ANTIGONISH, N.S. - Changes in the New Year includes Antigonish County Adult Learning Association (ACALA) going through a transition as long-time organization administrator Lise de Villiers moves towards retirement and former Antigonish Montessori School owner Shayla (Mootz) MacDonald takes over the role.
MacDonald noted she actually began, and de Villiers officially retired, Dec. 17, just prior to the holiday season ramping up. She added de Villiers is still teaching part-time with ACALA at this point.
“And, mostly, transitioning and helping me get my head around the whole organization, which has been a huge learning curve,” MacDonald said.
A first impression for MacDonald, as she settles into her new role, is the supportive environment around ACALA, which is based out of the People’s Place Library on Main Street in Antigonish.
“The incredible supportive environment, all the way around,” she said.
“The staff is supportive of one another, everyone is so supportive of the learners, the board members have been incredible; there is this huge level of support and making sure everyone is lifted up, knows where they’re going, and understands what is going on. That has been a major first impression for me.”
She talked about similarities she sees coming from owning the Montessori School, which she closed in August after three years of operation.
“I loved owning the Montessori School and one of the things I loved most about it was making sure everything was running properly and the children were getting individualized education,” she said.
“And one of the things I love about ACALA is that the learners are getting individualized education; it goes very well with the philosophy of Montessori which is so ingrained in me.”
MacDonald noted she has a deep appreciation for all the work ACALA does and the methods used.
“The holistic approach ACALA takes with their learners,” she said. “The fact we’re looking at people as an entire person rather than just, ‘OK, you need to get your GED (general education development), let’s work on that.’”
Amongst the financial and general supporters of ACALA are the Municipality of the County of Antigonish and the Town of Antigonish. Each municipal unit has a representative on the ACALA board and veteran councillors Mary MacLellan, from the county, and Diane Roberts, from the town, talked about the work de Villiers has done during her leadership role with ACALA.
“She has done an awful lot,” MacLellan said, noting de Villiers had a great rapport with ACALA’s funders, including the two levels of government (provincial, municipal).
“That was a major strength of hers; she had a great relationship with the government people she worked with. She was extremely good with both the town and county.”
“She was so well versed … very dedicated,” Roberts added.
The councillors talked briefly about the hiring process which has seen MacDonald come on board.
“They interviewed quite a large number of people; it’s not an easy position to fill,” MacLellan said, as Roberts noted they were not part of the hiring committee but, as board members, were given updates on how the hiring process was going.
Both women talked about the importance of ACALA and how the organization truly lives up to upholding its tag-line of ‘everyone is a lifelong learner.’
MacLellan shared a story about a person she knew, through her granddaughter, who went through ACALA programming to earn a GED and the confidence it provided for the individual.
“I know, first-hand, they have done miracles with some folks,” she said.
“The one-on-one relationship; that is what some people need and did not get through the education system. They fill a major gap for young adults and older adults, as well.”
For more on ACALA, visited their website at acalalearn.ca or check out their Facebook page.