Bringing Sustainable Happiness to Life
Innovative Educator – Rex Ferguson-Baird

By Paul Clarke • June 13, 2016

I (Catherine) am currently teaching a graduate course in Education for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship for Cape Breton University’s Master in Education (Sustainability, Creativity, and Innovation). I asked the students to interview an innovative educator and I encourage any of you who might be looking for inspiration to do this yourself! It reminds us that education leaders are all around us and that they are transforming education. You’re in for a real treat with this article by Paul Clarke (@paulleoclarke). He profiles Rex Ferguson-Baird (@RexFB).

“If some sort of “social entrepreneurial aura” exists, Rex oozes it. Friendly, attentive, confident, engaging, eager.” Paul Clarke


Lao Tzu copyAs I drove to meet my old friend Rex at his school, Siri was giving me directions. It’s a novel app for me right now; only used it a couple of times. I reflected back about eleven years ago when Rex and I had first met co-leading the 82nd Westminster Cub Scout group, and how he had brought along these cool GPS gadgets “borrowed from work” to take our Pack geocaching through the neighbourhood.

This was 2005; personal GPS’ were still new and very, very cool. Rex was, and still is a gear-head. I was more a map and compass guy. Rex took the lead with the new tech, and we had the group match it with the old tech as we roved around the area; under a bridge, behind houses and apartments, between little shops in the area.

One evening, one activity, 20 eager minds, and we covered environmental, social and economic spheres of sustainability. Without even knowing it. Further, we took these young Cubs through the “simple recipe” use of the GPS unit, progressed to more complicated map-based orienteering and finally became more aware and involved in the amazing complexity of the physical and social environment. In a sense we’d moved through the simple-complex-complicated, the cake-rocket-child model of innovation that Westley, Zimmerman and Quinn Patton describe (2007). Without even knowing it.

Rex and I work well together.

Rex Ferguson-Baird is the Principal at Brooklands Elementary School in Winnipeg. It is a geographic outlier to the St. James School Division, a tombolo poking into the central Winnipeg School Division catchment area. Some call it “the Eastern Front”. Its students and families are socio-economically much more similar to my North End school than to the rest of his division. The student population is about 55% Indigenous, and 35% new-Canadians, including recently, several Syrian families.

Somebody probably could’ve used a GPS gadget when the lines were drawn.

Rex stands about 6’5’, head shaved bald and is imposing only in stature. If some sort of “social entrepreneurial aura” exists, Rex oozes it. Friendly, attentive, confident, engaging, eager.

When he was selected as principal to Brooklands six years ago, after teaching and a short vice principal stint in more affluent schools in the division, some colleagues thought he’d been banished to the hinterland for his “squeaky wheel-ness”. When Rex arrived, the situation was if not bleak, then at least disheartening: attendance low, attrition and turnover high; poverty, family and social issues overriding; literacy & numeracy levels all over the map or unknown; staff full of heart, love and resilience, but tired and barely keeping their heads above water.

Read the remainder of Paul’s article to find out what Rex and the school team at Brooklands have done to create a new narrative at Brooklands….

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