Award winning vice principal shares the kudos

Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s vice-principal Ryan Sikkes is the 2008 Distinguished Vice-Principal of the Year.

Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s vice-principal Ryan Sikkes is the 2008 Distinguished Vice-Principal of the Year.

The Canadian Association of Principals hands out the annual award.

“I was shocked to win,” said Sikkes. “When they phoned and let me know I just started laughing.”

The announcement prompted a wave of media people to drop by Vanier.

“It’s nice to be recognized, but I’ll be glad when it’s over,” he said. “I’ve got a job to do.”

Sikkes used the media attention to praise Vanier’s staff.

“I have an amazing support network and an amazing team … I’d hate for this to imply that I’m working any harder than anyone else.”

Wearing a tie printed with the periodic table of the elements, Sikkes sits in an office decorated with Einstein figurines, other science kitsch and wedding photos.

On his desk sits a coffee mug made to look like a laboratory beaker.

Before becoming vice-principal, he’d taught science, chemistry and mathematics at Vanier, he said.

Arriving in Whitehorse six years ago, after graduating from the University of Victoria, Sikkes had hoped to become a band teacher. 

“There were no band teaching jobs to be had.”

His music training has given him a unique appreciation for school arts programs, and he maintains that he is still able to perform all of Tom Lehrer’s The Elements song.

The primary basis for the award centered around the Empathy Program, a new educational structure recently implemented under Sikkes’ direction.

“We’ve reorganized our staff into what we call ‘professional learning communities; those are groups of teachers that have similar interests in terms of curriculum. 

“Those teachers meet biweekly to talk about improving their teaching practice.”

The program has been designed to increase communication and peer support among the faculty.

“There’s a metaphor that is often used about schools that they are groups of autonomous contractors with a united parking lot … if you’re having success, no one knows about it — if you’re having difficulties, it’s hard to reach out.

“The point of these groups has been to share these successes but also to become more interdependent in terms of improving practice.”

Establishing a yearly substance-free after-grad party is Sikkes proudest accomplishment.

Previously, students had attended alcoholic “wet” grad parties.

While the students were closely monitored to prevent drunk driving, “sexual assaults were becoming an issue,” he said.

Over the past five years, wet grad nights have been replaced with all-night activities at the school, finishing up with a raffle in the early morning hours.

“That was a real cultural change that our grad class was able to make,” he said.

At only 28, Sikkes believes his relative inexperience has been a valuable asset.

“The longer you teach, the more tempting it is to fall back on routines.

“I don’t want to say that every teacher or vice-principal who’s older does that, but because I don’t have as much experience I’m still asking a lot of those basic questions; ‘do we really need to do things this way because that’s the way they’ve always been done?’”

His admittedly uneuphonious name is pronounced “Sick-us.”

While the name may have elicited jeers when he was in elementary school, as a vice-principal at Vanier, “Nobody has ever made fun of it to my face,” he laughed.