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,


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