When Jason Schwartz decided he was ready to come back to Canada to live and work, he attracted interest from employers across the country. He chose to start his newest adventure in School District No. 57.
Schwartz moved from Guangzhou, a city of 16 million people in southern China, to Prince George, British Columbia, population 75,000. As part of the move, he accepted the post of vice-principal at tiny Giscome Elementary, a rural school 45 kilometres to the east and north of Prince George. Giscome has a grand total of 28 students, 13 in Kindergarten to Grade 3 and 15 in Grades 4-7.
For Schwartz, who had been a vice principal and English teacher at Guangzhou's Huamei-Bond International School – with nearly 5,000 students spread across its campus – the change in scenery and lifestyle was radical. Four months into his new job, he couldn't be happier.
"Coming out here every day, it's like a little piece of heaven," Schwartz said. "Really, it is."
Schwartz helps cover administrative duties at Giscome because principal Sarah Petrisor also oversees Blackburn Elementary School, 32 kilometres away. As part of Schwartz's regular duties, he also teaches Language Arts, Math, P.E. and French in the Grade 4-7 class.
When Schwartz was going through his decision-making process, School District No. 57 rose to the top of his job prospect list because of the persistence of Cynthia Mangan, the district's recruitment and retention officer. In January 2019, during a three-week break for Chinese New Year, Schwartz visited Prince George for the first time. The city was being blanketed by a major snowstorm but, as an Ontario boy who did an undergraduate degree at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, the wintry blast only increased his enthusiasm.
"It was snowing the whole time I was here," Schwartz said. "And Cynthia joked with me. She said, 'Well, if it didn't scare you off, then I guess it's meant to be.' And I said, 'Yeah, I think this is meant to be.' Because it really reminds me of my years in Thunder Bay. And those years, I absolutely love to reminisce about because I was so active outdoors – hiking, and I loved to get out and do cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and canoeing, just that whole idea of connecting with nature. With this opportunity to come to Prince George, (the location) has all of that, plus more, it seems. It's the best of everything that I've had, so this is a real highlight."
Schwartz went through the application process and accepted a job offer from SD 57 but didn't find out until late July 2019 he would be assigned to Giscome Elementary. He and assistant superintendent Cindy Heitman went over the options and Heitman suggested Giscome would be a great fit.
"I thought, 'Fantastic!' Schwartz said. "But I did not know where Giscome, British Columbia, was at that point. I had to pull out a map and find out where it was. I thought, 'Wow, it's in a rural setting,' and did a little bit more research online, and the geography of the area looked fantastic, with a lot of wildlife. In fact, I now experience wildlife three or four times a week driving back and forth. It's either moose or deer or bear or coyote – you're always coming across something. It's so fantastic – this little place is a gem in the wilderness."
Schwartz is a guy who has always been willing to stray from the beaten path. After he received his teaching credentials, jobs were tough to find in Ontario so he seized an opportunity to go to Hall Beach, Nunavut. He worked at Arnqjuaq School on a two-year contract. After that experience, Schwartz's career took him to Woodstook, Ontario, and then Guangzhou, China.
Regardless of where he has gone, Schwartz has found common denominators – even between the hustle and bustle of Guangzhou and the peaceful country setting of Giscome.
"Coming from an environment which was so fast-paced and so advanced in terms of infrastructure and technology and transportation, and then coming to an area like this, I've had these varied experiences but then I can share these experiences and relate them in such a way that it helps the students understand that there are lots of opportunities out in the world so long as you stay in school and you work hard.
"Ultimately I'm hoping that with me being here and the varied background and the stories that I share and the connections that I make, it makes some sort of a difference. It's like planting seeds in the hopes that it will encourage (students) to seek higher levels of education or a skilled trade or whatever is of interest for them and it's going to open up all sorts of doors for them."
School District No. 57 (Prince George) is beaming with opportunity. If you're looking for a unique experience and to grow your career in education, check out School District No. 57.