It’s a new school year, and School District 8 has a new superintendent.
Belfast-born singer and dancer Christine Perkins, who immigrated to Canada while working as a touring performer, has worked in districts throughout B.C. in wide-ranging roles. She spent time as an English and Drama teacher before transitioning into recent principal and assistant superintendent gigs.
She considers herself a “legitimate theatre hound,” and she’s married to a trumpet player. In other words: she feels well-suited to the Kootenays, and she’s excited about her first chance at the top job. She’s been hustling from Creston to Slocan to Kaslo trying to introduce herself to everyone.
“I’ve been making a huge effort to get out to all the schools across the district. I was in Crawford Bay on the first day and it was amazing to see the new kids arriving with new teachers that have come from all over the country,” she told the Star.
“I’m getting to know the geography — it’s nice now the smoke’s gone — and the first few weeks is about meeting everyone in their environments. Relationship-building is important and I want everyone to know I’m accessible, no matter what.”
Perkins will be working alongside superintendent emeritus Jeff Jones for the next few months.
She marched alongside him and his partner, as well as 40 SD8 staff, during the recent Pride Parade in Nelson — which she raved about at this week’s board meeting.
Busy school start following hiring frenzy
She’s coming into the role amidst a summer-long hiring frenzy that has seen 140 new teacher jobs posted, 36 of those brand new positions thanks to a recent court ruling that restored class size language to their collective agreement.
Fifty-two new people have been hired in the district, more than they hired for the entire year from 2015-16, and it’s only September.
“At the end of the day we have 237 teachers for about 4,700 to 4,750 students, and all the kids are here. We’ve been very lucky and have managed to fill almost every position,” she said.
“I think it’s because this is a beautiful, desirable area to come to that has a lot to offer, and a lot of diversity.”
She met with L.V. Rogers principal Tamara Malloff about the high school’s registration process, which is going smoothly this year. Perkins heard about last year’s controversy about waitlists, and has been informed the issue hasn’t reared its head again.
Perkins has also been dealing with idiosyncratic issues, such as a website hack that affected multiple schools. The tech department has since dealt with it.
“Some of our websites were hosted off-site, but physically in Canada, but they’ve assured me that there was no personal information or privacy concerns involved. They had to move web hosts to solve it,” she said.
“Our previous host didn’t have enough security to protect us, but our new host is better and faster.”
Aboriginal education at the forefront
One of her big priorities moving forward will be working with new district principal Gail Higginbottom, who is in charge of aboriginal education, as the curriculum continues to be indigenized.
“We both come from a place of wanting aboriginal education at the forefront. We have a big meeting for the whole district about this next week.
“All teachers are teachers of aboriginal education now, so we need to work on common goals to improve chances and grad rates for our aboriginal students, and all students.”
One of the first decorations in her office is a poster outlining the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation report. She plans to engage local First Nations communities and continue the work being done by Jones, who brought the aboriginal education surplus down $100,000 from 2015-16 to 2016-2017, spending the cash on ambitious endeavours such as Trafalgar Middle School’s recent aboriginal youth conference.
For Perkins, going forward, academic success will be the number one thing on her mind.
“But academic success is different for different people, based on their goals and dreams. We’ll be working on creativity and collaboration, all the new core competencies, and we’ll be working with resiliency and citizenship.”
She noted many students currently suffer from mental health struggles and anxiety, and she’s hoping to mobilize supports for those kids and their families.
“We want to have healthy, safe and excited kids who are passionate to learn. I want kids to do better than me. I want them to be way more creative and imaginative than I was. I want them to go beyond. If we can inspire and ignite the next inventor or astronaut, whatever dream they have, then that’s the goal.”