The Golden Rule
Fri Oct 05 00:00:00 NDT 2018

“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.

Sincerely,

Tony

PREVIOUS THREE ENTRIES
So Ends Another Chapter...
Tue Jun 26 00:00:00 NDT 2018

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.

1, 2, 3...We Can Excel in Numeracy
Thu Mar 15 00:00:00 NDT 2018

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.

Sincerely,

Tony

A School Community Approach to Improving Literacy
Wed Feb 21 00:00:00 NST 2018

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.

Sincerely,

Tony

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  - Frederick Douglass

Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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