Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Change is Coming - Public Meetings for Elementary Catchment Changes

School District 60 is looking forward to the opening of Margaret Ma Murray Community School, located in the northwest quadrant of Fort St John, in September, 2018.  Building this school has been an exciting, collaborative project that will enhance the educational offerings of the district as well as provide some relief for current space constrictions in a growing school district.

Part of the planning process requires the redrawing of some elementary school catchment area boundaries in order to populate the new school.  These changes will potentially affect families with children currently attending  CM Finch, Ecole Central School of the Arts, Charlie Lake Elementary School and Bert Ambrose Elementary School.  

It is very important that trustees gather public input on all of the issues and variables to be taken into consideration as the planning process proceeds.  In order to gather information, three public meetings have been scheduled as follows:

Monday, October 30th at 7pm at Ecole Central Elementary School of the Arts
10215 99th Avenue

Thursday, November 9th at 7pm at CM Finch Elementary School
10904 106th Street

Tuesday, November 28th at 7pm at School District 60 Board Office
10112 105 Ave

Written submissions will also be accepted by the Board up to December 22nd, 2017.  They can be dropped off at the School Board Office.  Your trustees very much look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Still on the Run - Cross Country revisited!

A superintendent's day can get busy. It can often feel like any number of issues are chasing you or trying to run you down. Once again this week  I had literally more than 2oo challenges behind me and it felt pretty good.  Our district held the final run of the cross country season and, as I have in past seasons, I was the rabbit leading the runners onto the  course. Admittedly I  have a bit of an advantage riding my mountain bike, but its still more than a little intimidating hearing the starter call go and hearing the thunder of hundreds of little feet charging on to the trail behind you.

I enjoy ferrying the leaders through the course, but I also like to make sure everyone finishes. A student once told me, "For the leaders you're the rabbit, but for us at the back, you're the dragon!" I was taken a little a back by this fearsome description until I realized what she was saying was that I was the person who literally gets to "drag in" the back of the pack. Every year those at the front push me a little harder to stay ahead, but its often the conversations I have with those runners at the back of the pack that provide the greatest humour and inspiration. Over the years I've seen falls, nosebleeds, side stitches and other bumps and bruises, but in almost every case, the affected runners have bounced back and determinedly completed the course, finishing to the cheers and support of their team mates, parents and coaches. 

Cross country is a great participation sport. It allows the fastest runners the competition of racing against their peers and the clock, and it also allows others to challenge themselves against a distance. I have experienced acts of tremendous spirit, enthusiasm and sportsmanship at both ends of a race.  The smiles at the finish line, are ample evidence that every finisher feels the thrill of completing a race well run. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Facilitating Learning: New Portables Arriving

Providing our students with safe comfortable facilities is one of SD 60's core values. Meeting this requirement can be easier said than done in a growing district, replete with aging structures. Our newest school, the Margaret Ma Murray Community School, will be a great example of a 21st century learning space, but it is still several months from completion.  Most of our schools are already populated far beyond their normal capacities, with every available corner converted to classroom use. In such situations adding portables or modular classrooms becomes the go to option.

In BC portable classrooms have become synonymous with overcrowded schools. In Surrey, BC's largest school district,  50 additional portable classrooms were added this fall to bring the district's total to over 300. SD 60 is not quite at that level,  but a further 6 modular classrooms  are being installed this year in addition to others previously added to schools last year. Restored contract language with regards to class size, combined with a student population that is growing by about 200 students a year, means that classroom space has become increasingly hard to come by.

In the past, portables have had very bad PR. Once installed they rarely moved, yet their temporary nature frequently meant that they were inferior to regular classrooms in their construction, layout and feel. Students and teachers felt isolated and disconnected from the rest of the school. Such is not always the case with the newest modular classrooms. Separated from the bustle of busy hallways, they can be bigger, brighter and quieter than learning spaces in the main building. Upgrades in building codes and construction now mean that portables can be bright and vibrant spaces with the ability to better control their own environments. No longer afterthoughts, or a home for district furniture castoffs, they can be provided with new and innovative fixtures. In some schools, getting the portable can almost be an advantage, an opportunity to test out innovative ideas in teaching and classroom furnishings.

In a perfect world districts would have modern facilities designed with the comfort and learning of staff and students always in mind. Until that world arrives, SD 60 will utilize the available spaces and opportunities on hand, doing what we can to ensure all our facilities, portable and permanent alike, are designed to facilitate all learning matters.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

And We're Off - The New Year Begins!

The start of a new school year brings with it a whole new set of challenges and possibilities. This year, in addition to all the regular anxieties that come with start up, our district faces the added challenges of recruiting enough staff and making every effort to operate within restored contract language that limits class size and composition.  Add increases to enrollment  at many schools and you have a recipe for lot of anxiety.

Our district is dynamic and growing. This year more than 6000 students will be attending our schools. With many schools already stretched beyond capacity, this expansion has required the ordering of portables for installation at a number of sites. While district maintenance staff stand ready to install our new classrooms upon their arrival, provincial circumstances including high demand for limited stock and transit routes and supply chains slowed by forest fires, have required some schools to improvise and house classes in alternate spaces for now. Portables began to arrive in district this week and the plan is to have them in place and operational as soon as possible and no later than early next month.

District recruiting efforts brought nearly 60 new teachers to the district. Impressive numbers but we still have openings for at least seven additional full time teachers. Increasing enrollment and restored contract language limiting class size and composition has created a high demand for teachers all across the province and many northern district are competing with us for available candidates.

Growth in town has sometimes made it difficult for families to have their students attend their schools of choice. Principals and district staff are working hard to ensure that all students have a seat in an appropriate learning environment, and we know it can be more than frustrating when things don't work out exactly as hoped. The patience and understanding of our community and staff are greatly appreciated. Creative talent and the ability to innovate have long been a strength of our communities.
As this new school year rolls out I thank staff students and community members for their patience and resilience and know that all our staff will be doing their best to make this a successful year for everyone!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Recruiting and the Road Less Travelled By

I encountered a colleague at our local airport recently. "Where are you off to?" she inquired. "Recruiting" I responded.  
"Good luck with that" came the response. "I'm not sure you'll find many willing to come"

As Superintendent of a northern district, I am well acquainted with the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining quality staff. Our staffing challenges have been recently  made more acute with the BC government granting interim measures funding to all sixty  districts to add additional staffing for the rest of the current year. In addition to competing with the perceived challenges of climate and geography, my northern district will now also face direct competition from all the other districts hoping to attract new teachers.

The fact is that all our students deserve quality instruction. Whether located in the northern reaches of the Peace River country or amongst the hustle and bustle of the southern metro areas, all students need to be served by eager enthusiastic and well trained staff. One of the questions yet to be answered is whether there are enough teacher candidates out there to go around? Of even greater pertinence for my district,  are there enough who are willing to take on the challenge of a northern teaching experience?

Teaching in the north comes with certain realities. Without a doubt the climate, the geography and the winter weather aren't for everyone. But then that's part of the beauty of the north. Its not for everyone, but  it is  a great place to start for the right sort of candidates.  While the weather might be cold, the people are warm and supportive. Our district motto is "Together We Learn" and its certainly true. We are all in this enterprise together. Opportunities for professional development and for new teachers to implement innovative ideas abound. For those willing and prepared to take on the challenge and opportunities afforded by smaller towns and districts, professional and personal rewards can be substantial.

Our district is full of outstanding professionals who came initially for "a couple of years" but found the district, lifestyle and opportunities to their liking and stayed. There's just something quintessentially rewarding about taking on challenges that others shrink from, and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of students is that much greater in a smaller community.  Even those who don't stay forever, come away with valuable experience and life long stories about the people they've met, worked with and for. Both the district and our employees are enriched by the time we invest in each other. 

When I'm  recruiting I may not find lots of people willing to come but I'm always optimistic that I can find the right ones: those for whom the north will be the right fit or that first step on the way to a meaningful career.  I frequently tell candidates that there's always room for one more good one. Present circumstances suggest that there's never been a better time for folks to start a teaching career.  Certainly northern districts will eagerly welcome those candidates looking for opportunities beyond the more easily accessed districts.

So we'll be looking for those who want to take the road less travelled.  We're confident  that when they do that they, like Robert Frost's traveler in snowy woods, will see that their choice will make all the difference. If you are one of those people, or you know someone who is, check out our available postings and give us a call. We'll see about  getting you to work on education matters!

Friday, 23 September 2016

On the Run

A superintendent's day can get busy. It can feel like any number of issues are chasing you or trying to run you down. Today I had literally more than 250 challenges behind me and it felt pretty good. It was the inaugural run of our elementary cross country season and, as I have for the past several seasons, I got to be the rabbit leading the fields of the the three event through the course. Admittedly I have a bit of an advantage riding as I do on my mountain bike, but its still a bit intimidating hearing the starter call go and hearing the thunder of hundreds of little feet charging on to the trail behind you.

I have the privilege of ferrying the leaders through the courses but I also get to circle back and make sure everyone finishes. As a student once told me, "For the leaders you're the rabbit, but for us at the back, you're the dragon!" I was taken a little a back by this fearsome description until I realized what she was saying was that I was the person who had to "drag in" the back of the packers.

Cross country is really a great participation sport. It allows the fast runners the competition of racing against their peers and the clock, but it also allows other students to challenge themselves against a distance. I have experienced tremendous spirit and enthusiasm at both ends of a race. Each year those at the front seem to push me a little harder to stay in front, as I clear a path for them to a finish line, but its often the conversations I have with those runners at the back of the pack that provide the greatest humor and inspiration.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Project Heavy Duty

This week Project Heavy Duty celebrated another year of giving selected secondary students the opportunity to learn about, and actually operate, many kinds of heavy equipment. Under the close supervision of qualified instructors and operators, students received five days of hands-on training with such equipment as crawler/dozers, excavators, graders, rock trucks and a variety of logging equipment as they performed industry standard jobs on a real work site.

Over the years many local contractors, businesses and other agencies have been generous in supplying equipment, operators, facilities, fuel, food, first aid, security, communications equipment and the other services required for the project. Over the years project supporters have included diverse businesses including a local paper, a financial institution, several contractors, oil companies and other community partners.  The project is scheduled for a full week in late spring Students selected for the project do not attend regular classes, but report for field work during that time.

Safety is a top concern for everyone involved. Students receive training in first aid and site safety. They must also attend presentations from Worksafe BC before entering a work site. All Worksafe guidelines for standard work sites are followed on site, and students receive one on one safety instruction from qualified operators before working any piece of equipment. At all times students are overseen by qualified operators, and site supervisors are assigned to each area of the project. Absolutely no horseplay is tolerated.. This is a working project, with real life equipment, rules and expectations.

Students who take part in this project benefit in many ways. Their hands-on experience with heavy equipment gives them skills for possible future employment, exposure to different career choices, opportunities to meet and impress potential employers, and to experience a real life job site.  The district benefits as well. This year the project was held on the grounds of the soon to be constructed Ma Murray Community Elementary School helping prep the site for the construction that is to come.

A project of this nature needs special people at the controls. District Principal Richard Koop has been with the program since its inception. Previously a school based administrator, Richard has been able to combine his lifelong passion for construction and industrial training, with his considerable talents as an teacher and administrator. Project Heavy Duty and the district's  Residential Construction Program are his key responsibilities. Selecting the students and guiding these programs, Richard has been instrumental in providing hundreds of students alternate paths to educational success. Working with Richard is Donny Goodbun. Now at an age where others might consider retiring, Donny continues to step up every year. His dedicated efforts and vast experience are appreciated by everyone. Heavy Duty has become a family project for the Goodbuns, as  sons Trent and Tyrell, former SD60 students, are now two of the operators working with our current students.

Project Heavy Duty is a great example of how SD 60 works to make learning relevant and important for everyone. Its curious that the benefits and learning outcomes from projects such as this one don't get the same level of recognition in school ranking processes as other more formal assessments or government exams. Certainly the students recognize the benefits. Many of them cite the week as the best learning they've ever had. From the organizers, to the sponsors, to the students, to our community partners, Project Heavy Duty is an opportunity where everyone comes away enriched.