Michael McDiarmid is still a few weeks away from starting his new role as Bulkley Valley School District 54’s superintendent, but he shared with Black Press what he anticipates his challenges to be, and what made him choose education as a career path in the first place.
When asked about his take on the possible closure of Silverthorne Elementary, McDiarmid said having a firm opinion right now would be like “putting the cart before the horse.”
The school district has been discussing a possible reconfiguration of schools in Houston, which could potentially involve the closure of Silverthorne Elementary.
“We’ll need to take a look to see what the possibilities are. I think we need a really good understanding and some time to think about that.
“I think those decisions really come down to what’s in the best interest of students. Will changes benefit kids? If so, that’s something we’ll entertain, but being able to answer that question first is important I think.”
He said the main challenge for northern school districts is to ensure they have enough opportunities for students.
“We belong to small communities, so [we should be asking] how do we ensure that they have the rich experiences that students in other communities enjoy.”
McDiarmid said B.C.’s new curriculum, which is still being rolled out, will help teachers offer these rich experiences.
“The main opportunities these days are with the new curriculum, which is a lot more open. It has a lot more flexibility for teachers to incorporate other ways of learning and of teaching.
“It’s a better approach than what we’ve done previously. Students can pursue their passions a lot more, and those are huge opportunities to make sure kids enjoy coming to school and pursue things they’re interested in.”
For the past eight years, McDiarmid has worked as School District 54’s assistant superintendent, working closely with Superintendent Chris van der Mark, whose resignation goes into effect March 31. Van der Mark will be taking over as superintendent at Cariboo-Chilcotin School District 27, which is administered in Williams Lake.
McDiarmid said Bulkley Valley residents should not expect any drastic changes when he becomes the new superintendent.
“I’ve been working closely with him [van der Mark] over the last eight years, so many of the directions the district has gone in I’ve been a part of. We’ll see a continuation in the kinds of things we’ve been doing.”
The father-of-two grew up in Fort Nelson, a small community in northeastern B.C., but spent most of his summers as a kid in the Yukon, where his parents are from.
“Where I grew up, many Aboriginal kids grew up in an environment that wasn’t the most positive in many ways, and back in those days [1980s] it was very rare for kids to finish school, never mind go to university,” said McDiarmid, who’s also Aboriginal (Tlingit). “So I gave a lot of credit to teachers that I had in public education.
“I decided I wanted to teach as a way to give back.”
After completing his bachelor of education with distinction at the University of Victoria and earning a master’s degree in education administration from the University of British Columbia, McDiarmid returned home. He taught in Fort Nelson for nine years.
He later became the principal of Fort St. James Secondary School, between 2006 and 2011, and district principal of Aboriginal education for Nechako Lakes School District 91.
“I worked a lot with Aboriginal students when I was a classroom teacher, and certainly as a school principal in Fort St. James. I tried to support Aboriginal students as much as I could, and I continue to do that with my work at the school board office.”
McDiarmid now lives in Telkwa with his wife and two boys – 10 and 15 – who attend schools in the Bulkley Valley.
“I’m from the north, I like living up north, I like the lifestyle that it has to offer, for me and my family.”
His family is “outdoor-focused,” he said, and they spend a lot of time at hockey rinks.
“I play and coach hockey, both of my boys play hockey, and we have a backyard rink outside of our house.”
School District 54 Board Chair Jennifer Williams said in a news release that the school district is “privileged” to have McDiarmid as the new superintendent.
“School District 54 is privileged to have Mr. McDiarmid as the senior educational leader given his strong values and beliefs for improving student success, his past contributions to School District 54 and experience with other northern districts.”
McDiarmid starts his new role on April 1, 2019.