It is hard to imagine that September is about to be seen in the rear view mirror. What a quick month, busy and exciting! We opened our new school St. Teresa of Calcutta and welcomed close to 100 new students into the system. With today being the final count day, it would appear that we will exceed the 5000 student/child mark for the first time as a division. That is something to celebrate and it illustrates the continued confidence our communities have in our system.
In my opening address to staff, I spoke only of faith. I do this purposely since without a focus on faith we cannot exist as a Catholic school division. It would be irresponsible for me to tell our new teachers that their three priorities in this order are, “faith, family, job” and then start by talking about the job. By addressing faith I hope that I’m not viewed as one of those “holy rollers” that I despised in my youth but rather I’m seen as one who continues to struggle and grow in my faith understanding that there is still much to learn and many missteps that will occur. One of my daily practices is reading daily reflections from Fr. Richard Rohr. I must confess that often his language is very difficult for me to relate to but there always seems to be a quote that sticks out and causes me to reflect. Below is one that I hope will cause you to reflect upon as well.
Imagine you are part of a water wheel. Water flows into one bucket and pours out and into a lower bucket. In the act of lowering and emptying yourself, you make room for more water to fill you. This self-giving flow creates energy and power; it can literally change our relationships, our politics, and our world.- Fr. Richard Rohr
Late last year, our Board of Trustees set the direction of our work in the Division by articulating their strategic priorities. The priorities set were unique in that they were not just for one year but for a three year period. I have long contended to Alberta Education officials that 3-Year Plans should be just that and not re-done annually. There is always need to tweak our work, strategies and measures but these priorities are too important to simply change every year. The Board’s Continuous Improvement Plan (2016-19) illustrates this shift in practice. When you review it, you will note it is concise (not naming every strategy), at a high level and where possible is evidenced through the use of SMART goals. It should be a living document with ongoing reviews to ensure what we’ve said is what we’re doing. The same should be said for school’s continuous improvement plans. It must be a living document and rest not only in the hands of the administration but in the hands of all staff. I’ve always maintained that system improvement will not occur without school improvement and school improvement will not occur until there is individual classroom improvement. The CIP in the hands of our teachers focuses on the essential practices in our classrooms. As an aside, senior administration has changed the way we review schools’ CIPs based on feedback from our Learning Leadership Team and I’m looking forward to our first meetings in early November.
Before I end this longer than usual “From the Desk of the Superintendent” I want to re-focus your attention on the priority, First Nations, Metis and Inuit students will achieve equitable educational outcomes. It is well known and documented that there exists an achievement gap (and in many cases an opportunity gap) between First Nations, Metis and Inuit students and non First Nations, Metis and Inuit students. At first brush, it would appear that this priority is only focused on achievement and only impacts schools with an indigenous population. Nothing could be farther from the truth! One of the goals under this priority reads as follows: “By the end of 2019, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit students will feel a better sense of belonging and all students and staff will have a greater understanding of culture, traditions and ceremonies.” This goal aligns well with the upcoming quality standards (which will become law in the near future) that will require teachers, school and system leaders to “develop and apply foundational knowledge about First Nations, Metis and Inuit culture and traditions for the benefit of all students.” This is not a negotiable goal for any of our schools or staffs and is one, that more than any other goal, is just morally right! The achievement of this goal will require many small steps forward. The continued work with our Elders at the Wisdom and Visioning Circle, the Board’s new Truth and Reconciliation Committee and the acknowledgement at public gatherings of being on the traditional territories of the Blackfoot nations and the people of the Treaty 7 region in southern Alberta are just the beginnings. We must continue to be vigilant and it begins with a very public commitment in our continuous improvement plans.
I wish you well this upcoming school year. Enjoy the weekend and welcome to October!