Meet Melanie: the District VP for Safe and Caring Schools
This International Women’s Day, we’re profiling a new leader (and the work she’s doing) in our district: Melanie Smith, District Vice Principal for Safe and Caring Schools.
Melanie is a recent addition to the leadership team at New Westminster Schools, and, having started in August, she’s stepping in to deliver on a new role that was created to help bring together a few portfolios that were previously supported by a combination of others. As a liaison to many inside and outside of the District, she’s supporting the critical work of making students and staff feel safer in our schools, with an important focus on preventative education too.
With a background as a teacher, a counsellor in both school and private practice, and with experience working as part of Critical Incidents Response Teams in Burnaby, she’s well-positioned to take on the multifaceted work she’s started doing here.
Every day looks a little different, when it comes to creating safer and more caring schools. But at any time you could find Melanie doing one of the following things:
- Arranging workshops and pulling together resources to support students and staff around issues they’ve identified as impacting their physical or mental wellbeing, as her office is positioned within the Wellness Centre at NWSS.
- Connecting resources from the Community and Wellness Centre with students at the middle schools and high school – to provide everything from individual supports for students to group presentations on bigger topics.
- In non-emergency cases, she’s the District’s main connection point to the New Westminster Police … as she liaises with their officers to partner on issues or cases where police are needed to support students or staff.
- When needed, she’s one of the core members of the District’s Critical Incident Response Team, coordinating community resources and supports to events that may be impact students (e.g. in the event where there may be a public loss within a community, or an incident that might trigger the need for wider emotional supports to be put in place).
- She’s also involved in driving the Violent Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) process, collaborating with Ministry, stakeholder or community partners to help prevent events, to protect kids at risk, and to help support kids who are struggling with issues that might have them considering lashing out or acting on threats, before it may happen.
One of the other things Melanie is proud to be doing is supporting students who have stepped forward with issues they’re passionate about. Included in that has been working alongside the NWSS student members of SEAS (Safety, Education, Advocacy and Support group) to address the gender-based harassment concerns they’ve shared. “There is a group of students who were feeling unsafe and feeling like consent has not been at the forefront of what is typically being taught, and they’ve asked us in New West to step up and be leaders in this bigger issue,” said Melanie. “We’re responding to that by making sure that we have robust consent education in place here, as we continue to work to address the issues impacting students and their sense of safety. That means providing educational opportunities now that can help improve their experiences while they are here learning, and when they are interacting with each other out in the community.”
Essentially, if it makes kids feel safer in their learning environment, Melanie is likely involved. But she’s the first to point out that she’s not doing it alone.
Given the nature of this role, Melanie has a large network she connects with to fulfill on these various overlapping portfolios. She is regularly working alongside other district staff (including, in particular, the District VP for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-racism), the whole Wellness Centre team and connected community partners, staff at all levels of every school, community organizations, Ministry services and more. She’s busy evaluating each situation and issue to help determine how our available resources can help improve the lives of students and staff.
“Everything that I do centres around making students and staff feel safe and feel like they have access to a safe working environment, a safe learning environment,” she said as she reflected on why she feels this role is so valuable. “We want everyone to be learning and working in spaces that feel welcoming, caring and just supportive of who they are as individuals. I think that’s really, really important.”
It’s a big role that Melanie is working on and we’re so glad to have her as part of the leadership team doing this work!