Superintendent of Schools – The following is a message I shared with RVS staff celebrating their amazing work and the end of another school year.
This week marks the end of another school year. If you are like me, some days may have gone slowly but blink and we made it through another week. I still speak like July is some faraway place but I just recently clued in that July is next week. Terms, semesters and holidays broke the year into chunks and we now have another school year under our belt. With nearly 2,500 employees on the RVS team, it is challenging to make broad, sweeping statements about the year. For most, it was a successful year. Hopefully you found the hard work rewarding. Hopefully you saw your efforts make a difference for kids, families, schools and/or communities. For some it was a challenging year for a variety of reasons. Hopefully you are able to put those challenges in your rear-view mirror and move forward. No matter how you might describe the 16/17 school year, thank you for your commitment and service.
When we work together we are able to amplify the efforts of individuals and make a positive difference. We have team members who were new on the team (myself included) as well as others who are winding up their final year with RVS. Each person makes a different contribution but collectively we do amazing work. In visiting every site, I get to see your work in action. Some of that work is front and centre while many of us work in support roles. We all make a difference.
While some of us have a good portion of the summer off, others will have a very busy July and August. The work of RVS may shift a bit over the summer but things still need to get accomplished and that is where our staff shine. For me, there are less meetings and I take that opportunity to tackle some larger projects. For others, it is time to prepare for the annual audit, time to upgrade servers, time to do additional cleaning, time for summer school, time to do that smaller renovation, time for the flooring to be replaced, time to refine the work plan for next year, time to get all the equipment here for our new schools, and/or time to cut the grass again. Hopefully everyone will get some time over the summer to take a break, enjoy some decent weather and do what you choose with family and friends.
To those people retiring this summer, thank you for all your service to the students, families and communities of RVS. Your contribution has not gone unnoticed. Hopefully you can join us this fall at our annual celebration. To those who are leaving RVS for other opportunities or hoping to rejoin RVS later, thank you for your service and all the very best. For the majority, we will see you again in the fall and thank you for all that you do for the organization. Rocky View Schools is nothing without the people that make up this great team.
On a personal note, thank you everyone for being so warm and welcoming to the new guy this year. You reaffirmed to me just what a great place RVS is and that is due to the staff.
Take care, travel safely and have some fun. Time to focus on a different set of 3 R’s – relax, recharge, reconnect.
Superintendent of Schools – Late last week I swung out to Beiseker Community School for a visit and to view the new addition recently completed and opened. The addition is relatively small, but provides a common, large area connected to two existing classrooms. Sliding walls were added in between the existing classrooms and the new area. The addition is very bright and fresh and really changed the tone of that area. Students were milling about, working independently, while sitting in flexible pods in the larger common space. Other students were working on a high counter style work area with phones plugged into USB style wall outlets. A teacher was working in one corner and the students had access to him if needed. A wide variety of furniture was available in different heights and styles depending on student preference and comfort. Soft seating was intermixed with hard surfaces. Cubby chairs also were available in the larger space so that you could sink in and create a bit more isolated space if that works for you too. It was an example of how we are working hard to provide flexible learning environments to support learning.
The week before this visit, our Board spent time talking about two other school renovations, aimed at providing a more welcoming environment for the students, parents and community. It is amazing what changing an entrance or lunchroom can do to make a school more inviting, while providing a flexible, modern space. The physical change provides opportunities to revisit what goes on in that space, adjusts the flow, provides a space that facilitates collaboration, and builds pride in the school as it now includes features similar to what our brand-new schools contain.
The Board has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past year to support schools in updating furniture in primary classrooms. Libraries are being retrofitted to support the philosophy of Learning Commons. Schools are requesting and designing outdoor classroom spaces. Slides walling have been retrofitted into some older facilities. These are all examples of how we are looking at our spaces, furniture and equipment in an effort to best support learning.
In the end, it is not the walls or even modern furniture that makes the difference, but it is our RVS staff that leverage that space to make it great. RVS does an outstanding job maintaining all our facilities given the limited funds we have available. Our maintenance crew, building operators, and custodians are absolutely great. We are so lucky to have such great people supporting our physical plants. Even in our older spaces, small tweaks are constantly being made to provide the very best service we can.
Recently, I toured a former colleague I worked with from a BC school division around three of our sites. He was amazed by our facilities. He repeatedly commented on how well our facilities are designed to support learning. I must say I was pretty proud to be part of RVS after that tour!
Superintendent of Schools – After repeated check-ins over the long weekend, at 8:15 on Monday night my youngest son pulls out his backpack and finds some math homework that needs to be completed. Sound familiar? After a moment or two of panic, followed by some sage parental advice, it was time to get it done. In an effort to try and help get him to bed at a reasonable time, I pulled up beside him and watched him tackle his homework.
The homework was a series of questions about division – three and four digit numbers divided by a single digit number. He was quite good; I was impressed that he could solve most of the questions and explain the strategy being utilized. He had the majority of the homework completed in class, but identified about three or four questions that he had questions about because they just did not seem right. We tackled one of those together and then he was able to complete all the remaining questions.
I thought we were finished, but then he flipped the page and I saw there were MORE questions on the back. He was not sure if he needed to do them as they were listed as advanced. I read them and grimaced as they were quite a bit more challenging than the earlier problems. These problems were provided to challenge some students to extend and apply their learning. I’m not sure if it was to delay going to bed when he said he would like to try a few. He persevered to solve the first couple of questions, then the next question stumped him. I told him that is okay and that we’d think about it some more and then see if we can develop a plan to tackle that question on another night. I liked that he wanted to solve the question and we’ll see when I get home tonight if he has any ideas on how to tackle the question.
Anyway, in the end my takeaways are: while trying to teach independence to your child is important, for your own sanity, be physically present when your kids check for homework prior to 8:15 pm on the Monday night of a long weekend; doing homework with your kid can be fun; and having the resilience to tackle a problem that does not come easy is a good life skill.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I attended the last of our regional College of School Superintendents (CASS) meetings for the year. CASS’ stated mission is to be “… the voice of system educational leaders, providing leadership, expertise, and advocacy to improve, promote, and champion student success”. It is made up of our senior educators who serve divisional leadership roles. It includes more than just Superintendents, but also Deputy/Associate/Assistant Superintendents and many Directors on the education side of our shop. Our zone includes: mega divisions like Calgary Public, and Calgary Catholic; divisions with similar geography like Foothills; adjourning neighbours like Golden Hills and Canadian Rockies to name a few. As a region, we meet four times a year to discuss topics of common interest.
The ability to sit and talk with others who fulfill a similar role is very important. It does not matter if those conversations involve fellow teachers, fellow administrative professionals, fellow coaches, fellow nurses, fellow parents or any other role specific groups. The ability to share issues and challenges allows for learning to occur for all parties. Hearing someone else’s perspective on an issue helps expand my knowledge – challenges me to revisit my thinking and often spurs new ideas. Often you walk away from such conversations with more options to consider and a few times you are just glad that you are not dealing with their specific challenge.
Working collaboratively makes all of us better. I do not feel we are in competition with our fellow school divisions. We all are here to serve our communities in providing the very best for our youth. We have lots of learn from each other. We do not need to reinvent the wheel time-and-time again. We know our local context and know when we can lift a great idea and implement it exactly as another division, when it could work but with some changes, and when it just will not work in our local environment. When we work together we amplify our individual strengths.
Thanks to my fellow CASS colleagues for sharing and helping me grow.
Superintendent of Schools – Recently I’ve been at a number of events where students have shared their learning with members of their community. The excitement is palatable when students are given the opportunity to share their learning. The first few times they present to people walking up to their station the conversation is typically quite scripted, but they start to relax and information starts to flow.
It is very encouraging to chat with students as they talk about what motivated them to tackle their specific topic. Students are provided ‘voice and choice’ to take their learning to places determined by their interests, experiences and passions. At Banded Peak School, grade 7 & 8’s shared very personal reasons about why they took on various projects as part of their Change Makers initiatives. In selecting the topics, you could see how they wanted to be part of a positive change in their world. Some of the changes were specific to their family, others were related to their community and some had changes that were global.
Grade 5 students at Prairie Waters Elementary School spent nine weeks on topics of their own choice where they were asked to bring countless competencies into action. At the exhibition, I even got to take part in a role-playing exercise where we learned about the youth justice system. I was able to channel my inner Law & Order prosecutor as part of the case of the stolen candy. Another young lady shared with me ideas I could do to make a positive contribution in my community. Another student shared information about what she learned about the national fentanyl crisis. There was great turnout from the community and I did notice a few parents beaming when their youngster was explaining information to other adults.
When students are provided an opportunity to dig deep into topics of their own interest, they get to bring key competencies to life. Engagement was clearly high and students received genuine, authentic feedback from the people asking questions at their displays. These nights are just a few examples of how we are making learning real, visible and for everyone in RVS.
Thanks to our many great RVS staff who create these opportunities for students to shine!