Jeff Wilson - Open Letter

Open Letter by: Jeff Wilson
Posted on 02/28/2024
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The opportunity to share a message with you all one final time is something I have been anticipating with equal parts excitement and anxiety. What a journey we’ve been on together!

Having the opportunity to serve on this Board for the past six years, five years as Chair, has been nothing short of amazing. I’m grateful for the trust you have put in my colleagues and I sitting around the board table.

There are countless reasons that FFCA is the incredible organization it is today, but what stands above everything else is the people, and FFCA has incredible people. I feel like I have been privileged in my time to work alongside a “dream-team.”

Those of you familiar with non-profit boards will know there is no more important relationship than that of the CEO and board chair. I am so very grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside a Superintendent as dedicated and respected as Dr. Roger Nippard. His leadership of FFCA has been exemplary, and the results speak for themselves: FFCA is one of the top performing — if not the top performing — publicly funded schools in the province, a position that has been solidified year-over-year since Roger joined FFCA. We are very well-positioned to remain leaders in the education landscape, and I’m deeply proud of our continued success.

Kurtis Leinweber, as our Deputy Superintendent for the past seven years, you have been mentored by one of the best school superintendents in the province, and I look forward to seeing your vision for FFCA come to fruition as you assume the role of Superintendent and CEO on April 1st. There is no one better positioned at FFCA to take on this challenge than you are. Your tireless work ethic and ability to find humour in even the direst of situations will surely continue to serve you well.

I would also like to recognize our Chief Financial Officer, Jhamily Estrada, who has been a fantastic addition to the C-suite at FFCA. Your cheerful demeanour and sharp mind have allowed you to seamlessly integrate into the high-performing team here; at times, it feels like we’ve worked together forever. Between your expertise and that of your brilliant predecessor, Reta Morgan, FFCA continues to receive clean audits from multiple jurisdictions and has received the Association of School Business Officials Meritorious Budget Award for close to twenty years running. Simply put, the Board has always been confident that our finances were being well managed, and I thank you both for your efforts over the years.

FFCA is blessed with amazing senior administrators. You are all so talented, from the team at Central Office to the Principals and Associate Principals in our campuses. I’m so grateful that our paths crossed and for the relationships we have built over the years. I have always felt so welcomed in each of our campuses, and I hope that your journeys with FFCA continue to be fulfilling and rewarding.

Our teachers – the heartbeat of FFCA – embody character and leadership, and they truly separate our school from every other. FFCA wouldn’t be the success it is without your passion for your students, your belief in our charter, and your willingness to give the best of yourselves on a daily basis. I genuinely cherish the relationships I’ve been able to build across our campuses with many of you. I remain in awe of what you do and how you do it. I took great pride in sharing your successes with influencers and decision-makers in Government, highlighting perennial academic excellence and the outstanding visual and dramatic arts programming at FFCA.

I am deeply honoured to have had the support of my fellow directors to sit in this chair and play a role in steering this incredible organization for the past five years.

When I first ran for the Board, I did so believing that I would be able to add value, and I really only had one goal in mind: resolving the long-standing issues and delays with the high school (at the time, there was only one).

Once I immersed myself in the work, I quickly realized there were many other issues that needed attention, and once I assumed the role of Chair, the aperture opened to an array of challenges that I and my fellow directors worked to overcome. While a few outstanding issues remain, it is my hope that the wheels are now in motion to resolve these as well.

Together, we have had a number of successes over the years, and I would like to highlight two that stand out. The first was receiving a letter in 2019 from Minister David Eggen that committed the Government’s support for our replacement high school project in Montgomery.

That was a year’s-long battle that preceded my time on the Board, and the letter was delivered just days before we had a planned protest on the steps of McDougall Centre at an event that was intended to be the pinnacle of the public advocacy campaign we had launched to raise awareness of the dire situation that had gone ignored for too long.

The first person I called was my predecessor as Board Chair, Cindy. We may have had a little cry. The hill seemed so big at times, but this community let its voice be heard, and we got it done. The planned protest turned into a celebration of our victory, with hundreds in attendance, and we heard politicians from all parties share their support for charter education and for FFCA.

Another that stands out is securing specialized learning support (SLS) funding for our students. For close to a decade, charter school students were treated as second-class citizens in their own province. Funding models evolved to address increasing instances of students with special needs in classrooms; however, charter schools were continuously excluded.

This exclusion, combined with flat or reduced budget allocations from the province, required the Board to make a series of incredibly difficult decisions during our annual budget deliberations. I would like to acknowledge that those difficult decisions disproportionately impacted our staff, who were asked to do more with less year after year and accepted rollbacks to their benefits. Those were the darkest days of my time on the Board, and I know those decisions weighed on all directors.

Once FFCA and the charter community convinced the Government that our students had similar needs as other public schools in Calgary, we were provided with the funding that has put us on an equal footing with our peers. That has afforded us the ability to reinstate most, if not all, of what was cut in the lean years and add to it an entire purpose-built suite of learning supports for our students.

There were many more great wins and some challenges along the way as well. We survived a pandemic, a fire, a flood, a roof collapse and locusts. Well, no locusts, but there were certainly some days when it felt like we were being dealt one blow after another and locusts would have been in line with the trajectory of our next disaster. This team — the Board, administration, teachers, staff and students — found a way, and I’m very proud of how the organization continues to respond to adversity.

While often misunderstood or dismissed altogether, the work we do around this board table is meaningful. It impacts over 3,700 students, over 300 staff, and is a vital component of what makes FFCA a high-performing organization. I can confidently say that this community gave me purpose at a time when I really needed it, and I have taken immense pride in being able to serve you all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge my family — my wife Sally and my son Jude — and the support they have offered and the sacrifices they have made over the past six years, particularly the last five during my time as Chair. The evenings and weekends away all add up. I am looking forward to the additional time I will be able to spend with them now that there will be fewer conflicts in my schedule and emerging issues to deal with.

I depart the Board with a genuine passion for FFCA. I am excited to be able to confidently pass the baton to my long-time vice chair, Jenny Hill. Jenny, I have valued and appreciated your drive, your intellect, and your willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, not to mention your love of detail (a love I don’t share, by the way). I have always known I can count on you; you are going to thrive leading the Board this year.

To the 24 directors I’ve shared the title with over the past six years, it was a pleasure and an honour to work alongside you. To the current Board, I truly believe FFCA’s best years are ahead and I encourage you to be bold, to push boundaries, and to leave FFCA better than you found it. I am, and will remain, immensely grateful for the opportunity I had to be a part of this team. Thank you.

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