Profile of Derek Logan, Head of School, Kingsway College School

“I don’t know all the answers, and I believe solutions can come from anywhere and anyone.”

Derek Logan was on track for a career in academia initially. After his undergraduate degree at McMaster University, he completed a master’s degree in war studies at the University of London in the United Kingdom. He was invited to continue to work on his doctorate, but the financial support wasn’t enough. Instead, he returned to Canada to start a PhD at York University. “I was a teaching assistant in European history, and that’s when I discovered I really liked teaching,” he says. “But I didn’t like the politics of academic life, so I left and went to U of T for my bachelor of education degree.”

After a stint teaching in Ottawa, Logan joined Kingsway College School in 1999 as a Grade 7 and 8 teacher in language arts and history. Influenced by his experiences abroad, he launched a student trip to a Canadian battlefield in Europe—something that was usually reserved for high school students. At KCS, though, it fits well with the school’s philosophy of pushing boundaries and embracing innovation.

Logan doesn’t hesitate when asked what hasn’t changed since he arrived at KCS. “It’s all about the people,” he says. “In my early years here, the school was much smaller and had far fewer students, but we always had good people. The staff and faculty were passionate about helping kids and worked really hard. No one was coasting along, and it’s the same today.” Since then, Logan has considered hiring to be one of—if not the—most important jobs he does.

“I’ve always tried to surround myself with smart people who are willing to tell it like it is,” says Logan. “I don’t know all the answers, and I believe solutions can come from anywhere and anyone. The crucial thing for me, when I’m sitting around a table with staff, is that respect goes both ways.”

His leadership style is collaborative and collegial, something his colleagues attested to. Head of Advancement Hallie McClelland sums up the assessment of Logan we heard expressed over and over again. “The culture of kindness and inclusiveness at KCS is driven from the top,” she says. “Derek is the warmest individual. He really believes in the human connection.”

While KCS has always been a place that supports students’ social and emotional well-being, Logan took the school to another level about 10 years ago. His daughter, then in high school, attempted suicide. At first, his instinct was to keep this traumatic event within his family, but after her recovery, his daughter wanted to speak publicly about her experience in the hope of helping other struggling teens. Soon after, he followed her lead and has since raised awareness about youth mental health not just at KCS, but throughout the independent school community.

More than a decade ago, Logan led a change at the school toward more openness around KCS community members experiencing mental health challenges. Precipitated by his daughter’s crisis, Logan underwent a personal shift in his approach to the subject. “The way I grew up, you didn’t talk about any of that,” he says. “But I was so inspired by my daughter speaking about her experience at high schools and different organizations, and even on TV. I decided that I was going to use my platform at the school and my position in the independent school community to talk about it.”

The response to Logan’s decision to share his family’s experience was immediate and almost universally positive. “It was amazing that my fear around speaking about it changed within about a 72-hour period because there were so many people in the staff and parent community who came to me and talked about either their own struggles or their family’s struggles,” he says.

Students benefit from an enriched, deeply experiential approach that involves frequent hands-on learning outside the school, interaction with mentors and external experts, independent research, and meaningful leadership opportunities. As Logan says, “High school should be about a lot more than just preparing students for university. We do a disservice to kids if they have to constrict their focus so much that they aren’t exploring their interests and engaging with people and issues in the real world.”

“We’re always encouraging students to try new things,” says Logan. “It’s a safe environment where they can just see if they like something. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. There are no big consequences.”

Logan notes that parents often choose certain after-school activities for their children when they’re young, and it can limit students’ vision of their own capabilities. “I want the sports kids to have those artistic experiences, for example, and the music kids to be on a sports team or do rock climbing, or whatever gets them moving. Then maybe they’ll go home and say, ‘Hey Mom and Dad, this is something I’d like to pursue.’”

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