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May 30, 2014

Jim Jones retires as CCLB Chair

CCLB is sad to report that after so many years of close association with the Centre, Board Chair Jim Jones has decided to call it quits. His last participation will be at the June 2014 Board meeting. Jim first joined the CCLB Board in 1999, one year after the Centre was founded. He has since occupied many positions on the Board, from committee chair to Secretary-Treasurer to Board Chair. During his years as Chair from 2010 to 2014, Jim presided over a period of unprecedented growth at the Centre marked by an increasing affirmation of the CLB and NCLC as the national standards for the teaching and learning of English and French as second languages among newcomers to Canada. CCLB is grateful to Jim Jones for all that he has done over the years to advance the Centre’s mission and vision, and also for taking a few minutes to answer these questions:

CCLB – You joined the CCLB Board many years ago and have seen it change over time. In what ways is the Board you are leaving today fundamentally different from the Board you joined?

Jim Jones – First, I’d like to say what hasn’t changed: board members have always had passionate commitment to the Benchmarks and the interests of the Centre. It’s been a real privilege to work with so many outstanding professionals in the field and with the guidance and support of those people the Centre has grown to be a thriving organization. However, relative to changes, I think, too, the staff has grown in stature and continues to show more and more their expertise in managing the Centre’s projects. I also think that the Centre has grown in stature in the eyes of funders as a result of the great work it has been done over the years.

CCLB – What motivates your retirement from the CCLB Board at this time?

Jim Jones – I strongly believe there is a time to hold and a time to let go. It’s been a great run for me to have been connected with the Centre for some 15 years. Those years have been among the most fulfilling in my career and it will be difficult to identify another new activity that has brought me so much gratification.

I retired from Mohawk College just about two and half years ago and I no longer have the daily connection with matters having to do with immigrants. I still am the chair of a local immigrant serving group and I still am able to add value to that organization, but I don’t have the same level of contacts with folks in the trenches as I had when I was working at the College. The Centre has a lot of individuals on the board who are quite capable of providing leadership: I wouldn’t want to leave if I weren’t confident that there was great capacity and stability on the board.

I’ve also joined boards of musical organizations in the Hamilton area and I’d like to think that I can apply my board skills to them. Music has always been one of my passions and quite frankly playing in a number of orchestras and singing in a couple of choral groups is taking up a fair bit of my time. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m so busy in retirement I wouldn’t have time to work.

CCLB – You are widely credited with having run the CCLB Board smoothly and harmoniously. What traits in your chairmanship style account for those results?

Jim Jones – I don’t believe that it’s appropriate for a board chair to try to impose his or her views or will on either the board or the organization. I believe the chair’s job is to hear, bring out, articulate and synthesize the will of the board so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I believe it’s critical to build consensus on a collegial board so that the organization can progress and be supported by the board. I’ve been very lucky in having board members who clearly make the interests of the Centre a priority and not their egos.

I also believe that the board chair’s job is always to stay ahead of the game. A good chair anticipates issues and concerns from board members and the executive director and talks to them well before board meetings so that when the issues come to the board they can be managed well and are presented in the best possible light.

I also think it’s important for the board chair to work well with the executive director so that they’re on the same page. I talk to Francois once a week throughout most of the year to stay abreast of the big picture issues with the Centre and in some cases to talk through those issues, but not to meddle in the operations of the Centre.

And the fact is that I like people and like talking to them to allow and encourage them to present what’s most important to them.

CCLB – What do you consider your main accomplishments as Board Chair?

Jim Jones – I’d like to think that I’ve contributed to creating a unified and harmonious board that is focused on issues that are important to the Centre.

I also take pride in being on the selection team that hired Francois Belisle as executive director. Francois sometimes remarks that he is not a specialist in the field, but his leadership, management skills and his knowledge of government are tremendous assets to the Centre and have resulted in great prosperity.

One achievement that does make me feel very proud were the by-law revisions that took place between 2010 and 2011 initially to meet the requirements for changes in The Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. I believe we covered off all of the dimensions of this activity from research, documentation, consultation and focus on outcomes to consensus building, communications and good timing. When the changes came to the board for approval everyone was already onside. The changes marked a watershed in the maturity of the Centre and have enabled the Centre to move forward with both efficiency and effectiveness.

CCLB – You have been known to say that you don’t like surprises. What do you mean by that?

Jim Jones – The job of being a board member is chiefly a management job and board chairs are quintessential managers. The chair’s job is to manage the affairs of the board based on evidence and solid decision-making. Not having all of the facts and the time to plan through a process to come to rational decisions undermines the work of both the chair and the board. In particular, meetings need to stay on track and specifically end on time.

Surprises prevent all of these from happening.

As chair, I sometimes ask questions to the board to bring out thoughts that haven’t been articulated so that the members will have as much information to make informed decisions and there aren’t last minute perspectives or information that prevent coming to a wise conclusion.

I know that some will say that having those conditions in place prevents spontaneity and creativity, but thinking outside the box also requires having all of the facts in the open.

CCLB – What will you focus your energies on after you retire from the CCLB Board?

Jim Jones – As I’ve mentioned my musical life has grown exponentially since I retired. I’m what might be called a “recovering” violist. I played during my teenage years and then didn’t play again for 35 years while I worked at the College. I take lessons now and many know that as adults new learning can be hard work, not at all like the spontaneous and, in many cases, effortless learning that takes place when you’re young. I try to set aside time most days of the week to practice.

I remember one lesson where I commented to my teacher that I just couldn’t seem to learn to play a certain passage. She broke down the various elements of the passage into manageable bits, just as a good language teacher is able to break down the elements of a new language pattern to students (it’s all about process and methodology, you know, and not so much about content). I finally was able to handle the passage and she said in an understated manner, “Well, that took 35 minutes,” and we moved on to another part of the lesson. I obviously had thought it wouldn’t take that much time of concentrated attention to learn the passage. Duhh!

As mentioned, I’m involved with the boards of a couple of musical organizations (writing grant proposals for arts funding has a lot of similarity to writing proposals for funding for immigrant services, which I did during my work at Mohawk). I’m also very much involved with work at the church I attend.

And I have a five-year-old grandson to spoil.

CCLB – After you retire from CCLB, an organization you have been associated for so long, don’t you think you will miss it and regret leaving it?

Jim Jones – There have been moments when I have had a meeting, worked on an issue or simply talked with a board or staff member and thought to myself it doesn’t get better than this and relished in the joy that that moment has provided. I’ve been very blessed with getting to know people from across the country and, I’d like to believe, I have contributed to making the CCLB a better organization. I am an incurable optimist (after all, every day is a gift) and believe ultimately there are good, very good or excellent (not necessarily perfect) solutions to all problems. I will miss this and regret that that piece of my life journey will end. I will miss the people most of all, but I hope that I won’t lose contact with them.

CCLB – In closing, can you tell us about something funny you experienced while on the Board – a story you might still be telling years after you’ve left CCLB?

Jim Jones – There are lots of times when the board had a good laugh with some situation or story from a board or staff member. However, the story that will always bring me chuckles when I think of it or tell it to others occurred when we conducted the interview process at the Cartier Place hotel when Francois was hired. I hope readers don’t consider this narrative off colour. Serge Boulé, Gerry Mills and I were interviewing in my hotel room and candidates came to the Cartier Place lobby and waited for their interviews.

As with most activities in our field most of the applicants were women. It was my task to go to the lobby and meet each candidate and take them to my room. This activity occurred every hour or so. After each interview, each candidate left on their own through the lobby.

After several interviews, I began to notice that the desk staff were aware of the routine that was occurring every hour. There were sideways glances and wry, knowing expressions on their faces.

I do wonder what passed through their minds when I took Francois, the last candidate, to my room.

CCLB – Jim, the staff of CCLB and your colleagues on the Board want to thank you for your enormous contribution to the Centre, and wish you happy retirement!

Jim Jones – I want to wish the board and staff the best in the future. May the CCLB flourish, prosper and grow in years to come.

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