'Mrs. R' retires from UCHS

Unity Composite High School hosted a retirement afternoon, May 23, to honour principal Maureen Robertson as she closes the book on a long and accomplished career.

More than 60 people, including family, friends, community members and current and former staff as well as some students, gathered to acknowledge "Mrs. R." A number of speakers took the podium to share their congratulations and express their thanks to Mrs. Robertson.

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MC, vice-principal Ruth Cey said Robertson made a notable comment just the day previous - "I wish people could see what I get to see in the kids" - demonstrating her love of the career path she had chosen.

Chair of the PSCC, positive school climate committee, Melissa Acton, described Mrs. Robertson using words like "her energy, her passion, love of her job." She stated teaching for Robertson was not just a job, it was a calling.

Neil Ehnisz spoke on behalf of the staff in a more lighthearted tone, offering some witty comments that broke the crowd into laughter.

Cathy Herrick, from the Living Sky School Division, also offered key words to describe Robertson's career: "humour, humility, positive affirmations." She commended Robertson for being a memorable person.

Director of education for Living Sky School Division, Randy Fox thanked Robertson for all she had done during both her teaching career and her leadership of UCHS. He acknowledged Mrs. Robertson always worked to create better opportunities for kids.

Robertson closed, saying her years of success were in large part due to the support of her family. She said her leadership role was made easier because she had such a great team to work with, and a great community to be part of. She believes in the school and its mandate and described her career as a great journey.

I previously went to UCHS on a March day that seemed no different than any other. Yet the school office door opened and closed many times; all the while the phone repeatedly rang. Students and teachers were in and out, needing or wanting something that the office needed to provide. Mrs. Robertson walked in, cheerful and calm. In a matter of minutes she not only greeted me, but manned a laptop seeking out a student's whereabouts and directing an EA to their next assignment. All this done without a bead of sweat developing or a sign of stress showing; her years of experience and calm demeanour were evident in the handling of what appeared to be a chaotic atmosphere.

Her career has spanned five decades starting at UCHS in 1972 as a music teacher and later resurrecting the band program as music was her university major, with psychology, health and physical education as her minors.

Maureen Robertson then moved to Humboldt with her husband and young children to teach Grades 7, 8 and 2 in the Catholic school system. She left Humboldt in late 1981 to take a two-month position at UPS. Robertson then worked part time at Unity Composite High School until 2000 when she went full-time. In 2003, she took over the vice-principal position under the leadership of Todd Schmekel. In the fall of 2008, Robertson became the principal at UCHS, alongside vice-principal Cey.

Mrs. R. worked under seven principals. It is easy to read the passion in her answers and in her eyes as she remembers her career in the education system. She started with Alex Dickson and worked under his leadership for four years. This, she recalls, was a time when there were 33 kids in each room and four classes each of Grades 7, 8 and 9, making over 130 students in each grade and around 400 students that she was teaching. Grad classes then exceeded 100 students.

Robertson remarked how Dickson's mandate was built on respect and management, in a teaching environment where classes were large and prep time didn't exist. Report cards were vastly different than they are today, including one reporting sheet for every student and every subject. Teachers had to include attendance records, student marks and teacher comments, signed by the teacher, all done by hand.

Ken Passler was the next principal with whom Robertson worked and she admired his pride in valuing community and his staff. She also marvelled at his method of using the one-minute manager where he noted the great strengths in his staff and students, helping affirm the positives in themselves.

Robertson said she then worked under the amazing leadership of Bob Eltom, who also later filled in as interim principal during Robertson's tenure at UCHS. Eltom's theme was "take care of the little things and then they won't be big things." He stressed the value of school and how school could get you what you needed. Bob believed volunteering was important. During Eltom's leadership at UCHS, Robertson was encouraged and given space to start counselling students as he recognized the value of this service.

Elaine Davidson was the next principal to work with Robertson. She encouraged students to advance their skills through extra- curricular activities and thereby demonstrate their leadership.

Cathy Herrick was next in line as principal of UCHS. Robertson quoted Herrick saying this is something she has learned to live by: "seek first to understand, then to be understood." Herrick instilled the vision of building a positive culture at UCHS. Under her guidance as a principal, the positive school climate committee was developed and the three beliefs were adopted at UCHS. Cathy believed strongly in professional development. Robertson believes Herrick's leadership is the foundation for the positive culture at UCHS to flourish.

For a five-year period, the last principal Robertson worked under was Todd Schmekel. She served as vice-principal under Todd and they developed a lasting friendship. Schmekel showed her the value of shared leadership. He instilled confidence in Robertson and reiterated the importance of responding to parents as quickly as possible. She appreciated that Todd gave her free reign to continue to develop the climate of the school. He also embraced technology and showed his staff the value of using it.

When Mrs. Robertson took over as principal, she asked herself "Who am I as a principal and what can I give to the community and to UCHS?" She decided to take a piece from everyone she had worked under and use it to help her pave the way in her leadership role. She counted her amazing staff as one of the reasons her goals worked.

She and Ms. Cey developed a leadership partnership that developed into a strong friendship. Robertson gets teary reflecting on the amazing journey that she and Ms. Cey embarked upon just six years ago. She stated that she could not have succeeded in her goals without the incredible support of Ms. Cey.

Her passion has always been to continue the development of a positive culture at UCHS. Robertson was instrumental in starting the student success board at the front entry, the positive postcards issued by teachers to students and their parents and the Ordinary Joe and the Warrior of the Month certificates. She believes students' attendance is a huge factor to their learning success and therefore held students and parents accountable for their attendance.

As well, she was part of the ease of transition from a five-period to a six-period timetable. She kept French at UCHS by developing a partnership with UPS and sharing teachers Ms. Riddell and Mrs. David. During her leadership, the School Community Council was formed as well as the UTEC school module with Mrs. Snell and Ms. Cey as guides to its success.

Robertson is very proud of her 30 years of commitment to the SADD group that included attending, with students, 25 national SADD events, visiting every province of our country except Newfoundland. How rewarding to work with a youth organization that has changed the laws regarding drinking and driving!

Even though some of the projects Mrs. R developed were huge successes such as Grade 9s visiting long-term care, there definitely were challenges. These included the implementation of the new pathways in math, the different ways to get credits for students, the new assessment system, the new student data system, declining enrollments and teacher cuts. It all came and, as an instructional leader, it was up to her to have everyone support the changes.

She encouraged plenty of professional development and support for teachers and encouraged teachers to share their concerns as well as their success stories. Teachers developed trust in each other and with this in place the transitions were capably managed.

One of her proudest moments was hearing from two retired principals and others who sub at UCHS. They marvel at the respect students demonstrate and the positive culture that is enhanced at UCHS. She remarked they indeed wanted to come back and substitute in this positive environment.

Her biggest success story is most definitely the culture in the school, built on a foundation of the three beliefs of respect, responsibility and choosing to learn, within staff and students alike. She is proud the school has graduated highly educated people and entrepreneurs, in addition to the success stories included on their Wall of Honour.

She has said she honestly can't name one biggest influence in her educational career but rather she was able to take something from each of the principals she worked with. She said her staff have been a large part of her success story. And, of course, her students, who, she says, she has learned from each and every day of her career.

She started in the days of 34 teachers with no prep time and has evolved or de-evolved to 15.5 teachers with 10 per cent prep time. The emergence of different cultures at UCHS, the changes in curriculum, the advances in technology and the supports from Central Office have all contributed to the different face of UCHS, a positive face and a face that will provide a strong future for all students who enter the UCHS doors.

Robertson plans to take retirement to spend more time with her three amazing grandchildren and their families. She wants to travel. She and her husband have seen a MLB game in 17 major league stadiums and plan to attend in 13 more to complete the circle. She still wants to see a World Series. She also plans to clean her house and do some major purging. And she has a vested interest in the anti-bullying program which she wants to continue work on in the future.

Living Sky School Division board member, Ronna Pethick, comments, "I've had the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Robertson for over 20 years - first in her capacity as a teacher teaching my three children and later as vice-principal, then principal at UCHS.

"Maureens's support for all students and staff are indicative of her commitment and her passion for education. Her positive attitude, high energy, enthusiasm and sense of humour are only a few of the qualities that define this leader. Robertson's focus on students and building positive relationships in and out of the classroom is very evident from her work with the Students Against Drinking and Driving club to her involvement in the community with volunteering outside of the school as a fastball scorekeeper, announcer and hosting chair of Junior Western Canadians to name a few.

"I would like to thank Maureen for her dedication and leadership at UCHS and to Living Sky School Division. I wish Maureen every happiness and success as she moves on to the next chapter of her life."

UCHS teacher, Ken Parker, adds some humour to his thoughts on Mrs. Robertson at the school: "I have had to go and cover Maureen's life skills Grade 9 classes a few times in her absence. The topics that she left me to present make me glad that I regularly teach math. Her ability to be straight forward with students on those life topics sets her above and beyond the rest. She will be missed."

UCHS will now have former vice-principal Ruth Cey as their principal and Mr. Parker will take over in the role of vice-principal.

As tears start to form in Robertson's eyes, they aren't necessarily tears of sadness at the thought of departure but also tears of pride in a job she has been proud of doing and tears recalling many fond memories from her career. In closing, Robertson got slightly emotional, fondly remembering her career and knowing she will be leaving it, saying there are many things about this career she will miss but the students will certainly be one of those she will miss the most.

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