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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