Much has been accomplished so far this school year and there are several goals the Northwest Catholic District School Board hopes to achieve in the coming months to support student learning.
Director of Education Brendan Hyatt lauded the capital projects that started last summer to improve the places where students learn.
“We take seriously creating the best learning environments for our students," he noted. ”So in some of our schools, we spent a substantial amount of money upgrading their learning and playing spaces.
“In Atikokan, for example, more then $300,000 is being spent on a new playground that is supportive of the outdoor learning needs of our students, which we felt was a really key investment.”
Here in Fort Frances, Hyatt said the roughly $16.6-million consolidated Catholic school is something to be proud of and will remain an area of focus going forward.
“So far we've been very lucky with regards to our new school build," he remarked. "We continue to move forward with that and continue to have our opening day set for that school next fall.”
There also is a key partnership with the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board with the new school, which will include a child care centre funded through the DSSAB.
“It really is a vision of one-stop shopping for parents," Hyatt lauded. "From infants to toddler to kindergarten, that's important for parents to have.”
When looking at technology and learning, the local Catholic board is trying to pilot virtual reality and augmented reality to support and enhance student learning.
Virtual reality will allow students to put on headsets in their classroom and go on “virtual field trips,” where they can visit art galleries, museums, and experience tours around the world.
“If they were looking at geography and geography structures, they could do a bird's-eye view of the Grand Canyon and those kinds of things, which is really neat,” Hyatt enthused.
In terms of staffing, the board has maintained levels of employment for student success and technology-enabled learning teachers.
“Technology is very important in our board," Hyatt stressed. "Our goal has always been to get as much of the most up to date technology in our students' hands as possible and we're certainly exploring options with that.”
The board also has been able to continue its commitment to having math leads in all schools to provide math support to teachers on an ongoing basis.
As well, a new experiential learning lead position was introduced this school year, and experts and facilitated field trips have been brought in to help student learning.
Grade 4 students, for instance, heard a presentation from a mine planner at New Gold in October and also had the opportunity to learn about the mine's operations from someone on the ground level.
In November, students went on a tour of the town's water treatment and sewer facilities after hearing from an expert who visited their class.
Most recently, Grade 7 and 8 students at St. Francis School participated in a series of career planning sessions led by the Northern Community Development Services (NCDS).
“Our experiential learning lead has been continuously bringing in new opportunities for all of our students in our system, both in the north and the south end, to meet the kind of pathway needs for all of our students,” Hyatt explained.
Meanwhile, the board's multi-year strategic plan expired in December, so developing a new one has been an area of focus since last April.
The plan has been developed to reflect Catholic values, love of God, respect for life, and service integrity, with a focus on Catholic graduate expectations built throughout.
“When students graduate, we expect that they will be sturdy believers, effective communicators, holistic thinkers . . . lifelong learners, contribute to their communities, and be caring family members,” Hyatt said.
The board also puts great importance on meeting their First Nations' students needs.
“In our region as you know, we have a substantial indigenous population here and it's important that they see themselves in their learning and education,” Hyatt noted.
“We're supporting our staff with regards to the 'Calls to Action' and helping them to support indigenous ways of knowing in classrooms,” he added.
Looking ahead, the board may face some obstacles in the transition of staff and students to the new consolidated Catholic school this fall.
“There will be challenges with bringing two staffs together and that's something we, as a senior team, are going to be working on,” Hyatt pledged.
And from now until June, the board will be putting an emphasis on its budget priorities.
While the budget process is in its preliminary stages, work will be done through the winter and spring before being sent for ministry approval in June.
“Our goal is to always ensure that we're bringing forth a budget that is transparent, but is also allocating resources to support a responsive and balanced budget,” Hyatt said.
“We're going to work with both of our unions here soon on staffing, as we generally get into staffing in March,” he noted.
When looking to board staff, Hyatt said they're mindful that their role is about vocation to support and provide Catholic education to students so they can succeed spiritually, academically, socially, physically, and emotionally.
“That's really who we are, what we're all about, and what our number-one priority is and always will be,” he stressed.