Chief Superintendent David Stevenson Honoured with CBE Legacy Award

Dec. 05, 2018

​The Board of Trustees presents the Legacy Award to Chief Superintendent David Stevenson.

The following is a transcript of the presentation of the Legacy Award by Board Chair Trina Hurdman.

The Calgary Board of Education Legacy Award celebrates public education in Calgary and the individuals who have contributed to our communities.

Public education is in many ways the foundation of our democratic society, and our communities have been indelibly shaped by CBE graduates over the past century.  In every corner of the city, across the country and beyond, our alumni have made a lasting impact. Legacy Award recipients embody the work of the public education system and represent the legacy of the CBE: preparing students for life, work and inspiring life-long learning. We want to acknowledge the individuals who continue this work, who use their unique talents to make our world better. These former students are our legacy.

Over the years, we have presented this award, and its predecessor, the Distinguished Alumni Award, to many impressive people. Recipients have included Olympians, philanthropists, politicians, even an astronaut.

Each one of these recipients have acknowledged the critical role that a strong public education system played in laying the foundation for their future success. These are people who are often publicly celebrated for their many achievements and contributions to society, and rightfully so.

However, today we are presenting this Legacy award to someone who is not often publicly celebrated, yet who is probably one of the most deserving recipients of this award since its inception - Chief Superintendent David Stevenson.

Some 2,500 years ago, the Chinese sage Lao Tze said, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

By this definition, Chief Superintendent Stevenson is a great leader. I can tell you right now that he is uncomfortable taking credit for any success. Not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because he doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. Instead, he is always shining the light on others and trying attribute success to them. He is constantly expressing his appreciation for staff, students, and community members in the Calgary Board of Education.

Well, today it is our turn to express our gratitude to you.

Chief Superintendent Stevenson began his career with the Calgary Board of Education before I was born. For over four decades, he has dedicated his life to serving the citizens of Calgary by making the Calgary Board of Education a better place for hundreds of thousands of Calgary students.

After graduating from James Fowler High School and earning his teaching credentials, he went on to serve as a classroom teacher, psychologist, consultant, specialist, assistant principal and principal, director of special education, area director and acting superintendent of learning before becoming deputy Chief Superintendent and then Chief Superintendent. I want to touch on some highlights from this outstanding career.

A long, long time ago, he started in one of the most important and influential positions that exists in our society - that of a classroom teacher. As a beginning teacher at R.T. Alderman School, he actually taught a young lady who would go on to become the Premier of Alberta.

However, he soon moved on to what many who know him would consider his true calling; supporting some of society’s most vulnerable students. He wanted them to believe in themselves and inspired other staff and community members to work together to help these students achieve their potential.

At Emily Follensbee School, he worked with students high on the autism spectrum, who were often non-verbal and exhibited a wide range of complex behavioural issues. As an assistant principal at Woods Homes and then as principal of William Roper Hull School, he worked with some of society’s most marginalized students.

While there, he led a radical shift from simply trying to manage behaviour and focusing on the social and emotional wellness of these students who had faced significant trauma, to ensuring that these students were also supported in academic learning. He sincerely believed that no matter how much of a safe and caring environment that the school provided, if they did not teach these students how to read, then the CBE was failing in its duty. We take this for granted now that each and every student is capable of academic achievement given the right supports.  But this was actually a huge shift in thinking in the mid-90s.

This caught the attention of senior CBE leadership at the time, who offered him the position of Director of Student Services.

Recognizing that teachers could not meet the complexity and variety of needs that students were coming to school with every day, he actively sought out partnerships with corporate, government and community agencies to support students in schools.

Bringing all these partners together was foundational in the creation of the Student Health Partnership to connect students and their families with a variety of health and social services. This was critical for families who were at-risk and who did not possess the skills required to navigate the variety of government agencies that were there to support them. Eventually, this model was expanded across the province and is now known as the Regional Collaborative Service Delivery model.

After serving as Area Director and then Acting Superintendent of Learning, he was named deputy chief superintendent in 2009. He stepped into the role of chief superintendent on an interim basis in early 2014 before being named chief superintendent later that year.

Having been a trustee at that time, I can tell you that it was a unanimous decision of the Board of Trustees, as he was obviously the best choice to lead the system. I remember that trustees interviewed him on a Sunday morning, which also happened to be Mother’s Day. It was not the last time that his position would end up taking him away from his family and we thank them for supporting him throughout the years.

As Chief Superintendent, David Stevenson has had to lead our system through many challenging times. Every year, we have asked him to do more with less and during each of those difficult budget cycles, he has always prioritized students and classrooms first. Under his leadership, the CBE has become more focused on student learning, especially in the areas of literacy, Math, Indigenous education and high school success. He also appreciates the critical role that parents and community members play in education and led the creation of a new framework for public engagement to involve people in decisions that affect them. Many consider this to be a huge cultural shift within the organization. He is also constantly searching for ways to better support and inspire the 15,000 employees that he is responsible for as they do the work of educating and caring for society’s most precious resource, our children.

Finally, he has been an ardent supporter of reconciliation efforts through public education. Through the years, David has worked with our Elder Advisory Council to ensure students who identify as Indigenous have every opportunity to succeed. He has even been honoured with a Blackfoot name in recognition of his dedication to working collaboratively with indigenous communities around Calgary.  The Blackfoot name that he was honoured with means “Person of Influence.”

Despite all of David’s accomplishments, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. It is a testament to his character that he is willing to apologize for his mistakes and do his very best to correct them. He is a strong believer in democracy and has always respected and supported Board decisions, even when he may not have agreed with them, which probably happened more often than he would have liked.

I wish that I was able to do a better job of describing Chief Superintendent Stevenson’s incredible dedication to public education and to meeting the needs of students, especially our most vulnerable.

I know that he has had many sleepless nights, worrying about students, especially when they go on international trips that he has personally signed off on. I know that he has spent countless hours agonizing over decisions that could impact thousands of students and families and pondering how we could do better.

I know that innumerable staff have expressed how he makes them want to do, and be, better for students. I know that he truly believes that public education is a keystone of our democratic society and that it is imperative that we do our very best every day to support each and every student.

I also know that when we fail - and in such a large system, there are always failures - that those failures break his heart. However, I hope that he will not dwell on those and that he will recognize that he is leaving the Calgary Board of Education a better place.

He has served our system diligently and faithfully and will be deeply missed by many.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the beauty in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you lived here. This is to have succeeded.”

Chief Superintendent Stevenson, David, there are many who have breathed easier because of your work here.

To recognize your achievement today, we are presenting you with the Legacy Award.

Each Legacy award is unique. David’s includes artwork by fellow James Fowler High School student Sarah Law. She is currently an Advanced Drawing 35 student, and she created the drawing featured on this award, just for you.

Also, in keeping with Chief Superintendent Stevenson’s commitment to supporting students achieve their potential, in honour of his more than 40 years of service, a scholarship fund has been set up in his name for indigenous students through Education Matters. We hope that people will consider making a donation to this fund to recognize the impact that he has made on students and staff throughout his career.

Chief Stevenson, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, almost 15,000 employees and more than 123,000 students, I thank you for your service.