ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Byrne Creek Secondary: A Collaborative Community Opportunity

Post submitted by Mike Greenway and Lynn Archer

Byrne Creek Secondary School opened its doors to students for the first time in September 2005. The school was planned and built to solve an overcrowding problem in the south part of Burnaby. Planning and opening any new school has challenges; Byrne Creek was faced with additional problems. The community had the highest number of refugee students in the metro area of Vancouver, with the majority of refugees from Afghanistan and Africa. Many were functionally illiterate in their own language and had faced hardships such as famine, war, and other atrocities in their own countries. Two inner city elementary schools in the Byrne Creek neighborhood had been trying to support these families and were very helpful in making recommendations. In addition, the neighborhood is a low income and working class income socioeconomic community. The issues being faced by the elementary schools foreshadowed the challenges that the new Byrne Creek Secondary would face.

Byrne Creek was fortunate in many respects. The physical layout of the building was state-of-the-art. A committee had been planning and making recommendations to make Byrne Creek innovative and inviting. The Centre for Dialogue was planned after the United Nations theater, capable of video conferencing and hosting performances. The student common areas, wide hallways, and wireless technology are just of few of the ideas that were shaped by this committee. During the months prior to opening of the school, the administrative team was appointed. In addition to principal Mike Greenway, Chris Sarellas and Lynn Archer were appointed as vice principals. Many long days and evenings ensued as the team discussed and discussed and discussed again a vision for this new school facing so many challenges. This was an exciting time for the team. They loved the challenge and the opportunity to make a difference.

Putting the Team Together

One of the first major responsibilities was the hiring of teachers. The process started with the selection of department heads. These were critical people as they would be leaders in the school and for their respective departments. As part of the leadership team, they were an important part in sharing a vision and getting others committed to it. From the start, the leaders of this school believed that a common vision was critical to the success and start up. Furthermore, this vision had to be practical in order to start this journey.

When the first postings were sent out for department heads, very few experienced teachers applied. This was not surprising given the challenges of opening a new school in an inner city neighborhood. We were fortunate, however, that the successful candidates, although lacking formal leadership experience, were enthusiastic and were not afraid of the hard work that lay ahead. The department heads supported the vision of the administrative team. Collaboration time, implementation of a literacy plan, and adoption of the H.E.A.R.T. code of conduct that displayed the philosophy of the school community were essential as part of this vision. The team of department heads was an essential ingredient to getting the school off to a positive start.

Hiring staff followed the appointment of the department heads. It was not surprising that the majority of the applicants were younger, enthusiastic, and inexperienced teachers. During the interviews, the administrative team was able to explore the applicants' ideas about the plans for start up. The teachers new to Byrne Creek believed in the value of collaboration, the importance of establishing a literacy plan, and the best means to support learning given the challenges of the new school's community.

Getting the Community Involved

Sharing a vision with the school community was an integral part of the success of the school. It was important to connect with the community members—Byrne Creek had to be their school. We wanted parents to be involved from the start and the administrative team contacted parents prior to the opening of the school to invite them to be part of the Parents' Advisory Council. In addition, the administrative team visited other Parents' Advisory Councils to share information about the new school's programs, opportunities, courses, and plans for success. Parents were supportive and thankful for their important involvement in this early planning. This was a bonus that paid dividends and continues to be a factor in the school's success.

Starting a new school is, however, more than creating and sharing a vision. Equipment, furniture, uniforms, and resources had to be ordered. Rooms had to be assigned. Major decisions concerning technology, so important to the implementation of teaching practices, had to be made. Clubs, teams, and extra/intramural activities were planned. A mascot was adopted. Everything was brand new and had to be initiated or adopted for the first time. The attitude of the community, but especially the teachers new to the school, made all the difference. No one complained or shirked responsibility. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and worked long hours. The staff's "F" word was flexibility. Due to everyone's willingness to work together, the school evolved in a way that exceeded expectations. A community with a strong sense of pride and belonging developed during the first year and continues to build. Staff and parents are proud of the accomplishments of the students in the arts, athletics, service, and academics.

Sustaining the Vision

The staff during the first years of the school deserved so much credit for its hard work and commitment to the students. It is the daily work of the cohesive team of educators that sustains the compassionate and positive learning environment of the school. The recognition of the struggles faced by many of the students and the willingness to provide support, consider change, and evolve programming and practices to better meet those needs is what made and continues to make Byrne Creek a very special place of learning.

Byrne Creek is proud of the recognition that it has received through winning the Vision in Action: ASCD Whole Child Award. We view this as an opportunity to share our ongoing story and to thank the many people who deserve so much credit for helping Byrne Creek become a valuable part of the community.

Following his retirement in 2006 as principal of Byrne Creek Secondary School, Mike Greenway taught courses at the University of British Columbia for prospective teachers. He continues to visit schools as a faculty advisor for student teachers on their practicum. Greenway enjoys working with young adults preparing to be the teachers of the future. Lynn Archer's heart was at Byrne Creek from its opening in 2005 where she was a vice principal, and then principal, for three years. Currently she works as director of instruction for the Burnaby School District where she works with Byrne Creek Secondary again as part of the Kingsway South Zone of elementary and secondary schools. Archer is passionate about personalized learning and caring for the whole child.

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