed.
“We did a strategic plan together in 2006-2007 and that really helped shape our direction for the next eight years.”
Kelly indicated in the 2007-08 year, the government was really advocating for high student achievement.
“So there was money being invested to allow for lots of professional development for teachers,” she said, noting one of things she got to introduce to the board was Catholic Professional Learning Communities.
“That meant that we gave release time for teachers during the work day to be able to talk about their students, talk about the data, talk about their achievement, set directions as a school on how they wanted to target that achievement to improve student learning,” she explained.
“So that was the first time when teachers were given the opportunity to go into each other’s classrooms more and supported to do that, to learn from each other,” she continued.
“This was a lot of opening doors and more collaboration.
“There were growing pains in that,” Kelly admitted. “But it was exciting, and the teachers embraced it and they were very positive.”
Kelly noted at that time, the Ministry of Education introduced “character education.”
“But we were already doing a faith-based approach, virtues and values, so it gave us an opportunity to highlight even more fully how we are visibly Catholic in our schools and to identify those Gospel values in our schools,” she said, citing that helped them to celebrate the good news of their programs and what they do in Catholic education.
Kelly also was involved in focusing more on aboriginal education.
“Our board embraced that and was doing language research to help the primary students,” she recalled.
“We were introducing more NSL across the system.
“The aboriginal language was being celebrated, and there was a really good feeling about supporting that aspect of the culture in our Catholic schools,” she added.
Other highlights of Kelly’s career here included working towards increased accountability, the amalgamation of St. Patrick’s School in Atikokan with the board, and the introduction of full-day kindergarten, which started at St. Patrick’s and moved through the whole system.
“I’ve been here to see that whole transition take place, so I’m very proud of the efforts of our teachers to embrace the play-based learning and having ECEs in classrooms,” she enthused, noting several of the schools saw expansions because of the program.
“So we’ve had a lot of building opportunities and curriculum opportunities and growth in the early-learning program, so that’s been exciting.”
Kelly also added the board has embraced 21st-century learning by putting a lot of technology into the schools, such as smartboards in every classroom, e-learning, and Homework Help Online.
“It’s been an expensive enterprise but very positive,” she remarked, though adding with all the successes, there also were plenty of challenges.
“We went from a time when there was lots of money flowing to support us in professional development for teachers to a time of declining enrolment and so trying to keep balanced budgets in a time of decline,” she noted.
And then the NCDSB also faced a threat of amalgamation with another board about a year ago, which it advocated against.
“We didn’t feel amalgamation was in the best interest of our community; that we needed our independence to be able to serve our communities,” she stressed, noting in the end the government decided not to amalgamate.
But Kelly said she always was supported by the school trustees.
“I’ve had a really great relationship with our trustees,” she remarked. “It’s been very positive and I think that has been good for the system.”
And she is very proud of the teachers.
“With all of the new teaching methodologies, they have really embraced them and their focus has really been excellent at trying to find new ways to improve the achievement of our students but still embed it in the faith of our curriculum,” she said.
“They really work together to do that,” she added.
“And the principals have been awesome at leading the change. There’s been a lot of learning, a lot of hard work.”
But the thing Kelly loved the most as director of education was her school visits.
“They always welcome me,” she enthused. “I love talking to the students about their school work. I like celebrating when they are doing something great.
“It’s a very joyful experience to be excited about their learning with them and sharing what the teachers are doing, so I see it first-hand,” she noted.
“That is the best thing.
“I’m going to miss the kids very much,” Kelly added.
Being with the board for nearly eight years, Kelly has seen many of the students grow up.
“I’ve seen them from kindergarten to Grade 8 and I have thoroughly enjoyed that,” she said, adding she also is sad to leave the many friends she has made here.
“I love my staff. They are part of my every-day life,” she remarked.
“It’s been a pretty exciting eight years,” she reflected. “It’s gone by very fast and I’ve loved every minute of it.
“I’ll miss it very much.”
Kelly stressed people within the community were really welcoming and very friendly.
“I’ll miss living in a small town,” she said.
After the school year ends, Kelly will be moving back to Peterborough, where her parents currently live.
She’s hoping to have a little more time for family in the future, but also is looking forward to continuing her work in Catholic education in some capacity.
Richard Boisvert, who has served the Waterloo Catholic District School Board for 28 years, has been hired to fill Kelly’s shoes and will begin his duties just prior to the start of school in the fall.
“He’s a very nice person, a good educator, with lots of experience,” Kelly lauded.
“In being sad about leaving, I’m happy the board has hired someone who is very capable and will continue on and do a great job for the board. . . .
“He can take it from where we are now and continue to build it,” she reasoned.