Winnipeg, Manitoba –Assistant Superintendent and Difference Maker Susan Schmidt
Pembina Trails School Division’s motto is “Accomplish Anything” and that’s exactly what Assistant Superintendent Susan Schmidt believes every single child in Manitoba can do. A recipient of the Rick Hansen Difference Maker recognition, she has been instrumental in getting administrators and staff of her division registered to the RHF School Program because she believes it aligns perfectly with their goals and with what her division is already doing.
“We strive to see the unlimited potential of every child, their strengths and gifts, and continually strive to be an inclusive school division, which is why we’re promoting the School Program,” Schmidt says, “I’ve followed Rick’s work for a long time because he’s been such an inspirational Canadian and he’s pushed and pushed this agenda.”
Creating an Inclusive Environment
The School Program resources are great tools for teachers as they provide opportunities for students to learn more about the importance of accessibility and inclusion. “I have introduced all of our Leadership Development Program to RHF School Program and have used the videos,” Schmidt says. “The materials take into account an action-oriented approach where teachers can be teaching materials related to the curriculum, which is of course is so very important.”
Schmidt cites specific examples of how the lessons get students to think differently about disabilities and abilities. “The Program teaches about accessibility and inclusion in multiple dimensions. For instance, when students get to grade 11, they’re learning spinal cord care. Kids don’t think about it but it could realistically happen to them,” she continues, “Yet in kindergarten, they’re looking at the uniqueness of a snowflake and that’s real for a 5-year-old.”
Superintendent of Education/CEO of Pembina Trails School Division Ted Fransen says Pembina Trails School Division is committed to creating an inclusive, caring environment that helps all students to accomplish anything, no matter their individual needs. The Rick Hansen Foundation has provided significant support and encouragement in their ongoing efforts to realize that ideal.
A Champion of Inclusion
Pembina Trails School Division was proud to have Susan named as Difference Maker of the Year and they were the proud recipients of a Barrier Buster Program grant and recognition at Vincent Massey Collegiate in Winnipeg in 2017. “Having Rick personally make the presentation was a special occasion for our students, staff, and Board of Trustees,” says Fransen.
“It was an honour for Susan that appropriately recognized her pivotal leadership role. Leading by example, our staff quickly follow her lead. As we became acquainted with the work of the Rick Hansen Foundation, it was soon evident that we had a champion in our midst,” Fransen says, “Having Rick Hansen acknowledge Susan as a Difference Maker was icing on the cake. Pembina Trails is truly proud of Susan’s leadership and example.”
Schmidt has been a key leader in advancing inclusion at all levels within Pembina Trails. “Susan and Rick share a passion for the important role that education plays in our collective awareness that leads to positive action. Inclusion and accessibility for all goes well beyond Susan’s job description. She lives inclusion,” he says.
A Lasting Legacy
When Vincent Massey Collegiate received the Barrier Buster grant, they created an accessible entrance at the front of the school. Before students who used wheelchairs had to be wheeled around to the back of the school to enter. “Now kids can come right up to the front of the school and enter! It was absolutely wonderful!”
Schmidt quotes Mahatma Ghandi, who said "a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." “And so we ask ourselves how well are we actually doing, how are we caring for our most vulnerable people because that should be our greatness and our legacy,” she continues.
“We are thrilled this year on the feedback we got from our community on diversity and inclusion. It demonstrated evidence of the incredible work our schools do,” she says.
For over 35 years, Schmidt has cared deeply for the most vulnerable people at Pembina Trails. She’s worked as a classroom teacher, a resource teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, principal and assistant superintendent. She is passionate about safe, caring and inclusive schools. She believes strongly that all children can learn and that everyone has gifts to be shared and nurtured. She is a champion for public education and equity and has been a collaborative member in the school division for the successful implementation of the Standards for Success in Literacy document.
Schmidt serves on the RHF School Program Advisory Committee and on the executive of the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents. She is on the National Selection Committee for the Canadian Outstanding Principal program for The Learning Partnership. In addition, Susan is a certified professional coach from the Institute for Professional excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and is an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coach Federation. Susan is certified to train Fierce Conversations.
With plans to retire at the end of July, Schmidt is leaving a great and lasting legacy of inclusion that will undoubtedly continue across Manitoba and beyond.