Well, that was quite the way to end September!!! We’ve closed all schools in the division three times in my days as superintendent, but this was certainly the earliest. It is not easy coordinating closures given that we cooperate with our neighbouring school divisions and the City of Lethbridge on busing but I was extremely pleased at their responsiveness to make a decision early so that we could do the same. The closures kept our Communications Coordinator, Anisha Gatner pretty busy and gave us a chance to utilize our new School Messenger software. All in all, I would say the communications going out were excellent and a big thank you to Anisha for that!
I never imagined once the beginning of this school year arrived, how many times I would be asked, “Are you counting down the days?” In the beginning, I was either a little annoyed or insulted but, I’ve come to realize, that is a logical question once an announcement of retirement is made. The simple answer is no, but I think it requires a little more context as everybody knows the excitement I have with the thoughts about being around our grandchildren more often and ultimately seeing them at the drop of a hat. Counting days until my retirement means to me that I’ve lost the passion for what I do and really don’t have anything left to contribute. While I need to be the judge of the first (passion), the division community needs to be able to weigh in on the second. It would sadden me greatly if at the conclusion of my tenure as Superintendent of Schools, the rumbling in the community was that I should have retired earlier because my “best before date” had expired. Holy Spirit has been extremely good to me and as such, YOU deserve nothing but my very best until the day of my retirement.
September has come and gone in as usual…record time! We had some blips in our enrolment projections around the division. That can be understandable given our “rurban” configuration and also the diversity within Lethbridge. We grew a little less than 1% from last year’s numbers but unfortunately didn’t meet our enrolment projects of about 1.5%. While that doesn’t seem significant, it equates to about a quarter of a million dollars in lost revenues. This is cause for concern given that our board has consistently dipped into reserves to balance their budgets and maintain supports for students. Spending today’s dollars on today’s students has always been a priority of this board but the accumulated operating surplus that has been our saving grace in past years is close to drying up. With a new funding framework being implemented for 2020-21, I am hopeful that school divisions with a regional context and those who do not hoard money in reserves are recognized for their fiscal stewardship. The provincial budget is to be tabled on October 24th and it is out of control and so, as I communicated in my opening address, let’s just keep moving forward on things within our own sphere of influence.
One of the items within our own sphere is around professional learning. I’m so pleased with the initial outcomes of our first collaborative day. I think the opportunity for staff to gather in non-homogeneous groupings and focus on student competencies throughout K-12 rather than grade or subject specific lends itself so well to the reasons we collaborate. In my upcoming article for the Lethbridge Herald, I quote the following from author of Limitless Minds, Jo Boaler,
“An important change takes place when students work together and discover that everybody finds some or all of the work difficult. This is a critical moment for students, and one that helps them know that for everyone learning is a process and that obstacles are common.
Another reason that students’ learning pathways change is because they receive an opportunity to connect ideas. Connecting with another person’s idea both requires and develops a higher level of understanding. When students work together (learning math, science, languages, English— anything), they get opportunities to make connections between ideas, which is inherently valuable for them.”
My contention is that we are all students and the opportunity provided in these three days can have a great impact not only ourselves but the students we have in our schools and classrooms. Our new Director of Learning, Carmen Larsen and our two Learning Coaches, Louise Knodel and Dianne Brodie were instrumental in organizing this first day and my gratitude is extended to all those who volunteered to facilitate the various sessions. During that same time a group of our staff were involved in professional development on traditional games to support the learning of Indigenous language. I was able to pop in and witness some very engaged staff participating in beneficial professional learning as we continue to keep First Nations, Metis and Inuit learning as a priority. Our Division Principal, Annette BruisedHead organized this excellent opportunity as part of the Mioohpokoiksi Indigenous Language in Education Project Grant.
The September board meeting was a lengthy package and was highlighted by presentations from Director of Religious Education, Joann Bartley, who spoke on our new 3-Year Faith Plan and Director of Learning, Carmen Larsen who presented on our Collaborative Days. This was incoming Superintendent of Schools, Ken Sampson’s first board meeting. One of my comments during the board meeting was an affirmation of this board in allowing senior administration and ultimately school leaders to be “free” to be innovative and creative in their practice. This was well illustrated in the visit with the Minister of Education and the touring of St. Francis School and would have been similar in any of the schools in our division. While this approach by our board to be supportive of creativity and innovation should be seen as routine, it is not always the case and it is a gift I have experienced throughout my tenure as Superintendent of Schools. For more information on the September Board Meeting check out Board Meeting Briefs here.
I’m hoping that we will still have some fall weather even though winter hit hard this past weekend. Many of our administrators are heading to Red Deer at the end of this week for the 2nd annual Marked by God conference and so, hoping road conditions are good. The southern Alberta Bishop’s Dinner is scheduled for October 11th, on the eve of the Thanksgiving long weekend. Principal growth plans and continuous improvement plan reviews will also occur in October. I’ll be continuing with my school instructional visits and I head to my last Education Research Development and Innovation conference this month too! It is the norm for all in the world of education; a busy September runs into an equally busy October.
Keep warm, keep healthy, and may God continue to bless you in this most important work you do!