Charting the new course of education

School District 51's new superintendent of schools, Kevin Argue, reveals his educational philosophy.

If there is a thread that runs through the career of School District 51’s new Superintendent, Kevin Argue, it is perhaps the idea that good teachers can have profound impacts on their students. It was Argue’s own experiences with good teachers growing up in Surrey that created his life-long interest in education, and it is that same experience that he would like to continue to foster in SD 51 as Superintendent. “I had so many fabulous teachers, and they were my role models,” Argue said in an interview with the Gazette. “I so connected with what they did and what I got from them that I never really had any other idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a teacher.”The positive impact of educators continued during Argue’s teaching career. At the junior high in Surrey where he worked for five years he learned from two highly motivated administrators. “The principal and vice-principal both had such an amazing impact,” he said. “The school was in North Surrey, with a real high risk population of students, and there were a lot of reasons to make excuses about things, and they did so many amazing things in our school with our staff, our kids and our community that I saw you could do a lot more than just with the kids in one class, but have an impact on a greater number of people and on a community. I thought that was something I might like to try.”Argue decided to stay close to his parents when they moved to the Kootenays and accepted a position as a vice-principal at Grand Forks Secondary School and then as principal of Perley Elementary. Argue credits the previous two superintendents with working closely with principals in the district, work which helped prepare him for the transition to his current job. “We got to work on a leadership team with them, so I had that sense of what the educational side of the job was, and that was what I aspired to, thinking, okay, now you can have an impact on this level, on principals and on all schools and the community,” he said.However, once he became the superintendent himself, he discovered that there was a lot more to the job than he had anticipated.  “Once you get in this office, you see that there is a lot more going on and that the school district connects to so many different things in the community, and with our partners in the community.”Those partnerships are an indication of the changing role of public education. The Ministry of Education has become the ministry turned to first to address perceived social problems, Argue said. That is because the public school system has an immediate and permanent connection to the broadest range of society. “I think the role of the education system and the schools and principals and teachers, what they are responsible for, has really broadened. It used to be a fairly narrow focus: teaching and learning,” he explained. “And now the school provides so much for so many kids from nutrition to nurturing, to social and emotional support, things that were not asked of it in the past.”However, unlike other communities in the province, Argue believes that the Boundary responds to the expanded role of the school system with exceptional effort.“The partnerships that we have chosen to form to meet the broad needs that are now required of the school system, are remarkable. The need is great and the Boundary has reacted to fulfill that need. We do a really great job of taking all the resources that we have to meet those needs and stretching them as far as we can.” When asked by the Gazette if public education was perhaps taking on too much, Argue said, “Is our role too broad? Strictly speaking in terms of numbers and letters, in that sense, yes, but in terms of education of the whole child and making their life chances as good as we can make them, no. It could never be too broad. The focus and the role of education may have developed a much broader base, but we are now thinking about how to prepare successful citizens.”In addition to the broadened scope of public education, the ministry has decided to emphasize personalized learning in its latest Education Plan. Through the use of technology, students are now able to work more and more outside of the classroom and individualize the content of their learning. “The way we are organized now, with teachers responsible for a group of students, is a good thing,” Argue said, “because teachers, what they do better than anyone else is that they form relationships with this broad base of kids that are in class with them every day. And if they form relationships there is a really, really high percentage of students who are going to be successful in that learning environment where someone is looking after their learning needs and supporting them. “When we talk about personalized learning,” he continued, “I see it happening differently than in our present structure, but I don’t see us in any way wanting to get away from the connection and relationships that a teacher has with students because that is probably the most important thing that happens in our schools. “And where that is formed in a good way, really good things are going to happen for those students. There are a percentage of kids who don’t learn well in front of a teacher.  Some, but not all, have the skills to be an individual personalized learner. Hopefully, they will still be guided through that process by a teacher.”Argue’s enthusiasm for teaching and the positive connection teachers can have with students is as strong now as it ever was.  It is the thing he misses most sitting in his school board office. “I find it difficult not being around the kids, and the energy of the kids, and just dealing with all those relationships. You give, but you get back so much from them.”

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