ALMAGUIN – Almaguin Highlands Secondary School students are starting the new school year with a new principal.
“I’m hoping I can fill some pretty big shoes,” said AHSS Principal Donna Breault.
Having served three years as the vice-principal of Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay, Breault is now the head of the AHSS community and says she’s thrilled by the new adventure.
“I’m excited more than anything,” she said. “There’s always some nerves, but the school is beautiful, the staff is great, and the students that I’ve met so far are excited to be here.”
Now in year 25 of her career in education, Breault has spent time on staff at multiple area schools, including W. J. Fricker Senior Public School, where she met now-former AHSS principal Lisa O’Kane in the early-90s.
Breault said that friendship has played an important role in her taking over O’Kane’s post this year.
“It’s been great having her as a liaison,” she said, noting she visited the school multiple times this past spring to get a feel for what lay ahead.
“She (Lisa) told me I would come to love Almaguin as much as she loves Amaguin,” said Breault. “Like Lisa, I’m very student oriented. I like to support students in the best way possible so they are academically successful.”
One way that AHSS staff has ensured student success is through technology and Breault said she finds the advancements intriguing.
“Technology is certainly on the upswing here,” she said. “In a lot of ways Almaguin is very progressive.”
Breault said she hopes to be hands-on in the integration of new iPads this year.
“I could see that being a bit of a pet project for me,” she said.
AHSS is home to more than 600 students this year. The school offers e-learning courses so students can take full courses and earn credits online.
“Most of our kids are very technology oriented,” said Breault. “There are kids that just learn better online.”
But it’s not just the students who are learning about new technology this year.
“The iPad project provides professional development for teachers,” she said. “Something we find often is that we end up having students teaching the teachers, especially with new technology.”
With two kids of her own, one in Grade 12 and one in Grade 8, Breault said she sees firsthand the impacts of technology on youth.
She said she was surprised to learn of all of the advancements in the school, including its enterprise class wireless internet system, which allows seamless internet access from anywhere in the entire school, so students can come and go from each classroom and never be cut off. The system has enough power to host hundreds of users at the same time.
“Education is more accessible than it ever was,” said Breault. “I think that’s the way of the future. I think we’ll start seeing a balance of online and class learning.”
Breault said she’s also impressed with the Personal Life Management Program (PLMP) at the school, specifically with the Snoezelen room.
“It is state of the art,” she said. “There really are a lot of neat things going on here. A lot of things you wouldn’t expect in a rural school in the middle of nowhere.”
Breault said the one thing she would want each of the students at AHSS to know about her is that she’s always available to help them along the way.
“I truly have an open door policy, so I would encourage parents and students to drop by and see me if they have any concerns or ideas to share,” she said.