Monday November 24, 2014

Literacy tops back-to-school agenda


Last week, as administrators from both local school divisions prepared for the beginning of classes, Christ the Teacher director of education Darryl Zaba challenged his Good Spirit counterpart Dwayne Reeve, bottom right, to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which he did on Thursday afternoon.

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As classes get under way this week, both the public and separate school boards have their priority in sharp focus.

“For us, it’s still the focus on literacy,” said Dwayne Reeve, director of education for Good Spirit School Division (GSSD). “We spent a great deal of time focussing on literacy last year and in the years prior to that.

“This year with the education sector plan, we have focused on that even in greater detail and looked at an approach we’re going to use across our division. We are fortunate one of our teachers is on the provincial committee that’s looking at how we move this out across the province.”

The focus on literacy is part of the province’s Vision 2020 plan to have 80 per cent of students at or above grade level in reading, writing and math by June 2020.

Reeve says it all begins with reading because when students are proficient in that one skill it gives them better access to the full curriculum.

The Province has also set an interim goal of 78 per cent of Grade 3 students reading at or above level by June 2015.

For Christ the Teacher Catholic Schools (CTTCS), it is a bar that is set pretty low, said Darryl Zaba, director of education.

“Our expectations are a little higher than the provincial benchmarks,” he said. “Our kids are doing quite well.”

Shannon Hahn, superintendent of instruction and learning, backs that claim up with data from June 2014 that shows 87, 88 and 84 per cent of Grades 1, 2 and 4 students respectively are above grade level. And although the Grade 3 numbers are a little lower at 75 per cent, Hahn is not worried about that.

“We are a small division; two or three kids make a huge difference.”

Zaba attributes much of the success to the division’s Investment in Teachers for Student Achievement Initiative, which is in its second year. The school board put $300,000 over five years behind the program.

“We know if we don’t support our teachers in the classroom, and implement best practices we’re not going be get to achieve the results we want for our students,” he said.

Another major provincial focus is on the Early Years Evaluation (EYE). Educators know that when students enter Grade 1 ready to learn they do better throughout their school career. By June 2020, the Province wants 90 per cent of children leaving Kindergarten to be proficient in four of the five domains measured by EYE.

Christ the Teacher is again ahead of the curve on this benchmark with data indicating 2013 results in the mid to high 90s across all domains.

“When we shared the data with our staff on [August 26], we really shared it as a cause to celebrate because the data is so evident of the hard work that our teachers have been doing and how we’re building successful readers and we know that has such a huge impact for them, not only up to Grade 3, but throughout their entire life,” Hahn said.

Calendar changes

After last year’s major shuffling of the school calendar due to increased instruction hours requirements, setting the 2014/2015 schedule was relatively simple with one major exception surrounding professional development, which required negotiation with the teachers’ union.

“We were able to reach an agreement with our teachers that instead of looking at 10 one-hour dismissals we’d look at two full days,” Reeve explained. “They felt productivity was better and the other piece, we knew from our parents it was a sore point for them with child care difficulties and a range of things, so when we had the chance to meet both needs then we said let’s go ahead and do that.”

CTTCS was only too happy to jump on board with the change.

“Our parents were not a fan of early dismissals; it made more challenges for them,” Zaba said. “They were pleased.”

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Financial challenges

This year, the impact of last spring’s provincial budget is starting to be felt at GSSD. Reeve said the division was forced to find savings mainly in staffing and transportation.

“For us, it meant that we had to take a look at some of the work that we were contemplating in terms of increasing staff allocations to our schools,” he said.

“The other pieces we did have some discussion around was taking a look at some additional supports around challenging behaviours we’re seeing in schools, that wasn’t able to go ahead. We had to take our wish list and pare it down, but we were able to move ahead in one key area which was we were able to hire an additional literacy coach, which we’re looking forward to.”

On the transportation side, the division did receive a 1.6 per cent inflationary adjustment, but when administrators looked at the cost of fuel and maintenance they realized it was actually a bit of a cut.

“We managed it within our transportation department through route reduction,” Reeve said.

So far, the Catholic division is not feeling the same kind of pinch.

It is not all bad news for Good Spirit financially, however. Reeve points out that the new Langenburg school is moving forward at a rapid pace. He expects the school board will be able to tender the construction at its regular meeting in October.

“It’s the first new build we’ve had in Good Spirit’s history,” he said. “The design process was a really exciting process and really positive and there’s positive work from the community as well because the community is taking on a major fundraising initiative for additional space.”

Reeve expects construction to begin later this fall with a projected opening date for the school in September 2016.

Faith curriculum

For the separate school division, education is not entirely about academics; there is also a religious component.

This year, the fourth in a five-year stewardship plan. Each year the division sets a theme for the year. This year’s theme of responsibility is somewhat of a consolidation of the previous three years, which were generosity, gratitude and trust, explained Chad Holinaty, superintendent of education.

“It’s building on that continued pillar of stewardship of responsibility and identifying ways of when we are called to use our gifts to share for the benefit of others,” he said.

“There’s a responsibility and a response, a call and an action that we’re hopefully responding with so it’s all that idea of using, developing and sharing our gifts we’ve been given and the responsibility for stewardship.”

They kicked off the theme with a presentation by motivational speaker Jesse Manibusan at the faith inservice session last week.

“At the end, there was a standing ovation for him so I think that’s a good sign,” Holinaty said. “I heard a lot of comments from folks saying that he was one of the presenters they enjoyed the most. It really gave a good start off to the year.”


Neither division has solid numbers yet for enrolment, but anecdotal evidence suggests 2014/2015 will be a banner year.

For Good Spirit, it is the Kindergarten numbers that bode well.

“Because of some of our capacity issues we are having to put people on the waiting list if they’re out of attendance area,” Reeve said. “We are seeing growth especially at our Kindergarten level which is challenging us. We’ve had to add some additional staff, but it’s a good challenge.

For CTTCS, informally it looks like enrolment at Sacred Heart High School is up by approximately 20 students.

“We’re projecting to just be up a small amount this year, but we’re looking forward to seeing what happens next week,” Zaba said. “We’re never sure until school starts.”



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