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.
Principal, Prairie Waters Elementary School – My 15-year-old son asked me the other day, “Dad, has the world ever been this messed up since you’ve been alive?”
It was a great question. His question was prompted by his knowledge of recent current events that include, but aren’t limited to: increasing tension with North Korea, White Pride rallies, athletes kneeling during the national anthem, and devastating hurricanes that seem to arrive one after another. Not to mention, the Las Vegas tragedy, which occurred more recently. I replied to him somewhat sadly, “I’m not sure that I have.”
We know that if there is one thing that is constant, it is change. However, the pace and complexity of this change seems to be growing. Our world is becoming increasingly connected. Information moves rapidly and our individual and collective decisions can have significant impact, both positively and negatively.
Rocky View Schools’ mission is “We engage all learners through meaningful and challenging experiences, preparing them to understand, adapt and successfully contribute to our changing global community.”
It is an inspiring and worthwhile mission; however, as expected, it leaves us begging the question, “How?” The question becomes particularly complex considering that by the time many of our students in Kindergarten join the workforce as an adult, Earth is expected to have approximately another 1.2 billion humans joining the 7.6 billion that already share this planet (United Nations, 2017, June 21).
I believe that to respond to this extraordinary complexity, our children must become internationally minded in a way that is extraordinarily uncommon. It lies in our ability as educators to develop tremendous compassion for others and a humbling ability to be open-minded. The International Baccalaureate Organization believes that we must “encourage students … who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.” This way of thinking is somewhat contrary to what many of us have been taught; however, to successfully respond to our world’s challenges, we inevitably must think differently.
As parents and educators, it is important that we deliberately and mindfully look for ways to build compassion and open-mindedness in our students. Should we create more opportunities for our students to be involved in service learning opportunities? How do we provide opportunities for our kids to be exposed to and learn from our differences? Should we explore issues more deeply through multiple and “competing” perspectives. And, as parents and educators, how do we approach multiple perspectives without bringing in our own biases that will limit our kids’ abilities to approach challenges deeply with an open mind.
Maybe if we are successful in answering these questions, our children’s children will have more optimistic questions to ask their parents.
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.
Literacy Specialist – In order to understand students as readers, it is important for teachers to collect information data about their reading and plan from there. In the first weeks of school, this can be a bit daunting; however, it is also a valuable opportunity to get to know students as individuals and to start building relationships.
Being able to make the most of this valuable time with students requires the rest of the class to work independently. This would allow teachers time to meet with students and gather information about student reading. The beginning of the year is a great time for teachers to work with students to establish routines and expectations. Together, they illustrate and practice strategies for independence to incrementally build stamina around sustaining classroom routines. Over time, students are able to work with increasing independence, providing teachers with the time they need to gather information about the readers in their class to drive student instruction.
To build independence, students and teachers need to clearly establish and practice routines and expectations for the literacy block. It is important to take time to illustrate what following the expectations does and does not look like, and to outline the roles of all class members. Co-created class anchor charts are a great way to remind students of agreed upon expectations and routines. Other classroom structures directly support student independence in the literacy block, including student specific book boxes, environmental print, and readily available materials for reading and writing.
Taking time to embed formative assessment opportunities in classroom practice helps teachers to determine the next steps for instruction. The data gathered through assessment can help to inform the focus of whole group instruction, as well as small, more guided activities like Guided Reading, one-on-one conferences and targeted strategy groups.
Over time, ongoing formative assessment becomes a running track record of student reading growth, which translates into anecdotal data for sharing with parents and students through online student portfolios and report cards. The RVS Literacy Profile is a great place to record and collect this data. Teachers can use the RVS Assessments for ongoing formative assessment to understand the needs of their students, rather than periodically taking chunks of time away from instruction to assess readers for report cards. Using this data, teachers are then able to plan their whole group and small group instruction to target specific areas of need as indicated by students.