Teaching a generation

Andrea Gunn
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Botwood principal recognized for outstanding dedication

Botwood Collegiate Principal Jim Hibbs has a photograph in his office of a young man, all dressed up in a tuxedo, complete with an ear-to-ear grin.

Botwood Collegiate principal and recently named Administrator of the Year Jim Hibbs presents a Botwood Collegiate Class of 2020 backpack to future student Jennifer Dalley at an orientation event last week. Hibbs said his school goes above and beyond the regular orientation for grade six students coming in to try and instill a sense of pride before they arrive in the fall.

The photo, he said, is of a student some weren’t sure would even finish high school.

Hibbs said the photo serves as a reminder to never give up on a student, even in the face of challenges.

“You’ve got to go to bat for the students every day,” he told the Advertiser in an interview last week.

That philosophy of support and encouragement is something Hibbs says he tries to keep in mind every day he goes to work at Botwood Collegiate, or has he calls it Beautiful Botwood Collegiate (BBC).

“The motto of our (Botwood Collegiate), loosely translates to ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ You can overcome any obstacle with support, and that’s what we want to be to every student that comes in here,” he said. “We just want to be that support and encouragement so they can achieve success.”

It’s a philosophy that’s served Hibbs well over his 30-year career. Earlier this year, Hibbs was recognized by his peers for his outstanding efforts and dedication to his job when he was awarded the NLYA School Administrator’s Council Distinguished School Administrator of the Year award.

Though perhaps the most impressive, it’s not the first time Hibbs has been recognized for his work. The shelf above his desk displays a number of awards and accolades. Hibbs said as much as the Administrator of the Year award bears his name, everything he’s been able to accomplish his career has been made possible by his team of coworkers.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people and great people tend to lift everybody, I think that’s what’s happened to me in my career,” Hibbs said.

Hibbs grew up in South Brook, Newfoundland and went to school in Springdale. Upon completion of the 11th grade in 1979, Hibbs left home to pursue a university degree from Memorial at the age of 15.

“The way the school program was structured at the time there was a small elementary school with multiple grades in the same classroom. My teacher at the time thought that ‘Hey you know he’s got grade three all down pat, maybe I’ll put him in grade four,’” Hibbs explained of his ability to complete high school so young.

Hibbs said while starting university at that age was challenging, he was lucky to have a support system of friends and teachers to help him along.

The decision to pursue a career in education is something Hibbs said came fairly late in his studies.

“I did a joint major in geology and geophysics…that’s what I was thinking about at the time, and I remember one of my friends doing a work placement in (Labrador) during the summer. He came back and I just heard the horrific stories of the flies and I thought, ‘I don’t think I want to go there,’” Hibbs said with a chuckle.

You’ve got to go to bat for the students every day. Jim Hibbs

Hibbs graduated with an education degree as well as his double major, and started teaching at a small school in St. John’s at the age of 20. From there, he moved on to Robert’s Arm where he worked as a science teacher until trying his hand at the administrative side of things.

“The more projects I took leadership on with other people, it just seemed sort of a natural thing to evolve from being a teacher. The principal at the time retired so I decided to throw my hat in the ring, and was hired as principal in 1993.”

Ten years later in 2003, Hibbs moved to Botwood and has been serving a principal at BBC ever since.

Hibbs said while being in an administrative role is very different from teaching, the connection you make with students is just as important.

“As principal I know I have a lot of interaction with students, a lot of my day is counseling,” Hibbs said. “We have a very high needs population in our school so you’re talking with students almost every moment of every day.”

Hibbs said despite how difficult his job can be at times, having a great staff makes it much easier.

“I see (my staff) going above and beyond every day; you just try and be an example in that regard,” Hibbs said. “It’s a privilege to come to work every day.”

Hibbs said no matter what challenges students and staff face throughout the school year, it’s days like graduation day – seeing his students move out into the world – that make it all worth it.

“Those are the moments I realize what we do matters, and to get the opportunity to make a difference matters. A lot of people wonder about our future and wonder, ‘who’s going to take over, look at the youth of today, look at the issues,’ but I’m not concerned a bit,” Hibbs said.  “We have some students that need a lot of attention and support but in reality I know are very capable to go out and take their place in the world. They’re going to be good citizens and make a difference.”

 

agunn@advertisernl.ca

Organizations: NLYA School Administrator, Council Distinguished School

Geographic location: Botwood, South Brook, Newfoundland Springdale

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