Alumni Honour recipient guided by centring what’s good for students

Superintendent Darrel Robertson says collaboration drives innovation at Edmonton Public Schools

Scott Lingley - 24 October 2023

Darrel RobertsonDarrel Robertson (‘92 BPE, ‘94 BEd) shares a common trait with many effective leaders. Upon receiving accolades for his work over the past decade as superintendent for Edmonton Public Schools — based on organizational values of integrity, accountability, collaboration and equity — Robertson is quick to redistribute that praise to teachers, staff, administrators and trustees, as well as parents and students that comprise his community.

“We have a wealth of experience and knowledge in our division, so when we come together to work on complex problems we create really innovative solutions, so that’s been a really important value in our organization that’s driven a lot of change, especially over the last 10 years,” Robertson said.

The same goes for being recognized with an Alumni Honour Award from his alma mater, which will be presented at the Alumni Awards ceremony on Wednesday Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in the Citadel Theatre.

“It’s a real honour and I look at this as not a personal recognition but recognition of the work of what I think is one of the most amazing school divisions in the world, really,” Robertson said. “It truly has been a pleasure to serve and I really appreciate the recognition by the U of A but the recognition of the division and our staff is the most meaningful to me.”

Challenges in need of creative solutions have not been in short supply during Robertson’s tenure as EPSB superintendent, from the expected demands of helming a large school division with a billion-dollar budget, to ensuring safe and inclusive learning spaces for an increasingly diverse student population, to the once-in-a-lifetime disruption caused by the global pandemic.

Robertson says that, no matter the challenge, the guiding principle is always the same.

“In our work, what we do has to be centred on what’s good for kids. That’s the lens I have applied in every position I’ve held throughout my career.”

Robertson’s leadership mounting a rapid response to the suspension of in-person teaching at the start of the pandemic was among the reasons he was named the 2020 Canadian Superintendent of the Year by the Canadian Association of School System Administrators. But he’s also been acknowledged for instituting an equity fund to help all schools meet the unique needs of their students, and for helping to launch Career Pathways, a K-12 initiative to help students prepare for their lives outside of school. Asked to pick a career highlight, his response characteristically focuses on the contributions of others.

“I’m certainly proud first and foremost just to serve this division. Living a life in service to kids is a great calling,” Robertson said. “I’m grateful for the staff we’ve had over the years. We have so many amazing, talented educators and staff who step up — I’d say that’s a real highlight.”

With the worst impacts of the COVID pandemic in the past, Robertson says he looks forward to gaining momentum for work around confronting racism and incorporating reconciliation education across the division.

Given recent and present challenges, Robertson says he understands how some young people may see the prospect of a career in education as daunting. But as a former teacher who still misses the classroom, he’s quick to encourage aspiring educators to follow their passion.

“If you are excited by working with kids and you’re excited about their success and you’re working hard to help that happen, there’s no better profession,” Robertson said. “Get in with both feet, contribute where you can and live a life of service to students and the community, and you really can’t go wrong.”