Lakehead Public Schools – Ontario, Canada

May 30, 2024

Lakehead Public Schools

A Beacon of Education in the North

 

Honoring and valuing Indigenous cultures and histories

Lakehead Public Schools (LPS), under the direction of Lakehead District School Board (LDSB), stands out for its educational excellence and innovative practices in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It also resides in an area that is renowned for its stunning landscape.

The district’s commitment to empowering students to achieve, reconcile, lead, and inspire others is clear in a plan based on five key pillars. Lakehead oversees the educational journey of 10,000 students across 22 elementary schools, three secondary schools, and an adult education center, supported by a resolute staff of 2,000.

At this educational voyage’s helm is Sherri-Lynne Pharand, the Director of Education, whose tenure with Lakehead Public Schools began in 1990 as a teacher.

A profound pride has marked Pharand’s leadership since becoming Director on September 1, 2022. “I am so proud to work for this board that puts student achievement first and recognizes staff and students’ diverse talents and strengths.”

This sentiment echoes LPS’s core values, which emphasize every student’s success, promoting self-esteem, and nurturing career aspirations. Pharand’s vision, deeply rooted in the beautiful local geography, highlights learning in the natural environment, regardless of the season.

Serving as a trustee since 2014, Ellen Chambers, Chair and Trustee of the Lakehead District School Board, shares a similar mission. Elected Chair in December 2018, Chambers aims to rid discrimination. “My focus is equity and social justice—working to make Thunder Bay free of racism, homophobia, and transphobia.”

LPS celebrates staff achievements, such as Jasmine Sgambelluri, the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education Resource Teacher, and the May 2023 recipient of the Lakehead Public Schools Exemplary Leader Award. “A special shout-out to Lisa Nutley, my eighth-grade teacher, who honored me with OPC’s Grade eight award for student leadership and planted the seed to pursue a career in education. Here we are 23 years later…”

Lakehead’s rock-solid plan, core values, and caring staff guide them to continue a legacy of nurturing students who are academically accomplished, socially conscious, and equipped to lead in the future’s unknown landscape.

 

Outdoor, Land, and Cultural-Based Learning

Programs offered by Lakehead Public Schools display a commitment to land and cultural-based learning by combining educational experiences with the natural environment and Indigenous culture.

A crown jewel in this approach is the Kingfisher Lake Outdoor Education Center (KLOEC), described by Chambers as a remote yet stunningly picturesque facility that offers overnight programs for children. “It is on a small, beautiful lake with log cabins ringing it and each one accommodates a student group.” Children explore luscious green trails, a dock over glistening water, and uniquely designed classrooms focused on different activities, including science.

With a remarkable safety record, the center practices direct learning designed to engage grades one through seven in fire lighting, outdoor cooking, and wood chopping. Adventures for high school students include canoeing, orienteering, snowshoeing, and skiing, all connected to the curriculum.

Kendomang Zhagodenamonon (KZ) Lodge caters to ninth-grade students, offering a unique cultural and land-based learning blend. Pharand says, “Students receive the eight required credits through a cultural lens, engaging in activities such as being on a trap line, ice fishing, tanning hides, painting with artists, drumming, and participating in ceremonies.”

Deeply rooted in community involvement, it sets the foundation for students wishing to continue in the Tiny Homes Program (THP) during grades 10 – 12.

The THP is a pathway for students to learn practical skills by constructing tiny homes from start to finish. For the first house, the Lakehead district partnered with Smart Home Modular Canada, which provided engineered drawings, and Home Depot, which donated $75,000 in materials. “That is an investment partnership that pulls the entire community together,” states Pharand.

The organization donates the completed tiny homes to First Nation communities, starting with the first one sent to Constance Lake.

Building Knowledge with the Indigenous Educational Framework

Incorporating Indigenous curriculum and perspectives within educational frameworks is critical when designing a more inclusive and representative environment. The approach is not only about raising the academic outcomes for youth but also enriching learning experiences through teaching Indigenous history and perspectives.

The Lakehead District School Board energetically takes initiative, recognizing the importance of students seeing personal lived experiences reflected in education. Pharand states, “Our goal is to raise the outcomes for Indigenous youth by building staff and student knowledge of Indigenous history and perspectives,”

Lakehead uses the 4-direction approach, a holistic method that coaxes kids through the educational journey. Present in every high school, the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit graduation coaches embody this method. The coaches offer comprehensive support to kids and families, aiming to increase academic achievement, student retention, and positive engagement.

The Minobimaatisiiwin leadership camp for Indigenous youth builds leaders and emphasizes healthy relationships, positive self-esteem, self-awareness, and local connections.

Minobimaatisiiwin is a collaborative effort, involving partnerships with the local Friendship Center, pivotal in the program’s success. “This is where the beauty of community collaborations and partnerships come into play,” says Sgambelluri. The Thunder Bay Police Department contributes to the experience, while Lakehead University, tribal elders, and knowledge carriers give invaluable guidance and mentorship.

The camp is transformative, with participants becoming mentors for future enrollees. Sgambelluri states, “It is incredible what happens during that week. Student leaders return to the classroom in September and take on leadership roles within their school spaces.”

Biwaase’aa is a program by Shkoday that provides in-school and after-school services, mentorship, and cultural activities. “Shkoday is heavily involved in creating opportunities for powwows and feasts in our schools and we are extremely grateful for that,” says Pharand.

Lakehead’s Indigenous Educational Framework is a comprehensive effort looking to empower students and make sure success. By partnering with various organizations and incorporating Indigenous perspectives and practices into the curriculum, the district is setting a standard for how educational institutions should assist native students.

This framework is a living, fluid example of LDSB’s focus on equity, inclusion, and every student’s success.

Infrastructure and Investment

Lakehead Public Schools’ 2022-2023 budget committed $154 million to infrastructure and investment, underscoring the board’s dedication to enhancing facilities and resources.

A key investment is the one-to-one computer program for students in grades 9 – 12, recognizing technology’s importance in education. This ensures every child receives a device to help with homework, research, and class engagement.

Besides technological investments, LPS focuses on physical infrastructure upgrades. Last summer, LPS created new multi-use fields at high schools to facilitate athletics and events. “They have new scoreboards and stands so the community can watch and hold events,” says Pharand.

The district’s academic financial investments in human resources support mathematics and literacy. To offer in-class aid and make sure students graduate with a strong mathematical foundation and effective communication skills, the district introduced new superintendent-level leaders and coaches.

These investments are yielding positive results, as Pharand proudly states, “This past year on EQAO, our results showed that investment is improving outcomes for our students, which is terrific.”

Addressing healthcare needs, Lakehead created the Pediatric Clinic to tackle the long wait times for consultations. Thunder Bay has an 18-month waitlist to see one of nine pediatricians who provide care to 230,000 people. In this vast region, supply and demand do not equate, with a single doctor responsible for 25,811 people, while in Toronto, one pediatrician cares for 5,760 residents.

The Pediatric Clinic serves a geographic area making up 57.9% of Ontario’s landmass from Sudbury to the Manitoba border and is a collaborative effort, involving pediatricians, child psychologists, social workers, and educators specialized in fields like autism and learning disabilities.

Lakehead Public Schools’ infrastructure and investment initiatives are supported by budget allocations, partnerships, and innovative programs aimed at the success and well-being of every student within their care.

 

Connecting with the Future

Dr. Ruth Beatty from Lakehead University is collaborating with the Pikwakanagan peoples, also known as the Algonquins of Pikwàkanagàn First Nation, and the Renfrew County District School Board, on a project that highlights the university’s collaborative and innovative educational approaches.

This initiative is a prime example of how LPS is looking to the future by incorporating inclusive and culturally relevant learning environments. Sgambelluri states, “After the march break, we want to connect with the Anishinaabe ways of knowing and mathematics.”

By nurturing partnerships, embracing Indigenous education, and focusing on the future job market, LPS is positioning itself as a leader in providing a dynamic and relevant education for students.

Lakehead’s educational approach is a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation, community engagement, and individual empowerment, with a promise to give every student the confidence and competence needed to navigate the road ahead.

With a top-notch plan, Lakehead Public Schools is not just educating youth for today but inspiring them for a lifetime.

AT A GLANCE

Lakehead Public Schools

WHAT: A 26-school district boasting 22 elementary, three secondaries, and an adult study center.

WHERE: Deep in Northern Ontario, Canada

WEBSITE: LakeheadSchools.ca

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