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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