Monday, 6 June 2016

Rex Ferguson-Baird

Rex Ferguson-Baird is the Principal at Brooklands Elementary School in Winnipeg. It is an geographic outlier to the St. James School Division, a tombolo poking into the central Winnipeg School Division catchment area. Some call it “the Eastern Front”. Its students and families are socio-economically much more similar to my North End school than to the rest of his division. The student population is about 55% Indigenous, and 35% new-Canadians, including recently, several Syrian families.

Somebody probably could’ve used a GPS gadget when the lines were drawn.

Rex stands about 6’5’, head shaved bald and is imposing only in stature. If some sort of “social entrepreneurial aura” exists, Rex oozes it. Friendly, attentive, confident, engaging, eager.

When he was selected as principal to Brooklands six years ago, after teaching and a short vice principal stint in more affluent schools in the division, some colleagues thought he’d been banished to the hinterland for his “squeaky wheel-ness”. When Rex arrived, the situation was if not bleak, then at least disheartening: attendance low, attrition and turnover high; poverty, family and social issues overriding; literacy & numeracy levels all over the map or unknown; staff full of heart, love and resilience, but tired and barely keeping their heads above water.

Rex spent the first few months doggedly keeping things running, physically organizing and cleaning the small school space, talking with teaching and support staff, students and their families, and running interference as best he could to external pressures. Essentially he says, “I needed to get my bearings, not on what I saw as priorities, and not on what the division saw as priorities, but on what the staff and students and families were identifying as priorities”.

“Humans are story-tellers”, he says. “And there is wisdom in those stories”.

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