WCPS school board considers specific goals for the future

Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent Larry Jacobs presented a draft document at the regular meeting

Wolf Creek Public Schools superintendent Larry Jacobs presented a draft document at the regular meeting of the board of trustees on Wednesday, March 4 outlining four major focus areas for the trustees to consider as the division moves forward in adjusting to the curriculum changes being introduced by Education Alberta.

The document, prepared as instructed by the board, outlines four specific areas:

• Literacy and numeracy

• Teacher excellence

• Student and staff wellness

• Equitable access to resources

Jacobs said some of the points in the document are practiced at WCPS for some years.

Literacy and numeracy

This is one of the most important areas for both Jacobs and trustees.

“It’s an absolutely imperative direction to go for students that are struggling but you’ll notice also it’s part of a ministerial order in Inspiring Education,” said Jacobs.

He suggests there are ways to determine a student’s growth with tools such as Read 180 and Literacy for All. Grades 7 to 12 are showing the biggest struggle with reading and the division is putting in much effort to improving that skill.

“We’re gathering all those strategies together and we’ll be able to show you the types of strategies that teachers are using with their skill set,” said Jacobs.

Teacher excellence

Sometimes interviewing a candidate as a teacher may not bring the best results, explained Jacobs.

A person may know the right phrases and terms to use to get them into a school but he suggests the best experience, something WCPS already does, in evaluating a teacher is by seeing them in the classroom.

“While we can propose outcomes/strategies that will move the concept of ‘teacher’ excellence forward, I would also suggest that we consider that ‘excellence’ cannot stand alone; it must be measured in reference to demonstrated evidence of performance capability,” explained Jacobs in the document.

Jacobs told trustees that schools spend a lot of time with first year teachers to help them transition and gain knowledge of the goals of WCPS.

Student and staff wellness

Jacobs wants to ensure mental health and wellness of both students and staff is considered. He said the board of trustees’ main focus was on students but Jacobs said staff had not been considered as in depth.

“What I ask us to consider is maybe expanding that a little bit and allow me to bring some tools into play,” said Jacobs.

Lack of involvement from teachers usually means they are feeling underappreciated. Jacobs said he wants to find supports for teachers by providing questionnaires on how they feel.

“The trouble is, and we do this all as a people, when things are going well we don’t say anything,” said Jacobs.

He referred to a saying regarding positive and negative feedback and how many positive comments are needed to undo the impact of a negative comment.

“So if a person perceives that they are not doing a good job, it takes seven to 10 powerful comments before their self-confidence raises back up again,” he explained.

Jacobs suggests the survey will help define directions WCPS needs to go to get student and staff engagement.

Equitable access to resources

Determining equitable access to resources was one area Jacobs feels is difficult to assess. In the draft document, Jacobs feels the impending Alberta Budget 2015 announcement and other factors will create a challenge to do this at WCPS.

“This is an extremely difficult initiative because of the staffing and programming capability of our smaller school sites, which will be compounded by the impending budget reductions forecast by the province,” writes Jacobs.

“No matter what we do, our small school sites will not be able to offer programming choices that are offered at our larger and more efficient sites,” he added.

Jacobs suggested one option for trustees to consider is bringing students in smaller schools to the larger ones for specific projects.

“It’s easier for me to create equitable opportunities for students than it is for schools,” he told trustees.

Board of trustees’ focus

Board of trustees chairperson Trudy Bratland said in an interview these priorities are in no particular order but more to give them a chance to align priorities with WCPS’s vision.

“The biggest challenge is the equity piece,” said Bratland. “Because of the sizes of the schools and the offerings of the schools.”

A rural school will not have the same offerings as École Secondaire Lacombe Composite High School. She suggests this issue of funding for smaller rural schools is more of a provincial issue.

She feels for better opportunities to occur, the province must consider changes in its funding model.

Trustees did not make any decisions on the document as they wanted time to read it over.