Superintendent of Schools – Each year, school divisions in Alberta must generate an Annual Education Results Report (AERR). This report serves as an assurance/accountability tool for school divisions by providing its communities with access to information regarding its students’ achievements, as well as its operational successes and challenges. The report comes out in early December, but we started putting the pieces together this past week. A small team met with various stakeholders to discuss and highlight accomplishments around our goals and outcomes from our Four Year Plan. For each specific outcome, we try to describe (in 250 words or less) what happened over the past year.
Sounds easy? Nope! I find we are so focused on continuous improvement it is hard for us to stop and remember past accomplishments. Conversations stray into what we are currently doing or challenges we are attempting to address now. We really have to rein ourselves in to focus on what happened last year. We take for granted the great work done previously as we know we have much more to do and rarely take time to celebrate our accomplishments. Another challenge is quantifying and documenting the work. Much of our accomplishments are best described in the rich stories from teachers and/or learners. Capturing those rich experiences in a format that fits in a written report like the AERR is tough. In my experience working in some other sectors, they dedicate people to tracking and recording the accomplishments. But K-12 is so focused on providing services, we do not have anyone focused on tracking the actions. As we encourage departments to document their journey using rich media resources like videos, tangible learning artifacts and social media posts, it does help us recall the impact we are having.
We have provincial academic performance measures like Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) and Diploma Exams (Dips) that we use to measure progress as well. We also have provincial satisfaction survey data, along with a local RVS survey specifically tailored to our Four Year Plan. Those quantitative data sources are easier to include in AERRs, but even they require interpretation and a back-story to truly understand the data. People who are not from the education sector often feel frustrated when looking at our results because of the variables that cannot be isolated nor ignored. You cannot compare public education to a factory model where productivity gains are demonstrated by the number of widgets outputted by adjusting the speed of lathe or implementing a new conveyor belt technology.
I am describing this reporting challenge from a divisional perspective, but the same occurs for our schools. They are now developing their School Annual Results Report (SARR) and face the same challenge about looking at data, and documenting successes and challenges in relation to their own School Education Plan. I know they face similar challenges because we are so busy “doing” that we do not capture all of the successes and stories.
Stay tuned until early December when we release our Annual Education Results Report. This year we will not be producing a digital copy, as its due date falls in line with moving to a new public website platform. However, If you want to see what an AERR looks like, click here to see past reports.
Director of Communications – As I turn my calendar from September to October, I can’t help but feel a bit melancholy. On October 16, a slate of new trustees will take the helm of Rocky View Schools, marking the departure of four veteran board members – all of whom have worked tirelessly to champion our students’ success.
Since the early ’90s, I’ve worked under a number of Superintendents helping to support nine Boards of Trustees; I believe this last set of trustees to be among the best. Under the leadership of Board Chair Colleen Munro, I witnessed a board look inward to clarify its role and re-emerge as a truly generative governance team, committed to community engagement practices, policy making and oversight, and advocacy.
Entrusting the operations of the jurisdiction to two Superintendents, over the last 48 months trustees ensured the voice of our school communities was heard by directing several community consultations be held on a variety of topics, such as four-year planning, attendance boundaries, student assessment, and ward boundaries. They re-wrote their own playbook, reducing the number of policies from over 200 to just 26. They advocated to government and achieved funding for six new schools and a major addition. And most importantly, they kept the needs of students and teachers at the forefront, setting and re-affirming across all four years that their number one budget priority be “direct classroom instruction”.
To Colleen Munro, current Board Chair and Ward 5 Trustee, I thank you for your leadership and setting in motion the Board’s role clarification process. Having served as a trustee for the last 10 years, your dedication to our students, communities, and public service is admirable.
To Bev LaPeare, Ward 2 Trustee, as one of RVS’ longest serving trustees with four terms and 13 years of service, your voice was always one of reason and common sense. Your undying advocacy to expand services for special needs students has left its mark on our jurisdiction.
To Sylvia Eggerer, Ward 3 Truste, I will miss you! Elected in a by-election in 2006 and now completing your third term, you have been a champion for every student and kept the needs of the classroom at the forefront of every decision.
To Helen Clease, our former Ward 4 Trustee who passed away July 27, 2017, after a short, but courageous battle with cancer, your absence after three terms has truly been our loss.
To the entire Board of Trustees, 2013-2017, thank you for keeping students at the centre of every decision; your governance has been commendable.
Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.
Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.
RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.
Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.
While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.
Director of Learning Supports – Have you ever read a book that cast a reflection on a part of your life? When I opened One Without the Other, I was introduced to the teaching world of Shelley Moore. It resonated. The students, conversations and meetings described in the book felt familiar. More importantly, the clarity in the work created by Shelley and her students provided a good model on which to reflect upon where we are in RVS on the journey to inclusion. (Please read the book to find out where that is!)
It’s only been about 10 years since large-scale laptop use in schools was implemented. Since that time, the proliferation of digital tools in schools has changed the educational landscape. Only a few short years ago, it was a source of frustration for families and school staff to have to search through binders of visual symbols for students who had no other means of good communication. Today, we are able to condense massive volumes, visuals and text to speech onto the tiniest portable devices. The landscape in schools has moved beyond digital device use as well. However, as dramatically as we have changed, we are stuck in many ways too.
In a way, One Without the Other describes the first competency in an inclusive education system. How do we make inclusion real and authentic for each of us? This is the nature of the work in the Learning Department. The things we are doing and the ways in which we do them is showing promising practice in Rocky View Schools. We are in the beginnings of a new iteration in curriculum design that has the potential to improve how we educate our children in inclusive settings. When I think of the intersects between the work of our design, literacy, learning and diversity specialists, I am brought to the place where the real and authentic becomes apparent once the learning is made purposeful for each of our students. When we work with synergy in our schools and with our parents, then we see inclusive learning in action.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I was able to join one of our schools and take part of a pilot project being led by the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The project is called the Agile Schools Network led by Australian, Dr. Simon Breakspear. Dr. Breakspear and his team have looked at educational research, effective teaching practices and what works in the business world to come up with their approach. Their model, called Learning Sprints, is not revolutionary, but brings laser focus to small, incremental changes in an effort to make large change. In our context, it is about working collaboratively, focusing on student outcomes and how to help students achieve success by addressing one small issue at a time.
Dr. Breakspear challenged us to work as a team to take “boulder” challenges, break them into “pebbles” (smaller components), and then find a narrow, specific outcome called a “sand” focus. Once the issue is defined, we work to understand the issue. Why are students struggling with this outcome and how might we be contributing?
Next we look at what we can do to design learning opportunities to specifically help students achieve the outcome. We don’t look to solve all of the world’s problems. Instead we look at what we can do in an effort to help students achieve that small, specific outcome. We identify a target group of students for the sprint. We look at what research tells us, as well as build on the collective wisdom and experience of the people in our sprint team.
Now it’s time to put the plan into action. We spend 1-4 weeks attempting the designed activities and we assess. We hold weekly stand-up scrums to discuss successes and challenges and share what is working. We ask ourselves, “How do we know if we helped address the outcome? What worked and what did not? Given the experience, what do we focus on for the next sprint?”
Dr. Breakspear and his team developed a number of tools, which he shared over the course of the day. The approach seemed very manageable and calls on us to collaborate and work collectively. We learn and grow as a small team focused on a specific student outcome. It builds on concepts of action research, spirals of inquiry, professional learning communities, but on a micro-scale. I liked the concept of multiple, micro-projects rather than spending the whole year on one outcome. Through addressing multiple “sand” problems we will be able to address the larger “pebble” challenges, which when put together helps tackle the “boulders”.
Favourite quotes from Dr. Breakspear over the day:
- “Literacy and numeracy are the gateway drugs to learning.”
- “The best way to do big things is to do a bunch of little things.”
- “You’re not teaching if students are not learning.”
- “Teaching causes learning.”
We will spend two more days with Dr. Breakspear and I’m looking forward to learning more. If you want to learn a more, check out http://www.agileschools.com.