For the last four years, Dean Burke has enjoyed every minute he has been the principal of King Albert Public School in Lindsay. With the help of staff, students, parents and community partners Burke has worked very hard to make King Albert a place his students want to be.
Burke, a King Albert graduate himself, began teaching in 2009, and made the transition into administration as the “teacher in charge” at Our Lady of Fatima in Longlac, Ontario in 2014.
With arrival of his firstborn, his family began to look for an opportunity to return to southern Ontario to be nearer to friends and family. Dean was thrilled when he was accepted to the Trillium Lakelands District School Board principal’s pool and offered his old elementary school four years ago.
“We began work immediately to turn around the perception of the school,” Burke said. “The school needed a positive identity, built from within, and we worked with many of our stakeholders to begin to create that identity. Almost 40 per cent of our students come from outside the catchment area,” Burke added. “King Albert has a lot of positives going for it and many of our parents show that by choosing to send their child to King Albert.”
“We worked hard to create the Knights Code to articulate that school identity,” Burke continued. “The Knights Code helps students understand who we are. We are a place where we keep each other safe, where we all belong, where we right our wrongs, and most importantly, King Albert is our home. We want our student to feel safe and supported and some of them don’t want to leave here at the end of Grade 6.”
When asked about his staff, Burke was effusive with his praise.
“Every staff member in this building wants to be here. They make a positive difference every day with our kids. Our catchment area has one of the highest rates of poverty in the board and for many, it’s inter-generational poverty. We are supporting families who are dealing with both housing and food insecurity. Our support staff, educational assistants and teaching staff work hard every day make a difference with our 125 students through strong, caring, and nurturing relationships.”
Stephanie Ellis, one of Burke’s staff says the outgoing principal “has been a rock for these students and families.”
“He is one of my favourite principals to work for because he just gets it. I know there will be a hole…left by Dean because he is caring, strong, and understanding.”
When asked if the small school population is a benefit, Burke said it’s great for moving initiatives ahead quickly.
“We have strong relationships with our community because we’re able to talk to our parents every day. We leverage those relationships with them face to face and we’re able take time at the end of the day to problem solve at the curbside in person.”
With schools closed until the end of June, Burke was asked if it will be bitter-sweet to leave without seeing the students and parents one last time.
“We are disappointed that we are not closing out the year face to face. The last two years have been tough on our families and their children. Our students are pulling off amazing feats of academic success in spite of the challenges and our staff need to be recognized as they continue to deal with the complexities of ever-changing job descriptions as well as their own personal lives challenged by the pandemic. Everyone has proven to be flexible as we have pivoted from one situation to the next.”
Burke and his family are leaving Kawartha Lakes but not the board, relocating to Muskoka where Burke will be the new principal of Gravenhurst Public School beginning next September.
“There was an opportunity this year to move to Muskoka,” Burke said. “We wanted to move to Muskoka because that is where we spend the bulk of our summers. It was far easier to make the move when I saw that Darla McQuarrie, a former King Albert teacher who understands the school community, will be coming over as principal from Leslie Frost.”
Burke said the community support has been so important for King Albert which helps to level the playing field for his students.
“The United Way of Kawartha Lakes, Pastor Mike Klienhuis and the Centre Community Church, Cambridge Street United Church and St. Paul’s Anglican Church have helped us in many ways so we can focus on student success.”