Interview: Principal Mr. Peter Evans

Our principal, Mr. Peter Evans, was kind enough to answer some questions for us. If you haven’t met Mr. Evans, he is entirely approachable. Most Friday mornings he can be found at ‘Cookies in the Library’ after drop-off. We thank him for his time and attention in answering our questions.

What is your experience with Montessori? Was this something you had to ‘ramp up’ on prior to September? If so, how did you do so? 
I’ve had no prior experience with Montessori other than undergrad coursework at UBC. I’ve had experience running a community school before, so the notion of dual programs, other than a traditional program, is not new to me. Yes, I did have to “ramp up” for it. Thankfully, several of my admin colleagues were very helpful- as well as the staff here at the school. Ms. Sellars and I spent several hours discussing Montessori and what it looks like at Maple Grove versus in a more traditional setting. In addition, some of the teaching staff have loaned me books and articles that they felt would be very helpful for me. And, of course, I follow our Montessori Blog. Overall the process has, from my perspective, been rather seamless and very supportive.

What do you think are your top concerns in the school and (if applicable) with the Montessori programs? 
This is a huge question. And, there simply isn’t the time to go into as much detail as the question warrants, without skimming over, or not fully addressing some important elements of school operations. I can say, however, that in my 7 weeks at Maple Grove, I’m very pleased with a number of elements and factors regarding the school, staff, students, programming, parent support, and community context. In schools, we are always concerned about the educational environment for all children at school. We have a sincere desire for all children to feel connected and engaged with their teaching and learning experience. We are further compelled to, ensure that we address the needs of our most vulnerable students and to make sure that they do not fall through the cracks. All the research indicates that if we, as a school community, can reach out and connect with those most vulnerable students, and engage them in their learning experiences so that they experience success in their studies, then those students have a much greater likelihood of completing high school, going on to post secondary schooling, and being successful contributing adults in society.
We will be speaking more at PAC meetings about our top concerns. And, depending on those conversations, I may be writing to parents in more detail about specific areas/concerns and directions that we may need to consider going in- and how parents, as our partners in education, can help support and guide the process. We have spent the past 7 weeks examining:

  1. Technology planning, maintenance, use, Scope + Sequence and needs assessment.
  2. Assessment and reporting- as part of our Pilot Project using FreshGrade Reporting software
  3. Assessment and Evaluation of student learning profiles and how to accurately set programs that engage students in their learning so that we can identify and teach to areas of strength and weakness
  4. Early Intervention, Early Literacy and vulnerable learners
  5. Allocation of Resource Staffing compared to the needs of our student population in relation to present allotments
  6. Regarding the Montessori piece of the question, while Maple Grove doesn’t offer a traditional Montessori program as such, I am convinced, after seven weeks, that the staff that we have a place in the Montessori program offer an amazing Montessori experience with the materials, and resources that they have available to them. In part they are hamstrung by the organization and funding of the school, but they are wonderfully supported by our parent community and our PAC is very generous in supporting and enhancing the Montessori program schoolwide. In fact, I want to pause to note, our PAC has truly been a valuable partner in supporting the teaching and learning that take place at Maple Grove and I look forward to working closely with the PAC to ensure that we provide the absolute best and most robust educational experience for all of our students.

We refer to the coexistence of programs as “dual track” and occasionally it does feel a bit competitive and separate. Did you feel that coming into Maple Grove? What are some of the unique challenges you see being principal of a dual track school? Do you seek more cooperation and unification and, if so, how can we achieve that? 

While I originally shared the concerns that dual track schools often have competing tracks and they can be challenging to orchestrate and manage- that hasn’t been my experience with Maple Grove. I’m actually quite pleased with the way the two tracks work and the way the PAC and the PAC Executive is truly representative of the whole school. I think the credit for this is shared between the teaching staff who have a professional appreciation and respect for one another as well as a sincere desire to work collaboratively. I think a lot of the credit should go to Ms. Monica Tang, our PAC Chairperson, and her team on the PAC Executive. Monica truly stands for the rights and interests of all parents and students in the school- regardless of their track and she works diligently and tirelessly to ensure that things are equitable and equally distributed amongst the school community (Thank you Monica!!).

Some of the challenges the Principal faces in a dual track school are pretty similar to what you can imagine. When you have two different philosophies coming together and working under one roof, there needs to be a mutual appreciation for each other. It’s been my experience with the Maple Grove community that this exists- and it’s pretty sincere and organic in nature. As a side note –I conduct “fireside chats” with each and every adult that works in this building. In the course of those meetings I talk about a number of educational items and concerns that administrators have as well as asking the staff three essential questions: what do you like about Maple Grove? What’s not working for you? And if you could change anything, or do anything different what would it be? I tell you this, because I want to share with you the overwhelming theme that is common amongst all of the “Fireside chats” that I have with staff. Without a doubt the number one thing that staff mention about this school is that they love working with one another. They feel a close connection to one another (you don’t get that in every workplace environment) and they feel incredibly supported by the parents at the school and they thoroughly enjoy working with the students on a daily basis as they’re very thoughtful and respectful kids. It’s like in sports when you get a team that gels nicely- like our 2015 Bluejays- there’s a synergy on the Maple Grove team that’s natural and organic in nature. The staff enjoy their work and one another. Additionally, they all say that the students at Maple Grove make the place! The kids are very polite, respectful and wonderful. We have Teachers-On-Call (TOC’s) who request to come back here and ask if we’re hiring. And of course, the staff always mention the parental support for the programs, help at home, volunteering around the school and amazing culture that you help to create.

I think my leadership style is pretty open, consultative and collaborative in nature. So yes I do seek unification and cooperation. This job is all about relationship building– we are a human organization that requires excellent interpersonal communication skills and the ability to see the larger picture. I think by treating people in an open, honest, and caring manner, they recognize the sincere approach and therefore they’re more likely to take risks and trust the process and work to make this school even better than it’s previously been. So far so good!

The Montessori stream is non-catchment and many of our students do not live in our geographic neighbourhood and are driven to school. In your opinion does that make it harder to build community? How does that factor influence initiatives such as the “walk/bike to school weeks”?
Well, I don’t think it makes it harder to build community, because we’re all under one roof– where we come from doesn’t really matter. We all bring our own experiences and backgrounds to school. What really matters is what we do with it when we’re at school. And building community starts with a respect for this place, respect for each other, and respect for ourselves as individuals. The 3 R’s is actually a great Code of Conduct for a school. Sure site specific initiatives such as bike to work week are more challenging… but in the bigger picture- our day to day interactions with one another and our enculturalization- that’s what makes the difference! We have fantastic teachers and parents at Maple Grove who’ve chosen to come here and work to educate their child. These are the people who make a difference and set the tone of the school year. They are the ones who enculturate the school and model for students daily that we are all part of a bigger context.

We’ve all heard about the new curriculum… could you please give us a brief description of the coming changes? How do you think the new curriculum will impact the Montessori program at Maple Grove? 
Much of the new curriculum is already being taught in schools. There has been a fundamental shift in using technology as a tool to support the learning process. Learning is personalized and individualized so that students are engaged in their learning experience. That being said, you will notice the following changes:

  1. A conscious effort to make curriculum more flexible to better enable teachers to innovate and personalize learning.
  2. An effort to greatly reduce the prescriptive nature of current curricula while ensuring a solid focus on essential learning.
  3. The new curriculum tries to focus on higher order learning, giving emphasis to the key concepts and enduring understandings (big ideas) that students need to succeed in their education and their lives.
  4. The new curriculum makes explicit the cross-curricular competencies that support life-long learning.
  5. The new curriculum appears to respect the inherent logic and unique nature of the disciplines while supporting efforts to develop cross-curricular units.
  6. The new curriculum also seems to integrate Aboriginal worldviews and knowledge.
  7. The new curriculum develops assessment and evaluation programs that align with the changed emphases in curriculum.

I don’t see a significant impact of the new curriculum on the Montessori program at Maple Grove school. In fact, I see many similar and congruent elements intertwined in the new BC curriculum as it relates to the Montessori education primarily the personalized station and independent nature of children’s learning. Our Montessori staff are presently discussing this and looking at how our Maple Grove context fits with the new curriculum. More to come on this matter.

What is the one thing that Montessori parents can do to help support you, our teachers, and the school (other than by responding to the PAC Donation Campaign!)?

Well, we believe that parents are partners in a child’s education. Truly, nobody knows your child better than you. You are their best advocate. The teachers at Maple Grove have, at the center of their being, your child’s best interests at heart. Therefore, everything that we do here at the school is centered on what’s in the best interest of children and their learning and their education as a whole. When people come together with that common ground, it’s hard for anything to go wrong. So, the staff are looking forward to working with parents as partners in their child’s education, and just knowing that you are supportive, caring and willing to participate in the process makes the job of educating children just that much easier. Of course we appreciate the financial donations to the PAC makes. With today’s educational budgetary restraints, it’s hard for us to make ends meet and provide an enriching and robust experience for all the children at school– the support of PAC goes a long way to making this possible.

Here’s to a great year!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s