West Vancouver's (retiring) class of 2012
The Class of 2012 will be his last.
Over the last three decades, Warren Hicks has witnessed a cavalcade of young people walk across the stage with wide grins to receive their diplomas and jubilantly toss their square hats into the air. He’s never got bored of it. It’s always an exciting time, a seminal moment marking the culmination of 13 years of learning and studying, sports and music, friends and life lessons. It’s also the start of the next chapter.
“[There are] lots of best days as an educator. The graduations end up being some of the best days,” said Hicks, the assistant superintendent of the West Vancouver School District. “Ultimately the best reward is providing opportunity and success for kids and families.”
Last week Hicks and his wife Jeanie, also a teacher, were at the Orpheum Theatre as West Van secondary’s graduating class hit the stage. The evening was extra special for the Hicks family. This year, Hicks is graduating too, retiring after 34 years as an educator in North and West Vancouver. Plus, his daughter Courtney was among the WVSS grad class at the commencement ceremony.
“[It was] kind of a magic moment,” says Hicks.
A week earlier Hicks delivered a speech to the grads. During the address, he talked about the rapid speed of change during their time in school.
“Quite different from your parents years when they went to school. Yours has been a world of lightening fast, and often exciting wold changing events — both in change that has happened around you and the incorporation of this change into your school life.”
During the last 34 years Hicks has witnessed a lot of change too in students and schooling — and oftentimes he’s been one of the catalysts.
When he began his teaching career at Norgate elementary in 1978 it was a feeder school for Squamish Nation students, but he felt there wasn’t enough relevant curriculum for them. So he brought in a young First Nation artist named Xwalacktun (huh-LACK-tun) to teach the kids to carve. Hicks also noticed that some First Nations parents who’d attended residential schools were reluctant to come to the school, so he went and visited them on the reserve, striking up friendships that he still maintains today. Later, in 1979, Norgate became the first school to offer Squamish instead of French as a language option with the help of Squamish-speaking teacher Louis Miranda. As his career progressed, Hicks took on new projects and programs, got his master’s degree and moved up the ranks from teacher to vice principal and principal to director of HR and school operations and later assistant superintendent.
In the late 1980s, Hicks moved to the West Vancouver School District.
At that time, the district recognized the sharply declining enrollment. They needed to attract and retain students in a competitive catchment area that boasted several private schools.
“There’s never enough money, unless you get creative,” he says about creating specialized programs. So the team at School District 45 got creative by launching an International Baccalaureate and offering Montessori alternatives, something parents had clamoured for; the district also began welcoming international students, created sports academies and later offered full-day kindergarten.
“[I’m] proud and pleased with the depth of opportunities for kids in the school district,” he says.
He’s too humble to admit it, but one lasting legacy Hicks will leave behind is the strong link West Van schools now have with local First Nations. Two years ago the school signed an Aboriginal Enhancement Agreement that seeks to offer opportunities for First Nations students as well as for all students to learn about and appreciate First Nations history and culture. To do that, Hicks got help from some old friends like Xwalacktun and others, including Bob Baker, Faye Halls, Alroy Baker, Deborah Jacobs, Wes Nahanni, Squamish elders, and members of Chief and Council.
Since teaching young kids at Norgate, Xwalacktun has become an internationally renowned artist with carving works worldwide and was recently honoured with the Order of B.C.
“But he was kind enough to do some of the First Nations projects we’ve done here,” says Hicks.
Sahplek (Bob Baker), the district’s First Nations cultural consultant, someone he’s known for years, has also played a key role.
In the past few years there have been several teaching and ceremonial initiatives in West Van schools, including students and staff working with artists on carving projects, storytelling by Squamish elders and the renaming of Gleneagles elementary with a new First Nations name, Gleneagles-Ch’axay.
The initiatives have been enthusiastically received by students, teachers and First Nations members. At his retirement party last week, a large contingent from the Squamish Nation attended and showed their appreciation for the work Hicks had done by presenting him with a ceremonial blanket and drumming a song for him. It was a great honour for Hicks, who was also given an elaborate figure board carving by Xwalacktun and his own drum. “It was meaningful for me.”
“I’ve met a lot of really fine people through the years and we’ve stayed in touch and we’ve done some things over here.”
Hicks ended his graduation speech to the grad class wishing that all their dreams come true as they begin a new chapter in their livs. And soon Hicks will begin his own new chapter. “I’m certainly excited. I certainly enjoyed everything we did here.”