By Sue Tiffin
After almost six years of leading the Archie Stouffer Elementary School community, principal Jane Austin is returning to Ridgewood Public School in Coboconk.
Austin started her career in Ottawa in 1997 at the Ottawa-Carleton Learning Foundation, but soon after returned home to the Kinmount area where she began working at Parkview Public School with the Victoria County Board of Education. Her first permanent position was at the Bobcaygeon Public School in Sept. 1998 and she transferred to Ridgewood Public School in 2002.
“I was a teacher at Ridgewood for several years and my own children all graduated from there,” Austin told ASES families in a letter announcing the leadership change. “It is nice to know that if I have to leave a place that has been my home for the past five years that I am lucky enough to be placed at Ridgewood.”
She became vice-principal at Langton Public School in Sept. 2006, and then principal of Parkview Public School in 2008, returning to Bobcaygeon Public School in 2010 and then to Archie Stouffer in 2016.
Austin said it has been an honour to be the ASES principal during that time. To families, she wrote that a change in leadership is a professional growth opportunity for school administrators, and also an opportunity for the school community to experience new perspectives and approaches to learning.
“I want our community to be assured that their contribution to my professional learning regarding the power of leadership, community and family will be carried with me to Ridgewood P.S.,” she told the Times. “I want them to understand that I am so very thankful for allowing me to be a part of their lives and for allowing me to learn from, with and on behalf of each of them.”
ASES is a Leader in Me school celebrating and encouraging leadership qualities for students to develop their full potential outside of simply academics, and Austin said she hopes she is remembered for believing in people and “their potential for leadership and for greatness,” noting she thinks the work done as a Leader in Me school has been an important legacy for ASES that she hopes is sustained by the community for years to come.
“What makes Archie Stouffer Elementary School such a special place to be is the role that that school has in the broader community,” said Austin. “The school has partnerships within the community that enrich the learning opportunities for our students and their families.”
Connections with the food bank, the OPP, Point in Time, OEYC, the daycare, Five Counties, local businesses, the municipality and the people of the community are integral, Austin said, “to how we learn and grow in our school.”
“This is a unique characteristic that does not happen in all schools,” she said.
Austin said the school’s focus on leadership and service learning was something that she would carry forward. “The pride I feel for the staff and students as I witness their leadership skills is immeasurable,” she said.
The past year of Austin’s career has been unique as she worked through the pandemic, which closed schools to in-person learning abruptly in March 2020 and then reopened them in September with public health restrictions in place.
“This past year has been an adventure to be sure,” she told the Times. “We have all been challenged in different ways in our personal and professional lives and we could not have survived the challenges posed by the pandemic without each other. I am so fortunate to have been a part of a learning community that believes in connection and leadership. We were able to look at the challenges posed by the pandemic and consider what our school mission statement would be to help us steer the course together.”
Austin said as a result, the school community has developed stronger relationships, embraced learning about teaching virtually, and has worked as a team to ensure processes and protocols were put in place for everyone’s safety while at school.
“The time I have spent as a Wildcat has been incredible,” Austin wrote to families. “Our students, staff and families have demonstrated to me daily that learning and leading builds strong communities filled with amazing people and bright futures. I will take my experiences with me as I move to Ridgewood P.S. Please know that Archie Stouffer will always have a special place in my heart and be an important chapter in my story. For that, I am extremely grateful.”
Dawn Sudsbury will become Archie Stouffer Elementary School’s principal while Mike Gervais will remain as vice-principal.