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Every successful organisation needs an inspiring figure at the top

 

Every successful organisation needs an inspiring figure at the top, one with a steady hand and a calming influence, but also has their sights set boldly on the future, and not be afraid to take risks.

This is especially true at a school where our future leaders – perhaps of schools themselves – are shaped and molded. At Island Pacific School (IPS), the institution has been under extremely capable hands for the past six years under Head of School, Scott Herrington.

Of course IPS has been under exceptional leadership since the founding of the school thanks to its original leader Ted Spear. But after nearly two decades in the role, Spear was ready to pass the reins to his successor.

Scott is a lifelong educator, having taught overseas for two-and-a-half decades prior to arriving on Bowen Island. Despite his years overseas, he was no stranger to Bowen .

“I always knew about this amazing little school on Bowen Island because my good friends’ children attended and they were always encouraging me to leave my expatriate life and come back to Canada and teach at IPS,” says Scott.

Scott remembers fondly reading the “very compelling” job description that centered on middle school, experiential learning and, amazingly enough, his favourite team sport, Ultimate. With his contract at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia coming to an end and two of his three kids already attending the University of British Columbia, the timing seemed perfect. The application process went smoothly, and Scott was selected as the new head of school for 2017/18.

Scott and his family settled in Eagle Cliff, and over the course of the first year got accustomed to both life at IPS and Bowen Island itself. Though he’d made many visits, Scott says he had much to discover (and still does), including Crayola Beach and the many trails of Mount Gardner. Having begun his career in the rural north of Grande Prairie, Alberta, Scott says he has always felt most comfortable in the outdoors.

Which is a good thing, since being in touch with your surroundings is one of the defining themes of Island Pacific School. This can be seen every day with the morning stretch, a school hiking trip the first week of classes, sailing, skiing and service journeys to the mainland, and many more experiences throughout the year.

“I think they need to love the outdoors,” says Scott of prospective students. “We are very, very much an experiential based school. We strive to be out in nature. We are a school that values the experiences that are borne out in the natural world.”

Often new leadership implies a fundamental shift in focus. But Scott says this wasn’t the case at IPS, where Spear and the many staff had already created a thriving education model. Scott says his objective was “sustaining success” when he accepted the job. “My hope was not to mess anything up,” he jokes.

That didn’t mean Scott wasn’t bringing innovative ideas to the table though, many of which can be seen at IPS today. Scott said he wanted to devote more time to faculty collaboration to stir up some fresh ideas. This manifested into the weekly Monday morning staff collaboration meetings, where teachers are invited to step out of their disciplines and bring forward suggestions to the group. Scott says this keeps IPS innovative, and most importantly keeps the kids loving school.

Because that is the main mission after all. “To equip and inspire our students and help them cultivate their humanity,” says Scott of the school’s approach to learning.

Part of this is Bowen’s geographic advantage. “That feature of ‘small by design’… that to me is one of our secret weapons. Everything to me that’s great about IPS I think you can circle back to our smallness,” explains Scott.

But that doesn’t mean the school isn’t known off the island. In fact, around half of their students come from Vancouver’s north shore (North and West Vancouver), and sometimes from Vancouver central, making the daily ferry journey to be able to take part in the Island Pacific School experience. Scott says this shows both a commitment to the school and its reputation, and highlights the efforts made year-round to make IPS accessible for everybody.

“We have a very strong commitment to allowing access and diversity to our special Island Pacific School way here in terms of allowing families who would otherwise not be able to access it, access it through the student bursary program. ,” says Scott.

IPS is a member of both the Independent Schools Association of BC (ISABC) and the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS), the latter accreditation review coming during Scott’s tenure. It was a rigorous process involving internal and external assessments, but IPS came out with stronger practices on the other side thanks to it. The school is also an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School and is currently undergoing another rigorous review of their Middle Years Programme. Staff involvement in ISABC sub-groups has been invigorated under Scott’s lead, with specific teachers leading initiatives such as Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) (IPS held the first pride parade on Bowen in 2022), indigenous education, mental health and wellness, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and more.

It has not all been smooth sailing though – like the rest of the world, Island Pacific School was heavily affected by the Covid pandemic. Scott, along with all school staff, planned out and enacted a three-stage distance learning plan which allowed students to complete the school year in a modified – and most importantly safe – fashion.

Perhaps most impressive, the year-end outdoor excursions were able to continue, including camping, kayaking, hiking, and even the traditional Grade 9 solo camping experience. “The IPS faculty and staff have worked extremely hard to ensure that we were fulfilling our mission to equip, inspire and cultivate the humanity of our students on a daily basis,” said Scott as the first year under pandemic guidelines drew to a close in June 2020.

“I am so pleased with the way our small, independent school has managed the pandemic. Early on, I read a quote that ‘A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste.’ I do think our school did a remarkable job taking advantage and learning from this experience and I am confident that we have come out of this stronger, more versatile and better able to meet the needs of our students,” added Scott.

While safely guiding the school through the pandemic was Scott’s most vital task of the past six years, there’s another project in progress which will be a lasting legacy for Scott and IPS. The Colin Ruloff Community Field House, named for the talented and caring 2010 IPS alumni who tragically passed away in 2018, was built in the summer of 2024.

“The Ruloff family is loved by both of our communities and the Chapel will be blessed by having such a wonderful person acknowledged in this lasting and meaningful gesture,” said Pastor Phil Adkins at neighbouring Cates Hill Chapel, who will share the space with IPS.

Fundraisers such as Monsoon Madness Mudder have been invaluable for the field house, last year’s event alone raised more than we’ve ever raised in the history of the school. The structure will stand behind the school and be home to school activities and games, and possibly concerts and workshops as well.

“The Colin Ruloff Community Field House is not intended to benefit Island Pacific School alone, this facility is going to be open to be used and enjoyed by the entire Bowen community, year round with the expectation that it will be a worthy legacy to Colin Ruloff,” says IPS Chair Ian MacLeod.

This truly fits with Scott’s ethos of representing and lifting up the island represented in the school’s name.

“IPS has a phenomenal history of being a community partner. It is born and bred out of the interests of community members,” says Scott, especially noting the strong relationships IPS shares with fellow learning centres Bowen Island Community School and Island Discovery Learning Community.

The 2023/24 school year will be Scott’s last. After 35 years in education, a journey which took him from Alberta to the other side of the world, and finally a finale here on Bowen, Scott’s guidance of thousands of children through the middle school years is something both he and his many pupils will not forget.

“We really celebrate that very turbulent time in life, and we are experts in our capacity to navigate those years,” says Scott.

And for what will be seven strong years at IPS, it’s an education experience Scott says will stay with alumni their whole life.

“We work hard to offer what amounts to be a wonderful alternative… What I recognize now coming back and being here on Bowen is, for some families it’s a perfect fit to remain in the public school system, and for some others a consideration of independent school might be appealing for all sorts of different reasons,” he says.
“What’s great about education is the variety and options and diversification that can take place,” says Scott – values Scott championed during his tenure, and which will be enshrined at Island Pacific School long after he departs.


Julia McCaig
Director of Community Engagement
Island Pacific School
julia.mccaig@islandpacific.org