The following are brief reports of items discussed at the committee of the whole meeting of Trillium Lakelands District School Board held virtually on Nov.9.
By Nick Bernard
Schools across the Trillium Lakelands District School Board are currently in the middle of completing school improvement and equity plans, the goals for which are to improve literacy, numeracy, and equity. This is a district-wide initiative.
“I am happy to report that schools in the Trillium Lakelands have just completed or are in the process of completing the school improvement and equity plans,” said superintendent Jay MacJanet as he began his update on the plans, which he shortened to SIEP. “These plans… will map out a narrow direction for each school and staff while aligning with personal and board improvement goals under literacy, numeracy and equity. Schools are using trailing data from provincial assessments and school-based assessments gathered by teachers this school year.”
Using this data, MacJanet said, they will create actionable and measurable plans that will look to “improve student achievement in the areas of literacy and numeracy.”
Superintendent Jennifer Johnston said the first round of assessments for the equity action plans, which came in the form of a census sent out to district staff, received an excellent response.
“We sent out our staff demographic census to get a better understanding of who we are, and the many unique voices and diversities and perspectives that make us who we are,” Johnston said. The data, she said, was still being collated, but planning is now underway for the student census.
“We are working again with Turner Consulting Group to develop the census, and the questions are largely derived from recent Ministry of Education memoranda.”
A census will be sent directly to parents for students in Kindergarten to Grade 8. Students in Grades 9 to 12 will have the opportunity to complete the census in class. The census is expected to take place sometime in January.
Johnston also announced the beginning of its menstrual equity project, with the support of the Ministry of Education. Its implementation ensures that menstrual products are freely available and accessible.
“We know that menstrual products are expensive, and our goal is to make sure that all people who need those products have them readily available to attend school and participate in extracurricular activities,” Johnston said. In addition, she acknowledged the trustee’s early support for this initiative by accommodating it as part of the budget: “This project is truly a collaboration of many.”
Head lice policy changing
Johnston also said TLDSB doesn’t recognize pediculosis – the presence of head lice or nits – to be a disease or health issue, and that there is no rationale for people to be sent home due to lice or nits. The board is moving to rescind the policy, and will instead send out a memo that explains the process schools must follow when pediculosis is recorded or identified.
“As always, schools will continue to work in partnerships with families and guardians, parents to support the detection and treatment of pediculosis through effective relationships, communication, and provision of informational materials as needed.”
Johnston said regular school attendance is important for student achievement, and that students need to avoid unnecessary absenteeism, as the risk to their achievement outweighs the nuisance of having head lice or nits.
Professional development making a difference
In his update, TLDSB Director of Education Wes Hahn spoke about the shifts in instructional leadership, how teaching and being a teacher has changed, and how to navigate these changes as schools begin to see a slow shift towards “normal.”
“This is new work for many,” Hahn said. “And I think it goes without saying, any time you start new things, it’s a challenge.”
Reflecting on his experience visiting the various schools across the board, Hahn noted that despite the ongoing pandemic, job-embedded professional development for teachers and other staff made the greatest difference.
“It’s about listening and making sure we’re moving with the needs of the system,” Hahn explained. “We’re not perfect at that… but it’s leading with the heart and soul.”
He spoke about moving away from what he called the “heroic” style of leadership — something that focuses on operation — to a more “human” approach.
“It’s about listening and making sure we’re moving with the needs of the system,” Hahn explained. Workload, Hahn highlighted, was a particular issue for teachers.
The board has also heard quite clearly that staff prefer having access to the schools when they need it.
“There are many of our staff who like to go in after hours to do their work,” Hahn explained. “They may not have wi-fi, or have a proper place to work, and so this becomes their sanctuary.”
“We’ve done a great job virtually,” Hahn said, “But we want to continue to meet staff on-site so they can support them in their environment.”
As part of this, Hahn believes superintendents and supervisory officers working alongside principals and staff is important to learn how everyone works with each other, and how it benefits the system.
On the subject of the school improvement and equity plans, Hahn discussed the process of superintendents and supervisory officers partnering with specific focus schools, including Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Sharing an anecdote from Superintendent Kim Williams about her experience at HHSS, Hahn described the collaboration between Williams and school administrators as “a deep level of work.”
“It’s important work, it’s job-embedded work, and it’s the senior team working together and learning together with the staff along with the director, and I think that’s the human side of leadership that we want to keep gravitating towards,” Hahn concluded.
Following Hahn’s update, there was a question about some students expressing a preference for the existing quadmester system as COVID improves. It was something the board wasn’t sure of yet, said Hahn.
“The Ministry of Education and the Chief Medical Officer of Health will make that determination, whether schools can go back to a regular semestered system,” he explained.
Once they get that information, Hahn said, he and the rest of the board will meet to discuss how to move forward. He also recalled that when the octomester system was first in place, people found the positives in that situation, and the same thing was happening now with the quadmester. Hahn also acknowledged that there were many who were eager to return to the semester system.
When the time came, Hahn assured, he and the rest of the superintendents would look into it.
Board meeting access
The next Trillium Lakelands District School Board meeting will be on November 23rd at the Muskoka Education Centre.
This and previous meetings are available to view online at: tldsb.ca/board/board-meetings.