By J.W. Schnarr
“Things are going fabulous,” said Horizon School Division’s superintendent Wilco Tymensen, when asked about the upcoming year. “Kids are excited to be back in school and teachers are excited to have their students, and provide learning opportunities. It’s been a busy and exciting week.”
Tymensen said some students, especially new ones, use the first few weeks of school to adjust to their surroundings. He noted an early start in September can help with that adjustment.
“We try to break them in slowly,” he said. “Our school year has two or three days in the first week, and then we have four days in the next. We slowly progress to a five-day week, which kind of helps. Especially with the Kindergarten and Grade 1 students, it certainly helps in terms of transitioning back to school.”
Tymensen said the division hired 40 new staff for the upcoming school year, as part of the normal cycle of replacing teachers and staff who move on to other opportunities, or who retire.
“There are lots of young, excited new graduates,” he said. “Not all of our new teachers are brand new, but we have a number of recent graduates coming from university, and they are excited to put their academic learning to use.”
HSD remains focused on placing a priority on creating graduates who are contributing global citizens and that they are competent learners.
“School is only one part of your life,” he said. “When you get out of school, you want to continue to learn, and to take your learning to new levels. We also want to make sure our students are engaged and ethical. We want to make sure school isn’t a boring place, and we want to make sure they take active ownership of their learning.”
Tymensen said with one of the largest English Language Learner populations in the province, there is a lot of focus on literacy and math skills.
“For 45 per cent of our kids, English is not their first language,” he said.
Tymensen said this year, the division will be working on formative assessments for students, in order to better understand the level that children are functioning at within the school system.
“When we know what kids are good at and what they are struggling with, then that gives us the opportunity to identify areas we need to focus more,” he said.
The third focus for the division this year is on families. Tymensen said significant effort is being put into developing relationships with the families of students, and the communities the schools are located in.
“We recognize communities are changing,” he said. “We recognize family dynamics are changing. It takes an entire community to raise a child. so we are reaching out to not only our parents, because they are key stakeholder, but we are reaching out to our community organizations and our neighbours to see what kind of roles they can play in supporting our youth. The children we are teaching today are going to be our future.”
There are no major changes to HSD programming this year. Tymensen said the changes parents will see involve progressing with programs and initiatives that are already in place.
With a new assessment policy, one thing parents could see in the next few years could be changes to report cards, as an example of these efforts to improve and streamline the assessment process.
“We’ll be reaching out to parents, staff, school councils, and students in the next year or so,” said Tymensen. “(We’ll be) trying to engage the community. If the purpose of a report card is to communicate how well kids are doing, and for parents to get a clear picture, what does that look like? What kind of information do they want?”
The summer season saw the usual renovations around the district, including at Ace Place, which has seen student growth and was in need of larger classrooms. Barnwell and Warner Schools are at the beginning of the modernization process, and Tymensen said he was happy to hear the new provincial government would continue to support those projects.
Tymensen also noted that there was some mention during the 2015 election that more modernizations could be coming. He said the division is waiting to hear more about future projects from the province.
“We’re eagerly awaiting (word),” he said. “The D.A. Ferguson/W.R. Myers complex had a value management last November. But we have not yet heard what the time frame is for that facility. Or even if that project is going ahead yet.”
In terms of larger issues for the division, Tymensen identified transportation as one that a lot of parents will be interested in hearing more about. He added impending changes to the Education Act are going to be put on hold for a year to give the new government time to go through everything.
“We’re holding off,” he said. “We’ve reviewed our school fees as well. But we can’t move forward until we know what the government’s regulations are. It doesn’t make sense to move forward and then six months later, the government alters the regulation. Suddenly, we’re not in compliance with that regulation.”
He noted there is some frustration, as the division is eager to inform parents of any changes as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping the government makes a quick decision. Now, although I’m saying a ‘quick’ decision, we recognize a quick decision is not always a good one. So we are patient, but we hope the government moves forward (soon).”
Like every other sector of the community, HSD also recognizes the economy as a challenge. Tymensen said with the economic turndown have come more “for rent’ signs on houses, and more empty buildings and bays where businesses used to be located. He said while some people have lost their jobs here and moved on, there are places such as Calgary where job losses have seen residents returning home to the area. This may be a contributing factor to division estimates that overall there could be 20 fewer students this year over last year.
“It’s a flip and a flop, in terms of numbers,” he said.
Numbers for students are not officially set until Oct. 1, however, as this gives time for families to settle in, or for students helping with the harvest to get back to school.
“For the most part, most of our schools are up or down by five or six kids,” he said. “So that kind of balances out, to about 20 fewer kids.”
Tymensen said for now, it’s back to the business of learning, as schools around the district are holding welcome back barbecues and inviting families into the learning environment to see.
“All of our schools are having welcome back barbecues, and trying to engage with parents. We encourage families to take part in those, and get an opportunity meet the new staff. Certainly, the new staff is looking forward to meeting the parents.”