SOUTH EAST - Lynn Little, the director of education with South East Cornerstone Public School Division (SECPSD), has confirmed the rumours that have been circulating in the communities the division serves.
After 37 years of hard work – of which nine were spent as a director of education with the school division, and the last two were spent navigating through the pandemic – Little will be retiring at the conclusion of this school year. She will remain in the position until the last day of July, and the formal transition to the new director will be Aug. 1.
Little said she gave it a lot of thought and felt that it was the best time to move on.
"I've been considering retiring for a few years now. It's a very difficult decision to make for sure, we do have the option to retire with full benefits after 30 years of contributory service in education. And I began my teaching career in the fall of 1986," Little said.
"So, I wasn't ready to retire when I reached my 30th year and to be honest, not entirely ready now … I continue to love what I do. I love the people that I'm blessed to work with and for and have a desire to make a positive impact. Having said that, the position is really demanding as well. And I would like to have time. Time to travel, to spend time with my family, and to enjoy some good health. And this seems like the right time to make that transition."
Working in education was a calling to her, Little said.
"It has been an absolute gift and a blessing to work with families, their children, staff, teachers, EAs, custodians, counsellors… you name it. They've all dedicated their lives to supporting children and working in and around children. And that's a great group of people to be with. For sure, there have been challenges and some very difficult times. But overall, it's been a blast. Really, a very rewarding career. I started the career 37 years ago, and have enjoyed it all the way along," Little said.
She's tried many roles and positions throughout her career and said all of them had their beauty and brought pleasure to her.
She completed her internship at Maryfield School, which is a part of the division, in 1984. She moved back to the southeast with her husband in 1993, after they completed their master of education. Her husband Mike Little became the principal at the Gordon F. Kells High School in Carlyle, and she took the position of a principal in the kindergarten-Grade 8 Carievale School, which was then a part of the Oxbow School Division. From there she moved and took the position of the principal at Estevan Junior High. Little also spent seven years as a principal at Pleasantdale School in Estevan when it turned into a K-8 school. And she said she loved every position she worked.
"There's not a job, not one of them that I haven't absolutely loved. I began my career teaching at Craik School, which was in the Davidson School Division. I taught for five years in Craik, and then a year as a teacher administrator in a Hawarden School. And that was a tiny little school, only 32 children. But I loved my time there. I can't say that I've enjoyed one (position I had) more than the other. They all had their own quirks and real benefits to them and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time," Little said.
She was the superintendent of learning and then the deputy director with SECPSD from 2009-2013, and then started as a director of education/CEO for the division in 2013-14. Many things were achieved, and tremendous projects were completed throughout her years with the division.
"When I moved into this position at central office, it was directly or shortly after the amalgamation of all of our systems coming together. We were busy uniting into one cohesive system, building our own identity with some common practices. And we spent a tremendous amount of time and effort implementing the technology for communication processes across the whole system, common resources, assessment and reporting practices, effective learning practices, putting in place resources ... for teaching that we rely on,” she said.
“We built a system around being data-driven decision-making, and that has all come to the forefront now. I'm really proud of how we've made progress in that.”
The system and the technology plan put in place along the lines proved to be strong and reliable, even in the face of the pandemic challenges.
"Although there were glitches, we were very well positioned to move into online delivery. We implemented what we call a response intervention model, where we monitor and track student progress, identify students who may require increased support, ensure that those supports are available by folks specifically trained to support and we implement structures to support students using that data," Little said.
In 2011, they were asked if they were interested in assuming the responsibilities of the Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECAP), and now they are the only school division in the province that serves children from birth to age 22. Last week, they also opened the Estevan Early Years Family Resource Centre at the Estevan Comprehensive School (ECS) – another big achievement for the division.
"I had the privilege and honour of serving as a co-chair for the last several years at the provincial level in terms of the education sector strategic plan. And then we built that into our own system where we focus on empowering students, and we're off to a really strong start," Little said.
They achieved grade-level reading by Grade 3, and now they focus on increasing their graduation rates both at the three-year and the five-year levels. They've moved the annual graduation rate in South East Cornerstone to consistently be near 90 per cent, Little noted.
They've partnered with both Treaty 4 Alliance and Yorkton Tribal Councils and developed programs to support Truth and Reconciliation.
"We still have a long journey ahead of us and we are taking small steps, but we're headed in the right direction," Little said.
Most recently, they've begun French Immersion programs in public systems in the Estevan and Weyburn areas.
They also completed the Weyburn facilities project which started back in 2003 and included the closure of Weyburn Junior High, consolidation of three elementary schools into a state-of-the-art school and remodelling of the Weyburn Comp. Now they have moved onto long-range plans for both Carlyle and Estevan communities in terms of community partnerships and applications for major capital funding.
She added that the last two years have been really challenging for everyone, and the division tried keeping students in school as much as they could while also making it as safe as possible. The public health authority was very helpful in navigating them through the ever-changing situation, and families have been understanding, which Little is really grateful for.
"It's been challenging, it's been exhausting, it's been rewarding. I'm still hopeful that we're going to come through this, I can see some light shining, and I see this light shining in the students, in the staff and in the families. We're beginning to see a little bit more return to normal almost every step of the day," Little said.
There is still a lot of work to be done before she retires, but she said there is a great senior team and the board of education who will make the transition smooth
She added she'll be committed to her role till her very last day in the position, but then she plans to spend a lot of time with the family, resting, rejuvenating, and then plan for hopefully some travel and some personal time.
"My husband, which many folks would know, used to be the principal at Estevan Comprehensive School years ago and has been patiently, maybe impatiently waiting for me to retire," said Little with a laugh. "Our children all live in the northern part of the province, as do our mothers, and we'd really like to be more accessible to them, to spend more time together and just relax."
She also thanked all those people who made her years in education special, as the southeast will always hold a special place in her heart.