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Principal named outstanding

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A St. James principal has been named the top of his class.

Neil Moffatt, principal at Heritage School, was one of 51 school administrators across Canada recently chosen by The Learning Partnership for its annual Canada’s Outstanding Principals award.

"I’m flattered and humbled," Moffatt grinned last week, shortly after the school’s 155 students settled back into class following a lunch recess.

Over the last nine years, 260 principals have received the award for building partnerships with parents and the community, and innovating classroom teaching styles to improve student achievement.

From reading programs to unparalleled professional development opportunities, Moffatt has played a key role in implementing a division-wide push to strengthen literacy skills among its youngest students since arriving at Heritage five years ago.

"Having literate kids is the biggest gift we could give them," Moffatt said.

"That’s the building blocks for success."

Heritage has twice played host to internationally-renowned educator Regie Routman as part of her residency program, drawing teachers from across the division to the school, Moffatt said. As part of her residency program, Routman, a former teacher turned popular education author, embeds herself in school classrooms to help teachers refine their literacy instruction skills and improve the writing and reading skills of students.

Heritage has also launched a summer reading program in an effort to combat a "dip" in skills common among developing youth, Moffat added.

"There’s such a dip over the summer with skills. Some kids will lose half," said the Silver Heights resident, who has served stints as a teacher, vice-principal and principal throughout the St. James-Assiniboia School Division, including Buchanan, Hedges and Brooklands schools.

"Having them still be engaged in reading has helped maintain their skills for when school starts again. To see the progress in those students is the real time to celebrate."

Heritage is a unique "melting pot" of students because of its surrounding community, Moffatt added, drawing kids from both a lower-income Manitoba housing complex, as well as an affluent middle class suburb.

A school must be active in getting parents involved in the school as much as students, Moffatt said, noting Heritage established a community kitchen program to allow parents to network with each other while cooking nutritious meals they could take home.

"The school belongs to the community," he said.

"This job is about finding less traditional and (more) positive ways to make the school accessible."

Strathmillan School principal Sue Marlatt said she nominated Moffatt because of his abilities to open doors for his students, parents and co-workers.

Moffatt embodies patience, kindness, care and concern while having high expectations, she said.

"He considers the whole child, that balance between having high expectations for his kids and their emotional and physical needs," she said.

"He’s very hands on, he’s very much about the children and whatever needs to happen he will do it to make it happen for any kid."

Marlatt, who received an Outstanding Principal award in 2009, also noted the school’s regular family nights throughout the year, as well as a breakfast program for students it provides with the help of the school’s parent council.

Two other Manitoba principals made the list, including Sharon Pekrul of Isaac Newton Junior High in the North End, and Tom Gallant of West Lynn Heights in Lynn Lake.

At the end of the month, Moffatt and his Manitoban counterparts will head off to Toronto for a gala event and a week-long education and business workshop at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

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