École Mountview principal Cathy Gukert was recently nominated for and awarded the honour of being one of the top 40 principals in Canada.
Gukert’s title was presented by the Learning Partnership, a national non-for-profit organization that, according to their web site, aims to build strong collaboration, share information and develop new solutions for publicly-funded Canadian education.
“It was such an honour to receive this award. To be honest, the award is wonderful and I’m not downplaying that, but my first reaction came from the honour that a number of my colleagues here in Red Deer took the time to put together the nomination package. That’s quite a lot of work – it needs a lot of research and time commitment to even put that package together,” said Gukert.
“I am honoured to win the award, but before that, to have been nominated by my colleagues and some of the parents here at Mountview is an even bigger honour.”
Gukert has been an educator in the Red Deer district for over 20 years. She said that Red Deer has been a special district for her to teach in because of the collaboration and connectivity of the educators and administration throughout the area.
“Specifically, working in Red Deer is great. Red Deer Public Schools is a phenomenal district where I have worked as a teacher, a vice-principal and a principal. Neither of my previous districts was as collegial or as collaborative. The quality of the people and the sense of teamwork – both at the school level and district level – make it great,” she said.
“Everyone here is really looking to make the very best experience that we can for the children. Other districts I worked in did that as well, but not in the way that Red Deer does. The district is big enough to have what we need, but to collaborate and really know each other.”
Gukert said something that makes her job special is the staff at Mountview and the strong support of parents in the school.
“I really appreciate the strong parent support that we have at our school. It makes a big difference for the kids – it’s very clear in research – when parents are involved in their education. They already have an advantage. I of course have to comment on the amazing kids at this school as well,” she said.
Gukert said she moved into an administration position almost by accident. She said that after a brief stint in teaching in a classroom, she came back to be a principal because she felt that she had the chance to reach more students this way.
“I feel that when you’re a teacher, you have influence over your own class, and a little bit in the school. When you’re a principal or vice-principal, you have influence over more classes and a little bit in the district. I like being part of the bigger picture, and having more children that I connect with.”
As part of Gukert’s award, she was flown out to Toronto courtesy of the Learning Partnership. In Toronto, Gukert and the other 39 principals recognized as ‘innovative educators’ were hosted at an annual gala, and then experienced a five-day leadership-training program at the Rotman School of Management.
Gukert said the leadership training and skill development was a great experience. She and the other principals spoke with CEOs of companies like Samsung Canada and Sleep Country Canada, to name a couple.
“A lot of the discussion was around how the ideas of leadership are similar for members of both private and public sectors. The other main theme we discussed was how to prepare students for the world of work, and how the skills needed are changing. It’s not so much knowledge-based skills but more of a focus on 21st century competency skills like collaboration, communication and problem-solving analysis.”
Cam Pizzey, vice-principal, was one of six people to nominate Gukert. He said that there were a number of reasons for doing so.
“She really promotes a collaborative environment and promotes leadership in her school. She believes in allowing people to become leaders. Communication is very important to her – she communicates to staff, students and parents to keep everyone involved,” he said.
Pizzey added that fairness and equity are very important to Gukert.
“She looks at all angles before she makes a decision because she always wants it to be the most fair and equitable decision it can be. Her work ethic is really second to none, and she is highly respected at the district level.”
Gukert said she is interested in seeing how she can share the information she learned with her other colleagues. She said she is also going to look into bringing more Learning Partnership programs to the Red Deer Public School District.
“I think that I am just so fortunate that the group of peers I have took time to make that nomination. Frankly, I think any one of my principal colleagues could and should get this award and this honour. It just takes a group of people to put the nomination together. I don’t see myself as standing out from the crowd, it was more that I had a crowd that stood behind me.”