Change Required

The following article was published in the Lethbridge Herald on January 09, 2019.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. They typically require far too much change and, as we know, change is very hard. I’m a little friendlier with “fresh starts” since they can occur at any time throughout the year. But I think all of us, whether in education or in general life, should be looking at slow and steady improvement. Massive change rarely happens overnight and without many casualties. In reality, massive change tends to occur when little steps are taken and repeated until they become the norm.

Before I wrote this article, I took some time to review my superintendent colleagues’ musings over the past year. Virtually all of these articles spoke about change; things being initiated, practices being tweaked or improvements being made. Interesting when we know how difficult change is to accomplish. Douglas Reeves explains that, “Change of any sort is difficult and painful. Change represents a loss – a loss of prior practices and a loss of an established comfort zone.”

So what is the alternative? Do we really want to just maintain the status quo? Most people believe in change as long as it doesn’t impact them. There tends to be a fair amount of finger pointing when the topic of change comes up in any organization. Statements like, “They must be talking about him,” or “That never happened in the old days when she wasn’t here,” might be heard. The ever-increasing speed of change only seems to add to our resistance.

And what about leaders? They have seldom been hired to maintain the status quo. They are generally asked to build a better future, increase profits or get better results, all of which require improvements – and that means change. Being the best organization requires constant incremental shifts in policy, procedures and practice. That is part of the job description of any leader.

Change, whether from an organizational point of view or a personal perspective, begins with some uneasiness. Though no one likes to be uncomfortable, most of us know that being stuck in the same old routine is not overly healthy either. Improvement needs to come from honest reflection of one’s work and achievement of one’s goals. That in itself can be difficult, but it is a necessary step to begin the change process. Contextual data is far more important here than any individual’s opinion or judgment.

In the coming year, Holy Spirit will begin working on our next 3-Year Education Plan. Through a review of Alberta Education’s Accountability Pillar surveys and our annual ThoughtExchange data, trustees will begin to set the direction for the next three years and administrators will wrestle with how best to build on current successes and shift priorities to continually improve. We don’t want to lose the good work we’ve achieved through our focus on faith, literacy and numeracy or our commitment to First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning, but our priorities and efforts will need to be reevaluated and challenged to ultimately become better.  

That is the essence of change, to become better! School systems across the province have always been charged with that goal. We can’t do what we’ve always done and expect that the students in our schools will be better served or organizations will suddenly improve. Change is hard work; mostly because it is unpopular and creates uncertainty. Yet we can’t just wish for a better anything without making the necessary changes. Call it a New Year’s resolution, or a fresh start or simply building on your own successes, but engage in change this coming year to become the best version of yourself! As eloquently stated by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Twitter Trolls!

I love Twitter! Since joining in May 2011 I have utilized it as a great source to share my own educational thoughts but more importantly learn from thousands of others in the Twittersphere. Virtually everything that I tweet out in regards to education, I include the hashtag #hs4 which is the school division where I serve as Superintendent of Schools. I also tend to include #abed which is the hashtag for Alberta Education. I think it is selfish not to share great information that can assist educators throughout the province.

While I love the power of Twitter from a professional standpoint and even a little bit personal, I’m becoming more frustrated with what I will call “Twitter Trolls.” While everyone is entitled to an opinion, it is disheartening when tweets are laced with hatred, foul language and rudeness. It is even worse when those tweets are coming from faceless accounts and the statements are made void of actual facts or misleading information for the sole purpose of “proving a point.”

Twitter and other social media platforms have some great benefits when used properly. Schools work hard to ensure that students are taught proper digital citizenship and leave an appropriate footprint. But when the adults can’t do the same…

As we approach a new year, I’m wondering whether all of us on social media might pause just a second before we hit send and…

  • Reflect on what message we are sending?
  • Reflect on what we are role modeling to others?
  • Reflect on the impact of our posts both positive and negative?
  • Think about who we might be helping or hurting?
  • Reflect on whether the content is leading or misleading?
  • Decide if we would really say what we want to say in person?

To me the last statement is essential and for most sets the bar. Could you really say the things you do on social media, with the same expression, to the person directly? If you can, maybe it is because you’re just not that nice or really vengeful and then in reality your bar is pretty darn low! So instead of being “Twitter Trolls” or just plain offside on other forms of social media,  let’s try to raise the bar in 2019!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- Christmas Message 2018

We are in the last week of school before Christmas and I’m sure many are looking forward to a little rest and relaxation over the coming holidays. Let’s just begin with this… WELL DESERVED!!! For those who don’t live in the education world, it is easy to point fingers and tell us “how few hours we work” or “how many holidays we get” but we know the truth about looking after our students and each other day in and day out. It is what you are called to do and you do it so selflessly and always for those in most need. Thank you!

December is always a tough month as we lead up to a vacation but this one was just a little tougher. We had more tragedies than usual and serious ailments and illness consumed many. Sometimes people find it difficult to be as faithful when bad things happen to good people. Yet, when we are faced with these issues, we turn to God and offer prayers to those in need. We strive to build a community of hope and offer a spirit of joy even when we face difficult times. It is this blessing that I see in the schools I visit and the people I see. Thank you again!

This time next week, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the arrival of our grandchildren for Christmas. Donna and I will be hosting Christmas for the entire Smeaton side of the family for the first time here in Lethbridge. Usually, we head to Medicine Hat, but it just felt right this time to stay home and cherish the blessings of little ones and older ones. Carter will be three in January and so Christmas will be very exciting for him, while Emerson, at only 7 months, will just be intrigued with all of the lights! I can’t wait to hold these two little ones! 

For some, this marks the last Christmas vacation as an employee of Holy Spirit. There have been quite a number of staff who have taken advantage of the voluntary retirement program.  I know this decision is not easy and so I can only wish you the best in your future and many thanks for your work. May this Christmas be extremely memorable!

Finally to all, I hope this Season of Advent was one of preparation, prayer and reflection. In just over a week, we will celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. May the light of Christ guide all your travels and may the warmth of His love encompass you always.

On behalf of Donna and I, we wish each of you a most blessed Christmas and best wishes in 2019. God Bless!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- December 2018

December has arrived, which means I am rid of my “Movember” throwback Tom Selleck, Magnum PI moustache. Great cause…terrible look for me today!

All joking aside, the start of December is important for us in our Catholic tradition, as it is the beginning of our liturgical year. Over the next four Sundays we will be celebrating the Season of Advent in preparation of the coming of the Christ child. New beginnings are always important as they give us an opportunity to “reboot.” How do we get ready for Christmas? Who do we need to forgive? How do we learn to give more of ourselves to help those less fortunate and in need? All of these are questions to be reflective upon during this season.

But there is something else we must be aware of as we journey toward Christmas. Sadly, this most Holy season is not beautiful for all. Christmas can be a reminder to some of fractured families and broken relationships. It can cause anxiety or fear when food might be scarce or safety might be in question. It can also be a source of heartache if love is not present. Sometimes we are aware of the students and staff in our schools who will feel this way but many others either hide it well or lash out without us really knowing why. I think the second group I’ve mentioned are the most difficult, because we often want to lash back because “they” deserve it. And, maybe they do, but in this Advent Season we might want to look for a softer approach and a more compassionate response because… 

The month of November is always hectic. With meetings and conferences for CASS, CCSSA, ACSTA and ASBA, I felt like I was never home sleeping in my own bed. But one of the great benefits of attending those meetings and conferences is the opportunity to learn from others and share our own practices. Education is far too complex for anybody to do it on their own anymore and that is why I was so happy with the direction of our Division PD Day. Sharing our expertise and areas for growth in collaborative structures should always positively impact our practice and ultimately our students’ successes. I’m hopeful that we can arrange at least a couple of these collaboration days into future calendars.

The November board meeting tends to be the “meatiest” of all yearly meetings. The Board of Trustees are presented with the quarterly review of our Continuous Improvement Plan and are provided with the 2017-18 Annual Education Results Report.  The Fall Budget Update is provided as well as the Audited Financial Statements. Expenses are consistently higher than revenues and this year the Board dipped into their operating reserves to the tune of $752,829 plus $190,000 from capital reserves to balance our $65,632,839 budget. Over 79% of this budget will be spent on instruction and the percentages to be spent in the areas of Operations and Maintenance, Capital and Debt Services, Transportation and Board and System Administration have each been decreased from the actuals in 2017-18. While our enrollment growth this year did not meet our projection, I’m very pleased that we continue to place supports both certificated and non-certificated into our schools directly. Over the last five year period, our enrolment growth has been 4.8% while I growth of certificated personnel has been 11.9%. This year alone we’ve added 6.28 FTE to our teaching composite and 11.73 FTE to our support staff. This type of data is a great testament to our Board’s commitment to student learning.

As was communicated on Friday, Brian Macauley has announced his intention to access our Voluntary Retirement Program and will be completing his tenure as Deputy Superintendent on June 30, 2019. The deadline for accessing this program is December 14th. I know there are a number of staff who have made contact with HR to discuss this program more fully. I can also make myself available for those who would like to discuss their future plans with me. This is never an easy decision and so please know that my prayers are with you in your discernment.

Winter hit today and so roads won’t necessarily be great for travel so stay safe out there. Please remember your impact on others as we journey together in this Advent Season. Your response may lift up or put down those most in need. May this Advent Season be one of prayer, forgiveness, compassion and love. Have a wonderful December and God Bless!

In support of Catholic Education

The following blog post was written for and published in the Lethbridge Herald on November 14, 2018.

In late October, the Public Schools’ Boards Association of Alberta (PSBAA) initiated a campaign to consolidate all education into one publicly funded system. In essence, they are desiring one system that would effectively provide parents with no choice in educating their children. For those of us in Catholic Education, this is certainly not new. The threat to Catholic Education is part of our history and can be traced back all the way to Egerton Ryerson. However, the attacks and the rhetoric around this cause are becoming increasingly alarming.

From a quick glance this might seem like a great idea. Proponents will tell you that this could be a means of saving money, which could serve students better.  The research, however, suggests that merging school districts could actually cost more to run. Remember when we moved to one health care board for the province? Money was certainly not saved and service was not impacted in the positive. Bigger does not necessarily mean better.

If you were to simply make judgments from what you read or hear in some media outlets, you would believe that the current education system is failing our students. The fact is that Canada still ranks as one of the best educational systems in the world and Alberta is leading in that charge. In the recent PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results, Canada appears in the top 10 for math, science and reading. But more impressive is that our high standing is offered almost exclusively through public education to one of the most diverse populations in the world.

Parental choice would be lost if we regressed to only one publicly funded system. Currently, parents in the Province of Alberta have the ability to choose (within some parameters) which publicly funded school system (Public, Separate or Francophone) they desire for their children. Parents wishing to access the Francophone system must meet the requirements set forth in section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For the Public or Separate (Catholic) systems, the parameter lies in residency, space and resource availability, as well as a desire for a faith based education or not. The opportunity to choose any of the three systems comes without the necessity of tuition fees, as is the case for private schooling. Parents desiring a faith based education rooted in the Gospel values for their children have the ability to access the Catholic system. This opportunity is provided to both Catholic and non-Catholic students. It is an option that continually motivates Public, Separate and Francophone divisions to provide an educational product that benefits students and the communities they live in, and also promotes system competition.

This healthy competition would be eliminated if only one system existed; and monopolies, even in education, are seldom beneficial to a population. Educational funding is based on student enrolment and therefore school divisions are continually seeking improvements to attract or simply maintain students. There is a natural competition that develops as each system strives to enhance programming and facilities. As each division seeks improvement, the bar is raised resulting in students and communities being the benefactors of this competition.

Just as important as the competition is the strong collaboration that develops through strong working relationships with neighbouring school divisions. These relationships create partnerships like dual credit opportunities, career planning and transportation that further enhance advantages for all students. The school divisions in Southwest Alberta have developed strong collegial relationships, as demonstrated by these partnership opportunities. Excellent practices have been shared, co-created and taught to one another to ensure that students in the area are receiving the highest quality of education available.

While some may view Catholic Education as an option it must also be recognized as a right since it is constitutionally protected. Catholic schools have been in existence for over 130 years in the province. It has and continues to serve the citizens of Alberta, both Catholic and non-Catholic, with high quality education. To lose this right, option or choice would not benefit our province and the students we educate and, in the end, that is what education is called to do!

Effective School Councils

A couple of weeks back, our school division invited a representative from the Alberta School Councils’ Association to provide a workshop on some of the functions of school councils. The presentation reminded me of the important work that should be done by this group but often gets lost because of well -intentioned volunteerism. I don’t believe that staffs will ever say no to the work that many of our parents do in schools today but, the true essence of their role is far more reaching than simple involvement.

One of the non-negotiable roles for school councils and parents in general, is being well-informed about school/division goals, results, and the strategies that are being implemented to enhance the quality of education for their children.  They should at the very least also have a general understanding of the state of education.

Pause: Look at your last school council meeting and see how much time was devoted to discussing the above.

Part of the issue is that most of us in education are quite content with the high level of involvement and volunteerism and shy away from the “meatier” topics. The flip side is that many parents don’t really want to be highly engaged in things like school plans and budgets because they just really want to help out. Neither of those are necessarily wrong but I think we can do better!

To begin with, schools need to communicate without using a bunch of “edubabble.” One of the courses I teach for Gonzaga University is Educational Leadership and School Improvement.” I constantly remind my students (and my own staff) to “keep it simple.” Ensure that the language you are providing makes sense and is easily understood by parents, the general population and your own staff. Fancy education terms may look great on paper but, if your parents don’t understand them, schools have lost a tremendous opportunity to engage. Schools must also be able to provide multiple types of results (i.e. not just large-scale standardized assessments) for parents to review and ask questions. One piece of data that schools have not leveraged well is that of improvement. The media tend to love to communicate low achievement results without any context.  For example, if you have a class where 50% of students writing a standardized assessment are not at grade level, why would you assume that they should suddenly be at grade level on the test? However, what a powerful and motivational message when schools communicate to parents the growth and the closing of the gap that occurred from one year to the next.

We recognize the importance of fostering a strong partnership between home and school and so school council questions, parent inquiries and/or teacher requests should never to accusatory in nature. I always ask our schools to review any results through an “autopsy without blame” lens. Pointing fingers or making excuses never leads to positive conversations. Instead, I would suggest pluralistic questions like the ones below. These questions might assist school council members and parents as a whole in gaining a better understanding of their child’s education, the school’s results and education as a whole.

  1. What might be some reasons for these results? (positive or negative)
  2. What trends are you seeing in the data?
  3. What are some key strategies that you will be focusing on in the coming year? What might be some results you’ll be hoping for with the implementation of these strategies?
  4. What are some of the school’s greatest strengths? What are some of the school’s greatest areas for growth?
  5. What are some ways that I might be able to assist in my own child’s learning?
  6. What are some of the trends in education? What are some of the things the school is doing to best prepare students for an ever-changing future?
  7. What types of professional learning is the staff engaging to impact their own practice?

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but it does provide for some focused discussion around the school council table. When we can get to this level, school councils are not simply involved but rather they are engaged and can contribute the effectiveness of schools themselves. In the end, we all want high quality learning for our students and school councils that are effective in their roles, can contribute to that goal!

 

 

Catholic Education Sunday- November 2018

The following message will be read at all masses this coming weekend in recognition and celebration of Catholic Education.

Holy Spirit is a regional division that serves students in Bow Island, Coaldale, Lethbridge, Picture Butte, Pincher Creek, Taber, and surrounding communities. Today we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday, a special day that recognizes the gift of publicly funded Catholic Education here in the province of Alberta.

Our Alberta Bishops have provided the theme for this Catholic Education Sunday as, “Rejoice and Be Glad,” and have linked their letter directly from the writings of Pope Francis. His Holiness acknowledges that Catholic schools play a critical role in helping children know Christ. For some of our students, their Catholic schools are an extension of the Church. But for many, their Catholic School is their only church. This may seem like a sad statement but it highlights the importance of Catholic schools in assisting students in their own faith journey.

While education quality, school improvement, program of studies and academics must always be part of a strong publicly funded education system, it is our division’s first goal that makes us unique: “Staff and students will grow in their faith and experience the richness of Catholic Education.” This is where our schools respond to the words of Pope Francis and nurture the call to holiness for our children and youth.

Holy Spirit is currently in the last year of our three year faith plan. Our year one theme, “Rooted in Christ,” called our staff and students to read and reflect on the weekly Gospels and increase the permeation of scripture into the program of studies, school programs and activities. In year 2, “Growing in Spirit,” we were called to know Jesus even better through scripture and to deepen our experience in prayer. Our faith theme for this year is, “Sharing our Bounty,” and it is one of gratitude.  Pope Francis says, “Wake up the world! Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, of acting, of living! It is possible to live differently in this world.” Schools will focus on the giving of their time, talents and treasures to the greater community since we understand that we serve God when we serve others.

What a wonderful gift Catholic Education provides for our staff, students, families and communities. Sadly, the threats to publicly funded Catholic Education continue to intensify. The Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta has recently begun a campaign that would see the amalgamation of public and Catholic school divisions into one. Some governments have called Catholic Education archaic and the secular world continues to see no value in faith based education or parental choice. This is not acceptable!

In today’s bulletin you will find an insert that showcases our school division’s work to bring Christ into the lives of our students and promote the richness of Catholic Education. You will also find information on GrACE, which is an advocacy group for Catholic Education. Please read these inserts and become involved in supporting the continuation of publicly funded Catholic Education in this province.

In years past we’ve always asked for your prayers for all those involved in Catholic Education. But today, we also ask for your vigilance in standing up and informing those around you of the importance of Catholic Education. Let us not lose the gift of Catholic Education because of external forces or apathy, but rather be committed to passionately supporting a system that places Christ, the witness of faith and the teachings of the Catholic Church at the center of all that we do! Have a wonderful Catholic Education Sunday and God Bless!

From the Desk of the Superintendent- November 2018

November 1st! If you are reading my monthly message this day, I’m sure you have (especially in the elementary grades) a whole bunch of “sugared up” kids! Happy day after Halloween.

I want to begin this month’s message with a look back at some important events that occurred in October. The Board of Trustees held their annual organizational meeting on October 24th and I’m pleased to announce that both Judy Lane (Chair) and Bob Spitzig (Vice Chair) were acclaimed in their positions. This will be their second term and both continue to exemplify the tradition of strong board leaders that has been evident for my entire tenure at Holy Spirit. Anita Lethbridge-Gross provided the trustees with a short presentation on “Mental Health Literacy” which was well received and potentially a stronger priority in years to come. I provided the Board with a review of our Accountability Pillar Summary including our exam results. We continue to show great improvements overall in the division and in fact, this pillar report is one of the best in the last ten years. These results can only be attributed to the excellent leaders, teachers and support staff throughout the division. Continuous improvement, innovative practice and looking outside the box are characteristics of our system and they provide the necessary drive toward excellence. Well done everyone! For more information on the rest of the board meeting, click here.

On that topic, I want to talk a little about our process for school continuous improvement plans. Over the years, these meetings have become far more intentional as schools discuss what they will actually be doing to meet goals rather than simply providing a compliance document. We’ve really been able to focus on a multitude of data (provincial and local) to guide our improvement work. Each school was asked the following five questions:

  1. Tell us about your data story? What information have you reviewed in preparation for this meeting and what is it telling you? Based on the data, what are your school’s greatest strengths and greatest areas for growth?
  2. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s faith goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  3. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s literacy/numeracy goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  4. When you think about your school’s work on the Board’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit goal, what are some strategies that you will initiate this year that are different from the previous years? What data, information or evidence has led you to those adjustments?
  5. At the end of this school year, what will you accept that you were successful in achieving the Board’s three priorities?

The data story is probably the most important part of the review and one that must be told to our parent communities. It provides a context to the results without making excuses and allows schools to look for opportunities for growth. Since this is the last year of our current 3-Year Education and Faith Plan it is important for us to look forward and have a sense of what success looks like in June 2019. Many schools engaged in pre-mortem exercises at the beginning of the year to identify potential barriers and then made adjustments to address priorities. When done well the cycle for continuous improvement is a powerful tool and one that Holy Spirit never ceases to refine.

This coming weekend we celebrate Catholic Education Sunday. Given the increasing threat to publicly funded Catholic Education it is important that we recognize the gift we have in Alberta and openly stand up  for our continued existence. I will be providing my message to you later this week and would ask that you read it, reflect and respond accordingly. Be proud when you receive your blessing this coming weekend at mass, as all of us, no matter our roles have a part to play.

Finally I want to express my excitement of our upcoming Division Professional Learning Day. The strength of our schools lies in the strength of our division. With a focus on collaboration throughout the system (grade or subject level) we are building lateral capacity. We have long known that we have expertise throughout the division that needs to be shared so that all students benefit. I’m looking forward to the various opportunities for collaboration on November 13th.

This message is longer than my usual and so I’ll sign off by extending my gratitude to all in our division. Thank you for the work you do to support student success. You do great work! Enjoy your November and God Bless!

Preparing for a very different future!

The following blog post was written for the Lethbridge Herald on October 3, 2018.

Last week, Holy Spirit hosted an event with Apple Canada entitled, “Preparing students for today’s mobile workplace.” Our division was well supported through the attendance of board members, senior and school leaders and students. The conversation about preparing students for the future is of critical importance, not just for educators but business and industry and the general public at large. So it was refreshing that some of our local leaders were able to be present.

Why is it so important for business and industry to be present and, more importantly, involved in this conversation? In the just released report, Humans Wanted – How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, RBC predicts that, “more than 25% of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming decade. Fully half will go through a significant overhaul of the skills required.” Disruption most commonly means automation and a significant overhaul of skills is complete re-training.

Even with the Canadian economy expected to grow by 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, much different skills will be required for workers to stay employed and employers to remain competitive in the global market. Unfortunately, the paper suggests that, “Canada’s education system, training programs and labour market initiatives are inadequately designed to help Canadian youth navigate this new skills economy.” Arguably, Canada (when you factor in that most students access publicly funded education and we educate one of the most diverse populations) has the best K-12 education system in the world and our post-secondary system ranks well too! But even with these strong supports, our youth will be left unable to transition from one career to another without a more concentrated effort on skill development. And it doesn’t get better as the report further suggests that, “Canadian employers are generally not prepared, through hiring, training or retraining, to recruit and develop the skills needed to make their organizations more competitive in a digital economy.”

Canada is a small country and, with the speed of technological change occurring, we must get ahead of the curve to stay globally competitive. That means that our students need digital fluency at a level that is far more in depth than simply searching for something on Google or interacting with the latest social media tool. We need students and youth to be critical thinkers in cross disciplines with the ability to see interconnections. Future jobs will require employees who can think outside the box, are resilient and adaptable. We must be constantly and collectively building for tomorrow.

Our solutions must revolve around collaborative partnerships between education, business and industry. We can ill-afford to fall into an “if only” mentality or the blame game. Rather, we must begin having productive discussions on how we can eliminate our silo thinking and look at learning through life instead of just learning in school. They say the youth is our future and, if we want to demonstrate our belief in that statement, we need to invest in them now at all levels and in all areas.

From the Desk of the Superintendent- October 2018

On Friday, like so many of our schools, we honored Orange Shirt Day at St. Basil Catholic Education Centre. As part of the day, we engaged all of our central office staff in the Blanket Exercise. It was powerful learning for all! This is my second time through the exercise and I was struck by my new learning. I’ve long spoken about my own perspective on the impacts of Residential Schools and while that was not new for me, this time it hit home even deeper. I cannot imagine as a father and grandfather being forced to give up the opportunity to raise my own children/grandchildren and knowing that all of my family traditions, language and culture would be seen and taught as evil! But my new learning came around the subject that I would call “white arrogance.”  We assume like our European ancestors, that our ways of living and/or governing are the correct way and all other forms are less suitable or worse unacceptable. Our indigenous peoples had strong societal norms when Europeans came to their country. They governed well, shared better than any previous culture and lived a whole life. But because it was different from the monarchy driven society the first immigrants came from, it was seen as “savage.” What a mess we’ve created by arrogantly believing that what we do or how we act is the only right way! This is our time, especially as a Catholic School Division to right the wrongs, to act with compassion and to commit to social justice not half way around the world but in our own backyard.   

We started the year on a great note, beginning with our opening mass and carrying on with various professional learning opportunities. Unfortunately, our enrollment projections didn’t quite get to where we had hoped, although we still had a slight increase overall from last year. We had over 100 families move out of the area to different parts of Alberta or Canada, which likely signifies that we have places within our boundaries that the economy is not particularly strong. This migration out certainly impacts our smaller rural schools but it has a negative net effect as well. This is not to say that we didn’t have some strong growth areas, like west Lethbridge, but without the announcement of a new school soon, we won’t be able to accommodate any further growth.

The announcement of the continuation of the Classroom Improvement Fund (CIF) from last year with the sole target of staffing will assist in supporting schools. Our proposal to the government calls for an increase of 2-3 FTE teaching staff and between 7-10 FTE support staff to assist students with the most complex needs. Last year’s CIF report has been sent into the government as well. The $636,000 of funding was allocated as follows:

  • Teachers- $247,143
  • Support Staff- $77,077
  •  PD (Registrations, Travel, etc)- $58,499
  • Substitute costs $112,127
  • Resources/Technology- $141,430

Last year, were able to leverage these funds very well, especially in supporting our literacy and numeracy priority. Our elementary schools have a great baseline with Fountas & Pinnell materials and our literacy/numeracy interventions are becoming stronger and more effective with this support. With the first continuous improvement plan reviews just around the corner, I’m excited to hear about the great work occurring in our schools in this final year of our 3-Year Education Plan.

We are living in a very different world and unfortunately are experiencing more litigious paranoia. That doesn’t mean however,  that new legislation is necessarily bad or risky practices should not be eliminated. And so on September 20th, all staff received an email with your first personal list of Health and Safety Courses required to be completed by December 31st. I have 14 on my to do list and recognize that this is now, just part of a “new professional responsibility.” I believe that health and safety has always been in the forefront for our school division but with the legislation now in effect, it takes on a more compliant priority. October 17th is going to be a big day as well because on that day, cannabis becomes legal. And legal, is how we are going to have to maneuver through it. On Tuesday this week, I’ll be sharing the legal opinion and newest administrative procedure being developed. Not why I became an educator but is now part of our world!

But let’s get back to celebrating the “good” stuff. I was headhunted earlier this September for a superintendent job out of the province. And while there were significant advantages, namely monetary, the bottom line is that I love my job, the people I work with and I know that I’m blessed to be part of Holy Spirit Catholic School Division.  Each of you contribute, in your own way, to making the lives of our students and their families better. That’s a blessing and why I am always to proud to call Holy Spirit, home!

Have a great year everyone and God Bless!