Principal honoured for excellence

Award winner Renae Hildebrand. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Winkler Times)

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An Excellence in Education Award was equally deserving to all staff members of Border Valley Elementary School, according to the winner.
Renae Hildebrand was the principal at the school in Reinland, when she was nominated for the Provincial Outstanding School Leader Award. She, along with eight other educators were honoured at the end of April with awards.
“It really is a reflection of teamwork and years of developing relationships,” she said.
Hildebrand was credited with changing school culture and mobilizing staff and the school community. Together they implemented the Leader in Me program which led to a change in mindset and empowered staff to take on leadership roles. Over 20 student leadership groups have been created, such as recycling, composting, helping early years students and assisting with technology groups.
She also established a Girls’ Time Out group to deal with bullying and boost self esteem and enabled the Advisory Council for School Leadership and the Parent Advisory Council to have meaningful involvement in school planning and data analyses. School community projects included playground upgrades, landscape improvements and the development of a farm program. She also initiated a student-run Leadership Day, attended by business, community and political leaders. This event includes speeches, musical performances and a showcase of leadership roles.
Now the principal of the soon to be open Pine Ridge Elementary School in Winkler, Hildebrand said none of those initiatives would have worked if they’d just been her ideas.
“It’s about working together and working on each other’s strengths and building from everyone’s ideas,” she said. “The momentum gets so great that what we come up with is better than what any of us could have done on our own.”
The immense changes that occurred required a team effort. “It really is all the work that everyone has put into making Border Valley the school that it is and because I was the leader, I just happened to get the recognition,” she said. “It really is everybody’s award.”
Some programs such as the Leader in Me program, took years to fully root.
Hildebrand said it was 15 years ago that she started it in her classroom after finding the book at a local store.
“Some of the work we were doing wasn’t really working and the kids weren’t connecting,” she said. “I knew that would be a really good fit. I started using it in my classroom and other teachers saw it was working well and they started using it.”
Giving students a chance to be part of change in many of the programs was also intentional.
“I think part of our job as adults and our mission statement at the division is to try to create good workers, neighbours and citizens,” she said. “I think the leadership groups really help them take ownership of their own lives, and ownership of how they treat others, how they treat themselves, and that is super important to creating good workers, neighbours and citizens.”
“We want workers who get along with other people and can see other people’s ideas and other people’s perspectives. We want neighbours who are willing to help out and are friendly and aren’t just taking care of themselves. We want that type of community here, and I think that program definitely helps them do that,” she said.
While Hildebrand would like to see many of the same programs carried over to Pine Ridge Elementary, she said it’s more important to show students by their actions.
“I think it really starts with the teachers and the staff, the EA’s, the custodians, the SAA’s, everybody in the school,” she said. “We need to be able to model what good workers, good neighbours, good citizens look like.”
At the end of the day, Hildebrand said she is thankful for the award.
“It’s just very humbling because I’m just a regular person like everybody else and there’s so many people in this division that deserve that award,” she said. “It was a big honour to be nominated.”