Palliser's first Ambassador Award winner sets the bar high

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Palliser Board Chair Colleen Deitz congratulates Dan Doerksen, the first-ever Ambassador Award winner.

If Palliser Regional Schools officials were looking for the embodiment of the inaugural Ambassador Award, they couldn’t have made a better selection than Dan Doerksen.

An ambassador promotes, supports and campaigns on an organization’s behalf with dignity, humility and enthusiasm, Superintendent Kevin Gieitz noted at Palliser’s Opening Day Celebration. 

Doerksen, a Low German-speaking Mennonite liaison worker, is often the first point of contact for families considering joining Palliser. He meets with them in their homes, speaks their language and respects their culture and faith.

Often those families have little experience in school and may be dealing with fears and doubts about enrolling their children, added the superintendent.

“But in his quiet, humble way, this Palliser Ambassador  settles their fears, sets out a welcome mat and opens the doors of opportunity that an education and literacy skills can provide,” said Gietz. “He is interpreter, counsellor, supporter, cheerleader, friend and ally.”

Doerksen began working with Palliser in 2000, spending his first eight years as a school bus driver. He became an educational assistant at Huntsville School in 2007-2008 and the following year began working as a LGM liaison officer.

The recognition came as a surprise to Doerksen, who said he was “pretty much speechless.”

“It’s been a tremendous honour over these years to be able to work with people of my own background - who I trust will have a positive impact in their lives – because a good education will have a positive impact on their lives,” he said.

Doerksen thanked his many colleagues for building relationships with those students, many of them without benefit of speaking their language.

“The love you have for Low German-speaking kids and other kids, the parents can see that,” he said.

The addition of a new staff award wasn’t the only historical aspect of the ceremony, which kicks-off another school year. For the first time Palliser Regional Schools will serve more than 8,000 students with the addition of two Islamic schools in Calgary.

“I am deeply proud of how incredibly diverse Palliser is, now more than ever,” said Board Chair Colleen Deitz. “Yes, diversity makes us stronger.”

She told the 900 teachers and support staff that she is proud for a number of reasons, most of all for the care they provide for all Palliser’s students as if they were their own.

The Opening Day celebration also saw long service awards handed out to staff, with more than 2,335 years of combined experience among them. Recognition was provided to those starting with five years of service, with the longest-standing employee, Vice-Chair  Don Zech, celebrating his 40th year with Palliser.

Zech retired from teaching in June 2000, following a 34-year career, 32 of which were in an administrative capacity. Shortly after his retirement, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of Palliser Regional Schools in 2001.

He served as Board Chair for nine years and as vice-chair since October 2013.