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‘The connections I have here are deep’: SD57’s new superintendent ready to lead

Heitman says she wants to create stability for the district as it goes through a transition
SD 57 superintendent Heitman Cindy
Cindy Heitman is the new superintendent of SD57, it was announced Friday.

Newly appointed School District No. 57 (SD57) Superintendent Cindy Heitman says she has a deep connection to the community and is honoured to be able to step into the role permanently.

On. Jan. 28, SD57 announced that Heitman would be taking over as superintendent after a year in the role of acting superintendent.

She took over as acting superintendent in January 2021 when Anita Richardson went on leave after just one year as superintendent.

Prior to that, the board hired Rod Allen as interim superintendent in May 2019 after Marilyn Marquis-Forster resigned less than three years after she was hired in 2016 to replace long-time superintendent Brian Pepper.

“I am a long-time resident of Prince George and I have been a member of this learning community as a student, teacher, school based leader, and senior leader” said Heitman, in an interview with the Prince George Citizen.

“The connections I have here are deep and I know many people who work in our schools and I believe that will be a focus to create stability and reassurance to the community that I am here to support learning and lead the district through the transformations that we are currently going through. “

Heitman says one of her goals is to oversee the implementation of the five-year strategic plan, which she had the opportunity to help develop throughout last year.

“Now we are in year one of the implementation so knowing that I will be able to continue leading the work of the strategic plan through and to the end of the five years is something I am really looking forward to and also the implementation of the recommendations from the special advisors.”  

In February 2021, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside had appointed special advisors Kory Wilson and Catherine McGregor to review governance practices at the SD57.

A special advisor’s report was then released in August and was based on 56 interviews and a review of documents and found systemic anti-Indigenous racism and a “substantial culture of fear” within the district.

It then outlined 45 recommendations for improvement and the district is currently working on a draft plan for implementing the recommendations.

Heitman said she is looking forward to dig in and see those recommendations through and to support Indigenous learners and close achievement gaps.

“I think the commitment this district is making in terms of Truth and Reconciliation and acknowledging Canada’s true history is really important so that we can move forward and help close those gaps,” said Heitman.

“I think there are so many members of our community who can help guide us with this work and accessing our knowledge holders and Elders to be able to teach us is super important.”

The special advisors also recommend that the province commission a broader probe into B.C. schools similar to "In Plain Sight," a report on anti-Indigenous racism in the health-care system by retired judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. 

They said since SD57 has a particularly high number of Indigenous learners and the post-report response could be a model for other jurisdictions.

“With work we need to do towards truth and reconciliation there are some big shifts that need to be changed structurally and systematically and that is tough to do so I see that as being our biggest hurdle,” said Heitman.

“How do we do this work in a very colonial system or do we need to re-evaluate that system but do our work in a way that is more inclusive to the community we live in and the lands we reside on?”

As the new superintendent, Heitman said she is most looking forward to seeing an increase in graduation rates and an increase in students feeling like they belong and are welcomed in schools.

“Education really takes an entire community, and I am looking forward to working not only with our staff and students but also the broader community and including parents in the work we need to do,” said Heitman.

“It’s all of our work. It’s everybody’s work and being able to see our kids through pre-K and some of our early learning programs and all the way through to where they want to be in life is something I am really looking forward to do in Prince George.”