Liam Choo-Foo, the founding Director of Education of the Chinook School Division, announced his intention to retire at the end of the 2017-2018 school year.
Choo-Foo is currently in the final months of a one-year secondment serving as the Chief Project Officer in the Ministry of Education, but he will be returning to Chinook in the spring to conclude a 31 year career as an educator. He served 28 years of his career in administration, including three years as a Deputy Director and 16 years as a Director of Education.
“It has been rewarding, exciting, sometimes frustrating, but always fun to come to work,” Choo-Foo said during a December 11 press conference at the Chinook School Division office.
“It’s kind of a weird thought that I’m not coming to Chinook anymore,” Choo-Foo said of his decision. “This fall, for the first time since Kindergarten, which is about 48 years, I’m not going to be going to school anymore.”
Choo-Foo was the first employee of the Chinook School Division, and was tasked with leading the amalgamation of nine legacy school divisions in the Southwest during the province-wide amalgamation process which occurred on January 1, 2006.
“As the founding Director of Chinook School Division #211, Liam has had a very important, very strong role as an educational leader in our division and throughout the province. It’s a very significant contribution that he’s made. He leaves a very unique fingerprint on Chinook School Division,” said Chinook’s current board chair Shane Andrus.
The board does have a transition plan to replace Choo-Foo, and they will be making further announcements in the weeks and months to come. Kyle McIntyre will continue to serving as the Acting Director for the Chinook School Division, a position he began in April of this year when he moved up from his Deputy Director position to serve as Choo-Foo’s replacement during his one year secondment with the Ministry of Education.
Choo-Foo replied that it was an understatement to say that a lot of work went into getting the school division to where it is today.
“The first three years of Chinook were probably the most difficult and challenging of my entire career. I had a very young family at that time…43 per cent of the evenings I was not home to tuck my kids into bed. We were out at community meetings, we were meeting with staff, we were all over the place. And so where Chinook is today is really on the back of a lot of hard work in the past. I guess that’s what makes it so fulfilling to see where the Division is at now, from where we started from a very difficult beginning.”
He conceded during those early years, if he had the opportunity to do it again, he would have placed a different priority on their initial focus as a Division.
“If we had that to do over again, I would have spent more time solidifying Chinook as a School Division before we went out and started tackling some of the pent up demand around some of the tough decisions that were building in Southwestern Saskatchewan around school closures, around staff cuts, around taxation.”
“By doing both at the same time, it really created a negative energy around Chinook. And we’ve been able to overcome that, but its taken a long time.”
Choo-Foo reflected that he was especially proud of Chinook’s achievements through their Balanced Literacy and Math Momentum initiatives, and specifically winning the Premier’s Board of Education Award for Innovation and Excellence in November 2013 for the division’s “Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) Program.
“I’m a bit of an implementer. I really like to figure out what it is that needs to be done, and then put the team in place to get it done. And that’s probably whats brought some of the greatest satisfaction to my career – getting stuff done. But doing it in a way that built team. That’s the other really big thing for me, is building a sense of team.”
“Through my title, my name gets attached to a lot of the accomplishments, but I really enjoy watching others take lead roles in different initiatives that we had, and watching them build their capacity and watching the success that they achieved.”