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Jim Ansell, the new School District 69 (Qualicum) superintendent said he could be planning his retirement, but the field of education is too interesting for him to leave now.
With over 34 years as a teacher and school administrator, he worked in a 29-student Kindergarten to Grade 10 school in Bamfield and was principal of a 1,500-student high school in Port Alberni. He taught a variety of subjects at the elementary, middle and high school levels and most recently spent four years as the assistant superintendent in Campbell River.
In all he spent 25 years as a vice-principal and principal, “a real diversity of experiences,” he said, that have led him to the conclusion that education is undergoing massive changes.
“The school system hasn’t changed a whole lot since the late 1800s, compared to areas like medicine or technology,” he said.
But now, “The world is changing dramatically, our current model — an expert at the front of the class filling the students with info — is changing, the technology is forcing us to change.”
“Educators have been the holders of knowledge. Now we all have a smartphone in our pocket.”
He said aside from the direct impact of students working differently on computers and increasing numbers doing online courses, the actual educational approach is changing.
“Now our work is about how to understand and evaluate the information, there’s some great stuff out there but there’s a lot of nonsense,” he said of the facts and dates that students used to memorize, but can now just look up.
“We have to provide them with the skills to process and understand the information.”
Ansell started his new job Aug. 1 but said he’s impressed with the ongoing work in the district.
“So far it looks like there’s lots of great collaboration going on,” he said of work with various partner groups and there are “lots of great programs that use community mentors, especially around the challenges at KSS (Kwalikum Secondary School). We’re blessed in this community with a lot of people with huge expertise.”
He’s impressed by the district’s work on the early years of education, the Family Place project and high school dual credit programs, helping students earn post secondary credits and skills while still in high school.
“We want to provide students with opportunities to work in what they’re interested in,” he said, adding the provincial government is currently reviewing graduation requirements specifically in terms of things that block students who are good in one area — he gave the example of welding — but bad in others, like math.
“Why should a student like that be blocked from graduating,” he said.
Born and raised in the Vancouver area, Ansell spent 20 years in Merritt before getting back to the coast, moving to the Island in 1998 where he has been since, including time living in Oceanside and commuting to Port Alberni.
He has now settled back in the area with his wife, a Nanaimo principal. He and his wife each have two grown children from previous marriages, and they have one grandchild.
The week before students return to school, Ansell said he’s excited about getting the year started and he’s “delighted with the talents of the team here in the district.”