The Chinook School Division has continued to provide positive learning opportunities for students in Hutterite schools during the past year.
Superintendent of Schools Steve Michaluk provided details about the provision of educational support to colonies during the presentation of the Hutterian status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, March 9.
He spoke about the school division’s positive relationship with the Hutterian Brethren. Colony representatives will meet on several occasions with the school division and communication has been very effective.
“Our colony visits help to establish those relationships,” he said about visits by the school division’s director of education and superintendent.
Michaluk referred to his experiences as a new superintendent supporting learning at Hutterite schools. He has observed a real commitment from teaching staff in the colony schools.
“This has been a neat thing for me to see at the colony schools,” he said. “Those teachers don't want to leave. They enjoy the colonies, they make the connections with the people on the colonies, with their students and families, and they truly enjoy their experience out there. The one reason for a person to leave that I came across would be that it is just too far to travel.”
There were 32 colony schools in the 2019-20 school year with 493 students, which was an increase of 10 students compared to the previous year. There was an overall decline in enrolment of 176 students in colony schools over the last 12 years. This was the seventh year of the small schools agreement with the Hutterian Brethren.
“The small schools agreement is something the Chinook School board has used in the past to support their colony schools when they get under 10 students,” he said. “We've got five schools that currently fall under that agreement.”
Literacy support for students continued during the past year. The Fountas and Pinnell reading assessment of November 2019 indicated that 59 per cent of Grade 2 and 3 students were reading at or above grade level.
Literacy kits are used to support early learning in the schools. Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) is used as an intensive support for students who are not achieving grade-level expectations in reading. A practical challenge is how to effectively manage such support with only one teacher.
Michaluk said teachers will use various strategies to encourage reading and writing activities in their classes.
“Reading is super important to the teachers and they instill that love of reading in the students,” he noted. “They do a good job of connecting reading with comprehension and celebrating, and teachers are creative in planning their projects that connect to reading and students are very proud of their work.”
He referred to an example of a collaboration between teachers at four different colony schools to encourage writing and reading. They came up with the idea of having 18 different journal books, each covering a different topic. Students will write in these journals, which will be passed on to the other colonies for students to read and add new journal entries.
The implementation of Words Their Way is taking place at about 20 to 22 colonies. It is a literacy program that helps students with spelling development.
“It is an individualized spelling program, which seems very interesting,” he said. “It teaches the kids at their level.”
Visits by the learning coach play an important role to provide support to teachers at Hutterian schools. The Hutterian Teacher Assistance Teams (TAT) provide another means to support student learning. It helps teachers to identify interventions and supports for students in a more systematic way.
Colony schools have been grouped into five professional learning communities (PLC), which provide opportunities for teachers to get together to work on initiatives for their schools. The PLC initiative provides teachers at Hutterian schools with the same professional learning opportunities as teachers at public schools.
“Our staff on colonies work in isolation a lot,” he said. “So it is important that we take time to get together.”
For this purpose there are also six Hutterian cluster meetings throughout the year, which are face-to-face meetings held at the Chinook School Division main office in Swift Current. There is mentorship support for new staff at colony schools. Superintendents will support all teaching staff at colony schools through formal school visits to review school learning plans and needs.