Jay Wolkoff (BEd ’98) and Blaine MacDougall (MEd ’89) are making a difference in the lives of young learners — and the country is taking notice.
The Brock University Faculty of Education graduates were recently honoured among those named Canada’s Outstanding Principals and praised for their efforts in their respective schools.
The pair were among 30 principals across the country celebrated during a Feb. 26 awards ceremony in Toronto. Presented by The Learning Partnership, the awards are the largest program recognizing principals in Canada’s publicly funded schools.
Wolkoff and MacDougall were each taken aback by the recognition from their communities and colleagues.
“It was very humbling,” MacDougall, principal of Cardinal Newman Catholic Elementary School Niagara Falls, said of receiving the honour. “I look at colleagues in my school board and I know many of them are doing great things. I just happen to be fortunate, I guess.”
Throughout his 20-year career as a principal, MacDougall has championed the use of data to improve student outcomes. He has led the creation of individual student data profiles, which include information that helps teachers understand the particular learning needs of each student, and built partnerships with local high schools to help students and families better understand future pathways.
With seven years as principal and more than 20 years in the education field under his belt, Wolkoff has focused on improving academic results and building a sense of pride in school.
As principal of E.J. Sand Public School in Thornhill, he promotes professional development for staff to deepen the understanding of teachers working with English Language Learners and other students who need additional supports. He encourages and welcomes parents and the community to become partners in their child’s learning, and has helped to create a dedicated makerspace in the school’s library, one of many initiatives to nurture collaborative problem-solving and encourage the development of global competencies.
Wolkoff received his undergraduate degree at York University before coming to Brock to complete a Bachelor of Education. He pursued a teaching career to make a difference in the lives of students and to the help them reach their full potential.
“I loved my time at Brock,” he said. “At the time, Brock was one of two schools focusing in on special education. That was a real draw for me.”
He also appreciated the balance of theory and practice the program offered and the focus on techniques teacher candidates could use in the classroom.
“It wasn’t about preparing us for the practicum, it was about preparing us for a career in this field of teaching.”
MacDougall also cherished his time at the University, where he felt he found his fit. He graduated from the teacher education program at Queen’s University before pursuing a Master of Education at Brock.
His sisters, who also attended Brock and are both teachers, encouraged him to pursue a career in teaching.
“I wanted to make a difference in the lives of our youth and challenge them to help us create a better world that we’re living in,” he explained.
As a principal, he creates opportunities for teachers and students to develop their own leadership skills. MacDougall believes clubs and teams at the school are opportunities for children to become leaders at a young age, allowing them to work on being good communicators, problem-solvers and creative thinkers.
“It’s a safe place where they can make mistakes and fail. And failure is OK as long as we recognize and learn from it.”
At the awards ceremony, and a related four-day executive leadership training program for the winners, Wolkoff and MacDougall were able to connect with principals from across the country.
“When we have the opportunity to get together and learn from not just our immediate support group but also from people across Canada and to hear different ideas, that really helps to move your vision forward,” said Wolkoff.
“We talked about what we needed as educators and as leaders. It was really interesting to be part of such a rich learning experience,” he said of the training sessions, which touched on topics such as change management, brain development, and mental health and well-being.
For the past 15 years, the nationally-recognized Canada’s Outstanding Principals award and executive leadership training program has recognized the extraordinary contributions of principals in Canada’s publicly funded schools. Winners are nominated by colleagues, educators and community members and become members of the National Academy of Principals.
The Learning Partnership is a non-profit organization working to prepare students to succeed in a diverse, connected and changing world. The organization delivers experiential programs that nurture entrepreneurial thinking and social, emotional learning in students.