The Chinook School Division reported on the activities and achievements of the 2013-14 school year during the annual meeting March 23.
The meeting took place at the Chinook Education Centre in Swift Current and the proceedings were also relayed by video link to Frontier School.
The report of Director of Education Liam Choo-Foo focused on the learning agenda in the school division. He noted after 10 years the school division has evolved into a stable organization.
“I think what it has allowed us to do is really focus on our priorities,” he said. “To be quite honest, when Chinook was first formed our priority was making sure everybody received their paycheque. There was so much operational activity that had to occur, what form do I fill out, those kinds of activities, that we weren’t able to really focus on our long-term goals. … So being able to stabilize and get all the operational things in place has allowed us to really set forth a true learning agenda and put our resources, our talents, our focus on those activities and we’ve been pretty successful with it.”
The only significant change to the school division’s organizational structure during the 2013-14 fiscal year was the amalgamation of the transportation and facilities sections under a single manager.
“It really enhanced the communication between those two areas,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a large organization with over 1,000 employees in it, there is opportunity for various departments to really get stove-piped from one another and be able to operate effective and efficiently within their stovepipe, but cause unintended ripples and challenges for other areas of the organization.”
The school division covers a geographical area of 42,720 square kilometres, which is larger than the European country of Belgium. There are 62 schools in 30 communities.
A certain highlight of the school year was the construction of the new joint-use facility in Swift Current and the opening of the new École Centennial School in the fall of 2014. He noted the concept of a joint-use education facility as part of an integrated facility has become a model for other communities.
“That’s actually already started to take place as we get requests from different cities to come and have a look at the concept we’ve put forward,” he said.
The pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 enrolment was 6,011 in 2013-14, which was 101 fewer than the 6,112 students in the 2012-13 school year. There were 699 students who identified as English as an Additional Language (EAL) students, which represented 13 per cent of total enrolment. According to Choo-Foo the school division always had EAL students, but their numbers have just increased in recent years.
“The reality is in some cases it makes it a little bit easier because now instead of just having that one child in a classroom that’s an EAL student we may have two or three, and so we’ve got a bit of a cohort to work with,” he explained. “We have schools in the rural areas surprisingly that are up over 20 per cent of their population as EAL and what we’re able to see is some of the older students are able to help some of the younger students with those languages. We’re also investing in some different technologies to be able to address the needs that come with a growing population like that.”
The school division’s goal is to foster a culture of continuous improvement that stretches from the school level to the administration level and right up to the board level.
“We’re always looking at ways to enhance what we are doing and in some cases in this fiscal reality we’re in are there ways that we can improve what we are doing in a different way that’s maybe a more efficient and effective way of doing it,” he said.
The Math Momentum initiative and Balanced Literacy maintenance are key focus areas of the school division’s learning agenda. Both programs have achieved positive results during the 2013-14 school year.
Eleven per cent more students were meeting or exceeding expectations in math than the previous year. The goal to improve scores by 25 per cent over four years was already met in the third year with an accumulated total of 29 per cent.
After the completion of the initial implementation of Balanced Literacy the program is now in its maintenance phase. Results indicated that 83 per cent of students were meeting or exceeding on selected assessments during the 2013-14 school year, which was an increase of two per cent from the previous year.
The school division also performed well in comparison to provincial core indicators. The on-time graduation rate for Chinook students was 83.3 per cent compared to the provincial graduation rate of 74.7 per cent.
Board Vice-Chair Larry Caswell presented the report of the board at the meeting. He said the board is making efforts to stay in touch with all the communities in the school division.
Another priority for the board is the partnerships with other institutions, including local governments, the Nekaneet First Nation, Hutterian Brethren, Great Plains College, Grasslands National Park and human services partners such as the Cypress Health Region and Social Services.
There is an ongoing board priority to support school community councils (SCC), because the key roles of the SCC’s are to support the learning plans of schools and to help connect their schools to the community in meaningful ways.
“They involve themselves directly in the planning, in decision-making,” he said. “They promote communication and they’re the first people that our parents and communities go to often to get information and understanding. They do an excellent job for us and we feel it’s our response to make sure they’re equipped and have all the tools to do their job.”
Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin provided an overview of the school division’s financial statements for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The actual total revenues were $97.3 million while total expenses were $88.6 million, which exceeded the budgeted amount for expenses by about one per cent.
The school division had a surplus of $8.7 million, of which $8 million was capital funding for the construction of École Centennial School.
“We had some additional expenses around the school, we had some additional expenses around the organization of our transportation function and we had some additional expenses within the transportation function, but for the most part it was very, very good,” he said. “We didn’t have any surprises we had to deal with and that was pretty much what we wanted to see.”
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