MACLEAN’S HONOUR ROLL 2000

Ann Willcocks

‘I’ve just been very lucky to be with Wonderful people’

Ken MacQueen December 18 2000
MACLEAN’S HONOUR ROLL 2000

Ann Willcocks

‘I’ve just been very lucky to be with Wonderful people’

Ken MacQueen December 18 2000

Ann Willcocks

‘I’ve just been very lucky to be with Wonderful people’

It's mid-morning at Burnaby North Secondary School and principal Ann Willcocks is catching up on unfinished business. She has summoned Grade 11 student Mitra Chandler, who slips tentatively into her office. “I’m just so proud of you,” Willcocks says. The school finished second last month in a provincial swim meet, and Chandler placed in the top five in four events. For the next 10 minutes, no one in the principal’s world is more important. As the 16-year-old returns to class, Willcocks seems rejuvenated. “They’re so focused,” she says, “you feel lucky to be working with them.” Burnaby North, with more than 2,000 ethnically diverse students, is the second-largest high school in British Columbia. Willcocks considers her September transfer here the latest step in a career of lucky accidents—beginning with a decision, as a new teacher in her native England, to tour North America. She walked into Canada House in London in 1967 hoping for temporary work to underwrite her travels. She walked out with a teaching job in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. “I didn’t even know where Vancouver was,” she recalls. Willcocks arrived in Centennial Year, lingered in Montreal for Expo 67, then gained a train-window lesson in Canadian geography on the long trip to the west coast.

Visiting the rest of North America would take time. “I just fell in love with B.C.,” says Willcocks, who became a citizen in 1988. “One year led into another and before I knew it, it was 30 years gone in the flash of an eye.” Administration was another accident. Willcocks shifted from head of physical education to fill in for a vice-principal who was ill. She then discovered team building of another sort.

Willcocks is unmarried and without children—“I guess I never had time.” Her evenings and weekends are filled with school activities and sports meets. Or with netball—a distant cousin of basketball and a popular women’s sport in some Commonwealth countries. She has introduced it to local schools with missionary zeal and is coach of Canadas national team. As with teaching, the reward is watching a team grow. “I’ve just been very, very lucky to always be with wonderful people who have worked closely as a team,” she says. “I’ve had their expertise to guide me along.”

Sharon Cutcliffe of the B.C. Principals’ and Vice-principals’ Association credits Willcocks with helping to develop the province’s model Student Leadership program, turning such extracurricular activities as student council, fund-raising or assembly organizing into a credit course. School life is enriched and students gain skills in time management, public speaking, event planning and consensus building.

“It’s probably the best course I’ve ever taken,” says Burnaby North student-council president Jason Kelvin, 17. “Miss Willcocks is awesome. She lets us do pretty much what we want—and she trusts what we do. And, we pretty much always exceed her expectations.” A case in point is what Kelvin calls “the best Remembrance Day ceremony in Burnaby North history.” It was powerful and poignant—from the veteran who spoke to the choir’s rendition of Danny Boy. It took three assemblies to accommodate the school population. Says Willcocks: “I cried every time.”

Ken MacQueen