For the first time, a born-and-raised Collingwood man is now the director of education for the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB).
For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with John Dance, 60, director of education for the public board.
Q: For how long have you lived in Collingwood?
A: With the exception of my university years and a couple of years in Alliston, I’ve lived in Collingwood my whole life.
I went to Victoria School, and then moved to Mountain View Elementary School, and Senior Public, which was the old Admiral Collingwood Public School.
Then, I went to CCI (Collingwood Collegiate Institute).
Q: Did you always know you wanted to go into education?
A: To be honest, no. I thought I would do something else in the area of law.
At one point, I thought I was going to be a phys-ed teacher but I couldn’t cut it. I had always been involved in coaching. I had coached minor sports as a teenager.
I gravitated toward education as I was finishing my university degree at McMaster University. I had considered going into law or journalism.
I was accepted into education at Queen’s University and went from there.
Q: Where did your life journey take you after that?
A: I was a teacher, vice-principal, principal, superintendent of human resources and then I was the associate director of education at the SCDSB for the past four years.
Now I’ve moved to director.
Q: What subjects did you teach back when you were teaching?
A: I was primary/junior, so I taught, for the most part, grades seven and eight.
I also taught kindergarten in some gifted classes and a variety of other subjects.
Not music though. That would have been unfortunate for the students.
Q: What was your favourite subject to teach?
A: It was probably history. My degree is in history and political science.
I taught down in Alliston for a couple of years when I first started at a school called Tecumseth North, which is now closed, and I did a re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights at the back of the school.
People wouldn’t do that nowadays.
We had a river and a hill so half the class were the Americans coming over and the other half were the British. That was one of my favourite (memories), except we did have some students who got poison ivy from going over there.
Q: How would you describe your teaching style?
A: Very hands-on. When I taught at Mountain View... I used to set up science experiments and stations that students would work their way around. I also liked having conversations about current events.
Q: Now that you’re moving up as director of education for the board at of Aug. 1, is there something special you’re bringing to the table?
A: I’m not sure if I’d consider it special, but I do know the county very well. It shows the length of time I’ve been doing this job, but also the different roles.
I bring a broad view of the county and where we’re at. I’ve said to our principals and senior team, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish in Simcoe County. My predecessors knew that as well. We’re in a good situation where we have a strong board of trustees who support us.
I see Simcoe County’s district school board as being the perfect size both to effect change and build on successes. That’s part of what I hope to do in my role.
Q: Is there anything unique about your Collingwood upbringing that you feel has prepared you better for a position such as director of education?
A: I’m not sure. When I got back to my time as a young person in the 1960s and 1970s – which is a long way back now. I graduated high school in 1980 – we had a lot of opportunity.
In Collingwood, it was at a time when the Shipyards were still booming along. Of course, later it dropped off and Collingwood had to go through a period of transition.
I was raised on Third Street. I went through the closing of Victoria and going to Mountain View. I remember walking to Mountain View.
We had such a wide variety of opportunities, especially in high school.
I was involved in student government.
There were a lot of opportunities that came my way, probably because I was in Collingwood. I’ve been able to do that with my own kids. They went through CCI and had great opportunities and are well on their way in their careers.
I think that’s one of the things that separates not just Collingwood but all of Simcoe County. The opportunities are there, and taking advantage of them is a very important aspect of what we try to convey to our students.
Q: Do you have any other hobbies you’d like to share?
A: I try to get as much exercise as possible through hikes and walks. I love to play hockey. I’m looking forward to going back to playing hockey because I haven’t for the last two years. We’ll see if everything still works. (laughs)
I was a chair of parks and recreation in Collingwood for a number of years so I’ve always had that connection.
I’m president of OPHEA (Ontario Physical and Health Education Association), so that takes up some of my time as well.
Those sorts of connections are important.
When I was a parent and teacher, I was also involved in PTAs and school councils. I’ve coached for a lot of years, although I haven’t for the past few whether it was soccer, basketball or hockey.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?
A: We have a wonderful community. It has everything people would like to have in their community. The sky’s the limit in what we can accomplish.
It’s nice to see that as Collingwood grows, we’re able to maintain some of the values we’ve had all along. That’s especially true in our schools.
For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every Saturday. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email firstname.lastname@example.org.