Sunday, 15 November 2015

Making the Connection Between School and Home

Schools are always looking for better ways to connect with parents. Ensuring that parents are informed about student progress is enshrined in legislation, and just makes good sense. After all we're all partners in making sure the students we share are well supported and that parents feel well informed and connected to their school. Connections can come in many forms ranging from the traditional newsletters, through interim and formal report cards, right through to electronic messaging and social media.

The duty to keep parents informed is clearly outlined in the School Act and a multitude of ministerial orders and the School Regulation. Parents can find a detailed description of the duty to report at the Ministry of Education website's  reporting page.   In part, this page outlines that "during the school year, Boards of Education will provide parents of students with at least five reports describing students' school progress. Three of the reports will be formal written reports and two will be informal reports".

Beyond reporting, schools also use a variety of communication methods to connect with parents. Most parents are familiar with the traditional school newsletters, printed periodically and handed out to be carried home by students. While many students do faithfully bring bulletins home, there is always the fear that newsletters are disappearing into desks, bottomless book bags or lockers and that their messages don't get through. Increasingly schools and teachers are turning to electronic, digital and online means of messaging. School web pages provide another means of providing information and can be found by accessing the schools tab at the district web site. Some schools have embraced social media and have established Facebook pages that interested parties can "like" to keep up with whats happening. If you are a Facebook user, you can easily find out if your school has such a page by typing the school's name into the search bar.

With computers and smart phones becoming more common, many teachers are starting to use email, text apps and other electronic media to connect with parents.  Its easier than ever to make the connection between home and school. If you are curious about how your school is working to improve the home school connection, give the office a call, check out their web page or even give Google a go to see what they might have posted online. Making that connection will help everyone to keep on top of education matters.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Busy Times!

Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday teachers were welcoming students back to school, and already we've seen Thanksgiving come and go. With Remembrance Day on the horizon and Christmas not too far off, the year seems to be rushing past at a frantic pace.

Every year starts with a flurry of activities, but this year the rush just has just not let up.  Instead of the modest student increase that we expected, district enrolment was up by 265 students. Ensuring that all the new arrivals are accommodated within our existing facilities is a challenge, as is finding new staff to facilitate their learning.  The north Peace continues to be a land of opportunities, and SD 60 is working hard to attract and retain well qualified staff to support all our programs, from the classroom right through to support and maintenance positions. District staff continue to work with other levels of government to expand our facilities. The fall has seen us working with the city of Fort St John as we add a portable on to CM Finch Elementary, and the provincial government as we look to build new facilities to deal with further population growth projected for the coming years.

District employees are also adapting to some internal operational changes. This is SD 60's year to move onto MyEdBC, the province's new student information system, that is replacing the old BCeSIS system. The change over is part of a province wide initiative, and as with all large scale technology initiatives, it has come with a significant learning curve. Teachers, clerical staff and administration have been all working hard to get used to the new system and to ensure that it works well. In addition, the Ministry of Education is bringing forward a new curriculum for grades k - 9,  to be be fully implemented for September 2015. This year will see schools planning for full implementation and two additional non instructional days will be added to the district calendar in the new year. Teams of teachers are already working with administrators to explore and design the best practices for making the switch to the new curriculum and its focus on core competencies. Parents can expect to hear much more about these changes in the weeks to come.

So the year is well on its way. The district is certainly in the midst of some very busy times. Against this backdrop of system changes and the pressures of tremendous growth,  schools continue to provide their communities with the full range of activities that mark the passing of a regular school year. I hope to use this blog to provide more regular updates that feature more of these activities and dedicate more time to education matters!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Challenge and Opportunities

It seems like just yesterday everyone was looking forward to a restful summer break. Now the start of a new school year is nearly upon us.  These next few days are always exciting, and more than a little bit scary, as it becomes clear just what challenges and opportunities lie ahead. No doubt there will be more than a few bumps and hurdles to clear. SD 60 needs to get a better picture of where district enrollment will be, and there's much work to be done to match resources to different needs. However, I have every confidence that our personnel will rise to the occasion and do all they can to make the coming school year as positive as possible for students and families.

As our communities continue to grow the district will continue to work with partners at the Ministry of Education and within the provincial government to provide students with engaging and valuable learning opportunities, that are adequately resourced and housed within appropriate facilities.  The district also looks forward to working with local governments and parents and families.  Sometimes the challenges will seem very great, and no doubt responsive action may never come as quickly as some would like, but all district employees are committed to doing the best we can for the students we serve.

The immediate challenge will be to find out exactly how many students we are working with. Unlike many school districts, SD 60 continues to grow, and at a great rate. Many districts might see such growth as a good problem to have, but here, it is hard to predict whether growth will come where we can accommodate additional students or whether we will need to find creative and cooperative solutions to ensure that every student has a place.  

Similar challenges are faced in ensuring the district resources are deployed in an effective and sustainable manner. Measures like the new transportation registration fees are never popular, but they have been developed in coordination with ongoing efforts to secure new resources and funding and with measures that ensure existing resources are deployed wisely. As a result the district continues to operate from a sound financial foundation.

Over the course of the next ten months, there will be many exciting initiatives and events at schools right across the district. I look forward to sharing many of them in this blog, but also encourage everyone to connect with their local school. The closer your connection the better informed you will be, as teachers and staff bring new and exciting learning opportunities to our students. Welcome to a new school year with all its challenges and opportunities. Our district motto " Together We Learn" has never rung so true, and I truly look forward to bringing you many updates about "Education Matters!"

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Springing Into Action

There are a whole lot of great activities happening across our district this spring. This week, I'll try to catch up on some events that have already taken place and keep up with others that are about to!  

I recently had the privilege of being invited to Taylor Schools Meet The Author event.  Students in every class had written or contributed to books of their very own making. The annual event has been a labour of love for teacher Donna Lee Cooper. Her efforts have inspired the students and community to hold a gala like event to celebrate the arrival of the books, complete with formal attire, much fanfare and celebrity readings. My favorite book was the combination effort from Mrs. Frankham's kindergarten class, celebrating penguins and the letter P.

Last week,  CM Finch's Mrs. Gilbert hosted the annual elementary district public speaking contest at the North Peace Cultural Centre. Public speaking is often ranked as one of the most feared activities by many adults but you would never know it from watching elementary contestants from schools all across the district take the stage. Students from Baldonnel Elementary swept the individual medal podium with Clearview and Ambrose taking silver and bronze in the team competition.

This week is also filled with big events. The AVID class from NPSS is on its annual tour of post secondary institutions. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination. With its goal of closing the achievement gap and fully preparing students for post secondary opportunities, AVID aligns nicely with the district's goal of improving life opportunities for graduates. 

On Wednesday, Bert Bowes celebrates its 50th anniversary. The school officially opened on November 27th, 1964. The public are invited to a celebration from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, May 27th at the school. Come out to visit the school, connect with alumni and former staff, and re-live some old memories. 

On Thursday the Doig River Reserve in partnership with the district Aboriginal Education Centre and Upper Pine School will host Doig Day. Grade 4 students from across the the district will have the opportunity to visit the Doig and see and partake in a variety of cultural based activities and celebrate the diversity First Nations students and their families bring to our district. 

Finally, this is the week for Project Heavy Duty. District Principal Richard Koop in partnership with local industries oversee a week long opportunity for selected secondary students to gain hands on experience with heavy duty machinery.

 Its clear that spring is a busy time here in Peace River North. In the weeks ahead students will be preparing for even more end of year activities including final exams, district track meet and graduations and grade to grade transitions. If you get the chance, get out and take in some of these activities either as a spectator or volunteer. You'll get to see our students at their best, enjoying their learning, celebrating their successes and demonstrating how learning matters.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Energy Week - Showing off Our Sector

This week's blog features information provided by District Principal Brian Campbell and his wonderful team within the Career's Education Program. May 3rd to 8th is Peace Energy Week featuring opportunities for both local students and students from other districts in experience our area's energy sector first hand.

The Peace has an abundance of ongoing energy projects both completed and proposed. These range from wind, solar, oil and gas, hydroelectric and geothermal sources. As our local industry is primarily resource based, the educational system is working to provide students with local learning opportunities that allow them to live, study, and stay in the North. Northern Lights College delivers training in many technical trades, such as Power Engineering, as well as arts and science programs, such as Licensed Practical Nursing. The many college programs available at Northern Lights College support our local community needs. The programs are also available to Grade 12 students as dual credit programs, which expose and prepare our students to local career opportunities.

Through the Northern Opportunities partnership there is a positive working relationship between the three school districts (59, 60 and 81) as well as Northern Lights College, local industry and Aboriginal groups. This makes it possible for a collaboration to exist in order to bring energy to the forefront and connect students to local industry. Industry needs skilled workers and the education
system has programs to support this need. The school district Career departments strives to introduce students to the career opportunities through hands on learning, work experience, apprenticeship, college training and university transfer courses.

Our province benefits from the abundant resources of the area. However, there is limited exposure for students considering employment in the trades. Students from all over the province would benefit from visiting and learning about educational and career opportunities available to them in the North. By inviting students up to the Peace, they can take back their experiences to other students around the province and really highlight what we have here.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Safe Stop: Making Our Transportation System Safer

Recently District Transportation Supervisor Mike Fitzgerald let the trustees know of a new campaign one of his drivers has brought forward for the the district to promote. Called Safe Stop, the program addresses the issue of motorists who illegally pass school buses. 

Over 2200 students ride our bus system every day. Our drivers work hard to ensure that our transportation system isn't just efficient, but that it is also one of the safest ways for students to get to our schools. With an ever increasing number of vehicles sharing the roads with our buses, more close calls or near misses happen every day. Its important that the motoring public understand that when the buses stop, they need to stop too. Passing a stationary school bus when its red lights are flashing is both dangerous and illegal.  When you see a bus slowing and putting on its yellow flashers are you one of those persons who speeds up to avoid the inconvenience? Or do you remember that student safety is everyone's business and slow to a stop? Make the safer choice and help keep our students safe.

Spring Break will soon be here and for two weeks our buses will be off the road. Until the holidays arrive, and after they are over, please keep our drivers and students in mind. April 24, 2015 has been identified as Safe Stop Day. As that date approaches, the district will be running an information campaign to inform educate and alert parents, students and drivers to proper bus behavior and etiquette. Students can help with the campaign as well by observing safe waiting, loading and disembarking procedures. Students should always stand in safe areas when waiting for their ride, should never cross behind the bus and always clear the road in a safe and timely manner leaving the bus.

Virtually all our students ride a school bus at some point in their school years. Nearly 40% of our students take one everyday. Please help us to ensure that their ride to and from school is a safe one. 

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Pink Shirt Day - Creating Safer Schools

Wednesday, February 25 marks Pink Shirt Day. That day everyone is encouraged to wear something pink to show community awareness, and to demonstrate a willingness to work together to prevent bullying in our schools, in our communities and online. Pink Shirt Day evolved out of the efforts of two Nova Scotia high school students, who decided to take a stand against bullying in their own school. Noticing that a grade 9 boy at their school was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt, they organized a school wide campaign to have everyone wear pink in support of ensuring that everyone felt safe and supported at their school.

ERASE Bullying is a BC Ministry of Education initiative that endorses Pink Shirt Day and strives to provide students and parents with information and resources to ensure safer schools for everyone.  As stated at the ERASE website,"There needs to be an integrated approach to prevent, address and/or reduce bullying, by developing the right partnerships with schools, parents, community and police.
Students who feel safe and are free to develop in healthy ways are far less likely to be involved in inappropriate activities. Students who are learning and thriving take pride in themselves, their school, their accomplishments and the accomplishments of those they are connected to."

This week, schools across our district will be emphasizing awareness and action campaigns designed to make safer schools a year long reality, rather than just a one day event. Improved social responsibility has been one of our district's stated achievement contract goals for many years, and campaigns that heighten awareness help support our meeting this goal. This week students elementary students from Robert Ogilvie and Duncan Cran Elementary schools will be making presentations to Fort St John city council, and on Wednesday there will be assemblies and school activities at several schools to mark the day.

Keeping schools safe is everybody's responsibility. We all have a role to play in promoting positive mental health and wellness, in supporting students, exhibiting positive social behaviour and in preventing incidents like bullying. This Wednesday, and every day, help us help each other by emphasizing the message that there is no place for bullying at schools and by serving as positive role models at home, at school and in the community. Our district motto is "Together We Learn". Certainly, when it comes to ensuring safer schools, learning and acting together is the best way to go.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Science Fair Season

Last week our district was proud to share the announcement that one of our students, Victoria Platzer, was returning from the Taiwan International Science Fair, held February 4th to 10th in Taipei, Taiwan with a gold medal earned in the Environmental Sciences category for her project, Hay Aliens.  Victoria, is the most recent winner in a long line of science far success stories for SD 60. Every year, the keen interests of our students combine with the dedicated support of many great teachers, to generate tremendous science fairs at our schools. And if your recollection of science fairs is cardboard back boards fronted with papier mache volcanoes spewing baking soda and vinegar, its time to look again. Science Fairs have done more than keep up with the times. Today's science fairs display 21st Century Learning at its best.

The new BC Ed plan talks about moving education to a place where every student enjoys personalized learning,  powered by technology with flexibility and choice, quality teaching displaying high standards of learning. Science Fairs is are already there. Allowing students to follow their passions into projects of their own choosing, science fairs impart a process of learning and presentation that serves students well beyond their projects. It connects them with mentor teachers who often give freely of their time both in, and out, of school hours. It can also connect students to community mentors with experience and knowledge about their projects. Such relationships often have two way benefits. Over time student connections can help secure part time or future employment and mentoring businesses see students as skilled and motivated future employees.

There is no doubt the work is being done to a high standard. As for employing technology, in science that's a given. The STEM disciplines - science technology engineering and Mathematics provide students with ample opportunities seek out and use, what ever they need to form their hypotheses, carryout their research and experiments, record and present their data, and determine where their efforts can take them next. 

While its sometimes said that knowledge is its own reward, Science fairs can bring participants other prizes too. Fairs are judged events. Starting even in the younger divisions, projects earn their creators recognition both in the form of feedback from knowledgeable judges, as well as certificates and medals. At regionals supportive volunteers and sponsors ensure that many prizes are available, and, as the students progress to older divisions, scholarships and opportunities for travel to national and international competitions can be won. Our district not only has a long proud tradition of sending students to such events, but also of having them win major honors up to and including university scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

When your child asks about going into this year's science fair, its definitely worth following up. Chances are there's a teacher at your school involved with the Science Fair committee. If you're not sure a call to the district office can quickly connect you to someone only too happy to help, or check out the Science Fair web page at Many schools will welcome your participation as a judge or volunteer as well. This year the Regional Science Fair returns south of the Peace to Dawson Creek, scheduled to take place April 16th at Central and DCSS, and efforts towards school fairs are already underway at many district site. Combining learning with fun and possibly further rewards - sounds like a winning combination doesn't it?

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Success by Any Measure!

There was a winter storm warning and travel advisory up for much of the North Peace Friday, but neither blowing snow, nor bitter temperatures could cool the warm feelings present at Prespatou Elementary Secondary School, as the community honoured its graduating class of 2015. A small, rural community located about 90 kilometers north of Fort St John, Prespatou has always taken pride in maintaining its own distinct character. Holding graduation ceremonies at the end of  first semester is just one of the ways their school has adapted to its community's needs and desires.

I was honoured to be invited to address the 21 students who crossed the stage receiving their graduation certificates. The class' grad theme was "life is black and white, now you fill in the colours". It was quickly evident that this year's grads are certainly a colorful bunch, and that already many of them have big plans for their futures.  What was also in evidence, was the tremendous pride parents and families have in the accomplishments of their children. The hall was packed with family and community members. It was obvious that graduation is a tremendously important milestone for this community, and that no one was going to let a little weather stop the celebration.

The Fraser Institute rankings are not often kind to schools like Prespatou.  By their ways of measuring, such schools consistently are listed near the bottom end of the scale. I would suggest that ceremonies like the one I attended this week show just how flawed such rankings are. Prespatou School boasts a near 100% graduation rate every year. Small community schools allow for more meaningful relationships between students and and staff. They are more attuned to community needs and values, and they are able to adapt and fine tune programs to better meet student needs. 

Connections run deep. Friday's ceremony included letters of congratulation from many teachers past as well as heart felt testimonials from current staff. Learning becomes a partnership, with students making just as much of an impression on their teachers as the other way around. There is genuine pride in accomplishment shared by students, staff and families. Such pride and commitment is clearly a measure of success that defies more traditional metrics. Starting as soon as next week, students will be taking what they've learned forward into jobs, additional studies and any number of opportunities, secure in the knowledge that they are high school graduates.

As I addressed the Prespatou graduates, I congratulated them on the forward thinking and planning that allowed them to be our first grads of 2015. Over the next five months, I am confident that our other grade 12 students will be diligently working towards meeting their own graduation requirements. The ceremonies that will follow in June may take place at a warmer time of year, but the Prespatou grad class has set a high standard of pride and performance for them to follow. I look forward to seeing how well they meet the challenge!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Steps In The Right Direction

Every year administrators and trustees hear complaints about the parking situations around our schools. While details vary site to site, most of the complaints carry a common theme - there are not enough parking spots, and the chaos resulting from too many cars in not enough space is putting students at risk.  Parents are right about the safety concern. Unfortunately the solution to the challenge may not be what many parents want to hear.

The most commonly requested solution to this issue is increased capacity. Concerned parents suggest that if only there were more parking, the problem could be licked. Sadly this is just not so. Schools were not designed with automobiles in mind. Community schools are built on the premise that students would walk to them or be delivered by bus. Schools have only a limited number of parking spaces, and these are allocated mostly for staff who need to be on site all day. A few additional spots are available for parents and visitors with the understanding that such vehicles will be coming and going and the spots can be used by several persons throughout the day. At most schools there is neither space, nor resources available to increase the number of parking stalls, and even if there were, increased capacity would only lead to increased numbers of vehicles, compounding an already serious safety issue.

The real answer to our traffic challenge lies in reducing the number of vehicles. In the past walking to school was common - even seen as a rite of passage. Today when parents are asked "why they don't let their students walk or ride to school?" two answers prevail - convenience and safety.  

Fearful that their children may get accosted by bullies, strangers, criminals, animals, rain, cold, snow, allergies or any other number of perils, many parents simply will not let their children go to school without adult supervision. Many parents pop their students in the car and drive them a few blocks before they head off to their daily routines. Ironically, the greatest danger for students who ARE allowed to walk to school becomes the other parents driving their kids.

Also ironic is the fact that in trying to keep their children safe, parents who drive their students may actually be contributing to their children's overall unhealthiness. Active Health Kids Canada (AHKC) reported that less than 7% of school age children get the minimum amount of daily exercise recommended by the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines. Walking to school would help correct this situation.

Certainly the school board has a responsibility towards maintaining safe facilities. Many parents have come forward with excellent suggestions including improved signage, volunteer or paid parking attendants, stop and drop zones or the establishment of pick up sites a few blocks from the school. Many of our schools have more easily accessible parking as close by as a 5 minute walk. Other northern jurisdictions have successfully implemented no parking zones around all public schools. The keys will be education, enforcement and cooperation.

The move to safe drop off and pick up areas requires drivers to be willing to park further away, to know what options are available, and for parents to allow students to walk greater distances to school. In some cases, it may indeed be time to examine redesigning school access routes or changing parking bylaws. Lots and driveways can become dated, and it never hurts to listen to new ideas. Similarly, the school board needs to work with municipal authorities to enforce, examine, review or revise traffic and parking bylaws with an eye to improving student safety and slowing or eliminating dangerous traffic patterns.

Keeping students safe is a worthy goal. Driving them everywhere is not the best answer. Finding better solutions to easing before and after school traffic will include solutions that slow people down. Having students get to school under their own power is better for the students, the environment and the community. Teaching parents to use parking alternatives that involve stopping safely further from the buildings can also help. Even one accident involving a student pedestrian is an accident too many. Working together we can all take steps to ensure our students get to and from school safely.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Taking the Fuss out of FSAs

Its the time of year, when things like provincial exams and FSA assessments get a lot of attention. Certainly grade 10's, 11's and 12's in semestered programs have been anticipating, and, hopefully, preparing for their exams for some time. Provincial exams are seen as important, with exam scores factoring into a significant proportion of a student's final grades. I haven't met many staff, parents or students who enjoy provincial exams, but everyone seems to accept that, for now, they are a necessary part of school life.

Considerably more controversy always seems to swirl around the Foundation Skills Assessments (FSA) that are done by grades 4 and 7 students annually this time of year. In place since 2000, the FSA's are opposed by the BCTF, who run an information campaign suggesting that the assessments are not accurate indicators of individual progress, and that teachers do not get any useful information from them. The TF further suggests that the assessments should be an external measure of student learning provided by the random sample method, rather than have all children take the tests. Their campaign suggests that the tests detract from valuable learning time, and that the data from the assessments is misused to create unscientific school rankings. Their protests often conclude that there is little evidence that the tests provide schools with additional resources and with recommendations that parents write letters to principals to try to have students excused from the assessment.

Experience suggests that there are always at least two sides to every story. While considerable thought and energy has been put into the BCTF's campaign, it unfortunately overlooks some inconvenient truths. The assessment is not an optional exercise. It is a government mandated required assessment for all grade 4 and 7 students that schools need to administer, in an effort to determine how well the school system is teaching foundation skills in numeracy, reading and literacy. 

At the provincial ministry website parents can find information explaining the Ministry's position.  A pamphlet for parents tells how the FSA is a province-wide look at students' academic skills, a snapshot of how well BC students are learning in Reading Comprehension, Writing, and Numeracy. The purpose of the assessment is to help the province, school districts, and schools evaluate how well students are achieving basic skills, and to help them plan for improved student achievement. The FSA is designed and developed by British Columbia educators and the skills assessed are linked to the provincial curriculum and performance standards. The assessment takes very few hours of instructional time, and should not be considered a high stakes or stressful exercise for students. Information gathered from the assessment is available to the public, and while outside agencies may use this data for their own purposes, the ministry does not use it to rank schools.

Furthermore, the ministry suggests there is a high correlation between student success on this assessment and successful graduation. The facts bear out that most students handle the questions very well. In short, it is the ministry's expectation that when administered appropriately, the FSA will have no negative effects on students and provide the ministry, schools and parents with valuable feedback. As for the letters to principals, ministerial orders state that “Parents may request a Principal to excuse a student from an assessment in the event of a family emergency, a lengthy illness or other extenuating circumstance”.  Hopefully the FSA constitutes none of those things, and principals will welcome the opportunity to speak with parents about just what is involved. Working together, perhaps we can take some of the stress out of the assessment season and concentrate on ensuring that education matters.