Langley principal leads one school while setting up new elementary

There’s still some finishing touches to be done at Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary where Phillis Giovani is principal. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times) There’s still some finishing touches to be done at Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary where Phillis Giovani is principal. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Principal Phillis Giovani checked in on a Grade 2 class doing math. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Principal Phillis Giovani checked in on a Grade 2 class doing math. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
There’s still some finishing touches to be done at Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary where Phillis Giovani is principal. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times) There’s still some finishing touches to be done at Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary where Phillis Giovani is principal. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Principal Phillis Giovani was chosen as a Langley Advance Times Hero of Education for 2021. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Principal Phillis Giovani was chosen as a Langley Advance Times Hero of Education for 2021. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Principal Phillis Giovani checked in on a Grade 2 class doing math. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Principal Phillis Giovani checked in on a Grade 2 class doing math. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary principal Phillis Giovani said the school incorporates Indigenous wisdom to give students a broader perspective on the world. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary principal Phillis Giovani said the school incorporates Indigenous wisdom to give students a broader perspective on the world. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Phillis Giovani really wanted to be a hockey player growing up.

But that wasn’t really an option for girls when she was a kid.

Tutoring in high school gave her a taste of her future.

“When I was in Grade 11, I volunteered to tutor Grade 8 students in math and English,” Giovani said. “I loved the difference I made for a couple of them. That is when I decided to become a teacher.”

So now she spends her workdays helping local children achieve their dreams, currently as principal of Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary (DGR).

It’s knowing she’s touching people’s lives that keeps her in what is a tough profession.

“Being an administrator is very hard work, but the rewards more than make up for the long, busy, and sometimes stressful, days. I love helping others develop their strengths, problem solving skills, and love of learning. I, too, learn something new every day.”

It’s that passion for learning at any age that earned her a nomination at a local education hero. After reviewing the nomination, we agreed she’s something special in local education.

“I am extremely humbled and honoured to be chosen,” she said.

DGR Grade 2 teachers Tracy Dionne and Rhonda Mills nominated her:

“She takes challenges and turns them into positive learning opportunities for all involved. Every year she dedicates her time to making a year-end slide show for our school, ensuring that every one of the over 520 students, is in the slideshow. She does morning check-ins and walks around saying hello to everyone in the building.”

After the initial surprise of her selection set in, Giovani promised ‘payback.’ And at DGE, that takes the form of “hugs,” she chuckled.

She’s committed to both the children and adults in the building.

“When I was a student, principals were not often ‘visible.’ For me, getting out of my office to connect with those in my building has always been one of my top priorities,” Giovani said. “It is one of the best ways to build meaningful relationships with adults and children and to see teaching and learning in action. When people see you taking the time to speak to them, ask them how they are doing, or if there is anything they need, they know you care. Connecting with my staff and students brings me the most joy in my work as a principal.”

Deputy superintendent Mal Gill has known her for many years.

“She has been a strong advocate for the students under her care in each of the buildings she has worked,” Gill said. “She, personally, will go above and beyond to ensure that students are learning. She works extremely well with all of her staff to build a team approach at her schools… When faced with challenging situations, such as last year’s condo fire or the COVID-19 pandemic, she has always shown great leadership, a sense of calm, and compassion for our families and the community.”

While in university, Giovani worked at the BC Cancer Agency. After graduating from UBC, she started working at Douglas Park Community School in 1988. After 14 years, she moved over to Willoughby Elementary, while at the same time earning her master’s degree. In 2007, she was named vice principal at Langley Meadows Elementary and in 2010, came the move to principal at Fort Langley Elementary. Next up was leading Willoughby Elementary starting in 2015 before heading up Langley’s newest public school.

“She managed our school (Willoughby) while setting up the new school (Donna Gabriel) last year and did so with a positive attitude,” Mills and Dionne said in their nomination. “Over the summer, she turned her home into a storage for all the supplies for our new school and planned for the year start-up while checking into the new building and meeting with contractors, maintenance, and other trade professions.”

Giovani is modest, giving credit to her team.

“I am most grateful for the tremendous help I had getting Donna Gabriel Robins Elementary organized for opening. It really took a village to get the school ready to welcome our students,” she said.

As for the future, she’s intent on ensuring the school is on solid footing, then she can focus on continuing her learning.

“I have a few more years left before I retire,” she said.” I want to build a strong, inclusive, kind, and welcoming culture at Donna Gabriel Robins. I want it to be a place where adults and children feel they belong and strive do their best every day. After I retire, I plan to spend a few months in Samos, Greece, the birthplace of my parents and husband, every year and enjoy a slower pace. I am also interested in learning some cabinetry and carpentry skills from my husband.”

EducationLangley School District