Magrath Modernization Progress

Work continues to progress on Magrath School Modernization Project. 

This week our Administration team toured the school with the contractor to see how to project is coming along. The Elementary School renovation has been moving at a great pace! Nearly all students will be moved back into the classrooms in the elementary school area so that work can begin on other areas of the school. The move of the students will happen on April 27-28, and there will be no school in the elementary school for those two days to accommodate the move. Mr. Sabey is inviting parents to come for a tour of the finished portions of the building on May 1 at 9:00 AM and 8:00 PM.

For now, the High School students will be staying where they are, except for the band classroom, which will move into the ice arena so work can start in their room, and other classes will move as work progresses in the coming weeks and months. 

As the project continues to roll forward and we see the building come together, piece by piece, we would like to thank the community and our partners for your support in this project. This will be a world class educational facility that will help Magrath grow and help educate children for decades to come. Your support has been and will continue to be an essential element behind the success of this project. We will provide more updates on the status of this project as the weeks go by and we get closer to reopening the space to students and the public.

End of Basketball

March was a month of intense effort for our basketball teams. We had teams playing at the 1A, 3A, and 4A levels. The performances of our student athletes were incredible. We would like to offer sincere congratulations to all our teams in every sport.

Congratulations to the student athletes. Winning graciously and losing with poise are learned skills. Being able to celebrate excellent performances on your team is easy, being able to equally celebrate excellent performances from your opponent is a difficult task, but is the essence of sportsmanship.

Congratulations to our volunteer coaches. Graciously donating your time to school sports teams is an incredible investment in your community, in your students, and in your love of the sport. None of our coaches are professional sports coaches. More than half our coaches are not teachers at the school, and only 20% of our teachers are involved in coaching. But 100% of our coaches are interested and dedicated community members and parents. We thank all our volunteer coaches for your donated time and for your example of positive community involvement.

Congratulations to our parents and fans. Attending the games, cheering for both teams, and finding clever ways to celebrate excellent performances is a difficult task, but one which many of you have done admirably. It was inspiring to see some displays of sportsmanship and camaraderie in the stands between fans of different teams playing on the court. We know there were some egregious examples of unsportsmanlike conduct from our parents and fans. We hope that we can all learn that those outbursts are harmful to all of us, while examples of sportsmanship build us all up.

We will still get to see excellent performances from student athletes in cheerleading, badminton, track and field, and rugby in this school year. We extend to you our best wishes, and preemptive congratulations.

Kaitlin McMitchell, Edwin Parr Award Nominee

Spring Glen Elementary School is a small school on the northwestern boundary of Westwind School Division. They were very fortunate to have hired an excellent teacher in 2016, who we are nominating for the Edwin Parr Award. Kailin McMitchell is a new teacher in her first year teaching after completing her university degree. She has a major in English language arts and a minor in social studies. During her university career, she received the Jason Lang Scholarship two years in a row, as well as the Simpson-Markinch Award. She graduated with Great Distinction in both her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degree paths. 

At Spring Glen Elementary Ms. McMitchell has been teaching Grade 2. She focuses on fostering literacy skills in her students and on having personal interactions with all the students and staff at the school. Principal Kelly Thomas remarked, “She has been able to get very close to all of her students and they know that she is someone they can trust, they feel safe around her and she builds them up all the time.”

Principal Thomas also spoke to the importance of having a new teacher who is dedicated to expanding their skills, “Ms. McMitchell is a great teacher in part because she has developed a large repertoire of instructional strategies she uses throughout the day. She uses mindfulness breaks while instructing to help increase the focus of students.” Mr. Thomas explained that Ms. McMitchell is always trying to understand how each student learns best, and how to empower their potential as learners and as people. 

For these reasons and many others, Westwind School Division is proud to nominate Kaitlin McMitchell for the Edwin Parr Award this year. 

Edwin Parr was a homesteader and school board trustee in the Athabasca School Division in the 1920s. He was involved in selecting new teachers and stressed to the applicants that they must go beyond the duties normally expected of teachers. He was adamant that they make the students feel at home so that they would finish high school and have the opportunity to continue their education. He was especially interested in the performance of first-year teachers and often visited the schools after hours to talk to the principals about the new teachers. With Edwin Parr, children came first and he expected every teacher to feel the same. He wanted teachers to be a positive influence in the community. They were encouraged to visit the children’s homes and attend Home and School Association meetings.

Edwin Parr’s interest in first-year teachers led to his school division instituting an “Annual Teacher Award.” He encouraged the Alberta School Trustees’ Association to consider a similar award at the provincial level but his dream was not realized in his time. In searching for a way to perpetuate the memory of a man who served as the Alberta School Trustees’ Association’s president from 1956 to 1962 and to honour the profession he so deeply respected, the Association established the Edwin Parr Teacher Award. The award is presented each year to a novice teacher who demonstrates initial teaching proficiency.

Basketball

Over the past two weeks we have seen student athletes and volunteer coaches participating in zone playoffs. As we are entering the basketball provincials season we would like to remind all our student athletes, our coaches, and especially our parents, fans, and community members about some basic things for this season.

School sports are a great way to encourage physical fitness and active lifestyles in participants. Team members learn to work as a group, to strategize collectively, and to follow a plan. All participants learn to deal effectively with both winning and losing graciously. School sports can teach athletes, coaches, and spectators important life lessons, and in our communities they are a prime source of community entertainment, culture, pride, and even identity.

School sports can also have negative impacts on students, schools, and communities when not approached with care and respect. The students, the coaches, and the referees in school sports are not sports professionals. Our students are young people who do their best. Our coaches are mostly not teachers, 80% of our teachers do not coach sports teams, and all are community members like yourself. They volunteer for our students’ benefit. Our referees are not perfect, nor do they have the technological tools, the training, or the extensive experience that referees in professional sports have. Regardless of who they are or their backgrounds, everyone at our sporting events is deserving of your kindness, patience, and respect. 

All our athletes, coaches, and referees have sportsmanship codes that they try to live by. These include treating opposing players and teams with dignity, respect and honour; maintaining self control at all times; being considerate and courteous to everyone, including athletes, coaches, referees, and spectators alike; and recognizing excellence, regardless of the team accomplishing them. We ask parents and spectators to also live by similar codes of honour and sportsmanship.

This year we remind and ask parents and spectators to be extra kind to the people you know at sporting events, and the people you don’t know; to the people you are cheering for and to those you aren’t. Westwind Schools and communities must be welcoming, safe, caring, and respectful places for all to visit and participate in.

 

Eye on Education: High School and your Community

In the current context of Alberta and across North America, rural communities are struggling to maintain their place in an increasingly urbanized society.  Yet for many, the value of the rural experience is of great importance.  Recently Doug Griffiths, a former Alberta MLA and cabinet minister, reflected on the excellent footing he received from his own background as a youth and a teacher in rural Alberta at the Rural Education Symposium in Edmonton.  In his book, “13 Ways To Kill Your Community,” he identifies the following as some of the ways to grow our communities…  Ensuring that you are attracting business, engaging youth, shopping at home, collaborating with partners, and welcoming our Sr. citizens, are among Griffiths’ key messages.  

In southern Alberta, many of our rural communities are thriving and growing even against some of the struggles that urbanization presents.  Of particular note, engaging youth is a critical piece for rural communities.  I was pleased to attend a number of games in the Southern Alberta 4A Boys and Girls zone basketball tournament this past weekend.  In this event, schools of all sizes in the south were competing for a zone title as well as the right to contend for a provincial crown.  School by school, and game after game, I observed students, parents and communities come out to support their teams.  The student sections at courtside in the University of Lethbridge gym became the scene of significant emotion and energy.  

What a great event!  It is perhaps the finest basketball tournament in the province.  A capacity crowd was on hand on Saturday night to witness the championship game between Raymond and Magrath.  Theses are the two smallest schools in the 4A league, and some disappointed fans had to be turned away… SOLD OUT… If attendance at a high school basketball game is any indication of the strength of a rural community, then it would appear that they are alive and well.  Magrath High School, the smallest school in the tournament emerged victorious. 

Whether a champion, a participant, a runner up, or a fan, these experiences will remain with these young men and women as a part of their identity for the rest of their lives.  We are most fortunate to be part of the greater southern Alberta community and to share in the heritage that is common to us all.

Jentry Salmon Media Release

Westwind School Division is aware that Jentry Salmon, a teacher in Raymond, has been charged with sexual exploitation by the RCMP. In matters of this nature, the safety and well-being of our students are our highest priority. When Westwind first became aware of allegations about Jentry, who has now been charged, the school division enacted its respectful protocol to ensure the safety of students and to conduct an investigation into the matter. The teacher was immediately suspended in October 2016, pending charges being laid and the outcome of any subsequent court case. The teacher has not been at the school or in contact with students since then. When the RCMP initiated a criminal investigation, Westwind School Division suspended our internal investigation in order to preserve the integrity of the RCMP proceedings. The school division has cooperated fully with the RCMP and will continue to do so. As this is a personnel matter and it is also before the courts we can supply no additional information or comments at this time.

Ken Sommerfeldt
Superintendent

Stirling School Modernization Update

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Work continues to progress on Stirling School Modernization Project. 

This week our team toured the school with the contractor to see how to project is coming along. The big projects this past while have been installing footings, building interior walls, and prepping the now open area for new roof beams.

As the project continues to roll forward and we see the building come together, piece by piece, we would like to thank the community and our partners for your support in this project. This will be a world class educational facility that will help the community grow and help educate children for decades to come. Your support has been and will continue to be an essential element behind the success of this project. We will provide more updates on the status of this project as the weeks go by and we get closer to reopening the space to students and the public.

Alberta Bill 1 Update

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/premierofalberta/, license information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/premierofalberta/, license information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

The Alberta Government will put forward Bill 1. This bill aims to cover the cost of some school fees that parents have had to pay out of pocket. Westwind School Division is very happy that the province is acting to relieve parents of this burden. This bill generally covers non-choice fees that apply to all students, like textbooks, photocopies, and supplies, as well as some bussing fees. Schools and parents can still pay for courses, projects, and items that they feel are important, like CTS projects, choice in some bussing issues, and extra curricular items. This bill, if passed will come into force for the next school year.

The Minister has indicated that there will be more specifics coming out about how this will work. We have some questions about how this will impact Westwind students, parents, and guardians.

The provincial funding that comes with Bill 1 will be distributed between all public school boards to cover these school fees for parents. The Minister of Education has requested that all school boards ensure that there is no reduction to basic programming of students as a result of this change to the fee structure.

Please read Minister Eggen's letter to parents for more details on this program. 

Eye on Education: Communication and Learning Outcomes in Education

Anytime something is very important, there is an elevation to the significance of the information connected to it. Few things are as important to parents as their children, and therefore it is imperative that timely, accurate and effective communication in education is essential. If the average person were to spend a morning in the office of any of our schools, they would be struck with the amount of messages, information, and logistical planning that occurs on the fly each and every day. Each piece of information is significant and important and must be treated as such in order for the complexity of schedules and plans of schools and families to run smoothly. I salute the staffs in the school system for making this very complex matter appear to be a well-oiled machine.

Beyond the day -to- day workings of a school, parents are expecting much more from schools in communication and rightly so. For many decades, student progress was provided 3 times per year as report cards containing information about student performance that was either percent or letter grade based. Today, more and more schools are making the transition to outcomes based reporting. Instead of a letter grade or a percent to represent student performance, teachers establish from the program of studies, the essential outcomes for student learning, and then provide to parents details on student progress toward the attainment of each outcome. Initially, some parents struggle with this new reporting format since it is not common to their own experience in schools. What appears to be happening however, is an increased understanding by parents of the curriculum their children are studying and increased engagement as parents become even more informed about the learning opportunities their children are experiencing.

From the narrative, there is increased clarity on the part of the teacher in terms of student progress, as well as for parents who have specific descriptive feedback about learning outcomes. In a sense, this form of grading and reporting is far more detailed than a number on the report card. Have you ever wondered what it means when a student is said to have achieved 77% in a term in a specific course? … 77% of what? How sure could anyone be from observing and averaging test scores that a student has achieved 77%? Which concepts of the curriculum have they mastered? Which ones do they understand at 77%? Which ones do they have less than a 77% understanding of? These are important questions that educators are wrestling with these days, and those who are providing a narrative that describes student progress toward achieving specific learning outcomes are making a difference in how we report and understand student performance.

Educational Assistant Conference

Educational Assistants in Westwind were hard at work on professional development on Tuesday, January 31. Assistant Superintendent, Rick Gilson, organized an incredible conference for the 170 Educational Assistants in Westwind. The conference featured many terrific presenters. This was an incredibly valuable development for our Educational Assistants in a wide range of areas. The presenters we had at the conference are all experts in their field and deeply understand the southern Alberta context.

  • Conrad Boehme presented on a look at what students who struggle may experience. 
  • Tiffany Weeden presented on how to connect classrooms with nature and the aboriginal culture of southern Alberta, and on using Zen Me and Yoga techniques for the classroom to inspire focus, balance, and relaxation. 
  • Regan Bikman shared strategies from his experience as a Speech Language Pathologist to help students improve their communications. 
  • Jocelyn Roberts, from Alberta Health Services, presented Programmatic Organization Dynamic Display (PODD) books for EAs to use with students with complex communication needs.
  • Erin Stonehocker presented on using reflexes and movement as a stress buffer. She writes, “We all experience different types of stress. Learn how MNRI or reflex exercise can help with stress relief in both adults and children. These simple exercises can help reset the chronic stress cycle and improve overall well being and function.”
  • Kent Hollingsworth provided EAs with tools to support positive grieving in students and how AD[H]D brains handle executive functioning. EAs left this session with strategies and ideas to support students who have these types of challenges.
  • Brandie Andrews explained how EAs can understand and help to manage anxiety in the classroom, and went into detail about attachment disorder and how to support students dealing with this difficulty and foster positive relationships.
  • Michelle McKinnon held activities regarding brain architecture, and how both genetics and environment affect brain development in children. In this session EAs and our Board Chair Patricia Beazer built model brains using straws and pipe cleaners that represented different genetic components. The activity is designed to be difficult to craft a ‘brain’ model that supports itself, but our EAs created a series of brains that isn’t collapse. Said Chair Beazer, “Our EAs are great brain builders!!”
  • Melany Duffin helped EAs focus on how to help younger students develop pencil and scissor skills and how to help students become independent by developing self-help skills like dressing skills, toiling strategies, eating skills, and building skills by chaining activities. 
  • Rick Gilson presented about the evolving world of education assisting in our school division. He shared resources and tips in a range of areas, shared technology tips, and gave EAs an opportunity to give input into areas they would like to see future training or support in. 

We are so glad to have had this opportunity to further learning and growth as a Division. This professional development should impact students in all classrooms throughout the Division