Executive director focuses on connection, inclusion

With a diverse background over 25 years in children’s literature, journalism and libraries, common threads for Decoda Literacy Solutions’ new executive director Sandra Lee are connection, communication and inclusion.

“Connections are what life is about,” says Sandra, who joined Decoda in August, just in time for Literacy Month in September. “We all want to connect and communicate. That’s why Decoda is so important. We are helping to build those connections by supporting community literacy organizations.”

Dr. Valerie Overgaard, Chair of Decoda’s Board of Directors said, “As an academic chair at a polytechnic, Sandra has had extensive experience in managing operational budgets, contracts and staff. She has had many community-focused positions and is passionate about literacy development and supporting the literacy community. The board is confident that Sandra will provide the knowledgeable, collaborative leadership that will be essential to achieving the goals set out in our strategic plan.”

Supporting learners with library services

Sandra has a Masters degree in library science from University of British Columbia and a BA in political science from University of Alberta. While at UBC, she learned about children’s literature and programming and began her career at the Richmond Public Library in 1993.

“I started in children’s services and it was just magical – very rewarding!” she said. “Public libraries really are my passion. Libraries are a great leveler – they are open and free to everyone regardless of their race, ethnicity, education, income, or sexual orientation.”

In 1995, she moved into the tech department. “Back then, there was an area called the ‘Public Computing Centre’ that was separate from the library. Today the computers are all out front and people go to a separate area for quiet.”

She also spent a year as a librarian at North Vancouver City Library and chaired the BC Summer Reading Club for several years.

In 2002, she accompanied her journalist husband to Hong Kong, where she led the University of Hong Kong’s English language library tech program, supervised MSc dissertations and did research on information policy and adult learners.

In 2007 she was back in Canada as librarian at University Canada West, a private university in Victoria.

“My time at UCW was really formative,” she said. “There was a high percentage of international students, and our philosophy was to look at the whole learner, not just their grades.”

A pet peeve is the term ‘weak student’. “That term minimizes our capacity to learn. It’s up to teachers to engage the student and find their strengths. People need to be supported on their learning journey.”

Most recently, her role at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) was Academic Chair of Library Information Technology and Journalism.

“Journalism is tied to communication, inclusivity and community. Journalists make information accessible and keep communities informed. The better-informed people are, the more they are able to engage with each other and with decision makers. This makes for healthy communities.”

Prioritizing inclusivity and TRC

Inclusivity and equity are priorities for Sandra. Born and raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Sandra is one of five children (she has a twin brother!) of her Chinese father and Canadian mother.

Indigenous topics are another passion area. She happened to be in Ottawa when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closing ceremony was taking place.

“Being in the same place as the closing ceremony of TRC was very profound,” she said. “It was moving to think I was only blocks away from the many speakers, sharing their stories that day in Rideau Hall.

One of her goals is to provide more staff training to support the TRC calls to action.

Collaborative leadership style

“I’ve had lots of leadership training and the one thing that resonates is ‘vulnerable leaders.’ Leaders do not always have the answers. But collaboratively, we work as a team to find solutions. I believe that all the talent we have put together are more than just my thoughts. I also know that learning is messy. But I’m okay with uncertainty and I can exist in chaos.”

She is well-practiced as a busy mother of three children aged 12-18. In her spare time, Sandra runs every day, skis, is an active board member at her United Church, and she likes to cook.

Fundraising for Literacy Month

Sandra’s first Literacy Month with the theme ‘literacy connects us’ in September was a success.

“My first Literacy Month with the Decoda team was great,” she said. “I was inspired by everyone helping with the annual campaign and planning fun activities.”

Decoda’s main fundraising event, the Team Trivia Challenge, raised $23,290 – thanks to $10,000 contributed by matching partner First West Credit Union and its four locally known and trusted divisions: Envision Financial, Valley First, Island Savings and Enderby & District Financial. Another $24,000 was raised through sponsorship and donations. And, RBC presented a cheque for $25,000 to support Fostering Literacy reading tutor programs in BC communities.

“It’s so important for people to give. It’s a piece that makes a huge difference in this uncertain world.”

Sandra is grateful for government and partner organizations that contribute to literacy in BC and looks forward to future funding opportunities.

“It excites me to see grant opportunities and new ways to grow and expand literacy programs in BC.”

About us

Decoda Literacy Solutions is BC’s provincial literacy organization. We support community-based literacy programs and initiatives in over 400 communities across BC by providing resources, training and funds.

Our work supports children and families, youth, adults, Indigenous and immigrant communities to help build strong individuals, strong families and strong communities.

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