Retreat – Advance! Put yourself out there.

What. A. Week.

April 1A 2013Seven days ago, Canadian Rockies Public School Board emerged from its retreat. Location? The exotic remote confines of the Canmore Board Office boardroom, aka the Superintendent’s office. Guided by the sure hand of Jim Gibbons, former superintendent and now consultant for the Alberta School Boards Association. On Saturday morning, the board evaluated the superintendent; Saturday afternoon we evaluated ourselves. Suffice it to say, it was a feedback rich session…formative assessment.

Hadfield blog post

Photo taken April 18, 2013 by Col. Chris Hadfield, Cmdr. International Space Station

While we might not have achieved the altitude shown in the image of earth from space taken by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, that is our aspiration…lofty, no? Yes, pun intended.

Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m., we were back at it. Jim led us through a review of the previous day’s work. We examined where the emphasis will lie as we plan a positive path forward, using the information obtained in the assessment process. This was for both the board and the CEO. Kudos to our superintendent, Chris MacPhee, for agreeing to a 360 degree assessment, “a method of systematically collecting opinions about an individual’s performance from a wide range of coworkers”. The opinions are anonymous – which might give one pause – but in this case the feedback was considered and professional. The most important part of the process will be how Chris takes the received info and moves forward with it to inform his practice.
The discussion got somewhat freewheeling as we tackled: results-based budgeting; the new School Act; how we measure/assess what we do (Key Performance Indicators – KPI); strategic planning; Inspiring Hearts & Minds; Community Education Network. At one point, our chair Kim Bater became a visual metaphor for what was going on in the room: he started juggling fruit! Jim Gibbons, our meister-facilitator, admitted that we were one of the boards that managed to divert him away from the process because we explore and advance the thinking and sense-making. At the finish I felt invigorated, focused and prepared for the work ahead.

esme-1 esme-2

Appropriate risk-taking is a part of a meaningful education. So in that spirit, armed with new energy (and validation from multiple friends by whom I ran my routine – bless you all!),  the next day, April 15th, I performed my first stand-up comedy gig.  It was a great learning process through which our group of 12 volunteer comics was mentored by the team at ZEDS Comic Communications (Our Business is a Joke). My colleagues were a huge support and it was a great experience. Best moment of the night had to be when my family said they were proud of me. Suffice to say, I am glad I did it BUT it was not the launch of a new career.  It felt like this:

so just for now I’ll stay on the merry-go-round, thanks!

The merry-go-round/roller-coaster story makes a great segue to other events last week.  Tuesday was the meeting of the Safe & Caring Schools committee to hone the Administrative Procedure – important work and we are getting there, because the right people are at the table. Wednesday,  7 p.m. brought the Public School Board meeting at Banff Elementary School, with very weighty matters on the agenda:  final vote to reduce the number of trustees from seven to five and discussion of the plebiscite to institute a Special School Tax Levy. The attendance was underwhelming – one member of the press and our Assistant Superintendent, Kate Belford. *sigh* A Banff parent also arrived a little later, I have to admit. We were glad to see her and inundated her with questions. Quite put her on the spot, we did.

The most important matter was that the Third Reading of bylaw 2013-1 passed. In the October 2013 election, there will be only five seats on the board: one from Exshaw, and two each from Canmore and Banff. You can read the rationale for the decision on the CRPS website – and, later this week, in the local papers.


Photo: Courtesy of Catalin Marin | at

Much unknown territory lies ahead. This photo is for me another visual metaphor: there are going to be ups, downs, tilting cambers, curves and crumbling steps but we shall advance, together. On the horizon: the settlement with the teachers. Read the Alberta Teachers’ Association take and also an excellent information sheet from the Alberta School Councils’ Association with sample questions for parents to take to principals, trustees and superintendents. The Minister has given a May 14th deadline for an agreement. On it goes.

And spring is on the way! Despite a wintry wonderland for our hike yesterdayApril 22 2013 007, when we went in search of open water – looking for geese and swans (sure signs of milder, kinder weather) – we found them. April 22 2013 019

About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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