meeting online

Bob Vavra 

The latest curriculum and instruction status report for the Chinook School Division highlights activities during the regular school year and the measures to continue learning since the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of in-school classes.

Superintendent of Learning Bob Vavra presented this report on April 14 during the first regular board meeting of the Chinook School Division since the implementation of public health measures in Saskatchewan to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

The meeting therefore took place through a video conference to follow the guidelines for physical distancing, and all future board meetings will take place online until further notice.

Vavra provided details about the report to the Prairie Post during a telephone interview on April 17. The school division continued with activities to support the Balanced Literacy and Math Momentum initiatives during the regular school year. Both these initiatives are currently in a maintenance mode, and the main focus is on providing support to new teachers.

Two literacy coaches worked with teachers in public schools and another coach provided support to Hutterian schools.

“They would provide supports mainly to new teachers so they understand the principles of Balanced Literacy and how to teach reading and writing to students, but also some intervention,” he said. “So one of our coaches focuses on intervention and providing a bit of additional support for kids. Our research shows that if we're able to provide those supports that it really makes a difference for kids, and they're able to stay at the level that they should be at.”

There were professional development opportunities for teachers that focused on provincial writing assessments in Grade 4, 7 and 9, as well as follow-up coaching with teachers in kindergarten and Grade 2.

The Math Momentum maintenance phase focused on providing support to the 20 teachers who were new to guided math during the 2019-20 school year.

“We have a math coach and a math coordinator that work with those teachers and teach them the fundamentals to finding out where kids are at on their math journey and how to teach them in a way at their level to gain the most growth,” he said.

There were in-class coaching demonstrations and observations of guided math components during professional development days in November and February. Online modules on provincial math assessments in Grade 2, 5 and 8 were available for professional development.

“We were doing work with teachers in both literacy and math to make sure that they understood the provincial assessments and to make sure they were doing the best they could when working with our kids to support those assessments,” he said. “We've been really happy with our growth there over the past couple of years. The province measures that and they have a goal for the province, and Chinook was well in line to meet all of our goals and the provincial goals in those areas.”

The Ministry of Education cancelled these assessments for the 2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Chinook School Division was set to meet the assessment goals for early years evaluation, reading in Grade 1-3, writing in Grade 4, 7 and 9, and math in Grade 2, 5 and 8.

“Some of those assessments we do on our own anyway to guide the teaching in the different classrooms,” he noted. “We've done that for years with our literacy and math with assessments at certain grade levels. So we will be continuing with those in the future, but those assessments both at the division level and the provincial level have been paused at this point in time.”

These assessments in June was meant to be the final evaluation of progress made with the five-year Education Sector Strategic Plan (ESSP), which provided outcome goals for the period 2015-2020.

“The education sector is coming up with a new provincial education plan or PEP that will have a new set of indicators and assessments and maybe some of the old ones, but definitely some new ones as well,” he said. “So we'll be in a bit of a state of flux until we find out what the new pathway is, but we've started to do some work in quite a few areas and we think that the work that Chinook will do will be in line with that in regards to engaging students not only at the high school level, as we've done the last three years, but making sure we have engaging, meaningful activities and doing the best that we can for kids from the preK to 12 grade levels.”

The Ministry of Education is developing curricula for various new high school courses, and several are planned for implementation in the next school year. The Chinook School Division has scheduled professional development days for teachers in May for robotics, financial literacy and visual arts. Vavra said their intention is to continue with these sessions, but in an online format due to the pandemic.

The Chinook School Division continued with the implementation of treaty education in the 2019-20 school year.

“It's infused in all of our curriculums,” he said. “We work with our teachers to make sure that they have the resources and supports necessary to deliver those. We also connect with a lot of supports in the community, such as elders, who work with schools and teachers to support that First Nations and Métis education in the classrooms.”

The school division hired elder helpers to work with staff and students in different schools, and they have made a significant contribution.

“It's a great resource for us and it connects us more to the community,” he said. “It also gives us a chance to have some of the traditional teachings and being exposed to some of the traditional knowledge keeping ways and sharing that in our schools. So it's been very helpful and supportive to us, and we would very much see that continuing into the future and maybe expanding that.”

Chinook School Division appointed a behaviour coach due to the increase in extreme behaviour cases across the division. This coaching provides in-class support for teachers and there has been positive feedback about the benefits of this approach.

“We are seeing more extreme behaviour in students across the division and especially at younger grade levels,” he said. “That was seen as a need when we surveyed our schools and our communities. … She works with classroom teachers, with the students, and she works very closely with the parents as well to provide supports and help with the behaviour of those children to break down some barriers that prevent learning from happening.”

The appointment of two engagement coaches to support student engagement at the high school level is a new initiative that started during the 2019-20 school year. These coaches have worked with just over half of the teachers at Grade 9-12 on collaborative culture and student-centred learning.

“A lot of that was through the use of technology and that really helped us as we go into the COVID-19 situation,” he noted. “Our teachers were really well prepared to move to online environments. So some of the work that we've done in other areas for our professional development with virtual environments and online modules really helped us to transition to where we're now supporting learning at home through those avenues as well.”

Vavra felt positive about the way the Chinook School Division has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We created a pandemic plan and response based on the provincial guidelines that was sent to us by the Ministry of Education,” he said. “We communicated that to our parents and to our teachers. We spent the week before the Easter break in-servicing our teachers in a lot of different technologies to provide and support learning at home.”

He added that this supplemental learning plan will provide support to families to continue with supplemental learning at home for all grade levels.

“We've done it in a way that have some low technology options and we have some high technology options,” he said. “We want to make sure we're providing information and resources to parents and students as well as our teachers that fit the needs of all students, no matter what their situation, no matter whether they're rural or city, have internet, don't have internet, and all those things.”

They have come up with solutions to continue to support students with additional needs, including counselling, special programming, learning supports, and even the continuation of the nutrition program.

“We've created a model where we'll be supporting that and making deliveries to homes to support that for the rest of the year as well,” he said. “We had about 150 students participating in the nutrition program. We will be providing that opportunity for them to continue and also the opportunity to provide that to other students, if there's a need as well.”

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