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Horizon School Division
Creating a better world, one student at a time.
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March 30, 2021 - a message from Kevin C. Garinger, Director of Education

March 30, 2021


INTRODUCTION

Hello Horizon. I apologize for my hiatus from TWIH as I was addressing issues with illness over the last couple of weeks. It is interesting, I had a comment from a staff member who indicated that, in our world today, it is almost sad that we are grateful that we have bronchitis and not Covid-19. I suppose such is the nature of the world we are in. I am finally feeling like I am on the mend but it reminds me of the significant journey so many of us and our family members are on as they deal with illness. If I could say one thing, it is that your health is so vital during these challenging times. Please look after it. I was indicating to my father that, due to my illness, I will need to stay away from people to protect their health. He reminded me that my system is compromised, and I need to stay away for my sake as well. This was an important thing to hear and such a good reminder…if we are sick, we need to stay home. Not only can it lead to further illness if we don’t take care of it for ourselves, but keeping ourselves safe, it affords us the opportunity to support others when we are healthy. “Do it for yourself”, is not a selfish message…I think it is selfless.

A YEAR AGO…

March 19 marked one year since the COVID-19 pandemic closed our Saskatchewan schools. This has been such a challenging 12 months for countless reasons. COVID-19 has impacted and continues to impact, people across our system. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been and is currently affected by the virus. Last March started us on a journey through Supplemental Learning, outdoor graduation ceremonies, months of planning for our return to classrooms and learning from home in the fall. We created a new school called the Horizon Learning From Home School, we developed a Return to Sport plan and continued many new practices for safety and learning. Our students, families, and communities have been outstanding. Our Board and our staff – from teachers and school-based staff, itinerant staff and people in the office, facilities, and transportation – deserve a huge thanks for keeping our system going. A brief video message was shared through our social media and website relaying this important message and saying thank you to each and every one of you.

BOARD ELECTIONS REVIEW

Our Board of Education has struck a committee to review the election process for the next local government election. The plan is to review things now while they are fresh in our minds and to synthesize considerations for this practice. The committee has held their first meeting and already there have been some important considerations that are being reviewed for the next election. The ad-hoc committee members include Trustees, Dana Stefanson, Edward Bitternose, Jennifer Lemky, and Mark Fedak, as well as ex-officio members, Jim Hack (chair) and Linda Mattock (vice-chair).

WORLD DOWN SYNDROME DAY

Sunday, March 21st was World Down Syndrome Day, celebrating the incredible people in our lives, schools, and communities who have Down Syndrome. I will encourage you to visit the website linked above for some great resources and information. Some of our schools marked this day by encouraging students to wear mismatched socks for the #RockYourSocks awareness campaign. I thank you everyone for taking the time to celebrate and spread awareness of this important day.

MEETINGS WITH HEALTH

I joined multiple meetings with our school division partners and MHOs from both Saskatoon and Regina as well as other meetings with Dr. Shahab and the ministries of health and education. Through each, the consistent message is that we need to stay our course. My office relayed a Q&A document and letter from Saskatoon Region Medical Health Officer, Dr. Simon Kapaj, regarding the emerging Variants of Concern (VOC) in Saskatchewan. You can find that Q&A document on our website, here. We are very grateful to have the partnership and support of the SHA in our collective work to keep our students, staff, schools, and communities safe. As I will share, Variants of Concern (VOC) are playing significant concern in our province and beyond. Currently, the south seems to be hit the hardest with a record number of adults under 65 in hospitals because of health issues related to Covid-19 exposure.

I am also including a link that I think is worthwhile from Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, MHO for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, who has shared the importance of considering our continued due diligence during the pandemic as we address the Variants of Concern (VOC). I suggest it is worthwhile for everyone to review her presentation as a reminder of what we need to do every day to prevent the spread of the virus.

GRADUATION 2021

I was afforded the opportunity to represent LEADS on a committee with the president of Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA), Shawn Davidson and members of the provincial Business Response Team (BRT). The BRT is the organization that sets the guidelines for Saskatchewan through the Reopen Saskatchewan Plan found on the government of Saskatchewan website. Our focus was on the provincial graduation guidelines and considerations for a safe and effective processes for this year’s grad ceremonies in Saskatchewan. Likely the most key messages that came out of the discussions was that consistency is important and that graduations should be pushed as late as possible into the year, meaning June at a minimum. Most Horizon grads are set for at least the end of May so hopefully guidelines will be in place that can allow for these graduations to occur effectively. When I know more, I will be letting administrators know and if changes to the dates are required, well, we have been there before and carried out 16 outdoor graduations in a truly incredible fashion.

LANIGAN CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL PROJECT

We held the first of four virtual meetings with stakeholders in Lanigan, gathering feedback for the ongoing planning and development for Lanigan School. We were very excited to begin this part of the process, and I want to thank our architecture firm, Group 2, for facilitating these sessions. I also want to thank the Lanigan stakeholder, including our students from Lanigan Central, Lanigan Elementary, and Drake School for their excellent feedback and their ongoing engagement in this exciting project. Our next meeting is scheduled for March 31st and I anticipate some even more significant results that will ultimately lead this project toward an incredible outcome…a state of the art school for Lanigan and area and Horizon, as a whole.

COLLABORATION

This past week began with a Collaborative Learning Day. I want to thank our staff for sharing their ideas and discussions with colleagues across the division through a virtual platform. I cannot overstate the importance of collaborative practice. Author, Brené Brown puts it this way, “Collaboration requires daring leadership from everyone on the team. It means having tough conversations, staying curious, and learning how to listen”. John Hattie quantifies collaboration or “collective efficacy of teachers (staff)” as the second-highest effect size (~1.57) for improving student learning, nearly twice as high as feedback and three times higher than the effect of classroom management. Hattie has stated that a school staff that believes it can collectively accomplish great things is vital for the health of a school. I know this year has been different than we would like to see it when it comes to getting together to discuss our practices and work toward this collective understanding. We also know this…pandemics are temporary. I expect the 2021-22 school year will look much more like what normal has been for us pre-Covid-19 and I remain optimistic that the knowledge we have gained to date, on how to meet together when we are required to be apart, will allow us the ability to collaborate more effectively into the future.

CALENDAR 2021-22 AND…

I also met with the Director’s Leadership Team, and took part in a Special Meeting of our Board, during which our Trustees approved the 2021-2022 school year calendar. We have shared a memo to all staff regarding the calendar and the decision that we have made to move toward what my Board and I have deemed to be an innovation for Horizon. One of the major considerations in calendar development is whether it is good for children, families, and staff. I believe the 2021-22 calendar will afford tremendous options for teachers and other professional and support staff to have days to catch up on the important work of planning and preparing for children. These “Personal Professional Days” (likely referred to from now on as PPD’s) will also allow for both self-development as well as collaborative time, at the discretion of professional staff. These days will also mean 5 fewer days on buses for nearly 40% of our student population yet allow for a few extra hours of time in front of teachers to support instruction. Mental wellness and brain health are so vital, and this was especially amplified during this pandemic. These days will provide a much-needed opportunity for our students, families, and staff to address mental health wellness. Families will have opportunity to enjoy time together and staff will be able to have the time they need to for self-development at their discretion. I have heard many share how much they look forward to these days and it the hope of the Board and my office that they will serve the needs of everyone in Horizon as they were intended. I have also heard some say that the preparation time that they have been given during the school day will be removed because these days exist. That has never been even a remote consideration. As a matter of fact, I’ve only heard that through the proverbial grapevine. I suppose some might say it is about trust and others might consider it to be about lack of understanding. I will say this…the Board and I want to hear from staff. We asked for your thoughts and opinions in a Thoughtexchange because we want to know. The HTA president, who I meet with regularly throughout the year, conducted a similar study through the HTA membership and we were happy to see the triangulation of the data led to nearly the exact same understanding. And because of what many of you shared, we adjusted the calendar to support you recognizing clearly that you have the capacity to significantly impact the needs of our children.

Remembering back to when supplemental learning started, Horizon provided time between closing schools and the startup of supplemental learning. Why? Because we wanted time for staff to be as prepared as possible for this new journey with children. Were we the only ones who did this? No. But we certainly stood out because it was not afforded everywhere. This does not mean what we did was better or worse than what others did…it means that we used our own rationale for meeting staff needs and we did what we felt was best for our students. Yes, we took a day away from noon supervision because it was determined that it wasn’t earned. But we gave it back at the beginning of the 2020-21 year, increasing noon supervision days to 4 from 3…because it was needed with all the extra people did. Most understand and recognize that changes are made, and innovations are initiated to support the needs of students and staff. If it doesn’t have an impact on meeting needs, we should all question why we would do it. I know this innovation is in the hearts and minds of the Board and of nearly everyone across the system. This calendar, we anticipate, will have a significant impact on learning as it supports each of our staff and families. I don’t wish this year away for our kids and each of you…but I do look forward to how much better the 2021-22 school year will be for so many reasons, including the calendar.

BUDGET 2021-22

The Board’s audit committee will be meeting on March 31st and although the focus will be on a look back at how we are doing budget to actuals, there is also great anticipation from our Board and all of us in Horizon for the budget day announcement on April 1st. Randy, Darrell, and Todd have been engaged in human resource discussions with principals while Sandy and Justin have been having discussions with administrators on school-based budgets and equipment needs. I thank everyone for their work and their willingness to share their insights as we prepare for the next budget cycle. I have been asked my opinion on what I think the budget will look like. Although we will never truly know until our embargoed meeting on April 1st, we do know that the province has had to address the pandemic as each school division has. We get the funding from the province and I believe they will dedicate as much as they can to each sector within government. Our Board has been a strong advocate for lots of things and funding is just one of these. We hope to sustain everything we have and even add where we can…but only time will tell. More to come after the break. 

IN CLOSING…

As we near the Easter Break, I want to share a message from our Board Chair, Mr. Jim Hack.

“On behalf of the Board, I wanted to share a message to everyone across Horizon. Please enjoy the Easter break with your families. You have endured so much and given so much to the children of Horizon. These breaks are the time for you to relax and recharge your batteries as each of us prepares for the journey toward the end of the school year. Enjoy your holidays, everyone and please stay safe.”


Easter, as Jim indicates, will once again look different that we likely want it to. It is just as important as ever that, during our time away from school, that we stay vigilant in our efforts to stop the spread of this virus. A letter from Dr. Kapaj, MHO with the SHA, will be coming out to all families and staff across Horizon School Division in the next few days to thank them for what they have done and to remind them of the importance of this continued due diligence. We are not immune from issues in our system. To date, we have experienced several cases of Covid-19 in our schools and communities and it has led to community members being hospitalized and, in the worst-case scenario, having passed away. As you enjoy the time this break to rest and relax, I want to thank you for continuing to follow the health orders and the guidelines that our province has put in place to keep us safe. Our world looks different today than it used to look. We knew so very little about the virus and today, we have much more effective means by which we can keep each other safe. We have tools to prevent the spread of the virus through improved sanitation measures and hygiene. And we have figured out so much about how to keep the learning moving forward when we need to be apart. But we can’t continue to keep our schools, communities, province, and beyond safe without the efforts of each individual. Thank you for continuing to rise to the challenge and for being the frontline heroes you are and continue to be.

Have a great rest of your week and a wonderful Easter holiday, Horizon! Stay safe and enjoy the time with your family.

- Kevin

Kevin C. Garinger  B.Ed., M.A.Ed.
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205