Director of education pleased with first weeks back

By Jenn Watt

The following are brief reports of items discussed at the board of trustees meeting on Sept. 22 for Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

Wesley Hahn, director of education for TLDSB, told trustees that he was proud of how the staff and students had come together during the resumption of classes this month amid a pandemic. He praised their positivity, while acknowledging how difficult it was to resume learning when everything has changed so much from a typical school year.

“The positivity that you must have, and that doesn’t mean rose-coloured glasses, because there’s nothing really rosy about some of these situations we’re in right now. … It’s hard work and it’s frustrating work. And I sent a message to staff saying it’s OK to be frustrated because sometimes there aren’t answers right away to some of these problems and we’re solving things that we haven’t had to deal with before, so it can get frustrating,” Hahn said.

The staggered start to classes was helpful for teachers and students, he said, allowing them to settle into new routines and reducing anxiety.

The virtual school, called Learn@Home, has been a challenge and Hahn thanked parents and students for their patience.

“We have five administrators who are working day and night” to make the new system work, he said, something experienced across Ontario, not only in TLDSB.

Those families without internet access, or whose access is limited, are struggling with Learn@Home. “Some areas don’t even have [internet] at all, so we are working with [paper] packages like we have done in the past,” he said, noting some families who have chosen remote learning may be struggling with a connection that can’t support all the students using it at once. The board has been sharing internet sticks with some families on a temporary basis to help with connection.

High demand for HVAC supplies

School board administrators are hoping for an extension on using provincial funding for HVAC upgrades, as the current deadline is quickly approaching and the supply of product is limited.

“They gave us an incredibly tight window that expires at the end of this month,” Tim Ellis, superintendent of business, explained at the board of trustees meeting on Sept. 22. “…they gave us under eight weeks to work through upgrading our HVAC.”

Further, Ellis said that there is high demand for the filters the board ordered.

“In terms of the filters … that we are ordering, there’s a backlog on those across North America because they’ve mandated in the United States all shopping malls [in some areas] adopt this type of filter.”

COVID-19, labour disputes sideline special projects

Several projects to be provided through TLDSB’s program enhancement funding were delayed or partially completed in the last school year due to labour disruptions and COVID-19, with about $91,500 spent of the $279,000 allocated.

Of 138 applications trustees reviewed in 2019, 98 were approved, though many were not fully completed, trustees heard at the board meeting on Sept. 22.

“I think … we know how important these projects are. We’ve had some discussion about the timing now and obviously we do have some money that’s left over from that current year,” Hahn said.

At a future meeting, Dave Golden, superintendent of learning, is to bring forward suggestions for how to use the money based on previously approved projects, Hahn said.

He reminded the board that the funding for the program enhancement fund came from surplus, so would not be available in future years.

Projects in Haliburton County that used program enhancement grants last year included an Artist in the School and Community project, which was partially completed; the Spaced Out student exhibit at the Rails End Gallery; the Journee Franco-FUN events led by high school students in the French program for French immersion students at J.D. Hodgson Elementary School, which was partially completed; musical theatre at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School; along with other events for a wider range of students and schools including a model United Nations conference that was cancelled and an interschool art exhibition, also cancelled.

Nutrition programs continue through ‘grab and go’ delivery

Asked by Haliburton County trustee Gary Brohman about what is being done in schools to ensure the food normally distributed through programs such as Food for Kids continues to make its way to students, Hahn said the board had chosen a “grab-and-go” delivery model.

This means food would be provided for students, but without the assistance of volunteers, who would normally greet the students and help prepare and distribute the food. As a precaution against the potential spread of COVID-19, the school board has restricted access to its buildings to staff and students only.

Hahn said a report could come back to trustees about how that program was being delivered and also suggested fundraising be done to supplement food delivery for those students who need more than the breakfast program.

“To be able as an educational community … to raise some money and have funds set aside for principals and schools to offer to communities I think is really critical,” he said.

In a typical year in Haliburton County, about 1,700 students access the nutrition program delivered by Food for Kids.