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It’s Volunteer Week in Newfoundland and Labrador.
In an educational environment, we are hard-pressed to go through the day without having it touched in some way by a person who is giving of themselves - their time, their effort, their talent, or their expertise. The K-12 public education system in Newfoundland and Labrador is undoubtedly one of the largest recipients of volunteer value, with parents, grandparents, friends, family, and community members helping to enhance the programs and services offered throughout our schools. This includes those who volunteer for the breakfast programs, lunch programs, as well as all the co-curricular and extracurricular activities that help our students develop academically, socially, and as citizens who will grow to conduct their lives with integrity and respect for others. To each of you, I take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of every student whose day you have enhanced, and for every school your efforts have helped.
For volunteers, this value is not a one-way street. The people I have encountered handing out breakfasts to students; helping our teachers supervise field trips, or coaching a school team, tell me this every day. For those who have first-hand knowledge, to give of yourself and your experience to benefit others is more rewarding than anything you could pull from your wallet or pantry. Because the value is reciprocal. Yes, you may give of your valuable time and effort, but what you get back just can’t be measured. In many instances, the educators and staff in our schools are leading by example by volunteering in their community. I know many of our students follow this example by donating their time and energy to support worthwhile projects close to home as well as nationally and internationally. It’s about learning to be part of a community - whether that be large or small. It’s about caring for others. It’s about citizenship, one of the six core competencies of deep learning.
Volunteerism is very much a part of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board’s day-to-day existence. The District is guided by a volunteer, elected Board of Trustees; 17 diverse and unique individuals who volunteer a great deal of time to providing oversight and guidance to all aspects of our organization. We thank them for their commitment to students and to the betterment of education in our province.
Take to heart a quote, sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, although its origin is not authenticated: "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."
I encourage everyone to take time this week to thank those around you who selflessly give of themselves to benefit others. I’m sure it would do them good to hear it.
We are midway through February and while Mother Nature continues to hurl adverse winter weather our way, the days are getting slightly longer and we dare to hope that spring will one day come.
February is also a busy time for the education system, and a time to reflect on some of the important values we share. February 8-15 was Teacher-Staff Appreciation Week in Canada. In this province, we joined with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils (which spearheads the event in this province each year) and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to acknowledge the contributions of all District staff who support the education of children. That includes staff in our regional offices who keep the back office functions moving; senior management, program specialists, administrative support, administrators, teachers, guidance counsellors, teaching and learning assistants, school secretaries, student assistants, maintenance personnel, bus drivers and more. I take this opportunity to sincerely thank our employees for their commitment and dedication to our students, and for the countless times they go above and beyond to meet their needs, and enable them to succeed in a safe and inclusive learning environment. While there are always challenges to address and overcome, we will continue to focus on “students first” and do everything within our ability and authority to enrich our students’ educational experience.
February will also see schools throughout the District celebrating Pink Shirt Day on February 27. It is a time for schools and the District to reiterate and reinforce the message that we will not tolerate bullying and harassment in our schools - whether that be verbal, physical, via technology, or in any way whatsoever. We have made great strides in this area and, supported through Provincial Government policy and legislation, I believe we are getting closer to educating students, and creating school environments, where acceptance and inclusion are just part of our everyday reality. There will be exceptions and negative incidents - but maintaining a strong, consistent approach to unacceptable behaviours is critical to addressing these issues.
We are also preparing to join the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association in celebrating Education Week (March 3-9), which is a time to highlight the many exciting and innovative things that are happening in our schools, led by some of the most highly-educated teachers in the country. I look forward to seeing how individual schools choose to highlight and celebrate their successes that week.
On a final note, we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to live in a society that supports and values public education for all children. It is easy to take that access for granted. So I encourage parents, guardians and students to recognize the enormous privilege we have to live in a part of the world where K-12 education is a fundamental right. I also encourage students to exercise that right every day, by attending classes and participating fully in their own learning experience.
Those of us involved in education differentiate school years from calendar years. September opens a whole new chapter for students and teachers alike, but January offers an opportunity to refocus after relaxing and regenerating over the Christmas holiday. More than half the 180-plus school days remain in the 2018-2019 school year, leaving plenty of time to achieve the goals we set a few months ago. There is ample time for us to challenge, motivate, inspire, and/or intervene. For students, there will many opportunities to engage, invigorate, and give a best effort to demonstrate their learning and to achieve their full potential.
Reflecting back on my own early experience as a classroom teacher, I can say that despite knowing over half a school year remained for students who had fallen behind, it was quite daunting to envision turning things around. I needed to cast aside preconceived notions based on what went on between September and December to truly appreciate the fact that my students and I could collaborate to allow them to learn new content or skills, or develop new attitudes. Would viewing January as a ‘fresh screen’ have helped? Maybe I could have found less conventional ways for students to demonstrate their learning.
I would like to think that if I was back in the classroom today, I would look at January as another fresh start. Perhaps I could find a way to focus on what students know, and find new ways for them to demonstrate it through activities that engage them. Maybe I would have the confidence and the freedom to enable them to achieve a better result.
What has occurred in the school year so far is important. It has laid the foundation for success in this latter portion of the school year. But we are not limited by what has occurred during the fall. The new year affords an opportunity for ‘fresh eyes’. Every day, teachers in our school system are enabling students to demonstrate evidence of learning, in formal or informal settings, because they believe and insist that their students can gain new knowledge, skills and attitudes that will ultimately result in a successful year.
For our administrators, teachers and support staff, as well as our students and families, it is my hope that you approach this new year with a clear vision of all the exciting opportunities to learn and to succeed. I look forward to pursuing these opportunities together.
All the best in 2019!
I am writing this blog immediately after returning to the office from a Remembrance Week school assembly at All Hallow’s Elementary in North River, with all the beauty and emotion of the event still reverberating in my heart. The Principal, Dr. Kevin Giles, presided over a solemn and thoughtful, yet at the same time inspirational and uplifting event.
A portrait of Corporal Jamie Brendan Murphy was unveiled in the presence of Jamie’s sister and niece, and witnessed by the entire school community, which included students, staff, parents, representatives from the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Legion, clergy and community groups.
It was especially poignant for me. Jamie was my student at Roncalli Central High School in Avondale decades ago. I recall a fun-loving little guy who I could not possibly imagine would transform into a robust young soldier just a few years later. In January 2004, Jamie was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, in Kabul, Afghanistan to do his part to establish peace and security in that war-torn part of the globe, when he was killed in action by a suicide bomber. He was 26 years old.
I had recently arrived in Kabul when I got the news. Jamie was the first soldier from this province to lose his life during the Afghanistan War. It was a huge shock to everyone at home, and to me personally. Every time last post is played, or a toast to fallen comrades is made at an event, I say a silent prayer in his memory. Jamie played an important role in nation building and will always be a part of history. I know I will never forget him, and it gives me great comfort to know that All Hallow’s Elementary will never forget him or his sacrifice, having dedicated its playground, and now its display case of prestigious awards, in his memory.
Assemblies will be held throughout the District during this Remembrance Week. This year, 2018, is the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice which concluded the First World War. I am very proud to be the Director of a District where the levels of participation, preparation, and dedication that go into Remembrance Week observance by students, staff, and community are, I believe, unequal to anywhere else in this great country. Part of remembering is also ensuring that the efforts of those who served their country to establish and maintain peace and security are never forgotten, and that their stories are promoted at home and abroad.
We can all remember best by being peacemakers, and peacekeepers, in our own schools and communities. We can emulate what Canadian Forces soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen have done and continue to do around the world - stand up to bullies, build confidence in others, and always show respect and kindness to others, both in actions and in words.
Lest we forget.
P.S. I would encourage all schools to participate in the Royal Canadian Legion’s “Youth Remembrance Contests”. The link to the contest page can be found here.
“Nothing is so contagious as example; and we never do any great good or evil which does not produce its like.” - Francois de La Rochefoucauld
The start of every school year is mainly a hopeful and happy time that marks the beginning of a new chapter in one of life’s most important journeys - the pursuit of a K-12 education.
But like any journey there are inherent challenges along the way. Some of those challenges are made necessary by the legislation, policies, rules and regulations required to govern the way in which human and physical resources are deployed in support of the over 65,000 students we are mandated to educate. Decisions are made by various levels of leadership at the District and school level, with a ‘student first’ philosophy firmly at the forefront - while being mindful of the effect our decisions have on the entire student body, school community, or District.
Parents and caregivers have every right to question and challenge those decisions as they pertain to their child, be they programming decisions or those related to school discipline or student transportation. District staff and school administrators must be prepared to articulate the rationale for their decisions. When there is constructive criticism and dialogue, we can often work together to arrive at a place where a student’s placement, bus stop, supports or other aspect of their education can be adjusted - without providing an inequitable service to others. In some cases, there is simply a better understanding of the situation by all involved and the status quo is confirmed. In other cases, decisions are challenged through our own internal appeals, or complaints are made to external oversight organizations. Although we wish to avoid processes that divert resources from the provision of services to students, we understand that this is necessary for a functioning democracy and can sometimes result in eventual systemic improvements.
Unfortunately, there are also times when parents/caregivers depart from civil discourse to express their displeasure with a school-based, or District-based (or government-based) decision. People resort to personal attacks levied at the District or a school-based staff member. Sometimes it is done through face-to-face confrontation or direct intimidation and threats. Increasingly, it is done through social media platforms that draw in the entire community. The commentary is often abusive, vile and would not normally be tolerated in a regular social setting. Even as we make every effort to educate children and youth as to the appropriate use of social media, they are seeing it used in highly inappropriate ways within their own homes and communities. Even as we implement anti-bullying protocols and codes of conduct within our schools and workplaces, our students are witness to disrespectful behaviour directed towards their teachers, principals, District staff - and even to other parents or students in their communities. None of this actually helps the student or students involved.
Our employees, whether they are school-based, at regional offices, or in the headquarters should not have to endure such behaviour or commentary. Nor should other parents or students. Nobody should. It can affect an individual’s well-being and impact their families as well. District employees work long and hard to provide our students with the best possible opportunities for success in school, and in life - with every resource at our disposal and within whatever flexibility we can find in legislation and policy. But we can’t do it alone. As they say, it takes a village. . .
It is always better to simply follow the Golden Rule and treat others with the same care and respect that you would like to be treated.
That is what we have been trying to teach our students. You can disagree with others, but you must do so in a respectful manner and care enough to consider differing perspectives that are presented appropriately.
Our students, and your children, are watching us.
This week, we close the chapter that was the 2017-2018 school year.
To the Class of 2018, congratulations! Well done! You’ve made it through your 13-chapter K to 12 book of school experiences.
No doubt, many of you are thinking of the support of parents, or of your most recent mentors, or your dedicated, engaging high school teachers who helped steer you towards your next book in life. I also encourage you to reflect on the contribution of your primary, elementary, and junior high teachers who helped to support and guide you through life and learning over the years.
You may not even realize it immediately, but there were also school secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, and other administrative and support staff in the various District offices who you may have never met, but who performed their roles with care and commitment unseen, to ensure your success. There are an amazing number of individuals who work within our province’s education system who are dedicated to ensuring our students are set up to be successful and strive every day to see that happen. Do take the opportunity to thank any or all teachers or supporting staff when you encounter them out in the community; I know it will make their day. I sincerely wish all the graduates from 2018 every success in your future endeavours. Good luck with your next book in life - trust me when I tell you what awaits you is certainly more than a chapter!
To those students returning for the 2018-2019 school year to begin your next installment in your education this September, take the time to enjoy the summer break! I hope you’ve achieved many of your goals this past year and I hope you use the down-time to enjoy time with friends and your new-found knowledge. Maybe you will look at the softball diamond this year and understand the angle the ball bounced off the bat. Or maybe you will know to explain to your family members exactly what that bee is doing when he flies from flower to flower. While I hope you get the opportunity this summer to enjoy all the new information in your head in a relaxed atmosphere, you may use some time over the next few months to formulate new aims and objectives for the next school year.
To everyone connected to our education system, and I truly cannot emphasize this enough, please be safe! We all want you to enjoy what summer has to offer, but please think before engaging in an activity which could cause you serious harm or worse. Please think about that when it comes to ATVs and jet-skis, camping, swimming holes, cars, gatherings and parties, and potentially harmful substances. It may be natural to think of yourselves as invincible (unless you are an old guy like me) but unfortunately there are far too many summer tragedies that occur. Even one incident is too many and it is particularly tragic when it could have been preventable. Please, protect yourselves and look out for each other. If you see someone engaging in a dangerous activity or find yourself questioning a friend’s safety before they head off to an event or activity, speak up and share your concerns. Let’s all do what we can to ensure everyone has a thoroughly enjoyable, but safe summer.
We will see you back in the classrooms in September.
My last blog discussed literacy and efforts of our school communities to focus on that important area of learning. Like literacy, numeracy education is a key focus of our strategic plan and I would like to outline just a fraction of our efforts to enhance numeracy education.
Similar to Literacy Days, many schools are implementing Numeracy Days which help students connect their numeracy education to everyday activities. Families may also be invited to attend Math Days that showcase student work, Family Math Night, or participate in a weekly family problem solving challenge. All of these activities highlight the importance of numeracy initiatives and extend conversations on numeracy beyond the walls of the classroom.
The District’s strategic plan outlines a number of initiatives that guide our focus on enhancing student achievement in numeracy. A comprehensive Numeracy Plan for grades 6-9 and resources for grades 6-7 that help to identify numeracy concepts with which students may require additional support are just two examples. As well, a new professional learning plan is being developed for grades 6-9 educators and staff are partaking in numerous self-directed professional learning opportunities.
Trustees and staff also recognize that international data - such as PISA - generally rank our province lower in performance than many of our national counterparts when it comes to numeracy. Quite frankly, we would like to change those results and showcase the capabilities of our students as we see it demonstrated daily in the classroom. While PISA does not impact final course marks, we want to ensure students choose to actively engage the test as it helps the District focus on areas of need. I encourage you to visit an information page we have established to learn more about PISA.
Numeracy is a key focus area for our Board and District staff and while we have made significant strides in our approach, we continue to work diligently to help our students with their numeracy skills. Just as importantly, we need our school communities, including families and friends, to support our message about the importance of numeracy and the role it plays in our lives.
Take your own action at home and practice simple numeracy activities such as: counting stairs with young children; grouping household items; measuring while cooking; or, arranging patterns. Collectively, we can make a difference not only in results, but in the perceptions of mathematics - and have a little fun along the way.
Recently, I had the pleasure of attending St. George’s Elementary and St. Andrew’s Elementary to participate in Family Literacy Day. It was great to engage the students and to see their joy when we read books, discussed the stories, and explored what they learned. Those in-class reading sessions were a true example of student engagement and the joy students receive from reading, as well as the importance of literacy.
The Board of Trustees has also acknowledged how important reading is and has made literacy a core focus of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District strategic plan. Staff have been diligently implementing this objective and I am proud that our schools and teachers have taken up this cause, undertaking tremendous efforts to ensure our students are strong readers and ready for all life offers.
Research demonstrates that children who can read proficiently by the end of third grade will realize greater academic success and less struggles in life. In order to do all we can for our students to attain reading proficiency at that critical time, we have implemented the Benchmark Assessment System and Levelled Learning Intervention initiatives in our schools. These are tools to identify student reading levels and subsequently provide extra resources to improve their reading abilities. While we must keep in mind that some students develop later than others, intervention is key if we want to ensure students remain on the road to academic success.
These initiatives were recently profiled at a Board of Trustee meeting, including a video demonstration of the tools in use and a display of the materials. A recording of that presentation can be found at the end of this blog and I encourage you to watch and learn more about how these programs are being implemented in District schools.
We can leverage these resources to complement the tremendous work being done by our teachers in classrooms. I know of exciting literacy programs occurring throughout the District, being led by committed and innovative teachers who are taking the initiative to foster literacy in their school community. I commend our teachers for believing in our goals of improving student literacy and for making our objectives a classroom reality.
Our province has a history of outstanding writers, including, but certainly not limited to, recent Governor-General’s Literary Award winner Joel Thomas Hynes, as well as Lisa Moore who will soon have a novel aired as a TV series. We offer the country and the world amazing actors and comedians who challenge us and make us laugh, musicians who entertain us, and engaging historians who inform us. Their success relies upon the ability to interpret our world through words so that we can understand a perspective we may not have previously considered. These are inspiring individuals who illustrate what we are capable of. Our educators are just as inspiring and demonstrate literacy leadership on a daily basis. Working together, we can ensure our students strive for their personal best and achieve personal success, of which literacy is leading factor.
At the risk of really dating myself, I can recall waiting eagerly for the weekly arrival of the bookmobile - a converted school bus from the public library that would travel around to neighborhoods in the summer - so I could dig into the next Arthur C. Clarke SciFi novel. Today, this is just as likely to be a graphic novel readily accessed through an iPad. I am sure many of you have have similar memories of your favourite book, short story, or a poem which opened your mind to new ideas and possibilities; such is the power of literacy. I encourage every member of our school communities to continue with the great work they have been doing to encourage literacy and allow our students to create such memories. From Family Literacy Day to reading circles in our classrooms, every effort counts and contributes to our goals. Read at home with and to your children, and also let them see your love of reading on a daily basis.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” - Frederick Douglass
As we have entered the second half of the school year, it is important to evaluate our goals and ensure we have made a commitment and a plan to achieve them. In many ways 2018 offers a fresh start, yet builds upon the lessons learned in the first months of the school year.
By now, we all know the areas we need to put in some extra effort and what is required to be successful during the coming months. It is certainly far easier to achieve our goals if we have established a plan we know will lead to academic success. And while such a plan is important to establish and follow, it must also be flexible so that adjustments can be made for unforeseen circumstances, and more importantly, new and exciting opportunities. So, take some time to develop your approach to achieving the success you desire and deserve.
As our high school students prepare for mid-term exams and strive for academic success, I would like to remind everyone that the District has provided a tremendous amount of online resources that I am sure will prove useful for studying. With a particular focus on mathematics, the online resources should be visited by every student preparing for mid-terms. As well, junior high students can include these resources in their academic success plan and avail of the lessons available specifically for them. The District ‘online prep’ resources can be found here: https://www.nlesd.ca/families/onlinetools.jsp
Students can also take advantage of the many course review materials and online tutoring available through the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation. A link is available on the above page or can be accessed directly here: https://www.cdli.ca/. This division of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District provides an amazing amount of prep and tutoring materials that can be used by any student of the District, not just those who use CDLI as part of their typical academic course work. The Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation has assembled an amazing repertoire of material to benefit all students and we should encourage our students, friends, and family members to take advantage of this unique resource.
Over the course of the coming months I intend to focus some of my future blog posts on the important topics of literacy and numeracy. Our District has been undertaking great initiatives in these areas and I feel, making important steps forward in the education of our students. I hope to connect with readers on the importance of these efforts and promote the support needed by our school communities to ensure the work at school continues at home, and then leads to student success.
Before I conclude, I would like to echo one important topic our District has been focusing on this academic year that should be included in every successful academic plan: attendance. Ensuring students are in class and engaged in their education is critical to success. If you regularly read the Director’s Blog or pay attention to communications from the District, you know the importance of attendance and engagement and how being in school is a precursor to success. Continuing the focus on attendance and engagement should be a priority for all school communities, including students, parents and guardians, administrators, teachers, and school councils. The fundamental question that we must all ask before engaging in activity that takes us away from instructional time is:
Can this activity or event be conducted at a time and/or in a manner that does not disrupt precious time from teaching and learning?
I extend my best wishes to everyone for a safe and successful 2018 and I look forward to the many accomplishments we will achieve together.
I will not replicate the Christmas messages sent by the Board and the District in this blog. I would simply like to use this space to thank our dedicated employees for the work you individually accomplish, day in and day out, sung and unsung, for the betterment of our students in 2017 and urge you to take full advantage of the Christmas break to relax and recharge.
The Christmas break is really the only time where just about everything in our busy personal and professional lives slows down or comes to complete halt. Yes, there are other natural breaks in the school year, but often these breaks are interrupted or overshadowed by some activity deemed too essential to completely set aside for a time. However, barring some emergency, the Christmas break affords us the best opportunity to slow down, reflect, and enjoy the company of our family and friends without some immediate deadline looming.
As I go about the District’s schools and offices, I continue to be impressed with the commitment, creativity, dedication, and expertise of our employees. A year can be compressed into a mind’s-eye-view like images in a slide show. A District year-in-review slide show could include: the teacher standing before their admiring students delighted to be finally retiring but satisfied with what they had achieved after a fulfilling career; the new primary teacher so delighted with the new flexible seating in their classroom; the administrator so proud to show off their in-house designed and equipped calming room; the program specialists who volunteers to run a summer institute for teachers and bakes the treats for all who attend; the student assistant using a family recipe to bake bread and applying molasses as it is handed out to the students; the custodian who took such pride in an elaborate setup of equipment in support of an official school opening; the maintenance manager who was eager to provide a tour of a school that facilities staff had just finished renovating; the smiling cleaner who I’d seen at several schools in as many days as staff hustled around to open our new schools in September; the computer support specialist who persevered in establishing a consistent wifi signal in a classroom; the bus driver who delivers that special morning greeting to the students as they hop aboard; the school secretary who produced another beautiful program of events for Remembrance Day; the payroll clerk who makes that one extra phone call as the day expires to make sure the substitute teacher gets paid on time; and, the finance clerk who diligently processed a pile of requests. These are but a few images, all of them samples of ordinary, yet wonderful snapshots in time that collectively illustrate the work ethic and contribution of our employees that goes into making and sustaining truly remarkable school communities.
To all our District employees, in schools and offices around the province, again I thank you. Enjoy and relax this holiday season. You have more than earned it.
To all our students, parents, staff, and trustees, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas break spent enjoying the traditions of the holidays. I wish you all the best of the season and look forward to continuing our positive work in 2018.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
The Board of Trustees for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District recently tabled notices of motion that may result in school closures, as well as the consolidation of two schools. These notices of motion result from trustees reviewing information about the impacted school systems and reviewing initial feedback from the school communities. Important materials on the school review process, including school system information, dates of upcoming meetings, and a feedback form, can be found on our website: https://www.nlesd.ca/schools/schoolreview/
As a result of these notices of motion, a further review and feedback process is now underway and allows members of the school communities involved the opportunity to provide further feedback to the trustees about the future of their school. This includes both online feedback and the opportunity to present to trustees in person.
It is extremely important to say that no decisions have been made at this time with respect to the notices of motion and the future of the schools identified. To help inform the deliberations of trustees, members of the school communities involved are encouraged to provide their feedback online by the end of day January 22, 2018. By submitting your feedback online or by presenting to trustees in person, school community members can express their point of view and ensure trustees have all the information required to make a decision on February 3, 2018.
Factors such as enrolment, finances, human resources, infrastructure, programming, and student transportation are considered. It is the role of District staff to assemble and collate information with respect to such factors and it is my role as Director to oversee those staff efforts. It is the role of Trustees to consider these factors in deciding if the potential changes are in the best interests of the students involved and the delivery of education for the District at large. It is not an easy decision and one that cannot be taken lightly.
For those who are part of the school communities directly involved, I ask that you review the material available and provide your feedback online. Should you wish to make representation to trustees at the school community sessions scheduled for January 2018, registration is taking place until 2:00 p.m. December 20, 2017. Presenters are asked to contact Jackie Crane at 758-2381 or firstname.lastname@example.org to register. Presentations are to be 10 minutes in length and an electronic copy is to be provided for the records of the Board. Specific dates and locations of the sessions can be found at the above noted website.
As an educator and resident of Newfoundland and Labrador, I recognize school review processes are difficult for communities. In most circumstances, the prospect of a school closure can be hard to contemplate and it can be difficult to find the appropriate way to respond. However, it is important that you do. I also recognize the role and responsibility of trustees to make decisions in the best interest of all students of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.
To inform that decision process, have your say through the online feedback form or present to the Board of Trustees in January.
As we prepare to acknowledge Remembrance Day, our attention turns to those who have served our country and those who continue to serve in areas of conflict and turmoil. This is a special period in schools as ceremonies are held in gymnasiums and discussions take place in classrooms so that students and school communities remember the fallen, those who returned changed by the experience, and acknowledge those currently in service. It is a period where we reflect on our history, as well as our role in global affairs, and use the knowledge gained to encourage our students to help make our world a better place.
Like so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, my family has a strong connection to our armed services. With immediate family currently serving, and having worn a uniform myself, I understand the important role the women and men who serve our country have both home and abroad. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces serve in a variety of capacities throughout the world helping to preserve or restore peace, build capacity for security and stability, and support organizations who work to improve the lives of others.
I encourage everyone to participate in school Remembrance Day ceremonies, a community ceremony at your local cenotaph, or undertake your own personal act of remembrance and support for veterans and those still serving. Acts of remembrance can be simple. By treating others with respect and kindness and by doing your part to prevent bullying and harassment you are being a peacekeeper or a peacemaker in your own school and community. If we all make that small contribution to ensuring justice, equality, and fairness are values present in our daily lives, we are committing the most important act of remembrance. As we have seen with recent tragedies and acts of aggression committed against innocent people, there remains a lot of work to be done to ensure all global citizens are safe and free of oppression, tyranny, and injustice.
I am always proud of the social justice initiatives occurring in our schools. It is clear to me that social change, inspired by our teachers, is led by our young people; students with an open perspective, a broader understanding of acceptance, and a desire to do what is right. These are the people who can and do make a difference in our world. I strongly encourage our students, the future leaders of our Canadian society, to continue to uphold these values, be the leaders of change, and strive for social justice and equality both here and abroad.
As we approach Remembrance Day, let us remember the broader issues, the realities of armed conflict, and what is required to attain peace and equality in our world. Let us also remember our classmates, colleagues, and neighbours who are currently impacted because a family member is serving away from home. Most importantly, let us all consider our role in ensuring a safe, peaceful, and justice society in our schools, in our communities, and in our world.
Lest we forget.
Here we are only a couple of weeks from Halloween. It seems like we were only starting the school year just a short time ago.
There is a great deal of optimism in schools and classrooms are buzzing with the excitement that a new year brings. This is particularly acute in primary and elementary grades where interest in school is high and students are generally excited each day for the new opportunities and challenges ahead of them. We need to sustain that enthusiasm throughout the year, and while older students may be reluctant to overtly display their excitement for learning we need to ensure that that we do everything we can to sustain their interest. We know that engagement can dip in higher grades and we must do better. We also know that attendance patterns start as early as Kindergarten and from the first day of school an emphasis on good school attendance should take place within the family.
As educators we know that engagement is extremely important and can be the difference in student success. We know it is important for students of all grade levels and all academic abilities to be engaged in school and enjoying their academic pursuits. Educators understand our collective responsibility to create inspiring and welcoming learning places where students are actively engaged participants in their own learning. But we also know that one of the main ways to ensure students become and remain engaged is for them to attend school regularly.
Goronwy Price, Chair of the Board of Trustees, wrote a letter to parents and guardians last month encouraging them to engage with their children about their studies and to ensure an emphasis is placed upon school and school attendance. I would like to join with Chair Price and emphasize the importance of school attendance. We know that a student who attends school is more likely to be successful; attending students can engage, learn, and acquire the skills they need to be successful in school and in life.
Our data tells us that 10% of our students missed 18 or more days unexcused last year - that is over three weeks of classes. This does not include lost days due to weather closures or illness which when combined, can equal a significant amount of lost time. What it comes down to for me is really quite simple: students should be in class when they are able to attend. There are 185 teaching days in the year which leaves 180 days to schedule other things such as vacations, appointments, or extra curricular activities. We recognize there are times when students cannot attend due to medical appointments or illness. Clearly, those matters must be attended to. But if possible, we recommend that appointments occur outside of school time.
There was a time when missing school for vacations or excursions involving sports or arts was an extremely rare occurrence, only reserved for the most exceptional circumstances. However, in recent times such excursions have become routine. This places an additional burden on the students who are missing school, the classroom teachers and, by extension, all students of the class who have their contact time diminished if the teacher has to focus energies on ‘catching up’ the students who were away. We would prefer family vacations and outside activities involving sports or arts to be scheduled during periods when school is not in session. We recognize that ‘school is not everything;’ activities outside of school are also extremely important educational opportunities and assist in a student’s social, emotional, and physical development. That said, school is scheduled for just half of the year, and for only five hours of those days. As educators, we feel strongly that this amount of time should be protected and taken full advantage of. We hope you agree.
It is the role of everyone involved in our school communities and the public education system to ensure our students value their time in the classroom and that they attend as much as possible. So in this light, I encourage our parents and guardians, administrators, teachers, support staff, and volunteers to emphasize attendance and engage with our students about their time in school. While not everyone has to volunteer for school council - though I certainly encourage more parents and guardians to serve in this extremely valuable role - simple gestures such as helping with a school fair, donating to the book drive, or helping with a school grounds clean up, set important examples.
The most important thing you can do is speak with your child. Ask about their day, take an interest in their school activities, and engage them in meaningful conversation about what is happening at school and within the school community.
Let's all work together to encourage positive engagement and good attendance. Our students and our province will be well served if we do.
All the best.
It really is hard to believe but another school year is here. I hope that everyone had an enjoyable break and you are well rested and ready for the academic year ahead.
I would first like to acknowledge some of the unfortunate tragedies which impacted us during the summer. A number of our school communities, and in particular our families, were forever changed and are still experiencing great loss as a result. Please know that each and every one of us offers our condolences and our ongoing support during your difficult time.
It seems like only a short while ago that I was finishing up the year-end blog in June and comparing the Kindergarten to Grade 12 journey to a chapter book. Well here we are again, at the start of another school year. There are some 4,500 Kindergarten students who will be opening a new book in their life’s journey and almost 5,400 Grade 12 students commencing the final chapter in secondary education this year. I wish the Kindergarten class and the graduating class of 2018, along with everyone in between, every success this 2017-2018 school year.
Every school year closes out in a burst of euphoria and a sense of satisfaction made possible because of all the effort that goes into achieving goals and objectives established in the previous September. Each successive September brings the opportunity for a shiny new start or a blank slate, a chance to set a new course for academic achievement and personal growth.
Freshness permeates the atmosphere at this time of year. Our busy custodians have carefully polished the floors, our diligent teachers have refreshed their classrooms with new displays, our dedicated administrators have hired new staff and printed new timetables, and our eager students are equipped with new exercise books and sharpened pencils, and likely a tremendous amount of technology. Almost everything is newer and bigger, including the students themselves. I recall as a child feeling pretty good about upgrading from an 8-colour pack of crayons to a 16-colour pack. I recall as a teacher looking at that Grade 8 student who somehow over the summer managed to attain the physical height that enabled them to look down into the top shelf of their locker for the first time. There is the eager anticipation of a new homeroom class and the potential for new friends.
As we settle into the new school year we should also be cognizant that while there is a great deal of eager anticipation for the first day of classes, for some of our students there is a level of apprehensive because of the uncertain feelings that a new school year brings. I know our empathetic staff have already identified many of those students who might be in need of a bit of extra support during this time, but I would urge caregivers or mature students to identify any concerns to the school administrators so they can help ease anxious students into their new environment.
The 2017-2018 school year also marks an important milestone for our District as we embark upon the first year of our new strategic plan. This guiding document has been created following extensive consultation with our school communities and sets the course for the next three years of academic excellence. We will continue to focus on matters of importance such as reading and writing, mathematics, and safe and caring schools. We look forward to working together to achieve our collective goals as outlined in this plan.
For my first blog of the new year, the message I would like to leave everyone with is to work hard and have fun; give your best in everything you do. Of course I want our students to work hard at their studies, but I also want them to work just as hard to maintain their friendships and make new ones, to offer their volunteer time to worthy causes, and to make their communities exceptional places to live, study, play, and grow. I want our teachers and support staff to give their all - as I know they will - to ensure our students feel safe, welcome, and prepared for success. And, I want everyone to enjoy their personal time, partake in activities that are fun and personally rewarding, and experience all that life has to offer. If you give your all in these aspects of your life, you will feel rewarded and happy.
All the best for a great 2017-2018 school year and I look forward to working together to achieve amazing successes.
The school year is coming to a close and it is hard to believe it has gone by so fast. During the 2016-2017 year we have seen remarkable achievements by our students. Many have been recognized on the national and international stage. Throughout their journey they have been supported by an amazing network of family, friends, teaching staff, and support staff who have helped them and instilled the belief and confidence needed for success. Similarly, our teachers and support staff have been recognized for the tremendous work they do each day, along with the extra effort they give to encourage deep-learning, hands-on learning, and extracurricular support so necessary for the success of our students and communities.
For students and parents, the K-12 education system is akin to a chapter book. In September of Kindergarten you excitedly open chapter one and in June you satisfyingly close the cover having finished your reading. The next September, you eagerly open a new chapter and commence Grade 1, and so it goes until the last chapter when you finish the entire book. Nowhere else do you know exactly when you start an annual endeavour and when you will complete it. School staff also share in the enthusiasm that comes with opening a fresh and shiny new chapter in September and the joy and sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing it in June; along with the knowledge that some time for you and your family is just ahead. I do hope you can take some time and relax, recharge, and be ready to open a new chapter in September. I know for many of our students and teachers there are other projects you must complete during the summer, however, please enjoy yourself and return in September renewed and ready to once again begin the amazing challenge of public K-12 education.
And while enjoying your much deserved downtime, please keep your safety, as well as the safety of family and friends, top of mind. Be aware of potential dangers and do not let your relaxation become a hazard to your personal safety or the safety of others. Have fun but swim, bike, run, and play safely.
For those students who are finishing their entire book and moving on from the K-12 system, I wish you all the best in the in the many volumes you are yet to cover in life. I hope you will reflect positively on our public education system. I know your school staff would love to see you return to visit and share in your successes in the future.
For those District employees who are concluding your careers this June, I know this coming September will feel a little different. I wish you the very best in whatever you now turn your hand to, be that leisure or a new adventure. Thank you for all you have done for the students of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Finally, thank you to each and every one of you for making this school year such a success. Without the dedication of our students, teachers, support staff, and trustees none of our achievements would be possible. I am so very proud of all of you. #NLEduProud
I have to confess the one thing I miss about being at a school is the unbridled euphoria that permeates the air for students and staff alike on the last day of school in June. Again, enjoy and be safe. I look forward to seeing you all again in September and opening the next chapter that is the 2017-2018 school year.
Thank you and have a wonderful break!
Thank you for taking a moment to read my inaugural foray into blogging. While this is a new experience, I think it will be a helpful communication medium.
For my first blog I would like to discuss pride. Specifically, how proud I am to be a part of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District and how each of us can demonstrate pride in our school community and our academic pursuits.
I feel very fortunate to play a role in the public education system of Newfoundland and Labrador. I have many amazing memories from my time working with students over many years. No more so than seeing students be successful and satisfied with what they have accomplished. No doubt like many teachers, I have encountered former students while out and about in the community enthusiastically relaying what they are doing now with respect to starting a family or their current occupation. Such encounters, where you have an opportunity to share in former students pride of accomplishment, are truly uplifting.
I am proud to be serving as the Director of Education in an interim capacity and looking forward to the opportunities it affords me; including the opportunity to help contribute to the success of approximately 66,300 young people who will shape the future of our province and beyond.
Each and every one of those 66,300 students is truly lucky to have the opportunity to receive a high quality education with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District. And while there are challenges, our education system ranks high globally and our students are going on to be successful internationally. We should be proud of those achievements and be public with our pride.
By taking pride in our education system and our student accomplishments, we also commit to improving the system where and when we can so the opportunities for student success are even greater.
As educators, we should take pride in our careers and our everyday work. As support staff working in and with schools, we should be proud of the critical role we play in supporting classroom instruction. We should demonstrate this pride each and every day, focus on the positives, and work to overcome the obstacles and not let them impede our progress. Strong belief in our collective role in improving student achievement will act as a self fulfilling prophecy.
Students should continue to take pride in their work, as well as their academic and personal success. If you feel and demonstrate that pride, you will be confident, successful and join the thousands of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who are leaders in their community and, indeed, the world.
It is my commitment to represent the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District proudly, and to work tirelessly for our students, our educators, and our support staff.
I encourage you to take a moment and show your pride in yourself, your school, and your community and to also share that pride with us via Twitter using #NLEduProud. Share a study group selfie or school project. Send a video of your school cheer from a big tournament. Or send before and after pictures of your school area clean up after our long winter. These are just some examples of the many activities that can help to demonstrate the pride you take in your educational experience, and I feel that is worth sharing.
All the best,
St. John's, NL · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706
St. John's, NL · Canada · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706