Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted their fall joint meeting with trustees and school councils. In addition to trustees, about 70 people were in attendance with a combination of division administrators, school administrators and school council representatives. The two-hour event included a casual pizza supper and information about resources for school council leaders and information about the ward boundary review, but the main focus was about the Alberta curriculum development currently underway.
Two Directors from Alberta Learning walked the group through a 75-minute presentation mostly focused on the “why” and the “how” of the curriculum development project. Looking around the room the group was nodding appropriately and when we had table talk opportunities there was plenty of discussion. We had bursts of questions/comments at certain points. When talking about the development process a couple key question were asked – “How are students being involved in this process that will impact them?” and “Have you talked to recent graduates about their thoughts about what they needed to learn?” These questions resonated with people and a conversation spun-off about when and how that could occur.
About 60 minutes through the presentation a parent made a comment that really hit home with me. The parent stated (very politely) that most of what had be presented did not really make any sense to her. Some other parents quickly vocalized similar sentiments. My mind raced through the previous 60 minutes as I tried to process her comment. I came to the realization that the talk was too much about the “why” and the “how” whereas parents in this room were more concerned about the “what” this means for their children. The talk had acronyms that parents did not know; it talked a lot about the technical components of the development process, which potentially really did not matter to parents; and a six-year timeline to build curriculum just does not make sense to many people. There was a hunger to talk about how and when the eventual curriculum would be implemented.
I walked away from the event with a reminder that we need to make sure that when talking to parents we avoid the edu-jargon that dominates our language. We consistently make assumptions about terminology that we use in our business is known to everyone. We need to focus on how whatever we are talking about impacts their children. Like everyone, we all want our kids to be successful, get what they need and have every opportunity available to them when they finished our system. We need to listen to what parents want for their children. People generally trust public education, but need to know that their kids will get what they need in the end. Maybe, for parents, curriculum development is like making sausages – we don’t need to know about how it is made, but just that it is good.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week we celebrated the grand opening of two new schools in Airdrie – Coopers Crossing School and Heloise Lorimer School. The schools organized fantastic events aimed at a wide audience. In attendance for both events were Jaime Kleinsteuber (MLA for Calgary-Northern Hills), Peter Brown (Mayor of Airdrie) and almost all of RVS trustees. Also present were the lead architect, who designed the schools, key Alberta Infrastructure staff, who served as the project managers for the construction of both schools, and our planning department (Colette and Peter), who were so instrumental in the process. We had a variety of Ed Centre staff present who all played a part in start-up of the new schools.
Many parents attended the event along with all school staff and students. At each event, groups of students participated as part of the ceremony and did a great job. We sang, we watched students perform highlighting their school virtues, we learned about their school logo/symbol.
In addition, there was a group of special guests – family members of each school’s namesake. It was very special to have them present and both schools did a nice job involving them in the day. You could see the pride and honour on their faces that such a major community asset was being named after someone in their family. Their contributions to the community have been significant and now they have been recognized by the naming of new schools after them.
The Cooper family arrived in the area in 1892, establishing a family legacy in grain farming – and community service – that lasted more than a century. The Coopers’ pioneering spirit grew the community of Airdrie that we have today. Hugh, Robert and W Allan Cooper homesteaded the land where Cooper’s Crossing community is located.
Heloise Lorimer was an Airdrie Pioneer, born in Airdrie and lived in here for nearly a century. Heloise Lorimer (nee Vansickle), was considered the ‘First Lady’ of Airdrie and/or ‘Queen of Airdrie’. She was the first baby born in Airdrie and lived in town when there was less than 100 people. She drove the first school bus in Airdrie. One of her greatest joys was to speak to the kids about Airdrie and its history.
Congratulations to both schools for great events and congratulations to both families.
p.s. We will celebrate the official grand opening of RancheView School in the spring of 2017.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week my 14 year old son, JT spent the day at work with me as part of a national Grade 9 campaign entitled, Take Your Kid to Work. Given my work is connected to schools, my kids have a decent idea about what I do, but it was a behind scenes day for JT.
He was excited because he got to wear a shirt and tie just like it was a hockey game. Throughout the day he remained very professional and took the day very seriously. Throughout the Education Centre we had 3 other students attending work with their parent for the day.
I warned him that the day was not planned for him and it will probably be a day full of meetings. The day started with us working on some behind the scenes work on the Ward Boundary Review project that JT pretty much just watched and asked questions about. We then had an hour and a half long briefing style meeting about one of the branches of our Learning Department. We moved right into another meeting about one department’s budget. JT was interested in that meeting because he got to watch a bit about how resources are allocated and some of the challenges when you want to do a number of things but the funds just are not available. He saw us prioritize spending based on the overall student needs.
At one point during the day I had to ask JT to step outside as it was a confidential material, but for the rest of the day he was with me fully. We attended a committee for about an hour that was working on the development of RVS’ new internet site. That was probably his favourite part of the day. The group asked his thoughts on the design because it directly related to students. His day finished with a bit of office work, and then when I headed out for an evening meeting he got to go to his hockey practice.
Since that day he has asked me a couple of follow-up questions about things that were discussed during the day. Overall it was a good opportunity for him to better understand what I do and I really enjoyed having him around for the day.
Superintendent of Schools – On October 21, I was honoured to be part of the Board’s celebration of long service and retirement held at the Education Centre. The evening was an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of approximately 89 team members who either had 20, 25, 30 or 35 years of service and those who have retired this past year. The combined service for this group of around 90 people was over 2,100 years or about 400,000 school days!!!
As I said in my speech – the evening was a small token of appreciation and a chance to celebrate all of the group’s substantial contributions. These contributions cannot be quantified, measured or categorized but they are significant.
All of our contributions make a difference. Whether the contribution is done quietly behind the scenes; up on the roof of the school fixing an HVAC unit; working 1:1 with students with significant challenges; standing in front of a group a kids teaching; working in an office; driving a bus; volunteering to lead a drama performance; keeping our schools clean and beautiful or governing the system … it all makes a difference. We all contribute to the overall collective and make a positive difference in our schools and communities.
Thank you for all that you do! Together we make Rocky View Schools and together we make a positive difference.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was finally able to check off from my to-do list – “visit every school in the division”. I’ve completed about 2/3rds of my formal school tours and have been invited to attend an event or celebration in almost every school. I’ve also made the effort to get to schools for informal, impromptu visits. When I make that type of visit I just pop into the office and then sometimes go for a walk about by myself and other times with an administrator. Being visible and in schools is important to me.
Why do I do this? As a professional meeting attender, I find that being out in schools keeps me grounded. These impromptu visits are about me seeing students and our staff in action in the context of their school and community. There is no “show and tell” when I make these impromptu visits – it is real life – just another school day. I try not to interrupt classes, but I’ll walk into classrooms when the door is open and just say “hi” or talk to the staff and/or students. It reminds me why I sit in all those darn meetings – to serve students, staff, and our communities.
I warned principals and assistant principals that they will need to get used to me just showing up. I’m not sure people actually believed me, but hopefully they see that I’m walking the talk. The visits are not about checking up on things, rather it about keeping it real and grounded. I know how hard our staff works for students. I know it is not always perfect. I know that some days it can be a struggle, but those are the days I need to see to help keep it real. When younger students ask me what I do, I usually respond “I am here to work as a team with their principals, teachers, and support staff to make sure they [the students] get what they need to be successful at school and life.”
Today I was at one site for a formal visit, but then visited three others sites as I scheduled some time for impromptu visits. I had a great conversation with four teachers about how they are able to support learners through various online tools and their facility needs in order to support teaching and learning. There was no meeting booked, no agenda, just a great face-to-face conversation. In another school I was able to hear about a challenge they are facing that I can probably support them by connecting them with other RVS resources. My last impromptu visit allowed me to talk to students who just completed a walk-a-thon as a fundraiser for school activities. Students demonstrated some of the key competencies we want them to achieve by shaking my hand, introducing themselves, looking me directly in the eye and talking about what was the purpose of the walk-a-thon.
I also know that people need to see me in their schools. I like to be visible to get to know people and let them get to know me. I need to be more than just a name or picture on a website. I know that it is still early in my tenure as Supt (42nd day) and that it takes time to know everyone (we have 2000+ staff), but it is important to me. Sadly, every time I visit a school I cannot visit every staff member, however, over time I hope to have some type of personal interaction with all staff.