This is the time of year where everyone connected to the school system turns their minds from summer vacation to coming back to school. It is helpful for me to have a full year under my belt and be moving into September with a far greater understanding of the context in the North-Okanagan Shuswap and the work that needs to be done. I feel particularly optimistic about where we are headed.
The key area of focus for this year will be the continued roll-out of our recently created District Strategic Plan. An effective organization relies on a Strategic Plan to guide all manner of decision making in an authentic and consistent manner. If you haven’t had one, it can take some time to get used to constantly drawing conversations back to your Plan’s Goals, Outcomes, and Strategies. It will be critical for myself and all members of senior staff to stay focused on using the Strategic Plan and modeling its importance until it becomes second nature for everybody in the School District to use it as a framework for direction and decision-making.
At the forefront of our Plan are the Outcomes supporting our Students First Goal. Continued adoption of the Ministry of Education’s New Curriculum is key to this Goal, as the Students First Outcomes are intentionally aligned with the new provincial learning agenda, and increasing the understanding and confidence of our educators in navigating this significant change in practice will ultimately lead to improved success and opportunity for all of our students. This week we will be working with our Principals and Vice-Principals on the Core Competencies so they can, along with the Instructional Learning Team, better support their staff and students. Naturally, parents and students also want to know more about these changes. In a recent District survey, more than 400 stakeholders indicated that they would attend a session at their local school to learn more about the New Curriculum and Core Competencies and how these will impact the learning environments as our District moves toward full adoption, so you can certainly expect to hear about upcoming opportunities in your community.
Through our surveys, public sessions, and countless conversations with individual stakeholders, it was apparent that it was time to form a committee and consider how we communicate as a District. While the District certainly produced a substantial amount of information for the public to consume, many people have indicated that it wasn’t always easy to sort through the content and, at times, key pieces could be overlooked. Along with our new websites and a move to shorter and more focused publications, we have been looking for something that will help to keep you engaged in a clearer and more efficient format, and this led us to Constant Contact. Constant Contact, which you may be experiencing for the first time if you received this link through an email, is an information sharing tool that allows us to share news using pictures, headlines, and abbreviated introductions you can click into when you want to read more. We hope these changes will lead to clearer understandings between the District, our schools, and the communities we serve. We will give you more detail when we publish our District Communications Plan, which will further support the Organizational Efficiency Goal in our Strategic Plan.
Under the Goal of Culture of Health and Wellness, we will be engaging in a significant mental health literacy program this year to support our students with the Go-To Educator Training program. I’m not always a fan of programs, but this one appears to be particularly thoughtful, timely, and well-designed. I had the pleasure of attending a session this spring with Dr. Stan Kutcher, and was impressed by the data he and his research team had collected showing the positive outcomes reached in other jurisdictions, and look forward to its full integration in our District and in many districts across our province.
These three areas of focus I’ve identified are just part of the work going in School District No.83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap). The newspaper insert shared this week will give a broader look at the Strategic Plan and what we are doing to address the goals, and we will certainly continue to update you through our communication strategies as things evolve.
Other items of note this year include continued integration of the BCTF Restored Contract language. Last year in School District No.83, this meant hiring and assigning more than 50 additional FTE (full time equivalent) teachers to instructional and supporting roles in our schools to meet class size and composition language. As well, another 10+ FTE teachers were hired on an itinerant basis to provide “remedy” where the additional staffing could not meet fully the contract language and teachers were thereby eligible for additional preparation time or an opportunity to team teach. This additional staffing was indeed a challenge to organize and put in place, but we have developed some methodology that has us prepared for the coming year, including a roster of certified TTOCs that is currently over 160 teachers, an increase of 25 over last August. We are looking forward to seeing improved student success as a result of the additional staffing we have received in our District through the contract restoration.
Last, but certainly not least, is the upcoming Trustee election in October. The Trustee Orientation Sessions led by Official Trustee Mike McKay have been well-attended and I am sure that having the prospective candidates know more about the role and its expectations will encourage an appropriate tone when a Board has been selected. Additionally, our outgoing Secretary Treasurer Nicole Bittante, with the support of our Policy Committee, has done an excellent job writing Board of Education governance policies and regulations, which are now in force and ready to guide the work of our new Board when they are sworn in this November. Further to that, the Senior Team is fully committed to leading the new Board through monthly education sessions, so their understanding of all matters related to the operation of the District will grow and better inform their policy, staffing, and facility decisions. I look forward welcoming and supporting the new Board and building a relationship that will continue to lead to improved outcomes for our students.
It’s a big year for us in School District No.83 (North Okanagan-Shuswap) and I am excited to share our continued work with you as the months unfold.