Changing of the principals

Every morning, an English-French-Gwichin recording of the Canadian national anthem is played over the morning announcements of Porter Creek Secondary School.

Every morning, an English-French-Gwichin recording of the Canadian national anthem is played over the morning announcements of Porter Creek Secondary School.

Throughout the anthem’s 55-second runtime, students are meant to “reflect on how important our country is, and our territory is, in the whole scheme of things,” said the school’s new principal Brendan Kelly, speaking with a pronounced Newfoundland accent.

“I think it’s important we put the idea of empathy and understanding back in our school work.”

“Mr. Kelly’s Cookies,” reads a cookie jar stationed on the office’s meeting table.

A stack of framed pictures sits alongside his desk, still waiting to be hung up.

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” declares Kelly’s all-fives office clock; obviously a post-Newfoundland acquisition.

The national anthem is one of a few changes that have heralded the entrance of the new principal.

Under Kelly, the school has already ratcheted up its anti-smoking efforts.

A conspicuous “smoke pit” has long existed on the fringe of the school’s parking lot.

“I can’t turn a blind eye to something, as an educator, that I know is harmful and I know is not legal,” said Kelly.

“If you need some counselling or you need some medical assistance or whatever it is, I’m willing to help,” said Kelly.

Kelly’s father died of smoking related illnesses while Kelly was still a child.

“Three packs a day – smoking through a tracheotomy, and his lips were gone,” said Kelly.

“I know what it can do, and I don’t want any of my students to have to experience that.”

Mobile electronics have been banned in the classrooms.

The rule is new for Porter Creek – but commonplace in hundreds of schools across North America.

“You see people, they’ve lost their communication, because the time they get up in the morning until the time they get home at night, some people have those headphones in,” said Kelly.

Plus, it’s not the most convenient thing to have students walking around with $400 electronic gadgets.

Kelly says he can’t be fielding calls from parents asking that he investigate their child’s stolen iPod.

Students are also barred from eating anywhere except in classrooms and the cafeteria.

That rule is due to heightened sanitation requirements as a result of the H1N1 virus, said Kelly.

At break on Thursday, a trio of Grade 11 students stood in a huddle, feverishly tapping at their Blackberries.

Some students view iPods as valuable focusing tools, said one student.

The music could be used to block out the chatter of other students and promote concentration, he said.

Some students may have reacted negatively to the new rules, but over time they will warm to their new principal, said one hallway Blackberry user.

“The only thing that’s really changed is that he’s trying to get people to stop smoking,” said a student with an emo haircut.

“As a smoker, I don’t care,” he added.

Long before he was a principal, Kelly was a runner.

In 1977, Kelly – then a St. John’s grocery clerk – embarked on a 7,500-kilometre marathon from Victoria to Newfoundland.

People called him Bren back then, said Kelly.

The 120-day marathon had been orchestrated as a promotion for Newfoundland’s hosting of that year’s Canada Summer Games.

In each province, the young runner from Newfoundland was greeted by political leaders.

Kelly shook hands with prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Quebec premier Rene Levesque and BC premier W.A.C. Bennett, among others.

In 1980, while managing the Ponderosa Steakhouse, Kelly was introduced to Terry Fox.

“They brought him into the restaurant and said, would I mind having dinner with this young guy who’s going to run across Canada?” said Kelly.

Throughout the Marathon of Hope, CBC reporters called Kelly to get background information on the terrain Fox was covering.

Kelly got his teaching start in the Newfoundland Catholic school system.

After 11 years, the province put the kibosh on government-funded Catholic schools and Kelly was suddenly left without a job.

Kelly took the next job he could find: a fly-in First Nation community in northern Manitoba.

After five years, he ascended to principal of a school in Sioux Lookout, eventually became a First Nation education co-ordinator in Ontario, and later a superintendant of the Lakeshore, Ontario, region.

“No matter how many times I’ve seen someone who wasn’t ready to learn or needed a hand up, you never give up on those people,” said Kelly.

“It’d be a sad place if we gave up on people.”

Contact Tristin Hopper at