‘I want to continue to reinforce the value that independent schools bring to B.C.’
As the new Executive Director of the Federation of Independent schools, Shawn Chisholm sees education as, “a liberating force for people around the world.”
While that kind of language might seem more appropriate for developing countries, Shawn also believes it aptly applies to industrialized nations like Canada. This understanding arises out of his belief that education is integral to families.
“The independent school system allows parents to make choices that reflect their values and beliefs,” he says.
As the former principal of St. Ann’s Academy, a Catholic school based in Kamloops, B.C., Shawn comes to FISA after having worked for the Catholic school system for more than two decades.
No stranger to FISA, he has already served on the board for many years, and speaks happily about what he describes as the “high quality” and “goodwill” of all its members.
As the new Executive Director, Shawn has three goals:
Number one is his aim to visit all schools, from all five of the FISA associations, within five years. He hopes to get to 60 of them in 2018 to 2019. “I want to see what our FISA member schools are doing and learn about their successes and their challenges and determine how FISA can support them,” he says.
He notes that if he stuck to the Vancouver Lower Mainland and Victoria, it would be relatively easy to visit a lot of schools quickly, but he has no intention of doing that. During the regional professional development sessions planned for the fall, for example, he’s going to take advantage of his travel schedule to visit nearby schools.
Shawn’s number two goal is to maintain the relationship that past FISA executive directors have built with government, both elected and bureaucratic. “What I have found is that the existing relationships are respectful and supportive,” he says. “I want to continue to partner with government to reinforce the value that independent schools bring to B.C.”
His number three goal is to foster relationships with other important partner groups outside of FISA that support the success of the BC education system such as:
- The B.C. School Trustees Association
- The B.C. Teachers’ Federation
- The B.C. Principals and Vice-Principals Association
- The B.C. School Superintendents’ Association
- The B.C. Association of School Business Officials
- The Teacher Regulation Branch
“This was something that [former Executive Director] Peter Froese really developed,” he says. “Peter was able to get a seat at the table and we discovered that we have so much in common and that our goals are so similar with the other partner groups. It’s hard for misrepresentations to exist when you have relationships,” he notes.
As a former classroom teacher Shawn recalls instructing his students in debate and persuading them to talk to the other “side” and figure out in advance what their argument was going to be.
“There’s not always 100% agreement,” he says of his public school compatriots, “but we all share the goal of wanting to support young people and create safe educational environments.”
On a personal level, Shawn is especially thrilled to be moving back to Vancouver. He started his teaching life at St. Catherine’s Elementary in Langley and his recent move has felt like a homecoming. His children are grown (one recently graduated from Thompson Rivers University and the other is currently pursuing a degree there) and his wife, Jillian, is a healthcare consultant who works all over Canada.
Shawn has been gratified by a cordial welcome from office staff Magda Hogewoning and Janet Dhanani and was grateful to have mentoring and support from Peter Froese before the former ED departed for China. “Peter was exceptional,” Shawn says. “He served FISA and BC education so well and shared his time and wisdom with me so willingly. I am truly grateful for the support Peter provided as I take on this important role.”