As this school year comes to an end, KDSS principal Mark Ozorio will close his office door one last time, leaving behind many fond memories as he heads into retirement.
Originally from Victoria, B.C., he moved often in his youth (he called himself a base brat), travelling around the country as his father was assigned to different posts during his military career. By the time he was in high school, the family was stationed in Ottawa, where he went to high school, the University of Ottawa then finished his post-graduate studies at McGill University.
Ozorio says he knew he wanted to be a teacher from an early age. While in Grade 10 he was paired with a student from Grade 9 with learning challenges, with whom he served as a mentor and tutor. The two students bonded, and Ozorio found he had an aptitude and interest in teaching. He knew he had found his calling.
If you could flip the calendar pages back 30 years, you would have found Ozorio fresh out of teachers’ college, flipping burgers at a restaurant in Montreal and searching for that first teaching job. He said he had an agreement with his wife Kim, who is also a teacher, that they would relocate to the first board that offered either of them a good full-time teaching position. When he got the call from Doug Brown offering him a spot at KDSS, which was then part of the Bruce County Board of Education, the newly married couple packed their bags and headed to Tiverton.
The position lasted only last three years, but it was followed by an offer to teach in Walkerton in 1994, before returning to KDSS in 1995. Ozorio remained at KDSS until 2008, with the exception of 1998, when he completed a teaching exchange in Australia. In 2003, Ozorio became vice principal of KDSS, before moving on to JDSS in Hanover, first as VP, and then as principal. Ozorio came full circle in his career, when he returned to KDSS for one last time as principal in 2015.
He has seen many changes at the high school since becoming an administrator, some of which he himself has implemented. In those days, KDSS, like other area schools, saw enrollment trending downward and when Ozorio returned as principal in 2015, the school had many closed rooms, was in debt, and had lost a number of cherished programs. He says he “stepped into a bit of a fix-me-upper situation,” and was fortunate that his staff trusted him enough to work at turning things around. Ozorio oversaw the return of the school’s music program and helped create a French immersion program that continues French language education beyond the Grade 8 level. This past November, Ozorio was grateful to be part of the team that announced that a new KDSS will be built in the next few years as government funding had been approved.
In recent years, he has been challenged by labour disruptions, the shift from KDSS operating as a high school to a Grades 7 – 12 facility and a pandemic. Ozorio says the support and trust of both staff, students and parents have “made it all work in a challenging environment” that has made KDSS “bigger and stronger.”
Ozorio says without a doubt, his biggest challenge has been the ongoing changes and pivots caused by the pandemic.
“Nothing ever prepared me for something like this and the impact (it would have) on families and learning,” said Ozorio. “It has pushed the envelope on how we do things. I’ve seen teachers get creative and come up with new tricks (to keep students engaged.)
He says students are at their best in a classroom, surrounded by friends and in front of teachers. This past year they have been pushed to accept a new way of learning, without their support system around them, and expected to wear masks. They’ve lost the opportunity to play sports and participate in activities and build those important relationships.
“Students have paid an unseen price because of this pandemic,” he said. “They have worked hard but have still paid a price.”
That said, he knows both students and staff are resilient, and will bounce back when the pandemic is over.
“KDSS will emerge from this. I am very proud to be a principal of such a great place. The future is very bright.”
Should students be considering teaching as a career, Ozorio suggests they follow their heart because you have to be happy going to work every day. He says that the job is, and always has been, about people, saying “we are public servants.”
“I have no regrets- it’s a great career,” he said. Ozorio considers himself to be a happy guy and says “my career choice has been a big part of my happiness.”
As for why he is retiring now, Ozorio says simply that it is the right time. The school is in good working order and he is confident his replacement, Andrew Riddick, will do a fabulous job.
“I’m lucky to have been in this profession,” he said. “It’s unlike any other. It’s the right time in my heart – I’m ready to explore other things.”
When able, he plans to travel, and will have time to pursue new interests. He’ll keep his connection with the community by volunteering for organizations he is interested in. He’ll consider working as a supply administrator on a temporary basis, as time allows.
“I’m ready for some new adventures I haven’t been able to wholeheartedly pursue before.”
Whether in a classroom, or behind the principal’s desk, teaching has never been just a job for Ozorio. It is his vocation. His tenure at KDSS has been long enough that his past students are now the parents of current students, a new generation. He has taken his responsibility as a mentor, a coach and an educator to heart, and hopes his legacy will be that people believe he did his best to make KDSS a success – good for Kincardine and the community, and that he delivered education to the best of his ability.
“(We are there) to help students grow up, be positive members of society and be self-supporting,” said Ozorio. “We are there to support each other, be kind and get to the finish line.”
Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent