For Wayne McAndrew, working as the director of education and secretary for the new Rainy River District School Board isn’t a “far north” job.
A truly northern job would be working in Kashetchwan near James Bay, where he held one of his first teaching jobs in 1978.
“I’ve always been an outdoors person," McAndrew said. "I used to spend an extended amount of time in the north.”
McAndrew, the former director at the Atikokan Board of Education before it was merged with its Fort Frances-Rainy River counterpart, started out as a teacher in 1976.
Despite Bill 160 and the recent changes in the education system, he isn’t getting bogged down by it.
“It depends on how you look at the situation," he remarked. "Whenever there’s an issue, there’s an opportunity.”
The geography of the new board doesn’t overwhelm McAndrew, either, despite the fact it stretches some 200 miles wide. He said he’s worked in boards much larger than this one and things still managed to function.
Even though the roles of trustees remain undefined and the government’s funding model has yet to be released, McAndrew said things will manage as long as the board keeps trying to look ahead.
“You can nay-say a lot of things [right now]," he said. "But I don’t think it’s productive for the kids for us to dwell on what we had.”
McAndrew said his goal was to provide fair and equitable education set in a community atmosphere in each school. But “fair and equitable” doesn’t mean identical.
“The schools will be different but provide equal opportunities for all students," he explained. ”You want to try and encourage unique community programming.
“Otherwise, you end up with a generic education.”
Accomplishing this will require the full co-operation of trustees, McAndrew hinted. And so far, he’s impressed with the seven now sitting around the table.
“I’m very optimistic because their focus tends to be very quickly on the students, which is a good sign,” he said.
“They told me very clearly they want January through June for a grade three child to be seamless,” he stressed, saying they want the student’s life to be unaffected by the amalgamation.
“I’m pleasantly hopeful.”
One issue carried over from the old board to the new one is the “multi-use” facility in Fort Frances. McAndrew said the only way for the new board to deal with it is by not getting bogged down with the emotions attached to it.
“What we have to claim responsibility for is trying to provide the best facility we can," he said. "I’m not going to dwell on the dynamics of the last three years but we will build a top-flight school in a way we can afford.”