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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