The end of the 2021-22 academic term will also mark the conclusion of Dr. Carmen Mombourquette’s 40-year career in education. An associate professor for the past 12 years in the University of Lethbridge (U of L) Faculty of Education, he will officially retire June 30 after a career that took him from educating students to educating teachers.
Looking back over those four decades, he notes, “It’s been a wonderful life for me and my family. We’ve benefited so hugely from education.”
I worked hard, I loved what I did, and at the end of the day, I hope I made a difference in the lives of others.”
Born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Carmen was raised in an Acadian fishing village on Cape Breton Island. After earning Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees at St. Francis Xavier University, he headed west for his first teaching job in Whitecourt, Alberta, where he taught middle school, and later high school, before serving as the school’s vice-principal. He ventured south in 1990 to become principal at St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Taber, then served as principal at Catholic Central High School in Lethbridge from 1997 to 2007.
Carmen moved back east for three years, taking the post of headmaster at Northmount School for Boys, an independent Catholic school in Toronto. He had been pondering a plunge into international education when the door opened in 2010 to return to Lethbridge to join the U of L’s Faculty of Education. “It was an opportunity to impact the next generation of teachers,” he says. “But probably the part that excited me the most, then and now, was to be able to work with the next generation of principals, Alberta’s school leaders.”
A principal’s role has changed over his 40 years in education, he notes. At one time, the main tasks involved “discipline, management and running the building.” Now, he says, the focus is on vision, mission, relationships and pedagogy – “what’s necessary for teachers to influence students.”
Not surprisingly, technology has greatly transformed the education field during Carmen’s career, but he says the larger impact has come from culture, with society placing ever-growing expectations on the education system. “Expectations continue to evolve and have increased in intensity since I entered the profession.”
The high expectations place even greater importance on the need for a cooperative partnership among all education stakeholders, including teachers, Alberta Education and school councils, in order to ensure wise decision-making in education. Carmen questions whether the present government understands and sufficiently supports those “valued partners.”
Reflecting on his long career in education, he says the most treasured aspects are the people connections, particularly with students. “What I found the most appealing was the relationships I was able to build with young men and women outside the regular classroom environment,” he says, recalling field trips and outdoors programs that allowed him to get to know his students better. “That’s what brings back the most fond memories. I absolutely loved the classroom environment where I spent the majority of my time, but the time outside of the classroom, that’s where the magic happens.”
Similarly, the times he enjoyed best during his 12 years at the U of L were the occasions when he left the office and visited various communities to work directly with school leaders. “That made the last 12 years more fulfilling and rewarding.”
During that time, he relished being able to work with the next generation of principals through his role as co-lead of the Faculty of Education’s Master of Education program with Dr. Pam Adams, and he is confident in the education field’s next group of educators. “I look forward with great enthusiasm to what the next generation will be able to do with children. The people who come through the Faculty of Education are deep thinkers who understand the bigger picture, who think deeply from a collaborative and cooperative sense.”
Retirement won’t result in boredom for Carmen, who still has plenty to keep him occupied. He remains chairman of the Holy Spirit School Board and also serves the community through the Knights of Columbus chapter at St. Martha’s Church. “My faith is very important to me and church is very important to me,” he notes.
Besides gardening, taking on more of the cooking duties at home, and spending more time with his wife of 35 years, Sharon, he will also have more time to devote to golf. As a golfer, he says, “I’m pretty terrible but I love the game.”
He also loves education and, after 40 years in the the field, that's a pursuit at which he shines.
Writer: Dave Sulz | Photographer: Rob Olson
• Leadership in Education: The Power of Generative Dialogue
• A Generative Approach to Leadership for All Educators
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