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Agent of social change: Innovative northwestern Ontario educator moving south

The director of education with the Keewatin Patricia District School Board in northwestern Ontario is leaving to take over the same role with the Director of Education for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board. Sean Monteith is known for many progressive initiatives.

Sean Monteith spent 25 years with Keewatin Patricia District School Board helping create many new programs

Sean Monteith, director of education for the Keewatin Patricia District School Board, says he's excited about his new role with the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board but sad to be leaving northwestern Ontario. (KPDSB)

A familiar face will be missing when classes resume this fall at the Keewatin Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) in northwestern Ontario.

After 25 years with the board, serving in every role from elementary and high school teacher to prinicipal, and now as Director of Education, Sean Monteith said he has "mixed emotion" about leaving to take on the job of the Director of Education for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in eastern Ontario.

Monteith is known for many progressive initiatives, including the  Four Directions Graduation Coach which has helped Indigenous students graduate on par with their non-Indigenous classmates, the first-ever Hockey Canada Skills Academy programs, and the opening of the new Sioux North high school in Sioux Lookout.

'More than just a school board'

Sean Monteith says its bittersweet to leave his job as the director of education for the Keewatin Patricia District School Board in northwestern Ontario. But he says he's excited to share his belief that schools can be powerful agents of social change as part of his new job as Director of Education at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board in southern Ontario. He spoke with the CBC's Cathy Alex. 9:06

"I have always believed we needed to be more than just a school board," said Monteith, noting that although he is "sad" to be leaving the KPDSB, he is "excited" about the opportunity to share his belief that schools can be powerful agents of social change.

KPDSB covers a large geographical area with schools in 11 communities, some of which are hundreds of kilometres apart, as well serving the educational needs of many neighbouring and far north First Nations.

It is a region plagued by higher levels of addiction, poverty, intergenerational trauma and suicide.

"I am a firm believer that the only, and best vehicle for interuppting the cycle of all those things is education. And that's more than literacy. It's about graduating," said Monteith, who has attended many high school graduaiton ceremonies throughout the region.

High school diploma 'not just a piece of paper'

"Sometimes people say a high school diploma is just a piece of paper. Well I'm here to tell you it's not just a piece of paper. It is an opportunity that is hard-earned for many young people and sometimes adults," he said "and I do believe that with that high school diploma comes an opportunity to move on and do something."

Monteith believes the decisions made by the school board has helped communities take action on issues like social housing, health care, and crisis response.

"I don't think we are just a leader, I think in some of our areas we are The leader."

His years with the board "have changed me profoundly," said Monteith.

"I'd like to think it's made me a more pensive and perhaps a more grounded person, but also a more hopeful and optimistic person for the future."

Monteith assumes his new role in August.

You can hear the full CBC Superior Morning interview here.