There are a few differences in the superintendent’s office at School District 54: one being the cactus, always in the corner closest to the Della Herman Theatre has been moved to the corner opposite, the other is Chris van der Mark sitting in the Superintendent’s chair.
He’s got big shoes to fill, van der Mark acknowledged, as on March 1 the school district board appointed him superintendent, replacing outgoing Bev Young, who submitted her resignation earlier this year.
“It’s a little exciting, and in equal parts a little terrifying,” van der Mark said. “Bev, and Rod before her, have done a really good job making a culture here at the district. It’s really important to continue that tradition.”
While he grew up in Surrey, all his teaching experience, including both of his practicums, have been in the Northwest and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“One of the neatest things is having the small town experiences,” van der Mark said. “There is something particular, something special, about being in a smaller community, we have more of a community feeling and I just love the North.”
He was interested in becoming a teacher since he was 15 years old, he said. Saying that he probably wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with, he did have a large amount of respect for his teachers back then, and always wanted to be in a position where he could help others the way they helped him.
“I kept thinking I’d like to be the guy that kids look up to, that inspires them,” van der Mark said. “The ability to work with kids is a gift … I can’t think of anything that would be more fun.”
Both his practicums were in the Bulkley Valley, the first at Chandler Park Middle School and the other at Hazelton Secondary School, and from there he accepted his first teaching post in Houston Secondary School.
From there, he left SD54 for a couple of years, heading up to Stewart. He had great fun there, he said, particularly noting that the town had a very apt postal code, one he still remembers today: V0T 1W0. Or, as it’s known to the locals there: Very Old Town, One Way Out, van der Mark said while chuckling.
His career path to the superintendent’s chair wasn’t exactly planned, van der Mark said, as he began his career in administration as a vice-principal than principal and then as the assistant superintendent, a position he’s held for the past three years. He was honestly surprised, and honoured, to hear he’d been appointed to superintendent.
The best part is that he’s learned so much, watching Bev Young in the position, and the board has also brought in former superintendent Christine Dickenson to help with the workload. But it’s not just that, she’s a mentor to him as well, and knows the valley and its kids.
After all, that’s why you go into the education sect as a career choice, to help the kids, and it’s been one of the challenges he’s faced while in administration — his desire to keep learning, but also to keep working with the kids.
“That’s what tends to energize you … inspire you,” van der Mark, who’s also an avid coach in the community, including in high school basketball.
He’s also one to just walk into a school and talk to the students, see what they’re pleased with, or not so pleased with. It’s this way he hopes to stay connected, and one day, before he “walks into the sunset” he will more than likely head back to the teaching aspect of his career. But for now, he’s pretty excited to serve the community by being in the superintendent’s chair.