New principals take over Watson Lake schools

The elementary and the secondary schools have new leadership this year and, as new people will do, they bring fresh energy and ideas into the schools and the town.


The elementary and the secondary schools have new leadership this year and, as new people will do, they bring fresh energy and ideas into the schools and the town.

In the interest of introducing themselves to their new community, both men agreed to answer questions and offer a brief history of themselves.

Kirk Jensen, now at the Watson Lake Secondary School, grew up in a small town in Alberta, but comes to his new position in the Yukon from 12 years in Lac La Biche. His most recent job there was executive director of the Learning Network, a professional development position that he eventually left because he missed the daily involvement with teachers, kids and parents.

When Jensen was 18, he was presented with an opportunity to study theatre in London, England. It was something he was keen to do, having been interested in theatre arts throughout his school life.

His parents encouraged him to finish university first. He ended up choosing a career in teaching over a career in theatre, but, in doing so, found he’d answered his interest in both.

“One of the things I like about teaching is that everyday is different,” Jensen says. “You never know for certain what might happen. There is a lot of drama in teaching.”

He brings solid credentials to his new job; five of his classroom years were spent in special education and he is qualified to do psycho-educational assessments. He has a master’s degree in counseling (Kindergarten to Grade 12) and acted as director of student services for several years.

Jensen claims a lifelong desire to live in the North, a desire cemented by a trip in l990 of which he said, “We did the whole tourist thing, and drove all the major roads; the Alaska Highway, the Robert Campbell Highway and Highway 37. I loved it.”

He likes all aspects of outdoor life; the hunting, the fishing, the camping and simply being in the woods, regardless of weather.

His enthusiasm and evident love of the wilderness in combination with his interest and commitment to his new job should make him a good fit in Watson Lake.

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Kevin Foley, at Johnson Elementary School, is a Newfoundlander born and bred.

Most of his teaching years have been spent in St. John’s, though he has taught in most of the Maritime provinces over the years and his most recent job before coming to the Yukon was in Ontario.

He and his wife were considering retiring, but a visit to his sister in Faro last summer changed all that when Foley found he really liked the northern country. When he got home, he applied for various teaching positions in Yukon, got some interviews, and voila! Johnson Elementary got its new principal.

Foley was a principal for 12 years. He has a master’s degree in administration as well as degrees in science and education.

He knew early in life that he wanted to teach.

“I was good in math,” Foley says. “The teacher would ask me to demonstrate the solving of a math problem and I found I liked the helping aspect of doing that. I had teachers I liked and respected, which helped in choosing my career. And remember, I grew up in a small town in Newfoundland; we didn’t see a lot of different career choices. There were nurses, doctors, police and teachers.”

He likes kids for their “enthusiasm, ambition, and naivete.” He and his wife, Johanna, have three grown children.

Johanna is an EA working in Newfoundland right now, but the couple hopes she will be in Watson Lake for the winter months.

Foley has a lifelong passion for sports. He is a marathon and cross-country runner. He plays hockey, skis and hopes to learn to curl this winter.

He is impressed with his new home.

“There is a vitality here that I didn’t anticipate, given the economic situation with mine closures. It’s an attractive town, too, with a lot of things on offer.”

What about his new school?

“The staff at this school is extraordinary,” says Foley. “I find I really can’t say enough about how truly excellent they are in their professionalism and their dedication. There is a level of caring, of optimism on the part of these teachers that makes them outstanding. I think working here is an exciting opportunity and I am grateful for it. I want to get to know the community, to meet people and to participate in the activities of the town.”

It would seem Watson Lake has gained more than new leadership in the schools: both Jensen and Foley not only demonstrate enthusiasm and energy for their jobs, but a willingness to learn about and become part of their new community.

So, when you meet them on the street or in the post office or anywhere about the town, introduce yourself and extend a warm Watson Lake welcome. Let’s all do our part to make it a good year for our kids.

Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer based in Watson Lake.