Sitting in her office adorned with memories from her career at the Waterloo Region District School Board, Coordinating Superintendent Lila Read (now Associate Director) reflected on the path that led her to this position. When she started nearly 25 years ago as a continuing education night school teacher, she never would have predicted she would end up where she is today. “I didn’t even know what a superintendent was when I started as a teacher, frankly,” Read said with a laugh.
Read’s decades of dedication and commitment to student success have not gone unnoticed. The Ontario Public Supervisory Officers’ Association (OPSOA) in 2019 presented her with the Distinguished Leadership Award. The award, presented annually, recognizes an outstanding member of OPSOA who has demonstrated extraordinary ability and leadership in the field of public education across the province, and in their local school system.
“OPSOA is delighted to honour Lila with the presentation of the Distinguished Leadership Award,” said Joy Badder, Executive Director of OPSOA. “Lila is a respected member of OPSOA who consistently shares her talents and expertise with her colleagues as well as aspiring leaders from across the province.”
During her eight years as a member of OPSOA, Read has demonstrated these traits in spades. From mentoring future supervisory officers, to teaching the Supervisory Officer qualification program, OPSOA cited a variety of reasons why they chose Read to receive this year’s award. They made special mention of her efforts to engage the broader community and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders in the development and implementation of the WRDSB strategic plan, which have helped to ensure no voice goes unheard.
A small trinket sitting on Read’s desk is inscribed “Stay Humble” – a reminder that she takes to heart. For her, winning this award is not a reflection of her own accomplishments, but those of the entire team at the WRDSB. “When I accept the award it really is on behalf of the team,” Read said. “For me, it’s about all of those people along the way that have been part of the growth journey for me.” She credits not only her current colleagues on the senior team, but all those people throughout her career, including parents, community partners, administrative assistants, office staff, custodians, CYWs, EAs, teachers, students, administrators, and trustees with helping her achieve all that she has. “I’m so humbled,” Read said. “That we get to do this work every day is amazing and I am so grateful.”
In her 24 years with the WRDSB, Read has served in a variety of roles, including as a teacher, system administrator, vice-principal, principal, and now, superintendent. Throughout her career, her motivation in each of her roles has been student success – every student every day. “For me, it’s always been about the students and trying to ensure that each and every student is successful,” Read said. “In every role that I’ve had, I’ve tried to keep that as my guiding light.”
Building relationships and connecting with students and communities who experience being marginalized has always been a priority to Read, but as she explained, the learning journey is an ongoing one. Understanding her own bias and privilege, and how it influences decisions and interactions has been a part of her learning. “The purpose of public education is to create more equitable outcomes for all students, and this means learning about how to create more equitable conditions that lead to these outcomes,” said Read.
Continuous learning is a theme that has run throughout Read’s career at the WRDSB. As part of her role as a member of OPSOA, Read acts as a mentor for new superintendents in other boards across Ontario. “You want to give back in the way that’s been given to you,” said Read. “I had a lot of really great mentors along the way.” She has deep gratitude for the people that believed in her throughout her career and wants to offer the same for future leaders in public education. Interestingly, she explains that although mentoring is about giving back, she has learned a lot from those she is mentoring. “It really is such a reciprocal kind of relationship,” Read said.
When asked what helps the WRDSB stand apart from other boards, Read pointed to the relationships that exist within the board and the community in Waterloo Region. The support that the board receives from community organizations, families, the public and members of our school communities is critical to supporting our students in meeting with success. “We can’t do this complex work alone – our community is ‘all-in’ on public education – they’re really invested,” Read said.
Read’s ability to build relationships with members of the community goes beyond families and community groups, as OPSOA highlighted in their decision. She has worked to establish ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with companies such as Google and Plasticity. These innovative companies are emblematic of Waterloo Region, Read explained. “If there’s a common thread that runs throughout our history in Waterloo Region…we are a community of innovators and builders,” she said. “It’s about all of us coming together with common goals and common thinking.” The challenge she sees for innovators going forward is creating a more equitable and inclusive community: How can innovative thinking and community partnerships help us design and build a more inclusive and equitable community for all?
Read’s award and her decades of experience point to the strength of her commitment to being a lifelong learner and helping to position the organization as a learning organization. As she explains, this learning cannot take place at an individual level, but rather it takes a team effort to improve an organization and create a better experience for each and every student. “Continuous improvement takes continuous learning,” said Read. “If you position yourself as a learner the possibilities are endless.”