Friday, 15 December 2017 03:58

Long time Swift Current educator retires

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The longest serving founding director of the amalgamated school divisions in Saskatchewan has announced his retirement at the end of the school year.

Chinook School Division's Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo made the announcement to staff at the Chinook Education Centre in Swift Current, Dec. 11.
He has been an educator for 31 years, and he acknowledged it was not an easy decision.
“I’m usually fairly pragmatic and I can compartmentalize things, and so I just deal with whatever is coming up, and move on to the next thing,” he said. “This one, it’s been different. It’s kind of a weird thought that I’m not coming to Chinook anymore and as I mentioned, 48 years, come fall, I was off to school in some way, shape or form, and this fall I won’t be. So it’s going to be quite different, but I think it’s time and I’m at peace with my decision.”
Dr. Shane Andrus, the chair of the Chinook School Division board of trustees, expressed gratitude towards Choo-Foo for his years of service as an educator.
“Liam has had a very important, very strong role as an education leader in our division and throughout the province,” he said. “It’s a very significant contribution that he’s made.”
He described Choo-Foo as an easy-going person who was able to provide leadership in an empathetic way.
“His long service to Chinook and his contributions to all of the children and education over his very long career is commendable,” Dr. Andrus said.
“The education community and all stakeholders have benefitted from this long-term commitment of solid, faithful leadership through some challenging and changing times.”
Choo-Foo grew up in southeastern Saskatchewan and in 1987 he completed a Bachelor of Education at the University of Saskatchewan. His first teaching job was as a senior math and science teacher at the K-12 school in Wapella. He took a year off in 1994 to complete a Master of Education at the University of Saskatchewan.
He has been in administration of education for 28 years, and for 16 of those years he has been a director of education.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure and honour to have been able to fulfil that position for that period of time,” he said. “It has been rewarding, exciting, sometimes frustrating, but always fun to come to work.”
During his career as an administrator he has been responsible for 79 different schools in 61 different communities and for 4,800 staff. He worked with 26 different boards, and in southwest Saskatchewan he worked with eight different board chairs.
“We don’t always see eye to eye, its not always utopia, but I’ve come to respect every board chair I’ve worked with, because I’ve gotten to know them better,” he said.
“That’s what I found – this industry is a relationship industry. It’s about getting to know people. When you understand their perspective and their context, it helps in having civil conversations, constructive conversations, rather than destructive conversations, and that’s been a treat.”
As director of education for Chinook School Division he oversaw the amalgamation of nine school divisions in southwest Saskatchewan. There were many changes, including the city-wide facility upgrades in Swift Current.
“I’m a bit of an implementer,” he said. “I really like to figure out what it is that needs to be done and then put the team in place to get it done, and that’s probably what brought some of the greatest satisfaction to my career, getting stuff done, but doing it in a way that build team.”
Team work has been an important part of the implementation of the Chinook School Division's Balanced Literacy and Math Momentum initiatives, and he is proud of the Premier's Award presented to the school division in 2013 for the levelled literacy intervention program.
“Chinook has become one of the most highly regarded systems in the province, illustrated by the Premier’s Award that we won,” he said. “That was a real highlight.”
Choo-Foo is on a one-year secondment to the Ministry of Education in Regina since April, where he is working as the chief project officer for provincial initiatives.
“I will finish out my one year commitment there, and then I’ve committed to the board here that whatever role I can play until the end of the school year to have a successful transition to the new leadership for the division, I’m willing to play that role,” he said.
His family moved six times across southern Saskatchewan during his career, but they have established deep roots in Swift Current and their intention is to remain in the community. Choo-Foo will take some time after his retirement to decide what he wants to do next.
“The advice I always give to our own staff is wait three months and decompress a little bit, and then decide what you’re going to do in the next phase,” he said. “So I’m going to take some of that advice myself. I think there will be lots of opportunities. Educators sell themselves short on the number of skills they develop over the course of their career that are applicable to other areas.”
He has been thinking about possibly doing consultation work, not only related to education, but with regard to executive coaching, board governance and strategic planning.
Dr. Shane Andrus said the board will provide details about the transition in the near future, but for the moment Kyle McIntyre will continue to remain the acting director of education for Chinook School Division. McIntyre has been in that role since Choo-Foo's secondment to the Ministry of Education in April.
“One of the things Liam has been very intentional about, is making sure his part of the transition has been structured and put in place,” Dr. Andrus noted. “So the leadership team simply will continue to serve.”

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Matthew Liebenberg


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