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Sea to Sky school district superintendent honored with prestigious provincial award

Lisa McCullough says award for district leadership represents a 'particularly special honour'



The superintendent of the Sea to Sky corridor's school district has been singled out for a major provincial honour for her commitment to helping B.C. students succeed.

Lisa McCullough, superintendent of School District 48 (SD48), was awarded one of 10 Premier's Awards for Excellence in Education at a ceremony in Victoria on Oct. 5.

McCullough said that while she feels a tad "awkward" when it comes to receiving awards, she felt honoured to see the school district recognized for the significant advancements it has made in improving graduation rates in recent years.

"It is a privilege to represent the district in my role all the time—but this is a particularly special honour," said McCullough. "There has been a lot of hard work and learning over the years. For the district to have its work recognized is special."

This year's 10 winners, chosen from 140 nominations received between January and April 2019 and narrowed down to 30 finalists, were announced at a ceremony held at Government House with Premier John Horgan, Education Minister Rob Fleming, and Lt. Gov. Janet Austin in attendance.

McCullough won in the category of district leadership and was recognized for leading the school district through a carefully planned, collaborative and strategic initiative (known as the Pathways to Leadership Plan) that has resulted in significant success for the district.

Since adopting the Pathways to Leadership Plan back in 2012, the school district has seen a significant rise in graduation rates, with an overall graduation rate that is "virtually at 100 per cent," said McCullough.

The district has also seen dramatic improvements in the graduation rates of its Indigenous learners, with over 96 per cent of students with Indigenous ancestry graduating last year.

That compares to a graduation of about 35 per cent in 2011, prior to the plan's adoption.

Suspension rates among all students have also dropped in recent years, said McCullough.

"Suspension rates have gone from the hundreds to about a dozen a year, and only under very extreme circumstances," she said.

McCullough said that advancing the plan has been a team effort.

"There is a lot of hard work that has gone into these results, from our students, their families and the communities, and then, of course, the staff, who have worked tirelessly to change the way we do things," said McCullough.

A big focus, she said, has been on developing learning plans that are individualized to students.

"We have learned to focus in on our most vulnerable learners, and sort of scan what's happening for them and what kinds of supports they are needing and asking for," she said.

What's gleaned can, in turn, be used to develop "universal supports" that benefit all students.

"In business, they would call it, 'scaling up.' In our field, we would call it creating a universal support," she said.

The district has also been able to access important funding that has made the improvements possible, spending about $1.5 million in technology in recent years, said McCullough.

As a winner, McCullough will receive a $3,000 personal bursary for professional learning and a $2,000 contribution to the school community for professional learning.

Overall, though, McCullough underlined that the win is about the district, students, and parents working collaboratively to improve educational outcomes, not her.

"It's important to draw attention to the work that our staff and community have been doing," she said. "This is the most critical work of our time, and everybody needs to be doing the work."