Country Hills Public School’s Newspaper Club members Sona and Kayna used their opportunity to interview Director of Education jeewan chanicka on Monday, December 6 to grill him about his goals for education within the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB).

Writing for their online publication, The Cardinal Collaboration, the two students were guided by Dana McIntosh and Darlene St. John, teachers at Country Hills PS and staff coordinators of the Newspaper Club. List of queries in hand, they dove right in, asking chanicka how he would explain his job to elementary students.

A screenshot of the two students interviewing jeewan via Google Meet

“I work to try and make the best decisions to help the schools be the best schools they can be and to support students to be the best that they can be,” said chanicka.

He helped them understand the size of the WRDSB, and how he envisions his role serving the students that learn and grow in its schools every day. Although some may see him as the boss, chanicka explained that he sees himself working for students.

“We have 122 schools and we serve about 65,000 students,” said chanicka. “I work for all of you. So you are my bosses”

Sona and Kayna then moved on and asked chanicka to explain his biggest goal for the WRDSB and what he would change about education.

“One of my biggest goals is to think about how we can shift some of those systems…so we can get to the 21st century,” said chanicka. Redesigning an education system that prepares students for the world they will graduate into, the world where they will live and work, is a central focus for chanicka. His focus is on helping everyone in the WRDSB get to a better place – one where students are supported to be their best selves and to reach their full potential.

Director chanicka went on to explain he would want to ensure that education meets the needs of all students.

“It helps some, and that’s a good thing,” said chanicka. “But, it hasn’t helped all students.”

jeewan shows off a painting in his office to students on his laptop.

This is a focus that lies at the heart of chanicka’s work as director of education at the WRDSB. To help illustrate this purpose, he showed the students a painting he made that hangs above his desk. The image is of a sunflower, accompanied by the text, “in every seed there is potential”.

The path to achieving this involves reimagining our understanding of what an education system looks like, how students learn and where learning can take place. This includes an increased opportunity for student voice and student-directed learning, as well as focusing on real-world problems, so that the skills students are learning can help them beyond their time in the WRDSB.

Refocusing on chanicka’s experience as a student, Sona and Kayna asked what his favourite subject was in school.

“I really loved geography,” said chanicka. “I love everything to do with the earth.”

From learning about landforms, to ecosystems, to the environment – chanicka explained that he enjoyed soaking up as much knowledge as possible about the earth. He fondly recalled an experience when he was teaching internationally, and was able to take a group of students to Tanzania. This included an opportunity to explore the Rift Valley, observe the ecosystems in action and see the impact on the environment.

jeewan speaks with students who are visible on his laptop.

Moving on to lighter fare, the students asked, “What was the last time you laughed really hard?” This one was easily answered by chanicka, who explained the importance of finding joy at work and at school every day. If people love what they’re doing and enjoy being there, then the results are always going to be better.

“I laugh really hard every single day,” said chanicka. “I love to laugh and I love to work in a place where there’s lots of laughter.”

Curious to learn more about chanicka, Sona and Kayna asked about his favourite holiday. He explained that his family celebrates many holidays, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. “I come from a family where we celebrate Diwali, we celebrate Eid, we celebrate Christmas and a bunch of other things, too,” said chanicka. “We love a good holiday.”

Before they finished their interview, chanicka turned the tables and asked the students if they had to give him any advice, what would it be? Sona and Kayna’s answers were strikingly similar, both focusing on the importance of student choice and voice in determining the focus of their learning.

Although their conversation lasted just 30 minutes, it was clear that it had made an impact on all parties involved. For chanicka, he made it clear just how important the opportunity to connect directly with students is.

“I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed talking to all of you,” said chanicka. “This is the highlight of my day.”