By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
Alison Sidow sees teaching as more than just bringing knowledge to young people.
She sees it as essential to democracy, of making a difference in the world — a belief passed down through the long line of teachers in her family.
It’s that overriding principle that will guide her when she officially becomes superintendent of the Kamloops-Thompson school district when Karl deBruijn retires at the end of the school year.
Sidow, who joined School District 73 four years ago, said she entered the teaching profession at the best time.
The province had taken a look at education through the 66 public hearings, 54 meetings with teachers and 23 student assemblies Barry Sullivan held as he travelled the province to determine how education should be done in B.C.
Among recommendations he made were placing children in school when they are ready to attend rather than at a certain age. He suggested an upgraded primary system so what is now grades 1 to 3 would see one group of children moving at their own speed.
Sullivan also recommended a common curriculum from grades 1 through 10 and teachers trained to work in teams to teach the subjects.
Sidow started teaching in the small northern B.C. town of Houston during that time and found herself immediately doing what Sullivan was suggesting. Through an innovation grant, three teachers worked together as a team to teach students in grades 8 and 9.
“It was quite innovative work at the time and it set me on a path,” Sidow said.
“I fell in love with teaching.”
While she was new to the profession, the other teachers were experienced and it created what Sidow called one of the best learning environments.
The Sullivan recommendations created a firestorm of debate, however, from teachers and parents alike. From that, Sidow realized how important it is to not only focus on the teacher and what they need, but to pay attention to communicating with parents and the broader community, something she said will be a priority for her as she embarks on her new job.
Sidow comes to the position at a unique time.
There is finally labour peace and the district has gone through a major reconfiguration of schools. A new curriculum is being rolled out provincewide, something she anticipates will have an impact on how the district is run.
Sidow also takes over at a time when two other key longtime teachers and administrators are retiring: John Churchley and Art Blackwell.
“That’s a lot of institutional memory walking out the door,” Sidow said of her colleagues, noting it will have an impact on the district’s ongoing succession planning.
Sidow has always been drawn to leadership. Even as a young student, she sought out those roles. While she was a well-rounded and successful student, others in her family did not find learning as easy.
Her brother had special needs, she said, and it made her sensitive to inclusion, something she focused on when she first came to the school district, succeeding Marilyn McLean in student support services.
Sidow’s awareness of the needs of each child was also expanded when she went to India to teach as a volunteer for two years, finding herself mainly teaching children in grades 3 and 4, but also kids up to Grade 12 level.
Kamloops was always on her radar.
Her family was living here when Sidow worked in the Gold Trail school district and spent years commuting. She loved being part of the School District 74, she said, where she was superintendent from 2006 to 2011. While there, a priority was completion rates and she started a push that saw the district improve from 59.1 per cent in 2009 to 81.2 per cent in 2014.
The Kamloops-Thompson district has a unique relationship with First Nations students and their families, Sidow said, another area she wants to see continue to grow.
“The face of education is changing,” Sidow said. “And, as we look forward to changes in the systems, we need our teacher leaders to work side by side with their colleagues.”
The coming years will see a shift in the way classes are taught, she added.
“There will be disagreements around contracts and other things, but it’s important to always be respectful — and keep the students first.”