VALLEY – Since the day it welcomed students, Redcliff Middle School has had the leadership of Al Kennedy.
When students arrive in September, a new principal – Dave Hazelton – will be behind the desk as Kennedy retired after 44 years in the education system.
“I really wanted teachers to see learning from the kids’ point of view,” said Kennedy, who has been the only principal in the lifetime of the middle school in Valley. “I wanted to make school more exciting, and created the exploratory program for students every week.”
During his education career, Kennedy was a high school teacher at Cobequid Educational Centre and a program support worker. He also held a vice-principal title. He started in education after taking a summer position at a boys’ school in Shelburne during his studies at St. Francis Xavier University. He was offered a job, however refused due to a low salary. It was recommended he study for an education degree, a degree that required one year of post-secondary studies at the time.
Following 12 years teaching English at CEC, Kennedy took a sabbatical and studied why students were often failing in the education system.
“I was concerned and wanted to know why they didn’t like school,” he said. “It’s because we are teaching through our adult lives instead of leading them as an adult. That was an incentive to move to junior high – I thought I could have more of an effect, and it worked well for a period of time.”
When Redcliff Middle School was set to open, Kennedy applied for the position and spent the remaining years of his career with students in grades five through seven.
Along with the weekly exploratory program, which sees students participate in activities such as swimming, Minecraft, or geocaching, Kennedy instituted another change – team teaching.
“Kids learn best when the teacher likes what they’re teaching,” he said, adding team teaching started with those in Grade 5. “We saw the teachers grow professionally, and not only that, but the kids enjoy what they’re learning.”
Over the two decades in the role, Kennedy brought in more opportunities for the faculty to introduce technology for their teachings, to meet the students where they were. Teachers attended many professional development courses at the school to grow their technological knowledge, using technology as a teaching tool.
There was high demand for the course, which increase the costs, which also saw additional equipment being needed – for example printers and document cameras.
“To fund this, we’ve run our own cafeteria here, so all the profits went right back into the school to support the learning and teaching environment,” he said.
“Because of this, we were finding kids were at a point where they were enjoying school, and in turn, we haven’t seen any major behavioral problems.”
Kennedy admits they’ve seen students acting out, however there is no such thing as a bad kid.
“They’re just kids who do bad things, and we needed to find out why. When you deal with each student individually – their needs are varied, complicated, and demanding – you’re able to reach kids where they are.”
The outcome, he said, is a happy, pleasant school for teachers, parents and students.
“Teaching is an honorable profession, one which requires an ever-changing professional attitude toward students.”
For Lauchie Mackinnon, the work Kennedy has done over the past 21 years is evident. He’s spent two years at the school – one previously and again this past year and has noticed students have become more engaged.
“If they find that something they’re passionate about, that’s what engages them,” said the resource and special education teacher regarding the exploratory programs.
“Al saw students weren’t learning the way they should be, but now they’re learning every day and they should be excited about that. We see big dividends as teachers from that.”
Tammy Fox, the school’s vice-principal for the past four years, spoke about Kennedy at an open house and retirement party for the principal and said Kennedy’s greatest virtue is his commitment.
“All of us in this room can each attest to Mr. Al Kennedy’s commitment,” she said. “Al has told many of us that we should hold four things dear to us in a prioritized order: our family, our work, our passions and finally our friendships. Mr. Kennedy lives these priorities with great commitment.”
She spoke about Kennedy and how he cares for his mother and great aunt, and his pride for his family. She talked about his commitment not only to the students of Redcliff, but the staff as well.
“Mr. Kennedy’s 44 years demonstrate a passion for learning but most important a passion for student growth and development that has been at the heart of every decision, project, initiative and movement that Redcliff staff have embraced,” she said.
During his retirement, Kennedy is looking forward to a number of things, including continuing his work with a Guatemala outreach project where he is one member to help build stoves in homes, schools, and libraries.