August 2020: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

I generally try to avoid these messages during the summer – the last thing anyone needs in the middle of their holiday is an email from me – but I thought I’d better break that rule today after the Government of Saskatchewan’s press conference earlier this week.

Each of us, me included, needs to take a deep breath.  Every reaction we have to the return to school plan is going to either build trust or break trust; parents, families and colleagues are depending on us to be clear thinkers right now.  I am trying to live this in a couple of ways, and would ask you to do the same.  First, I am trying to sort out all of the different things that are in play in the media so that I can focus on keeping students and staff safe.  I am trying to weed out provincial pre-election politics.  I am trying to weed out union, STF, local and government posturing.  I am trying to weed out interest groups and people who have no interest in education.  My theory is that if I do this well, I’ll be left with what I want to be left with – how to safely operate 39 rural and urban schools during a global pandemic.

I am glad that the Saskatchewan Health Authority has adjusted their geographical reporting system, because the region they are calling South Central is pretty much the same as Prairie South.  This means we will all know exactly what the health situation in the school division is on an ongoing basis.  The local Medical Health Officer, Dr. Medu, has been great to work with and we will be connecting regularly – this is a great resource for us that offers additional information and advice about local medical realities.

Yesterday I send a letter to parents describing our priorities for this year.  These are, in order of importance:

Priority One:  Safety, Cleaning and Hygiene – People who are sick will not be allowed in our schools.  Regular hand washing, purposeful groupings of students, adjusted cleaning schedules and processes, planned movement of people in the building, self-screening, masks when necessary and other PPE – all of these things will exist in our buildings at the start of the school year.

Priority Two:  Parent and Family Engagement – Partnerships with families are more important now than ever.  We will be engaging with all parents and caregivers on a regular basis, and I will share the expectations of the school division connected to things they will need to do as partners in education for the next year.  I will also let them know that we will take care of their kids educational needs whether the kids are in school or at home.

Priority Three:  #learningtogether for All Students – We have purchased Zoom accounts for every staff member in Prairie South who might be interacting with students from a distance.  Teachers did some great work in June transitioning to online content management systems so we are positioned for whatever learning environment we need to respond to.

Priority Four:  Student Engagement Beyond the Classroom – Anything that isn’t “regular” classroom work is on pause.  We will sort out what extra-curricular things we can manage safely as we get closer to the end of the month.

Priority Five:  School and Community Management – There are a million other things that happen in schools all of the time.  While they are still a priority, they need to take a back set for a year so that we can work through the pandemic.  If we miss a deadline here and there and stay safe, that’s close enough for me.

I’ll be up front that there are lots of things that I don’t know that I wish I did.  I don’t know how the health situation will evolve in Saskatchewan, in Prairie South or in our individual communities.  I don’t know what expectations will change over the next three weeks connected to school restart.  I don’t know lots of the details that I will need to know before we have kids back in schools.  As we sort these things out, I’ll be sure to keep everyone informed.

Fortunately, there are some things I do know.  We are in this together. We have a great team.  We owe it to kids and families to be at our best in a challenging time.  We’re going to be okay.

If you are on holidays or if you have holidays scheduled, please enjoy them.  I’m looking forward to seeing you (in person when possible!) once you’re back at work.

Take care of yourselves,

Tony

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