Technology Learning Specialist – On Nov. 23, my colleagues and I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of 50 girls, their teachers and guests at the Girls in STEAM Day. STEAM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and math with the arts to stimulate inquiry, innovation and creativity.
The enthusiasm these young ladies had for learning, experimenting, failing and trying again was electric. The conference began with the girls creating name tags that represented them: who they were, their interests, and their aspirations for the future.
We then had the opportunity to listen to three outstanding RVS teachers (Jill Quirk, Jenn Hummel and Shauna Taves) and their students describe the ways they support girls in STEAM in their own schools. Students also discussed what STEAM meant and learned about the stereotypes and biases they may face in the future.
The rest of the day focused on hands-on activities: making Christmas cards with lights and circuits, doing science experiments that resulted in Christmas ornaments, learning about robotics and coding with Little Bits, Spheros, and EZ-robots, and creating a band with found instruments.
Why did we do this? We need to encourage girls, especially those between 11 and 15, to pursue their interest in science and math. Society is missing out on the diversity needed to stimulate innovation and creativity if we are not attracting girls to engineering, sciences and math.
In a study commissioned by Microsoft, Martin Bauer of the London School of Economics states, “Conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, gender roles and lack of role models continue to channel girls’ career choices away from STEM fields.”
“This means that governments, teachers and parents only have four or five years to nurture girls’ passion before they turn their backs on these areas, potentially for good,” states Microsoft. “When we encourage girls to pursue science and technology, we double our potential to solve problems.”
“If the cure for cancer is in the mind of a junior high girl, the odds are that we’ll never find it.”
– Dr. Jenna Carpenter, Louisiana Tech University
Superintendent of Schools – There are so many jobs I could not do. I am consistently impressed with the skills of others and after watching them for a bit, I start to wonder if I could pull off what they are doing. Upon reflection, I normally come to the conclusion that I probably could not. I don’t think I am really different from most because each of us has a unique set of skills and experiences that allow us to be successful at different things.
The latest job I realized I could not do is music/band teacher. I am, and was, a pretty good teacher, but I do not think I could be a music teacher. I honestly do not think I could do it. I was at two winter concerts this past week and while I was impressed by the student performances, it was the two teachers who gained the majority of my attention. They were so generous and positive with their young performers. They beamed with excitement. They were so encouraging with their students, who had only begun playing that instrument two months before. Every so often, I could see the teachers in that “flow” state described by author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The work appeared effortless; they seemed lost in the moment. Yet through the movement of the baton, the encouraging prompting, or the rise of an eyebrow, they supported the young musicians. I saw pride in the teacher as a youngster hit the note that they had been struggling with. When the teacher put their arm around the struggling soloist, I saw care, support and encouragement for the young risk taker. It was a lot more than just a winter concert!
So, add music teacher to the list of yet another job I could not do. For all of you who are music teachers (including my niece who is going to school to be one), kudos to you. Thanks for all that you do!
Superintendent of Schools – This week we will present our proposed Annual Education Results Report (AERR) to the Board. I blogged about this earlier this fall, but now we’ve laid out the various survey results, achievement measures, transition data, drop-out rates, and information from our audited financial statement and capital plans, into an incredibly ‘readable’ format to share our story about the 2016/17 school year.
It is important to remember that the jurisdictional results are the compilation of all the individual school results. Over the fall, schools have been looking at their specific school results as a staff and with parent council. Principals build a School Annual Results Report as a summary document, which highlights their accomplishments related to our three divisional goals (Learners are Successful; Learners are Engaged; and Learners are Supported), priority areas for future school education plans, and their specific school results on both the provincial measures and RVS’ satisfaction survey.
In RVS we have many reasons to be proud. Specific accomplishments we are highlighting this year in our AERR include:
- Increased satisfaction about the efforts we are making to build foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
- Maintenance of an incredibly low drop-out rate and very strong high school completion rates.
- Provision of safe and caring schools where people believe they are receiving a high quality of education.
- Our stakeholders noting that we are focused on continuous improvement.
- Our First Nations, Métis and Inuit students performing significantly higher than their provincial First Nations, Métis and Inuit peers on many academic measures.
- Putting supports in place to increase students’ regular attendance.
- Utilization of inquiry and project-based learning along with balanced assessment practices.
- Learners taking ownership for their learning.
While we have much to be proud of, we must address those items where our results are not where we want them to be. All of these challenges will take time and effort to address and we do not believe that we can resolve them in one year. Specific areas for improvement identified in our AERR include:
- Math performance from K through 12.
- Providing students voice and choice in their learning, which will improve student engagement.
- Eliminating the performance gap between RVS students and our RVS students who self-identify as First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
- Building connections, confidence and resiliency for our students.
- Enhancing parental involvement in their child’s education.
- Supporting students with special needs achieve their learning goals.
- Improving a student-centred focus across our jurisdiction.
One other item in our AERR shares how we spent our money for the 2016/17 school year. Based on a cost breakdown per student, RVS spent: $8,828.44 on instruction, $1,559.87 on Plant Operations and Maintenance, $726.54 on Transportation, and $327.32 on Governance and System Administration.
We are committed to continuous improvement and supporting students to be successful. Thank you to our staff for all of your work.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I spent three days in Edmonton – with all eight RVS trustees on Monday and Tuesday for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) fall annual general meeting, and then with a group of four trustees for the new trustee orientation put on by the ASBA on Wednesday. These ASBA meetings happen twice a year where trustees from across Alberta get together to discuss policy issues, as well as partake in professional learning. As a staff member, my role is to learn with our trustees and be there to support them as they have questions about the policy topics being discussed.
At the business session, there were four policy motions put forward from boards from across Alberta. One policy position was put forward from RVS trustees. The Board took the opportunity to bring up the topic of high school funding when they met with the Minister of Education last spring, but also decided to use the ASBA as a further advocacy approach. The Board wrote up a motion urging government to adjust the funding for high schools participating in Moving Forward With High School Design (MFWHSR). Many school divisions have embraced the approach of MFWHSR and are leveraging the pilot to create flexible learning environments for students. Alberta Education originally stated that high schools would be funded on a three (3) year rolling average (2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 schools years) of the credit enrolment units (CEUs) earned by students. This rolling average funding model would recognize, via additional funding, schools that were able to help students achieve the outcomes of a course. If students generated more CEUs over time, then funding would be provided to recognize and support the provision of the additional learning opportunities. However, Alberta Education has since frozen funding at the 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/2013 historical rates and has not rolled forward the average based on the actual CEU earned by students in the pilot. For RVS, this means we are getting about one million less dollars each year because the grants do not reflect actual CEUs earned by our students since 2013. Providing these additional learning opportunities costs money and schools are having to revisit providing more opportunities for students as a result of the funding in the MFWHSR pilot not keeping pace with the credits students are generating.
Good news is that the vast majority of other Boards agreed that ASBA should urge government to update the funding model to reflect the original intent of a three-year rolling average. The ASBA can only urge / request government to make changes, but it is important to have the support of ASBA for proposed changes.
I just wanted to share an example of how our Board uses multiple advocacy streams as a mean to address issues.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board of Trustees hosted school council representatives and school administrators at their semi-annual Joint Board/School Council meeting. The evening started with Ms. Jill Quirk from Heloise Lorimer School and her STEAM team of student leaders who work in the school to help with coding, robotics and more. We had Ms. Krista Wunsch, also from Heloise Lorimer, with four of her students who have been learning with Elders and Knowledge Keepers on the topic of Treaty 7. Lastly, we had Mr. Vernon Gray from W.H. Croxford in attendance with five students who shared their photography from the Visual Arts & Media Academy. It was great to get the event started with a focus on how we make learning visible and real in our schools.
The emphasis for the rest of the evening was digging deeper into a question we ask annually as part of our parent satisfaction survey. We wanted to hear from parents specifically about if they feel informed about their child’s progress and achievement, what schools are doing that is working to help inform them, and what strategies we could attempt in an effort to improve communication about their child’s progress.
We used on online polling tool where people answered questions on their mobile device and instantly their comments were collected and shared back with the group. The technology worked flawlessly and over about 45 minutes, we were able to collect some really good feedback. The results were interesting because for one person strategy X was a strength and for another person strategy X was listed as something we could do to improve. For one person strategy Z was seen as a positive, while someone else rated that same strategy as not really working for them.
We will take those results and see how we can use that information to improve satisfaction in that area. After collecting the feedback, we shared a brief presentation about how we are attempting to communicate student learning. We had hoped to dig into one other area from our satisfaction survey, but ran out of time. I guess we already have one topic for our spring meeting!
Thanks to all parents and school administrators who were able to attend and share their thoughts with us on that evening.