June 2020: A Note From Tony

Hello Prairie South Friends,

Happy Friday!  I was hoping to be able to write to you today and give you some details on the re-opening of schools in September, however the communication I expected from the province this week has not materialized.  I wanted to touch base with you anyway, and I will let you know the details around September as soon as they are available.

I hope you and your families are doing well.  I have had the chance to meet with about 20 staffs via Zoom (and 2 in person, which was really nice!) over the last 3 weeks, and it is great to see the variety of staff members who are engaged as part of the school and school division team as we respond to COVID-19.  While I haven’t had answers to many of the questions people have asked, it has been great to have a chance to visit and laugh with you.

We believe that next year at some point, students will likely be able to return to school.  We also know that there will likely be some points where it will not be safe for students to be in our buildings.  This creates the most challenging problem many of us will ever face in our professional careers – how to re-create an entire school system so that full curriculum can be delivered regardless of whether we can be together in schools or not.  This will take a very significant effort from all of us over the next 13 months, and there are days that it will be difficult work.  We will make mistakes, and we will need to work through these together with the same spirit of teamwork that has been evident since March.

The good news is that we have a good start.  Teachers have done a great job of developing materials since classes were suspended, and we have a plan in place to allow this work to be shared with other teachers.  We are in the process of cloning distance courses from the Virtual School in many subjects for teachers to use as their own – this will allow individual teachers to use the pieces they like and develop replacement content where they want to.  We will be signing on as a partner with the Western Canadian Learning Network and teachers will have access to a wide variety of resources through WCLN.  We are exploring partnership opportunities to ensure we have French Immersion materials.  All teachers will be developing materials during the last two weeks in June in order to ensure we are ready to go in September.

The work of other staff will need to adjust as well, and we have made great headway in areas other than teaching.  There will need to be adjustments to the way our buildings are cleaned and maintained, and our facilities staff have done a great job of adapting to the changing environment to get us ready to roll with whatever changes need to be implemented.  EAs throughout the school division have learned to use conferencing software to work 1-on-1 with students; this will be necessary again in the fall.  We are waiting to see what restrictions will be in place for school bus transportation, and our drivers have been anxious to get kids back in buses however that looks.  The bus mechanics and division facilities staff have used the suspension of classes as an opportunity to get ahead on some maintenance work, which means our infrastructure will be in top shape for the fall.  Library staff have become experts at material distribution from a distance and admin assistants continue to keep the rest of us organized and moving in the same direction.  The business staff at the office have kept paying the bills, kept the payroll running, hired the staff needed for 2020-2021, and maintained the computer network from a variety of nooks and crannies in their homes.  As a team, Prairie South is ready to tackle whatever comes in the fall.

I was very happy to have the budget for next year passed at the Board meeting on Tuesday.  Next year will see several additional staff members to support students and staff in schools, including 10 additional EA staff throughout the division.  We have a contingency plan for PPE as needed and some additional plans to support students if they need to work at home.  There is never enough money to get everything done we would like to do, but I believe the budget for next year is a great balance between meeting additional needs and doing what we can afford to do.

I hope to be able to provide some additional information about next fall in the coming days.  Until then, stay safe!

Have a great weekend,

Tony

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