Friends and peers describe Sandra Woitas as a larger-than-life trailblazer, a relentless advocate for disadvantaged children and families, a tireless volunteer and an inspiring community leader. Currently the executive director of the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation, Sandra has garnered several awards for her dedication, including Woman of Integrity, an Alberta Centennial Medal, Woman of Vision, and Advocate of Young Children Award. In 2004, the City of Edmonton selected her as one of the top 100 Edmontonians of the century, part of a celebration of the city’s centenary.
This June, in recognition of her extraordinary achievements, she was granted an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alberta. Her professional and volunteer titles range from director to professor to guest speaker, and in each role she aims to break down barriers that limit kids.
She engages passionately and wholeheartedly, and with steely determination she raises the bar and moves mountains. Sandra took some time out of her hectic schedule to answer some questions from WE magazine.
WE: In what ways have you affected the well-being of children in Alberta?
Sandra: It has been my life’s mission to see that disadvantaged children have access to the high quality education they deserve. I’ve pursued this passion in my role as principal of Norwood School and as director of the City Centre Education Project, where I built a network of support agencies now called Partners for Kids, a program that serves 3,700 students in 14 Edmonton schools.
While on secondment to Alberta Education, I worked with parents, schools and communities on the cross-ministry Family Violence and Anti-Bullying Initiative. Most recently, as director of the Edmonton Public Schools Foundation, I launched campaigns to support full-day kindergarten programs for kids in socially vulnerable communities.
WE: What challenges have you overcome?
Sandra: Waking the “sleeping giant” in this province: the passion Alberta parents and communities have for their children, building social trust, one conversation at a time, and engaging society in the all-important task of getting our young children ready for life.
WE: What drives you?
Sandra: Believing I have a vital role to play in building essential networks for kids in need. Being a part of a critical mass of positive nurturers – people who unite and become committed to a worthy cause, witnessing great teaching in classrooms, helping kids who struggle to graduate high school and become healthy, competent, contributing Albertans. I love seeing kids cross the finish line!
WE: What’s the next milestone you have in your sights?
Sandra: Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit. I want to continue to champion hope for all children to be given opportunities to show that, no matter what their life situation, they have gifts and talents and they deserve to shine.