Officially, Christ the Teacher School Division is a separate school board. Where they are not “separate” is in their obligation to faithfully impart the provincial curriculum to students.
In this regard, Darrell Zaba, director of education, says his division has a head start on the government’s mandate to improve student outcomes.
“We know in most areas (reading, writing and math) we’re exceeding the provincial average,” he said.
Furthermore, Christ the Teacher has a big jump on the Early Years Evaluation (EYE) program that is being launched throughout the province this year. For five years, the division has been using the evaluation to ensure its students are ready for the next stage in their education and to identify students who require remedial coaching.
“Our teachers up to Grade 5 really feel like it’s a valuable tool because it helps the good work they do in the classroom,” said Shannon Hahn, the division’s supervisor of instruction and learning.
“This isn’t anything new for us,” added Zaba. “So it will be business as usual for us in the area of reading.”
Christ the Teacher also fares slightly better in the area of graduation rates according to Chad Holinaty, one of the division’s superintendents of education.
“I’d say we’re probably higher than the provincial average because we only have the one high school (Sacred Heart) and it’s been traditionally upwards of that provincial mark,” he said.
That’s not to say, however, that the division is not planning on moving forward in other areas including student engagement, technology and alternative educational opportunities (covered later in this article).
While the separate system is just as responsible for providing a proper education as the public system, many parents who enroll their children in catholic school—not all, because separate schools do take in secular students and kids of other faiths—expect more.
There are a number of programs related to spirituality that parents and students can expect in the 2012-2013 school year.
The first is the theme of the year. The second leg of three-year cycle has the division focussing on generosity.
“It’s not just a spiritual journey for staff, it’s for our whole system,” Zaba said. “So it’s for students, school board members, everybody who is participating.”
The first step is for participants to define what generosity means, not in a dictionary sense, but through deep recognition of the term’s essence. Based on last year’s theme of gratitude, this will come through gospel assemblies, physical displays around the schools and self-guided activities that reinforce the deeper meaning of the theme.
Hahn related an example from the gratitude exercise last year in which students identified the needs of their less fortunate classmates and provided for those needs anonymously.
“They didn’t want to be congratulated for bringing something,” she explained. “They wanted to make sure it was really just the idea of giving back and being grateful for what they had.”
Another major spiritual undertaking is in its fourth year at catholic schools around the province. Revealing Christ in All We Teach is an initiative in which teachers are seconded for the summer to develop faith-based resource materials that can be used in the classroom. These resources are then tested, edited and rolled out to the rest of the province once they are proven.
“We’re not changing any of the curriculum,” Zaba explained. “All we’re doing is showing ways to integrate our faith into the content areas.”
Finally, all students are coached in Christian ethics and volunteerism. One project saw Christ the Teacher build a school in Kenya, which has become an ongoing effort as students continue to fundraise and provide resources for the African school.
“I think that whole kind of spirit of service is seen in all our schools whether it’s through the religious programming or Christian Ethic Service Hours,” (students are required to do at least 10 hours of community service), Holinaty said.
If you could only teach one thing to a student, it would have to be reading. It is the one educational skill that leads to all other learning. When a person can read with comprehension, fluency, accuracy and possesses a superior vocabulary, the sky is the limit.
In this respect, division staff members feel they are well ahead of the curve.
“We’ve been working really hard for the past couple of years on balanced literacy, making sure that our focus in our classrooms is based on sound research practice, modelled reading, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading,” said Hahn. “The same goes for writing.”
For the writing piece, the school division will roll out the 6+1 Trait® writing analytical model. The assessment and teaching tool—which was piloted four years ago by the division—is based on seven key qualities that define strong writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions (grammar, syntax), and presentation.
“As we know, writing isn’t just good grammar,” Hahn explained. “Our teachers were in-serviced on [the model], they did some learning, we purchased resources to help support them and now they’re using those in all of our classrooms.”
Engagement and Technology
Like its public system counterpart, Christ the Teacher will also be stepping up its effort to assess and improve student engagement. At the end of last year, the division licenced a tool to pilot and conducted surveys with staff and students.
“Our schools right now are actually looking at that data and each school is individually going to be setting goals related to what we call our character goals,” Zaba said.
The other piece of the engagement puzzle for Christ the Teacher is technology. For that, they have been working with the consultant Alan November and have procured smart boards for all of the schools. Recognizing that integrating technology can be a challenge, however, both in terms of learning curve and acceptance, the division is taking an early-adopter approach.
Select teachers called technology pioneers were selected to engage in a series of 10 workshops with technical consultants focussed on using the new technology to enhance learning outcomes based on the provincial curriculum. These early adopters will work with the rest of the teachers to pass on the skills and generate buy-in.
Holinaty says the technology piece is crucial in a world where children have grown up with personal computers, gaming systems and smart phones.
“What Alan is saying is if you want to turn kids on to learning you need to use technology in a way that [kids are] sharing it out with the world, with other students their age, maybe other experts in the field, and that’s what’s going to excite kids about learning so that’s what we want to do with our pioneer teachers,” he explained.
If people were shocked at the end of last school year at how low Saskatchewan high school graduation rates are, they perhaps should not have been. There have always been many students who just don’t fit the mold.
To address this issue the catholic board has partnered with The Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbours (SIGN) on Broadway Avenue West. The program offers two educational streams.
The first provides an alternative environment for Grades 8 to 12 students—predominantly from First Nations backgrounds—who are working toward high school matriculation.
The second is a work transitions program focussed on employability for grads.
“It certainly speaks to the ministry’s mandate for graduation rates, but also for providing for greater outcomes for First Nations, Métis and all non-aboriginal students,” Holinaty said. “It’s met a need that certainly our community has called for. Otherwise a lot of students might have been previously not attending classes, not had any other training or support and not had any services available.”