Sunday, 14 October 2018

Putting Trust in Trustees

October 20th will conclude the current election season and will see new school boards elected in BC's sixty school districts. Boards of Education are formed by elected officials known as trustees. Becoming a trustee is indicative of both a willingness to serve and of an ability to earn the public's trust.  What do trustees do? The BCSTA website describes the role of trustees as follows:

"Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities; guide the work of their school district; and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing: boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.

British Columbia is a large province with many communities, each having different priorities, needs and unique educational requirements. British Columbians elect their 60 boards of education to improve student achievement according to the diverse needs of these communities. As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands."

As Superintendent, I work closely with the trustees. In addition to their governance role, trustees develop and mandate strategic planning. They also challenge, encourage and require  district employees to provide all our students an optimal learning environment. SD 60 is fortunate to have been served by excellent trustees, some of whom have been elected or acclaimed to multiple terms, but all good things do eventually come to an end. This fall's election will bring significant change to the make up of our board.  Three of the current trustees are moving on to new challenges, and it is the nature of elected offices that contested seats can always see change via the ballot box. 

Our sitting trustees have always encouraged and welcomed interested citizens to get involved with governance. While continuity of service and board stability  have their advantages, renewal and active civic involvement are the lifeblood of elected institutions. Five of our seven trustee positions will be elected this week and it is vitally important that eligible voters in this district exercise their franchise at the ballot box and choose a good team to oversee the district for the next four years. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those persons who have served or put their names forward as candidates for election. SD 60 is currently in a period of exciting growth and change. Having a board of keen, energetic and enthusiastic trustees will be vital to ensuring a bright future for our students, staff and stakeholders as they deal with education matters.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Gratitude in Learning

Its fortuitous timing that the first statutory holiday weekend of the school year is Thanksgiving. After the initial rush of back to school, and a month of settling into routines, Thanksgiving comes at just the right time to allow everyone to catch their collective breath and to consider what they have to be grateful for. In fact, gratitude can be a powerful tool in learning, particularly effective in helping to focus positive student responses towards school and learning.

In his post "Gratitude: A Powerful Tool for Your Classroom" Owen Griffiths describes how having students participate in a gratitude journal helps "harness positive thinking to increase grades, goals and quality of life". The act of recording gratitude in a journal has positive effects for both students and adults with some of the outcomes including better sleep, more positive outlooks on life and greater social satisfaction. Students are better able to cope with adversity and challenge when they can identify the positives in their lives rather than dwelling on things that bring them down.

Heart Mind Online suggests that gratitude can be appreciated by children as young as seven years of age.  Coupling gratitude with the act of giving thanks can help benefit students both ways. Research shows that expressed gratitude positively affects both the giver and the receiver of the thanks.  The observance of Thanksgiving provides us all with both a welcome holiday break and a reminder that gratitude is a gift that is always in season!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Showing Our True Fall Colours

 Fall in the Peace is known for its striking fall colours.  Orange and yellow leaves are on display everywhere. Last Friday however brought out a different but equally vivid display of fall colors, as many staff and students observed Orange Shirt Day.  As described at "Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013.  It grew out of the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad's experience of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day at  residential school, and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually." 

The end of September date was chosen because it corresponds with the time of year in when indigenous children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.  It also gives teachers time to plan events that will include children, in order to ensure that the story and learning is passed on to future generations. This year September 30th fell on a Sunday, but such is the significance Orange Shirt Day has acquired, that many schools held observances on Friday, September 28th so that the day could be recognized in community.  

 The t shirts worn in support of Orange Shirt Day bear the message that "Every Child Matters".  While especially powerful in the context of this event, this message should also resonate for everyone everyday,  to remind people that schools need to be safe welcoming and inclusive places for all.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Emphasizing the Active in Active Learning!

    School is back in full swing and so are the fall sports seasons. Right from elementary through to senior secondary, student athletes are demonstrating the link between mind and body by signing up, getting active and enjoying their sport of choice.  Soccer, volleyball and cross country running seasons are all gearing up or underway, and coaches and athletes from all across the district are working at bringing their best every time out. 

For over forty years Participaction has been the Canadian agency most associated with fitness Participaction encourages school age children to "take part in a wide variety of activities that are fun and get their bodies moving and hearts pumping. It urges parents to "Try to mix it up with plenty of different activities that your children and teens enjoy and give them plenty of unstructured time to roam, play and explore, with you or with friends".

Participaction takes a 4 S approach to fitness recommending people "sweat, step, sleep and sit" their way to a balanced life. Their website reminds us that "Preserving sufficient sleep, trading indoor time for outdoor time, and replacing sedentary behaviours and light physical activity with additional moderate to vigorous physical activity can provide greater health"

School activities can help with the sweat and step options. Whether a team sport like soccer or volleyball or a mass participation event like cross country running, staying active through daily physical activity and outdoor activities at recess and lunch,can help students run off steam, maintain personal fitness and be better able to focus and concentrate when it comes time to learn.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Starting the Year full STEAM ahead

Followers of social media may have noted that last week Fort St John city councilors, in a meeting with Education Minister Rob Fleming at the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in Whistler requested "that the Ministry of Education work with the Municipality and SD60 to include capacity for a STEAM program in the new facility that will be constructed in 2019, and that the Ministry facilitate the creation of partnerships to deliver STEAM programming in Fort St. John."  

While the district is always grateful for the support and interest of our colleagues within municipal governments, it might encourage them to know that STEAM programming is already alive, well and thriving throughout all of our schools.  Programs promoting Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics are enthusiastically taught, and even more eagerly received by staff and students who have received accolades for their innovative skills and talents at local, provincial and national levels.

As aptly described by council, "STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking. The end results are students who take thoughtful risks, engage in experiential learning, persist in problem solving, embrace collaboration, and work through the creative process. These are the innovators, educators, leaders, and learners of the 21st century."  

SD 60 has been consistently at the forefront of STEAM education for many years. Our Northern BC regional science fair, held in partnership with SD 59, has produced entries that have gone on to medal at both national and international competitions. Elementary students participating in annual spaghetti bridge building competitions  have created designs so strong they are virtually unbreakable and our Applied Design Science and Technology (ADST) teachers have guided students to  represent all of BC and place nationally in Skills Canada competitions in robotics - definitely a leading edge 21st century skill area.  

Our commitment to STEAM and ADST reaches students not only in Fort St John, but extends to all our schools as evidenced by the keen interest and tremendous successes achieved by students at Prespatou, Clearview and Hudsons Hope. Our Careers department supports Maker Spaces in elementary schools like Duncan Cran and Ecole Central and makes cutting edge technology like 3 D printers available to every school site.  

SD 60 is proud of its ongoing commitment to STEAM and ADST learning. We have some of the best and most innovative teachers and enterprising students anywhere. Those hoping to see such programs expanded to new schools in the future can rest easy. In this district 21st century learning is already here - its everywhere and its only going to get better!


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

Week one of the new school year is done! While opening is always a blur, three events in particular underscored for me, how every year is a fresh start marked with new beginnings. I had the privilege of assisting with the opening of our newest school Ma Murray Elementary, I traveled out to Upper Halfway to assist with their preparations for the coming year, and I got to meet and greet many of our newest teachers at their orientation event.

Opening a new school is always a thrill. There is so much to say about the beauty and innovation of Margaret Ma Murray's new design, and thanks to tireless attention of the school's admin and staff, combined with the relentless efforts of our Assistant Superintendent of Special Projects, the building was ready for opening day.  My very small role in helping out was to check in the school's grade 6 students as they arrived for their first day. I have tremendous respect for these students, arriving as they were, in a strange new building after having invested up to six years of loyalty to other schools,  teachers and cultures.  Their faces told a variety of stories,  from eager excitement through to doubt and trepidation. The adults at their building have worked hard to welcome them and ensure that their experience is positive and quickly establishes a new and vibrant school culture.

Later, I drove out to Upper Halfway Elementary Junior Secondary. Where Ma Murray is a gleaming new facility accommodating over 300 students, Upper Halfway is an older, smaller building  serving fewer than 50 students across a wide range of grades. While the building might not be new, Upper Halfway still serves as an important community hub. The team there were planning out their year with the same level of excitement and energy I had noted in town. The district is indeed fortunate to  have dedicated and caring folks so committed to ensuring that all students get the level of education they deserve. The Halfway team is a diverse group ,made up of local community members, returning staff and recruits from distance. Located more than a hundred kilometers from town, they are truly illustrative of the courageous innovative spirit our district team is known for.

On Thursday I met some our newest teachers. Our new teacher orientation is a one stop information session that allows all our newest members an opportunity to meet the board office staff. They meet the folks from payroll, benefits and human resources, as well as the district's leadership team, and reps from their local teacher's association . Following a session to fill out all the paperwork needed to ensure they are covered and compensated to all the right levels, our new folks could take a quick tour of town, ending at meet and greet, wine and cheese social at the Cultural Center in the heart of downtown. In a time when northern districts are working hard to attract new teachers, it was exciting and encouraging to see so many new people willing to take on opportunities within our community. The expressions on many of their faces were quite similar to the ones I'd seen at Ma Murray earlier in the week. Excitement and anxious energy really are everywhere first week back.

The beginning of September really does mark a fresh start and a new beginning  for our school year, and one week in, the excitement seems to be outweighing the anxiety. As the year unfolds I look forward to seeing where this new year takes us and sharing the stories of many more Education Matters!

Friday, 31 August 2018

Here We Go! Starting Another School Year

September has always been a season of change. Summer gives way to fall. Days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn. Few changes are as dramatic as the start of a new school year! New classes, new teachers and this year for SD 60 there's even a new school. We'll be opening our newest elementary school - Margaret Ma Murray Community School -this September.

Certainly the new school opening is our biggest story but so much happens in September. Students new to our system or communities will be attending for the first time. Teachers new to the area, or even new to the profession, will be introducing themselves to classes anxious to know just what might be in store for them over the next 10 month.

Northern district's like ours face many challenges. Whether its getting the last of the new furniture delivered and in place at Ma Murray or finding hiring and placing the last of our new and needed staff, there will be a lot going on this fall. No doubt there will be challenges and frustrations, as we all strive to find the best ways forward, but what really sets our district apart is the resilience, creativity, patience and innovative spirit our community members display.

So welcome back. Over the next ten months i'll look forward to sharing our district's story. There will undoubtedly be all sorts of stories to tell - some good, some challenging, many exciting and all unique in their own way.  A new year is beginning. Let's see where it takes us!