A little stress a good thing: new Cowichan superintendent

Rod Allen’s wide background in education has seen him working in everything from rural classrooms to the Ministry of Education.

Now, he’s taken up the job of superintendent of schools at the Cowichan Valley School District, replacing Joe Rhodes, who retired last week.

Starting his career in rural Saskatchewan, Allen went to Lesotho in southern Africa and then returned to Canada to spend 20 years teaching in Smithers, B.C. He finally left rural B.C. for what he thought was a shortterm job at the Ministry of Education.

He stayed seven years. "In government, I found that, while I loved the job, I wanted to get back. I really miss the kids, I miss the action, I miss the schools," he said.

"Cowichan has intrigued me for a while. This district is poised on the edge of doing amazing things," he said.

Having served so long in northern B.C., he is well up on such problems as an increasing call for trades training, how to increase offerings at small secondary schools, how to improve aboriginal student success, how to fit everything into ever-tightening budgets and more.

Small secondary schools, academies and trades training can all be looked at under the same microscope. There’s a need for new ideas in all of them, he said.

"What I’ve seen around the province is that some of the greatest innovation is coming out of small rural secondary schools," he said.

"We used to believe that rural secondary schools had to be helped and compensated for because of their small size. What we see now is that the literature on optimum school sizes is shifting around and the ability of these small schools to be nimble is an asset," he said.

Traditional wisdom said the larger the school, the greater the menu selection of courses, the better the situation for students. That is changing. "As we look into personalized learning, smaller secondary schools can offer programs that are tailored almost to individual students."

Students can spend mornings following a fairly traditional academic timetable but afternoons are around project-based learning, which means getting out into the community and really applying their learning in different ways.

"It’s far easier to do in a smaller community where everybody knows everybody than it is if you’re Burnaby South with 3,000 kids," he said.

Big schools are starting to divide into pods, acknowledging that "students can’t interact well, teachers can’t interact well in communities much larger than a hundred." The closeness of a small community can become an asset, Allen said.

"We know learning and relationships go hand in hand. You can’t do one without the other."

The skills students learn are different, too.

"The periodic table? You can print that off your phone now. That’s not the game. It’s being able to use that knowledge, to apply that learning," he said.

While districts are moving towards offering trades and academies, that can still be just part of adding to the menu, he said.

"We have to look at that new ways. That apprenticeship model can be applied to all kinds of learning, getting young people working with motivated, interested experts. That comes down to the community coming into the schools, the kids going out into the community. No school has all those experts in place.

"We want to see hands-on learning earlier. Kindergarten has it, that exploring the environment. But we lose that very quickly in schools."

He said that the province’s First Nations Principles of Learning are being seen as an acknowledgement that the holistic, environment-based way of looking at acquiring learning, prevalent in aboriginal cultures, is the way all education should be moving.

Dealing with the many young children who are not ready to start school is a challenge facing many districts but it has been identified as a significant issue in the Valley.

Using adaptable programs has shown that students can catch up quickly, if they are given the right kind of situation, Allen said.

"The Strong Start program is a piece of the answer. But what is the ecosystem the family lives in? And are there families we are missing with programs like Strong Start? A solution takes everyone in the community," he said.

Tight budgets have been challenging school districts for years and solving problems often means taking a new vantage point, he said. "You have to be constantly looking at what you are doing. When there were bags of money around we thought we could just buy success. Ontario tried to do that, but it didn’t work. And a little stress on the system can be a good thing," Allen said.

Just Posted

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Cowichan Bay man’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

Threads N Tails owner Lee-Ann Burke’s pet clothing has been featured on the cover of the June/July issue of Pet Connection Magazine. (Submitted)
Lake Cowichan business featured on magazine cover

Lee-Ann Burke hopes the extra publicity will increase sales

North Cowichan’s senior environment specialist Dr. Dave Preikshot (pictured) said there’s a wide spectrum of views on carbon credits. (File photo)
Carbon credits expected to be part of discussions around forest reserve

North Cowichan acknowledges wide range of views on issue

Blue Moon Marquee from Duncan will be featured at the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 28. (Submitted)
Blue Moon Marquee to play Vancouver Jazz Festival

What’s coming up in the A&E scene

Sonia Furstenau, MLA
Proposed Health Professions Act would eliminate barriers, guide regulations

Is your doctor a member of good standing with the BC College… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

Most Read