Envisioning the future of public education in Waterloo Region3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Around the Region showcases the work of community partners. For March, Waterloo District School Board Director of Education jeewan chanicka reflects on the first six months of his role and the board’s goals for public education in 2022.
Written by: Alison Merchant, Waterloo Region District School Board
Wednesdays are jeewan chanicka’s favourite day of the week. After taking over the role of Director of Education at the Waterloo Region District School Board in August 2021, chanicka made a plan to visit schools most Wednesdays. He managed to reach over 100 schools of 122 in the district before the Winter Break, when COVID restrictions put a temporary pause to the visits. Each week, he would meet outside with staff and students, and listen to their thoughts, ideas and concerns.
“I know that the decisions I make as Director have an immediate impact on the students and staff in WRDSB schools. For me, it’s crucial to have direct and open communication with those that I serve,” said chanicka. “For that reason, these school visits are one of my favourite parts of the job. It lets me meet with the people that make up our system, and hear all the great feedback and ideas they have.”
chanicka’s career began in early childhood education and adult literacy. During the past 20 years as an educator, he held a variety of teaching and leadership positions within the York Region District School Board, the Toronto District School Board, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Education. In 2019, he assumed the role of CEO in Dubai to develop the blueprint for a growing district of schools across the Middle East.
The foundation of chanicka’s path to the Waterloo Region District School Board is built on the many roles he’s held in education, but when you speak to him, he focuses on his experiences: migrating to Trinidad where he attended school; dealing with homelessness and needing foodbanks as a young person in Toronto; and as a parent, advocating for his racialized sons and his non-neurotypical daughter who has a disability. He is acutely aware that each student, staff member and community member has similar or other realities that they live with while attending school, teaching or supporting a student’s learning. His desire to build relationships, understand their realities, and genuine concern for each person, is what underpins his work.
Now that he is settled into the role of Director of Education, chanicka is focused on the future of public education in the Waterloo Region; what it means to support students to be ready for the 22nd century, to lead Canada and the world.
The path to achieving this, chanicka explains, involves reimagining what an education system looks like, using leading-edge research and student voice to drive improvements across the WRDSB.
chanicka sees the spirit of innovation in the Waterloo Region as a great strength and wants to apply that innovative culture to public education as well.
“Waterloo Region is full of innovation and the spirit of entrepreneurship in our community has created one of the world’s largest tech sectors,” said chanicka. “By fostering a culture of innovation at our schools, we will prepare students for the world they will graduate into, the world where they will live and work.”
Another priority is supporting the wellbeing of students and ensuring that they see themselves reflected in the work being done by the board. This includes partnering with families and communities to support the needs of all students.
“Student-directed learning and a system that prioritizes students’ voices and gives them a seat at the table, builds up their confidence, and in turn, leads to a greater sense of personal achievement,” said chanicka. “I want every child to feel supported to be their best selves and to reach their highest potential.”