Not sure if back in 1972 Alice Cooper had any idea that a song he penned would see annual popularity for decades, but School’s Out for the summer here in New Westminster. It’s been a huge year for the New Westminster School District and Board of Education. The obvious feather in their cap is the announcement that the provincial government has, at long last, allocated funding and approved a plan for a new high school to be built before 2019. Colour me impressed. I, along with many others, have been critical of the delays, and even started researching ways to homeschool my child before the announcement. I still remain a bit reserved and will “believe it when I see it”, but I feel good about it and am breathing a sigh of relief.
The recent byelection (which had abysmally low voter turnout at just over 4% of the voting populace – this is a whole post unto itself) saw Mary Lalji elected into the position by only 60 votes. If you look carefully at the polling station numbers, it was really decided at Ecolé Glenbrook Middle School.
Something I heard more than once was that people didn’t really understand what trustees did, and didn’t really think it mattered to them who was in charge if they didn’t have children in the system. I’ve written about it before on Tenth but the TL; DR version is that trustees set policy, approve budgets and act as overseers to the way the district runs, and, by extension, the way the schools fit into our community. Big picture: they help churn out great kids despite budget shortfalls, which improves our community’s feel and value.
To help dispel the myths and get a summary of how the 2015/2016 school year went on a board level, I reached out to Jonina Campbell, Chair of the New Westminster Board of Education. Many thanks to Jonina for her time in putting all of this information together for me.
Note: this post is enormous, as there is so much to report, so I’ve indexed it here if you want to jump around in the post.
- New High School
- Policy Notes
- Broadening and Modernizing
- Fiscal Management
- New Curriculum
- Supporting Vulnerable Students
- Keeping Kids Engaged Over the Summer
A New High School, Finally
I truly credit Campbell with keeping everyone on the same page and staying positive to work toward the high school announcement despite the uncertainty and stress. “The funding announcement for a new NWSS is unequivocally the highlight of the school year. To describe the funding announcement as ‘much anticipated’ is an understatement,” says Campbell.
Part of what makes her the right person to lead the Board is her insistence that she thank everyone involved. “I want to again acknowledge and thank everyone involved, in particular, the Minister of Education and his Ministry, district staff, my fellow trustees on the Board, the City of New Westminster, our local MLA, Judy Darcy, and the parents, students and NWSS staff who were strong advocates for this project.”
So, what really are the next steps for NWSS? “The School District has been very busy since the announcement,” says Campbell. “We have been working with Mark Pucsek at Partnerships BC to establish a highly qualified team who will complete the stakeholder consultations. We anticipate signing an agreement with Partnerships BC to provide project direction.”
Campbell acknowledges that families in New Westminster will want to stay involved and informed, and once the plan is sorted out they intend to make sure that happens. “We know that communication to and consultation with, our community is essential. We will be sending out a request for communication services to ensure our public is kept informed on a regular basis. A procurement coordinator position will also be filled in the near future and this person will work with Mark Pucsek as the school district’s representative on the project.”
The Board passed a motion to support Corine’s Quest’s goal to have Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada repealed and wrote letters to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Premier of B.C., and Federal and Provincial ministers in Justice, Health and Education. The Board then successfully campaigned at the BCSTA AGM to have the same petition for repeal taken to the Canadian Trustees Association this summer.
Campbell is very proud of the work the Board did in acknowledging the traditional territory of the Qayqayt First Nation, as well as all Coast Salish Peoples, and embraced a policy to acknowledge them at large celebrations, Board meetings and facility openings. Campbell credits the Aboriginal Education advisory committee for their role in work.
The Syrian Refugee crisis cast a much needed spotlight on the global refugee crisis, even at our district level. “New Westminster schools have always been welcoming and caring places for all students,” says Campbell, but she notes that there was significant additional efforts made by staff, students and the community to ensure the transition for newcomers was as supportive as possible. Campbell also says that the Board “wrote a draft policy on Sanctuary Schools, that if passed, would ensure students, regardless of immigration status, have a safe and welcoming environment to learn without fear of being deported or detained. The draft policy will go out for consultation in September 2016.”
Among other policies (and they have a LOT, you should take a look at their alphabetical index, it is really overwhelming) the District established a Gender & Sexual Diversity Inclusion Policy a year ago and at the time they created a standing committee to explore and make recommendations regarding the policy. “This committee started meeting this year and I am anticipating that we will have some recommendations for not only improving our policy but also, some concrete changes we can make in our district, like gender neutral bathrooms, that will continue to make our schools more safe and inclusive for students and staff,” reports Campbell.
Broadening and Modernizing
A fresh new brand – New Westminster Schools – with a newly redesigned district logo was released a few months ago, and while there will be those who think this was a poor use of money, I know first hand that strong and clean branding can help set a tone, make employees feel boosted, and generally refresh a reputation. Money well spent, in my opinion. Campbell also reports that they will be engaging in a strategic planning process with valued stakeholders next year to create a vision of where they want to go as a district.
May Day celebrations are exciting events for students and families; I know my son has really enjoyed his experiences in the past two years. “There is, however, a desire to review school district-hosted May Day events from an educational lens,” says Campbell. The Board created a committee that includes parent representation to undertake this review and it will report back with some recommendations that will go out for consultation this upcoming fall. If you have strong opinions about May Day – positive or negative – you should keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to provide feedback and make sure you get your voice heard.
In partnership with Fraser Health, the school district created a Healthy Schools Visioning Report and a proposed action plan for implementing key recommendations to improve the social, emotional, physical and academic health of students. Campbell credits this work’s success to strong collaborations. “They [the committee responsible for the Healthy Schools Visioning] have really strong partnerships with Fraser Health, the City, and Ministry of Children and Family Development. Healthy students learn better and we very much value the partnerships we have with the community in order to better support our students. A fantastic example of this partnership is the ever growing annual Hyacks In Motion family run/walk & health fair. In the past, the event was run by the NWSS sport leadership cohort but this year they joined up with the Healthy Community Partnership Committee, of which SD40 is a member, and received additional support. It is a great of example of what is possible when we work together.”
The school district continues to broaden opportunities for students. “We have an amazing teaching staff and I am very excited that several teachers will be teaching some very exciting new courses next year,” reports Campbell.
“NWSS will offer Basketball 9-12; Foundations of Coaching 12; Bicycle Maintenance and Repair 12; Musical Theatre 9-12; and History Through Film 12. These courses are not provincially required and as such they are approved by the Board of Education.”
For these classes to be approved, it is teacher(s)-initiated. Each teacher or teachers would bring forward a proposal to the Board of Education for approval. It would include an overview, rationale, and unit descriptions. The teacher or teachers would also outline who will teach the course, credentials required to teach it, grade level, prerequisites, and course credits.
“Academies” are something you might be hearing a lot about lately. These “school within a school” models are becoming more popular in modern education (here’s an older, but good primer on what they are) and the New Westminster Board of Education passed a Sports and Fine Arts Academies Policy this past year. “I am thrilled to see our first academy, a Hockey Academy, starting in September 2016. Our hope is that more academy and fine arts proposals are successful in creating a wide variety of engaging and exciting opportunities for students,” Campbell says.
“It is no secret that our district was years behind other districts but we are catching up fast when it comes to technology,” says Campbell.
“Last summer we hired an incredible Director of Technology, Chris Sabiston [follow him on Twitter, here – he tweets great educational tech-based stuff]. It is extraordinary what Chris and his very hard working team have accomplished in one year. So much in fact that the Board recognized and thanked them for their work at Tuesday’s final Board meeting. [Another tech team member, Stacey Robinsmith, also shares a lot of good stuff on Twitter.]”
Campbell provided a comprehensive list of accomplishments of the technology department alone, and it’s impressive. “The focus and mandate of the department of Information and Technology is to provide students, teachers and staff with the tools and access they need to learn, work, explore, collaborate, communicate, create and ultimately find their passion and succeed with an understanding that our goal is to provide this Access and Opportunity in a sustainable environment – taking into consideration ongoing cost and management as well as ongoing changes in technology,” she explained.
Innovation Learning Grants were also offered to provide an opportunity for school teams to work together on ways to increase students’ engagement in their own learning. Many of these projects integrated technology, such as 3D printers and Google apps for education. Several classes and/or teachers presented to the Board and Campbell says “It was really amazing to see not only what they are learning but how invested the students are in their learning.”
The New Westminster School district is financially in a good position according to Campbell, and they anticipate ending the 2015/2016 school year with a small surplus of about $400,000. At their April 26 Board meeting [agenda and minutes here, the draft budget is in the agenda], the trustees passed a budget for the 2016/2017 school year that has considerations for the costs associated with the opening of a new middle school, additional salary costs that will result from lifting the exempt staff salary freeze, and a small decline in enrolment projections. Campbell also noted that next year’s budget will add new money into technology and literacy and says the District has made considerable improvements over the last year in providing access to technology for students and teachers. Adding in $100,000 to technology will also allow them to roll out wifi across the district.
“Now that we have financial stability in New Westminster and we’ve retired the deficit, we’ve been able to really focus on education,” says Campbell.
“Our Board of Education is committed to putting New Westminster on the path to becoming a flagship district. Though we have lots of work to do, and we are up to that challenge, I am thrilled with our progress to date. The report we created, Teaching and Learning in Diverse Classrooms has guided our budget process by identifying areas we need to focus on in order to make our students successful. Key themes from this report include: engagement and personalized learning, social emotional well-being and healthy lifestyles, technology and learning and communicating about student learning.”
“Education in BC has been undergoing many positive changes for the past 5 years and are the result of collaborative work between all of our education partners and the Ministry of Education,” says Campbell. She points to a few key quotes from the Ministry of Education’s website to provide some context:
To develop new models, the Ministry consulted with education experts both locally and internationally. They agree that to prepare students for the future, the curriculum must be student-centred and flexible, and maintain a focus on literacy and math skills, while supporting deeper learning.
What and how we teach our students has been redesigned to provide greater flexibility for teachers, while allowing space and time for students to develop their skills and explore their passions and interests. The deep understanding and application of knowledge is at the centre of the new model, as opposed to the memory and recall of facts that previously shaped education around the globe for many decades.
Our new curriculum maintains a focus on sound foundations of literacy and math skills.
Every student will continue to be connected to the basics of reading, writing and math. These critical skills are the foundation of B.C.’s education system, and are a key component of developing an educated citizen.
As for how the new curriculum will be implemented in New Westminster – teachers have been exploring the redesigned curriculum in many Kindergarten to Grade 9 classrooms for a couple of years. “With the implementation in September 2016 of the K-9 redesigned curriculum,” says Campbell, “the District will continue to assist teachers with the implementation by providing resources and pedagogical support through our District Curriculum Facilitators, and our entire District Leadership Team. Principals and Vice Principals will also play a key role in providing similar support.”
Campbell is clear that one of the district’s greatest resources is the teachers themselves, and so far with my three years experience as a parent of a child in the district, I’d agree.
“The teachers and the support staff in the New Westminster School District have a very high standard of professionalism and this high quality of pedagogical practice will assist us greatly as we implement the Redesigned Curriculum. It won’t happen overnight, it will be more a gradual shift.”
Supporting Vulnerable Students – Child & Youth Care Workers
“The Ministry of Education announced that school districts would no longer have to find the required administrative savings which made available a total of $295,000 to be reallocated,” said Campbell. “Staff brought forward a plan for the savings which included a district resource teacher, additional occupational and physical therapy, a grad coach for Aboriginal students, child care worker time, and additional resources in literacy, STEM and makerspace. At our Operations Policy and Planning Committee, there was discussion on how the Child and youth care worker FTE was being distributed across the schools given the reconfiguration to the Middle School Model. Some schools have had a 1.0 FTE and with the movement of students, staff spoke to the need to have child and youth care services at all the middle and elementary schools. The new plan adds a 1.0 FTE to support this change.”
However, local parent and Lord Kelvin PAC President Natalie Lawy launched a Change.org petition to protest the reorganization of how the district allocates the Child and Youth Care Workers (CYCWs) that came along with the redistribution plan brought forward. She maintains that this restructuring is at the expense of children who are vulnerable and need CYCW’s the most. Qayqayt, Kelvin, and
At the Board meeting on Tuesday night, The Board opted to reject the preferred recommendation brought forward by staff on how to distribute some unexpected funds that had become available after the announcement from the Ministry that administrative savings were being redirected back to districts. The Board instead instead voted for “option 2” which does mean instead of 4.0 FTE CYCWs, there will be 5.0 FTE CYCWs. However choosing option 2 does mean that some of the proposed items won’t happen, such as a maker space, some of the literacy items, a teacher partnership, and a proposed redesign of some curriculum resources. To understand what the options were, check out the agenda here, and skip to page 68 – all of the items in red are now not included, but additional CYWC time is.
The decision to rejig the way the CYCWs work was done after careful research, according to Campbell.
“We have key documents and reports, such as the Teaching and Learning in Diverse Classrooms and the Student Achievement Report, that guide decision-making in the district. In addition to enrolment numbers and consulting with school staff, I know staff also rely on data like the EDI, MDI and the Social Services Index to identify needs and target support. I have said this many times over, we could do more with more funding, but we are in a position where we have to deliver the best possible education and support services to our students with the money we have.”
Keeping Kids Engaged Over Summer
Campbell has a few recommendations for keeping kids engaged over the summer. The Kids New West Summer Activity Guide and New West Parks and Recreation Guide are great places to start to find affordable, fun and local activities for your kids this summer. But she also makes a fairly strong case for not over-planning.
“As a parent I know that summer presents a great opportunity for our kids to either try something new or to further a skill they already have, by signing up for a summer camp or activity. But I also think summer is the perfect time for our children to have more unstructured time and more time outside. Kids are so busy during the school year and it is important to give them time to self-organize and take initiative in what they want to do. There is a lot of research that shows that unstructured, and especially, outside time, preferably, in nature, is critical to our kids’s mental and physical health. I know screen time can be real challenge — it is in my own house — but I have to keep reminding myself of the long game and what I want for my children in 10 years. It is okay for kids to say they are bored, they won’t stay bored long, trust that they will find something to do. Silken Laumann’s Child’s Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in Our Families and Communities is a great resource for game ideas and for building a strong case for just letting kids play. Happy summer and see you in September!”