The Covid situation is forcing Ed Lippert to immediately step up as he enters his new role as superintendent of Yellowknife Education District No. 1 (Yk1).
He must oversee and help organize Yk1's six schools as they prepare to reopen amid the pandemic in September.
And if that isn't enough, on Sept. 1 he's taking over from Metro Huculak, who retired in June after 15 years of service as superintendent.
“I have huge shoes to fill,” Lippert concedes. “Metro has built quite a reputation in the city. It's quite impressive the amount of work he's done over 15 years in Yellowknife.”
But Lippert brings his own expansive background to the position, with more than 30 years of education experience in under his belt.
Originally from the cottage country town of Gravenhurst, Ont., Lippert received a degree in agriculture from the University of Guelph, and a Bachelor of Education, with specialties in science and entomology. He later headed North and taught science for seven years in Inuvik, then came to Yellowknife and taught biology and chemistry for 14 years at Sir John Franklin.
He was promoted to vice-principal for three years, and then principal for four years.
For the last five years he has served in the administration of Yk1 as assistant superintendent, a role that Shirley Zouboules has now assumed.
Lippert describes taking over the top job as both “exciting” and “interesting.”
“I would be foolish to say it's (also) not a bit scary with the reopening of the schools coming up,” he says. “And then with the J.H. Sissons students moving over to the William McDonald and all the complications of closing down Sissons and then moving into the construction phase. That in itself is pretty exciting but also a lot of work as well, to move from one building and into another building, especially in the circumstances of Covid-19.”
He emphasizes that preparations for resuming classes, after schools shut down in March due to the coronavirus, have been the main focus for him and his Yk1 colleagues over the last few weeks.
“We don't know what it's going to be like in the fall. We have plans for opening up our schools but we don't know what might happen. There might be a relapse (of Covid). It's been a lot of work preparing for it. We've worked with the other districts in the NWT and we've worked with the other districts in Yellowknife and sharing resources. That part has been exciting and fun but with the underlying concern of what it will actually look like in the end when everyone shows up on the first day of school.
“The (Yk1) administration staff should be on summer holidays but they're working on the plans. They want to do that because they want to be prepared. It's been very stressful for everyone and we want to get back to normal (so) we'll be ready to provide a quality education for our students the fall.”
But life goes on for the school district, and Lippert is still mindful of people and initiatives that will remain important for years after the pandemic passes.
He will be helping Elizabeth Brace integrate into her role as the new principal of Mildred Hall School, effective on Aug. 24. Brace has been a music teacher at the school since 2007.
Mental health is a big issue on Lippert's agenda as well.
“Schools are about academics but we know there's a lot of concern around mental wellness with our students, parents and staff. We want to make sure everyone has a good and safe start (in September) and we want to make sure everyone is OK,” he said.
One thing that won't change for Lippert as the new superintendent is his feeling of gratitude for working with his colleagues in Yk1 and what they've been able to achieve.
“It's amazing what we get done and what our community in Yellowknife can do. I've been lucky in my career to have great working relationships with my colleagues and students. It's great to see people in the community who I used to teach, from mechanics to medical doctors and lawyers and even a Hollywood actor – Dustin Milligan, who plays Ted Mullens on Schitt's Creek – and the former minister of education Alfred Moses. That's what it's about for me as a teacher, to see people become successful.”
Lippert is scheduled to serve as superintendent for one year on a contractual basis.