October 2017: A Note From Tony

Hello Everyone,

Happy Almost Halloween!  When I left home this morning there was snow on the ground, and at the office the boiler isn’t working, so it is definitely feeling like the season change is close!  I think we’ve had a great start to the year in Prairie South.  Welcome back barbeques at schools, Education Week, volleyball games and special events are all times in September and October that I have seen kids and families thriving because of the dedication of our staff and the commitment of school and community partners.

I’m looking forward to working with the Board of Education in a year that won’t have as much turmoil as last year did.  While there are still some questions yet to be answered related to the alignment of governance between Boards and the provincial government, our Board has turned back to the work they looked forward to when they became Trustees.  In September, Trustees toured Peacock Collegiate to visit one of our great Grad Coach programs and to learn about some of the elements of the HVAC system we are replacing there to bring an old building into the current century.  In October, Trustees met with the staff in Coronach to learn about teaching and learning in a rural setting and the celebrations and challenges that are specific to that school; Trustees are planning to visit three other schools this year for the same purpose.  At their September meeting, the Board learned about last year’s grade 3 reading proficiency and graduation rates, and they talked about student attendance and the effects of non-attendance on learning.  I appreciate the support the Board provides for teaching and learning in Prairie South.

I want to make a plug for our great staff, SCC, and students at Chaplin School.  We had a flood caused by a faulty pump the weekend before school began, and the crawl space under the school where the electrical system for the school is was flooded.  As a result, we had to shut the power off before the first day of school, and we didn’t have it back on line until the end of September.  A portable generator ran the photocopier and the coffee pot, as well as one microwave oven, but there were no lights for nearly a month.  I visited the school 3 or 4 times during the month, and was amazed at the smiles on the faces of kids, staff, and community members.  The leadership of the staff and the SCC in Chaplin is a testament to the fact that relationships drive the system – if we’ve got them, we can do pretty much anything!  Everyone in the school got a headlamp to take home, so if you see someone who looks like they just emerged from a coal mine, they’re likely from Chaplin.

2017-2018 is a year where we are having to find ways to do things to serve kids and families with less resources available.  This is a challenge across the system, and I know that everyone is feeling the strain of this.  I hope that at the end of the year, we are able to look back and see that we found ways to get the work done that had to be done, and that the great culture that we share in Prairie South is intact.  Scarcity always looks more significant where it affects you the most – whether you work in a big school or a small one, in a rural community or in Moose Jaw, whether you’re an EA or an accountant or a teacher, it can feel as though you are bearing the brunt of fewer dollars to serve more kids.  Thank you to the folks who have spoken to me about how reduced resources are affecting their work; please know that the Board and I are working hard to be strong advocates for Prairie South and the education sector in general so that the public and the government understand that we can’t serve kids if we don’t have the resources to do the work.  In the meantime, we will all need to do our best with what we have; I know that our collective best will continue to be good for our students and their families.

All three of our children are back at the University of Saskatchewan this fall, so my life really does revolve around education both at home and at work.  It’s a good deal, and I’m grateful to be here with all of you.

Have a safe Halloween,

Tony

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September 2017: A Note From Tony

Good Morning Prairie South Staff,

Welcome to 2017-2018!  Although the summer seemed to go quickly, I feel excited to be back in the swing of supporting you as you work with children and youth in our 19 Prairie South communities.  I hope each of you had a restful, fun summer, and that you’re ready to get back to work too!  Having said this, I know that there are members of the staff who didn’t take a summer holiday so that they could have things ready for the rest of us today – thank you to the school and division level facilities and transportation staff for your work over the summer months – now that we’re up and running, I hope you have a chance for some well-deserved holiday time!

I have two things that are top of mind as we begin the school year.  First, I know that we are a very different school division now than we were in June as a result of the changes associated with the budget last spring.  With approximately 25 fewer staff, we will need to be careful to ensure that important work isn’t missed and that things that are less important are put on hold.  With as many different assessments of what is important and what isn’t as we have staff members, this will take some time.  For myself, I know that the two most important tasks are making sure that our students have the learning experiences they need to be successful and ensuring that staff are supported as they complete their work connected to this, whether that work is teaching or administration or any of the other jobs that are necessary to keep things on the go in Prairie South.

I had the chance to visit with bus drivers, administrative assistants, and teachers at start-of-the-year inservice days, and in some cases I spoke about the importance of working at 100% as we support teaching and learning.  In times of diminishing resources for schools, I think there is a tendency to want to fill the gaps; while I know this is done with the best intentions in mind, I also know that working at more than 100% isn’t sustainable in the long term, and leads to more challenges than it solves.  At the same time, we don’t have time for people to be working at 95% either – our kids deserve our very best every day, and I’m proud to be a part of a school division where this is understood.

The other thing that I’m thinking about as the year begins is the provincial work that is underway connected to making a change in graduation rates around the province.  In September, Prairie South will host the second annual Graduation Rates Symposium, where teachers and administrators from around the province will meet to plan how to improve outcomes for Saskatchewan students in this area.  I am very proud that Prairie South has taken a leadership role in this work, and was excited this summer to learn that our own graduation rate was higher last year than it has been since Prairie South was established in 2006.  This success happens because of dedicated and caring staff members who refuse to give up on kids.  Thank you.

As we begin the year, I’m thinking of students, staff, and families in Glentworth and Chaplin.  Yesterday, there was a very large prairie fire south of Glentworth that extended all the way south of the American border, and many of our families there lost a significant part of their crops and hay land.  Sometime over the weekend, we had what we believe was a fire main break in the school in Chaplin, so staff and students there are returning to pumps and a mess instead of shiny floors and excitement for the first day.  Kathy Rieder, the principal in Glentworth, said it well yesterday when she talked about the amazing community spirit in the face of adversity that we have in Saskatchewan.  We’re thinking about you!

My family is completely in back-to-school mode, with Sandra returning to her position at Davidson School where she teaches math, chemistry, and physics and all three kids back at the University of Saskatchewan.  The house seems pretty quiet after the action of the summer, but it’s a good quiet.

Have a great day, a fun week, and a fulfilling year.  See you soon,

Tony

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June 2017: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

When I looked back to see when I sent my last email, I couldn’t believe that It has been more than two months.  Time has flown by in the spring of 2017.

There are lots of things that I’d like to write about this month, but the most important for me is to acknowledge that the budget passed in May has had a significant effect of many people who have worked tirelessly to support students, teachers, learning and teaching in Prairie South over many years.  I won’t list people for fear of missing someone, but you all know who these people are:  consultants who have worked in classrooms with teachers and students, administrative staff who have backstopped people during difficult times, teachers who have supported unique programming that has helped vulnerable children to be successful, transportation staff who do a thankless job in an environment where needs change by the hour, information technology staff who work behind the scenes to solve problems that most of us don’t even know we have, and casual staff who bail us out when we need it most.  Although we were able to minimize teacher loss during this budget, there is no question that we have fewer resources to help kids be successful than we have had in the past – this means that each of us will be affected as we move forward, and that we face a difficult task together as we work to ensure that kids and families continue to get the best service from Prairie South that we can provide.

Even in the face of challenging financial times, there are bright spots.  Through your professionalism and commitment to the Attendance Support Program, we have been able to maintain several full time positions because of savings associated with fewer (shorter) absences of our regular staff.  While the important part of the ASP continues to be our belief that you are the best people to do the work, these additional savings associated with higher rates of attendance is a great side effect.  Thank you for this.  We have amazing, innovative teaching happening in classrooms and schools throughout the division – we are looking forward to continuing to explore these practices in collaborative, professional teams, and finding ways to help all students by using the great practices that already exist in Prairie South.  Most of all, we continue to understand that the real magic happens in classrooms, and the rest of us are here as a support system for that magic.

There are some other changes happening that I thought would be important to acknowledge – some connected to the budget and some not:

  • We have made some significant adjustments to processes connected to rural transportation, which have resulted in challenges for several families who live near a border of two catchment areas.  There seems to have been a provincial focus on transportation as school divisions plan for the upcoming year, with several urban divisions making changes to how students are transported in the cities.  This is an area where we will need to continue to find efficiencies in the coming year.
  • We have adjusted processes related to the length of time people are consultants before they move back into the classroom, with the goal of using the PD and leadership opportunities that are available to consultant staff as a way of building capacity in schools – over the next three years, the majority of our remaining consultant staff will rotate back into the classroom and we will replace them in rotation with other staff who are interested in a few years of learning and leadership at the division level – I hope many of you will consider these opportunities when they arise.
  • We are implementing a Graduation Coach model in our three urban high schools, and we will be improving graduation rates in those schools, with an expectation that a minimum of 90% of the students who start grade ten complete grade twelve three years later.
  • The Board has built the framework for a 5-year strategic plan, and we will be filling in the details over the coming months to ensure that our vision is aligned with our work.

Over the past few months, I have had to remind myself that, even with the changes we are experiencing in Prairie South and around the province, most things remain the same.  I’m looking forward to a new year with kids in classrooms with teachers and other school staff, with School Community Councils connecting community and schools, with new teachers learning from experienced colleagues, with emerging readers and sports / drama / music activities and spirit days and hard work and laughter.  One of the pieces of feedback I received as part of my performance appraisal this year is that I have allowed myself to be drawn away from these things and into politics and lobbying and finance; although these last things are all important parts of my work, I’m determined to stay connected with kids and classrooms – don’t be shy to help me with this goal by letting me know when you need an extra hand for an hour or two!

June is a challenging time in schools.  Kids are tired, teachers are tired, schools are hot and uncomfortable, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel!  Whether you have holidays over the summer or not, I hope that the pace of life slows down and you have a chance to recharge, reconnect with your families, and relax with friends.  All three of our daughters are working or studying in Saskatoon during the summer months, so Sandra and I are looking forward to a summer holiday that isn’t at a campground for the first time in many years.  I hope the rest of June is good to you, and if I don’t see you, I hope that you enjoy a restful summer.

For some of you, this will be the last end-of-the-year as you look forward to retirement.  Enjoy your last days with Prairie South.  We will miss seeing your faces in the fall, and we will miss your contributions to students, schools, and the school division.  We’ll also be envious when we’re headed back to work in the fall – Don’t be strangers!

See you soon!

Tony

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March 2017: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South!

It’s hard to believe that March is nearly over, and that we are embarking on the last stage of another year in Prairie South Schools.  I hope that you had a chance to get outside over the weekend and enjoy the great weather.  I managed to get my old barbeque fired up on Sunday and, despite having to stand in the middle of the frozen lake that is my yard, cooked supper without getting wet!

I wanted to make some contact with you today in anticipation of the provincial budget that will be tabled in the Legislature on Wednesday.  If you are feeling like I am, you’ll be getting sick of the steady stream of media reports in advance of the budget; I’m looking forward to budget day so that we can begin to get a sense of what the facts are rather than the ongoing speculation and political discourse that we have been managing for the past several months.  I’m very proud of everyone in Prairie South for your (our!) ability to keep focused on teaching kids and learning in schools when there are so many distractions in the environment.

In my perfect world, several questions would be answered in detail on budget day:

  1. What level of resources will the provincial government provide next year as we work to support the children and families who rely on our services?
  2. What restrictions will the provincial government impose related to how these resources are allocated?
  3. What changes will the provincial government make related to governance and school division boundaries beginning in the fall?
  4. What direction will the provincial government provide related to school calendars in the future?
  5. How will the provincial government’s budget affect individual people who are members of our Prairie South staff?

I’m sure there are a variety of other things that people want to know, but these are the big five for me; if we get clarity related to these, we will be able to move on with the local budgeting process in Prairie South.  Together with Bernie Girardin and some members of the Board of Education, I will be meeting with Ministry representatives on Wednesday morning in advance of the budget and again on Friday.  These sessions are designed to help us unpack the budget documents, which tend to be pretty complex.  Bernie and I are meeting on Saturday to finish this process and I hope that we will have a handle on exactly what the revenue side of the equation looks like by Monday next week.  The Board of Education has provided some initial budget guidance for us, and this work will continue on March 29th during our planning day, and again on April 24th at another planning session.  My hope is that we will have a budget ready to present at the regular meeting of the Board of Education on May 2nd.  I know this additional waiting creates some additional stresses and strains; if you have particular questions that I might be able to answer, don’t be shy to zip me off an email.

Now for the good stuff, and there is a ton of it!  I was so pleased with the work of students and staff in February during Staff Appreciation Week!  Part of the improvement plan that we developed last year after our staff survey included trying to unpack some of the cool jobs that members of our staff have, and show how lucky we are to work as a team in support of kids.  I was worried on the first day that we wouldn’t get any pictures, but we were drowning in them by the end of the week – I know that many of you helped in the background to make sure that others were recognized during the week – thank you for this support!  If you want a chuckle, have a look at the archive of pictures on the main page of the Prairie South website – my personal favourite is Troy Wist being mobbed by kids during plaid day in Central Butte – if he didn’t have the best job on the planet that day, I don’t know who did!

We had a great day on March 14th with the VTEC (Voices to Encourage Change) student leadership group and the Board of Education.  This is the second year of the VTEC project, which is an opportunity for Trustees and youth to talk together about things that are important to students.  We had an amazing group of students, mostly in grade 11,  from 9 Prairie South schools.  Their presentation to the Board will be available on video, and it’s worth a look.  Much of the message provided by the students focused on the importance of relationships, and the Board appreciated that their interests and those of the VTEC students were aligned.  Speaking of video, our PSTV project has some super videos featuring Grade 7 and 8 students from different schools on the Prairie South website – just click the PSTV tab on the main page!  If your school has students who want to be part of the PSTV project, please email Kim Novak and let him know!

This time of year marks the end of the extra-curricular curling and basketball seasons.  We have a ton of staff and community volunteers who make these and other programs work for students, and I appreciate the time you spend outside of the school day working with kids.  I know from experience that extra-curricular activities with kids can be the best part of working for a school division, but I also know that it takes a tremendous commitment of time – thank you to those who support curling and  basketball … and to coaches of all kinds of arts and sports activities across Prairie South.  The lessons kids learn while working with you outside of the classroom will serve them well as they live their lives.

We continue to see many gains in reading levels in Prairie South.  This is a result of excellent work by teachers and others who are helping children achieve at higher levels – reading is the single most important gift we can give a child, and we are doing a great job of this.  On behalf of our students and their families, thank you.

I’ve had the chance to be in some schools since Christmas, which is always a highlight for me.  Earlier in March  I managed to get into a snowpitch game at Rose Valley Colony – Sara, the girl who was pitching, didn’t show any mercy, but I didn’t feel too badly about striking out until the German teacher hit a home run during the next at bat.  Maybe next time.

Happy Spring – see you soon,

Tony

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January 2017: A Note From Tony

Happy New Year Prairie South Friends!  The snow is falling today in Moose Jaw; depending on who you ask in the office, this is either great or terrible… I’m going with the former!

It’s great to be back at work after a holiday break.  We had a quiet holiday at our house, with all three of our daughters home for at least part of the holiday.  We spent a day at Sandra’s family farm, and a day in Balgonie at my sister’s home and other than that, we stayed pretty close to home.  The kids tolerated our regular holiday ice-fishing excursion, which is always full of laughs and never results in any fish being caught.

In August, I spoke to teachers about the importance of staying focused on the things that were important and about not being distracted by the clutter.  We know that the important things are those things that happen every day in classrooms and schools.  We know that they always involve kids and teachers, and they often involve families and other adults who care about helping children and youth be successful.  My job, and the work of all of the people in the system who don’t work directly with children, is to support positive learning interactions with kids.  A success story that we should all be celebrating is connected to our fall reading scores for our grades 2 and 3 students.  As a division, we have the best results we have ever recorded using Fountas and Pinnel for these grades at this time of year.  This is something to celebrate, because the movement to better and better outcomes for our students is something that we have worked on together through our focus on reading, our collaborative LIT teams, and our development of capacity as schools and as a school division.  On behalf of these children and their families, thank you for your work!

Just before Christmas, the government released the report on school division governance that I talked about last month.  The report suggests four options for school division governance in the future, and this month a panel will be meeting with Boards of Education and sector partners to gather feedback on these four options.  This is a very important issue to our Board of Education, and their Advocacy and Networking committee will be meeting with the panel on January 24th.  A survey instrument has been developed by the Ministry of Education to gather feedback from individuals or groups who are not able to meet with the panel, and any submissions to this survey will be made public at the end of the consultation period.  This is a challenging time for staff, as we may have some personal opinions about school division governance.  If staff members want to make a submission using the Ministry survey, they have the right to do this as citizens of Saskatchewan.  As employees of a school division, it generally isn’t appropriate for us to comment on Facebook or Twitter or whatever social media platform you enjoy.  As we work together to continue the important work of learning and teaching in our classrooms and schools during the governance review process, please be cautious and professional on social media.

All things new, whether they are Transformational Change or the snow in Moose Jaw, bring some uncertainty, and I don’t have any more of a sense about politics than I have about the weather.  I do know that what I said last fall is correct – next year, and for years after that, we will still have schools and kids and staff members working together to do great things for students and families.  I know I am very fortunate because I generally see changes as opportunities and not as threats, but I am sensitive that this outlook isn’t as easy for others.  If you have questions or concerns that I can help with, please zip me an email or give me a call.  If you’re not comfortable talking with me, all of the Superintendent staff are here to support you, and your administrative staff at school are as well.

Sorry for the brevity of my note today – I hope everyone made it to here!

Have a great week,

Tony

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December 2016: A Note From Tony

Happy December! 

I’ve always thought the last day of school before the holiday break is one of the most challenging days of the year to be a teacher; everyone is ready for a break, but the break isn’t actually here yet!  I hope that whatever your role in Prairie South, you’re looking forward to both the last day of school in 2016, and to a well-deserved break for a few days afterwards. 

In August, I spoke to teachers about my thoughts that there would be some distractions in the education sector over the course of the year, and the last month has proven me right.  When I talked to teachers, I encouraged them to stay focused on what was important in spite of the clutter – I’ve had a couple of people remind me of the same thing in the last couple of weeks! 

In mid-November, the Minister of Education announced that he had contracted Dan Perrins, a retired civil servant with lots of experience in various areas of government, to conduct a review of how education is delivered in Saskatchewan.  Mr. Perrins was asked to provide this information back to the Minister in December, and I think there will likely be an announcement of some kind related to this review in the coming weeks.  I don’t have the foggiest clue what the announcement will be, or what will be in Mr. Perrins’ report.  What I do know is that kids will be back at school after the break, and teachers will be back at school with the kids, and the important work of teaching and learning will continue.  I’m interested in the other things, but in the end, if kids and teachers are doing well, the other stuff isn’t that important. 

Speaking of important, I’ve been continuing to work with a team of principals and superintendents from throughout the province who are building a model that we believe will help increase graduation rates in Saskatchewan schools.  As you know, 2 of every 10 students who start grade 10 in Prairie South don’t graduate successfully three years later.  We do a bit better than the province as a whole, but we aren’t doing well enough, and I’m hoping that the provincial work will lead to some changing practice in Prairie South that will see our high school students served more completely than they are now.  I don’t think we have the capacity for more work, so the provincial group is working on how we might do some work differently.  The plan currently is that this will be a focus in grade 10 classrooms throughout Saskatchewan beginning next year, because we see a significant loss of students over the course of their grade 10 year. 

I appreciate each of you who has had a conversation related to your attendance at school and work in the past months.  I know there have been some concerns about these conversations, and when I asked some questions in an earlier note, I had some great responses that challenged my point of view.  Asking questions about the amount of leave needed for various appointments can be difficult work for principals and supervisors, but I have given them the message that my expectation is that these questions continue to be asked in every case so that we can be sure we are being accountable to our collective agreements and the public funds that pay for education in our schools.  We have seen a significant reduction in time away from work since we began focusing on staff absence rates – this tells me that the work is being successful.  On a purely financial level, the sub days that we saved last year, if saved again this year, could allow us to hire nearly 5 additional fulltime teachers in schools in Prairie South.  More importantly, your presence in your classrooms, or in your buildings, or at your desks or in your offices means that children and families and schools are getting the support that only you can provide for them.  Thank you for your commitment to them! 

My work with the Board has been lots of fun over the past month – I was excited to be able to show off 22 of our rural schools to our new Trustees on a 3-day whirlwind tour, and I’m looking forward to being in Moose Jaw schools with them after Christmas.  The Board continues to be committed to our staff improvement plan from last year, and we did some promising work with several members of the PSTA executive connected to teacher transfers and the processes we follow when vacancies exist with the Advocacy and Networking Committee.  The Equitable Opportunities Committee has been working with a focus group of teachers and principals who are helping us decide how to best equip schools with technology that fits our needs in 2017.  Our audited financial statements and annual report were reviewed in November by the Business, Accountability, and Governance Committee, and the Board as a whole met with our auditors a couple of weeks ago to review our financial controls and discuss process improvements connected to our business operations.  In January, the Board will be beginning the strategic planning process in earnest, and I am looking forward to the challenge of facilitating that process so that we have continued direction for our work in the future.  On November 15th, our Board Chair, Shawn Davidson, was elected as the President of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, and I have enjoyed seeing him flourish in that role.  Part of Shawn’s SSBA campaign revolved around the need for grassroots leadership that the “farm kid from Aneroid” might be able to provide, and we’ve had lots of fun teasing him that he isn’t the prototypical SSBA President type!  Shawn is very interested in the work, deeply committed to local school division governance, and has been playing a very significant role provincially since his election. 

This holiday will be the first time since Sandra and I became empty nesters last fall that all three of the kids will be home for an extended stay.  We aren’t travelling far over the holiday, but we will get to spend a bit of time in Regina with my dad and at the farm with Sandra’s mom, and my mom is coming to Davidson for a couple of days.  I’m looking forward to having the kids home, and I’m hoping that we might get a day of ice-fishing in as a family.  If you’re driving by Davidson, we’re easy to find! 

I said at the start of my note that next Wednesday would be a challenging day – what I missed was that it will be a rewarding one too.  Wednesday will be a day where teachers in their first year will breathe a sigh of relief, because they’ve made it through the first long run of school in their careers.  Wednesday will be a day when school staffs celebrate kids who have only been successful because of the resolve and determination of caring adults who push and cajole and hug and support and do a myriad of other things that kids need.  Wednesday will be a day when we express our appreciation to one another, and when students and families let us know that we are making a difference.  Wednesday will be the day before Thursday, and next Thursday is going to be a heck of a good day too! 

Please accept my very warmest wishes for a peaceful holiday break – See you in 2017! 

Tony

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November 2016: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

Happy November!  I know this time of year is hectic in schools, with report card preparation underway, mud in the playground, and lots on the go with kids and families.  Thank you for everything you are doing to support our students and one another.  I hope that you’ve had a chance to get outside a bit in the beautiful fall weather that we’ve been having for the past few days.

I had a great response to my message last month, and want to thank all of you who took the time to email or stop me on the street to talk about my thoughts.  I even got a bowl of homemade turkey soup out of the deal – awesome!  I know that not everyone agrees with all of my comments, but I am grateful that people are comfortable asking challenging questions – we won’t be able to move forward as an organization unless we can all say what we think!  Your questions allowed me to talk about a bunch of things with you as individuals:  medical days taken are generally the same regardless of whether a school is on a traditional or alternative calendar, substitute teachers are covered under Workman’s Compensation, some of our substitute days are the result of the division pulling teachers out of school for various initiatives, etc.  I’m not sure that I have any answers to my questions yet, but I know that we can solve things together if we put our minds to it.  The conversation is the first step!

I spoke with the Board this morning about changes to the funding formula for school division budgets that are on the way for next fall.  The history on this is that the provincial government asked in the spring of 2015 for a review of how operational funds were divided up among school divisions in Saskatchewan.  This isn’t connected with overall funding levels for the education sector, but with how the dollars allocated for education are divided up.  The funding formula looks at things like facility costs, transportation, division-level supports for learning, teacher numbers, and instructional resources.  Unfortunately, Prairie South is on the wrong side of the proposed changes to the funding formula, which will lead to a reduction in funding next fall.  Because of this, I have begun the process of reducing the Superintendent staff by 20% for next year, and have let Kim Novak know that he won’t be back with Prairie South in the fall.  Kim has done excellent work for us since coming to Prairie South from Warman several years ago, and his leadership will be missed in our schools.  Kim’s work will be continuing until the end of this school year, and I have been humbled by his positive outlook on this change in his career path.  There will be other difficult decisions as the year goes on related to funding in Prairie South.

I was very interested in the school board election process on October 26th.  On behalf of all of you, I have sent a letter of thanks to each candidate who was unsuccessful in their bid to become a member of the Board, and have also sent a let of congratulations to those candidates who were successful.  School division governance is important and rewarding work, but it is also a personal sacrifice for Trustees.  Our governance team, the Board, is an essential part of our learning team; please take the time to introduce yourselves to new and returning Trustees.  At the Organizational Meeting in November, the Board selected Shawn Davidson as Board Chair and Tim McLeod as Board Vice-Chair.

With the new Board in place, we will be moving into a process of strategic planning to set direction for the school division for the coming years.  We have a great deal of data connected to staff satisfaction surveys and inservice feedback that the Board will want to work through as they engage in this process, and I know they will want to talk with staff to gather information on how we might move forward as a world class school division.  I will have more information on how this will happen as the process unfolds.

My work provincially connected to on-time graduation rates has been very interesting this fall, and I have been both encouraged by amazing stories of school success in this area and saddened by instances where schools have been ineffective in meeting the needs of kids.  We have lots of work to do as a system as we move to a Student First mentality where we take responsibility for ensuring success for every student.  I’m excited to be a part of this with all of you.

Have a great November and a peaceful Remembrance Day.  Whether you have the opportunity to attend a service on November 11th or not, please take some time to think about past and current members of the Canadian Armed Forces and others who have contributed so much to the world we enjoy today.

Respectfully,

Tony

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October 2016: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

I hope everyone had a peaceful Thanksgiving weekend – nothing better for the soul than a long weekend and a 4 day week to follow!  I’ve got a couple of tough issues in my thoughts this month, so please know that I don’t mean any offense to anyone – I raise them because I know that I don’t have the knowledge or ability to solve them on my own, and I know they are things we need to get solved.

Next Monday, school staffs will be working through a school-based inservice day on topics that are meaningful for individual schools related to Learning Improvement Planning and Learning Improvement Teams.  This is an exciting part of the evolution of this work from centralized leadership to school based leadership, and should lead to inservice content that is a close fit to the needs of children in individual buildings.  This is critical work – reading scores this spring were about the same as reading scores last spring, and we still have many students who are not reading at grade level.  93 students who should have graduated in June in Prairie South didn’t graduate.  Our children who self-identify as First Nations or Mètis are not doing nearly as well as other children.  These are moral imperatives for schools and teachers, and changing these outcomes is the most important work that we do.  Research shows us that when teachers and others work in effective collaborative teams, outcomes for students improve; this is the foundation of our work in Learning Improvement Teams.  Thank you in advance for your work next week, and for your commitment to helping all of our students be successful at school and in life.

We’ve had a busy fall, and I think it will likely get more interesting in the time before Christmas.  We have 20 candidates running for 10 positions on the Board of Education, which is a great sign that Prairie South is thriving.  Ron Gleim from Chaplin and Darrell Crabbe from Moose Jaw are not seeking reelection, so we know there will be at least two new faces around the Board table, and I’m looking forward to meeting some new people who are interested in learning about and supporting the education system in Prairie South.  I will miss Ron and Darrell – Ron was one of the only original Prairie South Trustees remaining on the Board, and had a unique perspective on the amalgamated school division and the legacy divisions that existed before Prairie South, and Darrell had a wealth of knowledge related to interacting with different levels of government that was very useful as the Board lobbied on behalf of children and families.  Both Ron and Darrell were a great support for me as a new Director of Education.  If you see Ron or Darrell in your travels, please take a moment to thank them for their work as Trustees.

Once the election is completed, I expect to see some action from the provincial government related to “Transformational Change” in the education sector.  I have no idea what the government may be considering, other than a general awareness that there has been quite a bit of media coverage surrounding the tight fiscal situation in Saskatchewan in the past months.  Regardless of how we are “transformed,” we know that the most important work in the school division will continue to happen – kids in classrooms will be learning together with teachers and support staff.  It will be important to focus on this critical work and not be distracted by the clutter that Transformational Change in the education sector will likely create in the media.  The good news is that if the government is going to implement changes, they will need to do it soon if they are to be in time for next year, so I expect we will know where we stand soon after Christmas.

At the September Board meeting, the Board asked me to pass along their thanks to the staff at Prairie South who worked throughout the summer to tidy up items from last year and get things ready for this year.  In particular I would like to acknowledge the maintenance and facilities staff, who are even busier during the summer than the rest of the year and the business staff, who use the summer to get caught up from the spring and to prepare for the year end rollover.  I know that you will join the Board in thanking the folks who work hard all summer to keep us up and running year round.

As I look forward to the time between now and Christmas, I am thinking about some things that I’d like to share – if you have advice in terms if direction on any of these things, I’d love to have it!

We have a huge number of students who miss a lot of school.  We know that we need to get parents on board as partners if we want attendance rates to improve.  We know that high attendance is closely connected to successful outcomes for students.  How can we improve this?

  1. On a per capita basis, we have more workplace safety incidents than any other school division in Saskatchewan.  How can this be?  Because of this, we pay a significant financial penalty to the Workman’s Compensation Board each year.  We are partnering with WorkSafe Saskatchewan to implement the Community Safety Education Strategy – what else can we do to fix this?
  2. The attendance support program seemed to make an initial difference, but staff absenteeism has flattened out rather than continuing to decline.  For what we budget for subs in a year, we could hire nearly 40 more full time teachers.  What can we do to help all staff see that their work is valued and that they need to be aware of the financial and learning costs related to staff absenteeism?

Next week should be an exciting one in Prairie South, as we celebrate the grand opening of École Gravelbourg School, our amazing new and remodeled PreK -12 dual track school in Gravelbourg on the 18th.  I visited the school in Gravelbourg in late August, and can’t wait to see it in a more finished state next week!

Have a great (short!) week!  If we all think warm thoughts, hopefully we will see the snow go away and get a few more days of fall before winter starts in earnest!

Take care of yourselves,

Tony

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August 2016: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends!  Happy August!

If this is the first lengthy email you’ve ever received from me, it means that you’re new to the Prairie South family, so welcome!  I know you will find, as I have, that we have amazing students and staff in 40 wonderfully diverse schools in southern Saskatchewan, and I know that your work with us will be rewarding and challenging and fun.  If you have received A Note From Tony… before, then welcome back!

I hope the final weeks of the summer find you well-rested and excited about another year serving children and families in Prairie South.  My holidays ended after the August long weekend, and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to be back at work then, but after a couple of weeks I’m back in the swing of things and looking forward to seeing school back in session.  I think 2016/2017 promises to be a very interesting year in the education sector in Saskatchewan, and I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with each of you on the Prairie South team again as we navigate the year together.

I hope you’ll join me in showing some appreciation to some folks who have been hard at work this summer, and some others who have had a different summer experience than most of the rest of us.  In every school and building in Prairie South, we have a Head Facility Operator, and in our larger buildings we have additional facility operator staff.  These men and women work all summer to clean the grime from last year, always with the understanding that the rest of us are going to arrive in August and September and mess it all up again.  Please take the time this fall to let your custodial staff know how much you appreciate their work – a kind word is the best recognition people can get!  Also working behind the scenes are our division-level facilities staff, who spend the summer building and fixing a huge variety of things in and around our schools and other facilities.  The list of projects they have is always longer than the time they have to do them, and they take a ton of pride in keeping our buildings in great shape.

The staff at Riverview Collegiate and Gravelbourg Elementary and High Schools have had interesting summers.  In Gravelbourg, Quorex Construction is putting the finishing touches on a $10 Million renovation that will see the two schools become one – ­­école Gravelbourg School.  This has meant that school staff have been sharing their spaces with electricians, painters, building inspectors, and a million other people involved in the project.  Some classrooms have been relocated two or three times so that school could go on while the project was underway.  Teachers haven’t been allowed in the building since June, and when I was there yesterday, there was lots left to do on the construction end.  The school is going to be absolutely beautiful when it is finished, so well worth the wait, but there will be some chaos between now and then – I appreciate Rhonda, Francine, and Jody and the rest of the staff for their positive outlook, even when it feels like the project will never be finished.  At Riverview, we had a flood on the July long weekend that resulted in a very significant amount of damage to the main floor and basement, including our IT disaster recovery site.  The IT staff put in some very long days getting things up and running again, and it is a credit to their talent that most of us didn’t notice any interruption in service at all.  The school and learning department staff who have office space at Riverview are gradually being allowed back into their spaces, but there is lots of extra work associated with finding and unpacking books and materials that were packed up in a pretty big hurry during the flood!  We have a couple of shop spaces in the basement that will need a bit of extra time to be finished, and the gym floor will be replaced in the coming months.  Don and his staff have been great to work with over the summer months as work progressed.  Because of the flood, our inservice activities in Moose Jaw at the end of the month have been moved to Palliser Heights School, and I appreciate Stephan, Jonathon and their staff’s willingness to accommodate us there.

The Board has set an ambitious list of projects for themselves during the 2016-2017 year.  In addition to their regular governance work, they have identified Strategic Planning, Transportation, PreKindergarten, Graduation Rates, IT and Innovation Standards, Literacy, Home-Based Education, Teacher Transfers, Staff Engagement, and the Provincial Funding Formula as areas of interest.  For myself, as I look forward to the coming year, there are a couple of things that guide my planning.  First is my job description, outlined in Board Policy 12; this policy provides guidance, in general terms , about what the Board expects from me.   Second are the Growth Targets identified by the Board during my performance appraisal last spring.  These are:

  1. Continue to develop staff morale across all sectors.
  2. Become familiar with election processes and develop an orientation session for new trustees.
  3. Continue to assist the Board in advocacy efforts to ensure sustainable and predictable long term financing for Prairie South Schools.
  4. Monitor pre‐kindergarten programming, recruitment of school‐based administrators, rural catchment boundaries and inclusion practices.
  5. Develop a strategic plan with the new Board and subsequent operational plans.
  6. Continue to monitor and facilitate facilities planning in the Division.
  7. Develop strategies to ensure enhanced capacity through appropriate delegation of responsibilities.

Finally are my own beliefs about what we need to do together to build and maintain world class schools for kids and families.  I have attached these beliefs below for your review and comment; I’m glad that they haven’t changed much since I shared them last year!

In a world-class school division, I believe that we must…
1. …be professional at all times and understand that we are being paid to serve kids, both gentle and unruly. Kids, not adults, are the focus of what we do.
2. …embrace change as the only way we are going to get better at meeting children’s needs, take risks when we have innovative ideas to improve our work, and engage others who can help us achieve our goals.
3. …make conscious efforts to support other staff members, professionally and otherwise.
4. …plan carefully, do our work to the best of our ability, and evaluate progress honestly so students and the organization can grow and develop.
5. …find a way to complete meaningful professional development in order to improve our skills.
6. …follow ethical procedures if we have a concern.
7. …work hard but maintain a healthy balance in our lives

I can be counted on to…
1. …do all of the things above to the very best of my ability.
2. …promote professionalism and encourage others to examine how their decisions reflect the interests of teaching, learning, and public education in general.
3. …accept criticism in a way that leads to my own development as an administrator, a teacher, and a person.
4. …do what I believe is morally right and in the best interests of kids, teachers, and the school division, and explain my decisions to the best of my ability when these interests seem to be at odds with one another.
5. …maintain a positive outlook on life, school, and kids.
6. …hold relationships among people as the single most important part of teaching, learning, and human existence.

My goals for this year are to…
1. …improve on the areas identified as growth targets in my performance appraisal last spring.
2. …support the Board of Education in their development of a new strategic plan for Prairie South.
3. …continue to work to foster a greater sense of unity and common purpose throughout Prairie South.
4. …be a strong advocate for Prairie South Schools, the Board of Education, individual staff members, and especially children, particularly in light of the notion of “transformational change” that has been in the news recently.
5. …continue to get to know as many people as I can in Prairie South communities, and serve teachers, students, and the community in ways that are timely and appropriate.
6. …build as many connections with students and families as I can.
7. …take time to celebrate successes.

Before the provincial budget was tabled last June, there was lots in the media about something the provincial government called, “Transformational Change.”  I don’t have a clear idea about exactly what this means for Prairie South, but I think it is important for all of us to be as informed as possible in the coming year.  Staff at all levels are stretched very thinly and, while I believe we can still provide excellent service to the people we serve, I wouldn’t want to see budget reductions beyond what we were faced with in June.  Advocacy in this regard for Prairie South and the sector in general will be an important part of everyone’s work in the coming year.

As well as an interesting year at work, I’m looking forward to life as an empty nest parent, which I will be starting next week when Kaitlyn moves to Saskatoon.  I’ve had lots of people ask if I’m feeling sad that the kids are all gone – I feel a bit guilty, because I’m kind of looking forward to it!

While I know that many of you will already be preparing for the school year, please remember that the summer isn’t over yet.  Take some time for yourselves and your families before the pace picks up in September!  If there is anything that we can do to help you as you prepare for the coming year, please don’t hesitate to call, text, email, or visit me or any of the Superintendent team at the office.  Above all, our job is to support you as you work with kids.

See you soon,

Tony

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June 2016: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

I think we’re going to make it!  June has been pretty hectic at the office, and I know it is always hectic in schools at this time of year, but we have a week to go, so the end is in sight!  I’ve had another rewarding year working with the great people in Prairie South Schools.

I wanted to give a bit of a budget summary for staff so that there was a general awareness of exactly what our situation is as we look forward to next year.  As you know, there has been a great deal of media interest since the provincial budget was presented on June 1st, and some of this has been a bit confusing.  I think it will be important in the coming years that every staff member has a general understanding of the budget we are working with in Prairie South and in the education sector as a whole.

On June 1st, the Government of Saskatchewan cut funding to Prairie South Schools by $325,000.00.  This means that next year, we will receive that much less funding than we received this year.  This funding reduction is in addition to approximately $1,500,000.00 of additional expenses in Prairie South connected to provincially negotiated salaries for teachers and inflationary expense for other staff and materials.  All of these additional expenses were downloaded to the Prairie South Board of Education from the Government of Saskatchewan in the June 2016 budget.  In addition, Prairie South Schools has approximately 100 more students now than when funding was calculated for the current year’s budget.  Faced by a reduction in spending power of nearly $2,000,000.00 for next year and additional costs related to increased enrolment, it was necessary for the Board of Education to make some difficult budgeting decisions, as this shortfall in provincial funding could be covered only through reductions in programs, services, and staffing.  The Board chose a balanced approach to reducing a variety of budget lines, and I think they did a very good job when faced with a very difficult situation.

In addition to the funding loss associated with the 2016/2017 budget, I am anticipating three other challenges in the coming year.  First, the government has speculated about “Transformational Change” for the past couple of months and, at the same time, has made a commitment to balancing the provincial budget next year.  If these two things are related, which they will be to some extent, it could mean the loss of additional funding for the sector.  Secondly, the Ministry of Education is in the final stages of reviewing and “tweaking” the funding formula connected to school division operations.  Changes to this formula will mean changes to how the provincial funding is distributed to school divisions.  Finally, we continue to struggle with what I believe is an inappropriate tax by the City of Moose Jaw related to local infrastructure improvement and cast iron water lines.  The Board has raised the need for amended legislation to exempt school divisions from municipal taxes of this sort personally with the Minister of Education, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Government Relations, and we are waiting for the results of a case heard recently in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that deals with a similar situation in another school division.  Challenging times are sometimes the best measure of an organization.  I am very proud of the school and division level staff who are leading as we adjust the work we do to match the funding we receive.  I know that it can be very difficult to maintain a positive outlook as we manage changes in the work that we do, but this positive outlook is an essential part of a healthy organization.  For my part, I know that we will continue to provide an excellent education for the children and families we serve next year and in the years to come.

In the past couple of months, I’ve been excited to be able to attend some graduation ceremonies in schools that I didn’t make it to last year.  It is lots of fun to see the different spin on graduation that exists in every school, and I really enjoy seeing kids and parents and teachers celebrating the time they have spent together and the accomplishments they have achieved.  When I was a principal, I used to think that planning a graduation was kind of like organizing a wedding where 20 people were all getting married to one another – I really appreciate the staff members who work with students to make this a special day for kids, families, and community.

Every year around Easter, I start to set aside things that I want to get some work done on over the summer.  This year is no different, and I’m looking forward to getting some time to think about how we might go about building a 5-year strategic plan for the school division after the Board elections in October.  I shared the growth goals that were set for me by the Board in my last post, so I will be doing some thinking about how I can improve my own work using these as a guide.  I’m excited about some of the targets the Board has set for their own learning through Board Committee work, and I will be planning for this work by assigning staff and thinking about how we can help individual Trustees become familiar with the important work that is being done in schools and across the division.  Finally, I have been asked to do a bit of work to support a class at the University of Saskatchewan related to Administrative Roles in School Systems in July.  This should be fun, and a neat change from most of the other work that I get to do.

This will be the first year in many that we don’t have a campsite booked for most of July, although we are planning on getting to Douglas Park at Lake Diefenbaker for a few days with friends.  Our oldest daughter, Nicole, will be living in Quebec City for most of the summer, so we have talked about going for a visit there, but no final plans yet – like all of you, Sandra is buried in end-of-the-year teacher work, so I imagine that we will get busy with some more definite planning once July is here.  Kaitlyn is working for the town of Davidson over the summer and Kim is the Park Interpreter at Pike Lake Provincial Park, so their summer plans are connected pretty closely with work.  We’re looking forward to Kaitlyn’s move to Saskatoon in the fall; she is excited about starting at the U of S, and Sandra is thinking that she may take a couple of classes in the fall now that the kids are gone.

I hope that each of you will get some time to relax with family and friends over the summer.  I know that many of you are already thinking about next year, but remember that some down time is really important – sometimes teachers and school staff get teased about their summer holidays – don’t be shy to tell people that you deserve every minute that you get!!  For those of you who are beginning a retirement journey, congratulations, and best wishes for a happy and prosperous retirement.  For the rest of you, see you in the fall!

Thank you for everything you have done for kids and families in 2015-2016!

Tony

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