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Under the Northern Lights - June 24, 2024

Good New Items

  • Vice-Chair Garry Kissel congratulated the graduates of Glendon School and complimented the school on a ceremony with great speeches and community representation.

  • Trustee Ron Young congratulated the graduates from Cold Lake Outreach and commended the school on the quality of the graduation ceremony and the service provided to students.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards congratulated the graduates from Bonnyville Outreach School and Bonnyville Centralized High School and thanked them for the opportunity to celebrate this milestone with them.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards thanked Ardmore School for the opportunity to participate in a fire ceremony with Elder Linda Minoose. Students were highly engaged in the ceremony and eager to learn it's significance.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards commended students from Bonnyville Outreach School who took part in mock interviews. This was a valuable experience for everyone involved.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards thanked the Bonnyville Friendship Centre for hosting National Indigenous Peoples Day events at the Centennial Centre. Several NLPS schools attended and trustees noted that it was heartwarming to see the community come together to celebrate.

  • Trustee Lois Phillips congratulated graduates from J.A. Williams High School, Lac La Biche Outreach, Journeys Learning Academy and Crossroads Outreach, noting the future is in good hands.

  • Trustee Lois Phillips complimented Aurora Middle School on a high quality Grade 4 medieval drama presentation.

  • Trustees Lois Phillips and Debra Lozinski commended Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement and Kikino School on their Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations. The Buffalo Lake event included student performances.

  • Trustee Blair Norton congratulated Dianne Ludwig from Aurora Middle School and Dina Marko from Division Office on their retirements. They were unable to participate in the Board's retirement celebration in May.

  • Board Chair Karen Packard congratulated Shayden Fayant from Cold Lake High School on receiving a 2024 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Student Award. Fayant was one of only nine students selected to receive the award this year. 

  • Board Chair Karen Packard complimented North Star Elementary School, Cold Lake Junior High and Art Smith Aviation Academy on the activities that they hosted for Indigenous Peoples Day.

  • Superintendent Rick Cusson thanked Portage College for the opportunity to discuss potential programming at the division's Trades Exposure Centre in Bonnyville. He said there is a possibility of engaging in a memorandum of understanding to provide programming for both adults and students at the facility.

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented highlights from schools throughout the division. The full presentation is available on our website: Good News - June 24, 2024.

Prime Minister's Award of Teaching Excellence

The Board welcomed Duclos School teacher Kathie-Lee Gibbons to the meeting and congratulated her on receiving a 2024 Prime Minister's Award of Teaching Excellence Certificate of Achievement. The award recognizes exceptional elementary and secondary school teachers and “their remarkable achievements in education and for their commitment to preparing youth for a digital and innovation-based economy.”

More information about the award is available on our website: 2024 Prime Minister's Award.

Technology Accountability Report

Bob Barret, Director of ET/IT, reviewed technology highlights including a close to 1:1 device to student ratio in the division's schools. Devices and displays are standard so staff and students are able to transition from location to location without having to familiarize themselves with different technology.

The division continues to look for ways to increase security while maintaining usability. This includes identifying areas of vulnerability and developing strategies to address them. The department also continues to upgrade and replace school security camera and intercom systems.

Barrett noted that increased reliance on technology for assessment is starting to exceed the division's bandwidth limits. He explained that to move to increase capacity to the next level for schools will cost an additional $250 per site per month.

Facilities Update

Leah Rout, Director of Facilities, highlighted what project the Facilities team and contractors will be working on over the summer months. This includes projects at 19 schools and one division office site. In house projects include cladding repair, millwork projects, lighting, landscaping, heating and electrical upgrades, removing fencing, refreshing offices and washrooms, replacing clocks, eavestrough installation and more. 

She also provided the Board with an update on work being done at Ecole Plamondon School which experienced a flood earlier this year. Drywall work has now been completed and painting is underway. Floor installation has also started and once that is done, millwork in six classrooms is being replaced. The project is on track to be completed before the start of the new school year.

Progress is also being made on plans for a replacement school for Vera M. Welsh Elementary School in Lac La Biche. Placement of the new school on the identified site has been finalized and work is moving forward on classroom placement in the floor plan. Information is being collected to create a tender package for the project so that once the project receives approval from the provincial government, it will be ready to proceed.

School-Based Cell Phone Use Policies

Carolina Franke, Principal of Aurora Middle School, and Chan Cusson, Principal of Cold Lake Junior High, presented information about their school cell phone policies. Both schools have implemented policies that restrict the use of cell phones in classrooms. 

The need for a policy came out of conversations with students, staff and parents about devices disrupting learning, safety and privacy concerns, and the impact device use was having on mental health.

At Cold Lake Junior High students are encouraged to leave any devices that are potentially disruptive to learning or mental health at home. Devices cannot be used in the school and students are provided with alternative means to contact their parents during the day, and parents are advised to call the school to leave a message for students if needed.

At Aurora Middle School, devices are not allowed in classrooms and students who feel compelled to bring devices to school, or may need them for afterschool communication with parents, are asked to store them in the office during the school day.

Franke noted that the focus has been on education and having conversations with students and parents about cell phone use and the impact the devices can have on learning and mental health. She noted the school also provided parents with options for communicating with students during the day other than cell phones.

Cusson said the school has invested in alternatives to address some of things phones were being used for. For example, the school purchased extra calculators for students to use instead of calculator apps on their phones. Both schools also ordered headphones to allow students who to listen to music on their Chromebooks instead of on phones.

Some of the benefits noticed by the schools were a reduction in cyberbullying during school hours, a reduction in anxiety by students concerned their picture or video was going to be taken without their consent, and an increased involvement in school clubs and activities.

Limiting Distractions in Alberta's Classrooms Ministerial Announcement

On June 17th, Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides announced restrictions on personal mobile devices and social media access in K-12 classrooms in Alberta. The ministerial order takes effect Sept. 1 but school divisions have until Jan. 1 to develop policies and procedures reflecting the new restrictions. School divisions also have the option to introduce additional restrictions beyond what is being required by Alberta Education.

Superintendent Rick Cusson noted there are many discussions that need to take place in determining what procedures to put in place in NLPS. This includes how much flexibility to provide to individual schools, what is appropriate use for specific devices like Chromebooks and how that may look different at different grade levels, what platforms are blocked, alternate communication methods for parents, and expectations for staff.

MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul Scott Cyr

MLA Scott Cyr joined the Board to discuss a variety of topics including the division's projected $4.7 million deficit for 2024-2025, infrastructure priorities, curriculum, new restrictions on personal devices and social media in classrooms, 

Board Chair Karen Packard explained that the division's top infrastructure priority remains a replacement school for Vera M. Welsh Elementary School in Lac La Biche. Within MLA Cyr's riding, the Board's top priority, the second priority in its Capital Plan, is a solution for Cold Lake South which addresses the needs of Art Smith Aviation Academy and North Star Elementary School. MLA Cyr asked the Board to send an update to his office on the discussions that have taken place in regards to Art Smith.

MLA Cyr encouraged the division to take part in piloting the new social studies curriculum and providing feedback through that process. Associate Superintendent Bill Driedger explained that staff have been encouraged to participate and the division hopes to have some teachers involved with that next year.

The Board requested that MLA Cyr advocate for a reduction in red tape as well as improved timelines for some of the grants that have been provided for school boards. Packard noted that mid-year announcements sometimes have a very short window for Boards to apply for grants or provide the information needed to access grants, and the reporting requirements can be cumbersome. 

The Board also discussed some budget challenges with MLA Cyr. Board Chair Karen Packard explained that the decision to proceed with a $4.7 million deficit was not made lightly. Reserves will be used to maintain the current level of service provided to students and avoid making staffing cuts. Packard noted that while other boards in the province are running a deficit and reducing staff, NLPS has been able to avoid a staffing reduction for 2024-2025. With 70% of the division's budget allocated to staffing, balancing the budget would not be possible without a staffing reduction and that would negatively impact the experience provided to students. Superintendent Rick Cusson noted that NLPS currently maintains lower than average class sizes and employees a higher ratio of support staff than other school divisions in the province. This is addressing classroom complexity beyond the grants that were provided by the province. 

The Board also discussed the impact of inflation on expenses. Costs for everything from the food served in meal programs to custodial contracts and supplies has increased without a corresponding increase in funding. In addition, while the province funded the provincially-negotiated salary increase for teachers, funding was not provided for an increase for support staff, or for increased benefits costs.

Another challenge trustees raised was the cost and difficulty in accessing specialized services for students in rural Alberta. They noted that city school boards are often able to have their own teams of specialists that reduces their costs significantly to provide those services. Rural boards do not receive extra funding to compensate for the fact that providing those services often cost more, due to having to pay travel costs and other related expenses.