The Board congratulated Angel Gamache from H.E. Bourgoin Middle School for receiving the Alberta School Councils Association Parent of Distinction Award, and the Iron River School Council for receiving the Alberta School Councils Association School Council Award of Merit.
Board Chair Arlene Hrynyk commended the school council members for their hard work in supporting students at their schools and for using their voices to promote meaningful parent engagement in education. "I can't say enough how valuable your voices are and how critical they are for us," Hrynyk commented.
Karen Draycott, Principal of Iron River School, nominated the Iron River School Council for its award because of their high level of engagement and involvement with the school.
H.E. Bourgoin Principal Jeannine Ellis nominated Gamache for the work she did in transitioning the schools parent advisory group to a formal school council, and her tireless promotion and support for the council, the school, the students and the staff.
Good News Items
- Dallin Schmidt, Communications Assistant, presented the Board with Good News highlights from schools throughout the division.
- Trustee Karen Packard thanked all of the students, families and staff who took part in the Signs of Hope campaign as part of Mental Health Week. She said it was wonderful to see the signs on lawns and in windows throughout the community.
- Superintendent Rick Cusson reported that things had gone smoothly on Tuesday as students and staff returned to schools for in-person classes. Both students and staff were happy to return to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year.
The Board approved the division's 2021-2022 budget with overall revenues of just over $81 million and a planned deficit of $15,068.
The division had originally anticipated a revenue shortfall of at least $1.6 million due to the loss of 50% of the bridge funding provided by the provincial government to help the division transition to the new funding formula that was introduced last year. However, Alberta Education announced earlier this year that it would not be making that adjustment due to the pandemic. The division also did not experience a reduction of funding due to a decrease in enrolments, which would have resulted in an additional loss of $805,000 in revenue.
While this did alleviate some pressures for the 2021-2022 budget, an overall slight decrease in funding from Alberta Education for 2021-2022 ($143,000), combined with increased expenses in several areas including preparation for the introduction of new curriculum in 2022-2023, ongoing pandemic-related expenses, and increased staffing costs due to grid creep and benefit costs, resulted in an initial shortfall of $2.6 million.
Secretary-Treasurer Paula Elock explained the goals in developing this year's budget were to maintain the division's focus on supporting classrooms and services for students, and align the budget with the division's three-year education plan, including the two division priorities (numeracy and student mental health).
In 2021-2022 the division did not reduce staffing to align with decreased enrolment. This adjustment will be made for 2022-2023 school year, while continuing to align classes sizes with ACOL recommendations. Costs are also being reduced in areas that don't directly impact students. In total $2.58 million in expenditure reductions have been identified to bring the budget as close to balanced as possible.
Three-Year Education Plan
The Board approved the 2021-2024 Three-Year Education Plan. Superintendent Rick Cusson noted the timing of the presentation of the plan is slightly different from previous years, as it used to be combined with the division's Annual Education Results Report and was approved by the Board at the end of November. The report also marks a shift away from the previous accountability model to the assurance model.
The plan includes the division priorities established through extensive stakeholder consultation in 2018-2019 as well as goals determined by Alberta Education. Cusson noted that while progress has been made in all areas over the last year, COVID has impacted the implementation of some strategies and the the pace of implementation of others. As a result, many of the strategies are similar to what was included in last year's plan.
Associate Superintendent Terry Moghrabi presented the Board with a report on technology in the division. The overall ratio of devices to students is 1.3:1 which is above the goal the division has set of 3:1 in Kindergarten to Grade 4 and 2:1 for students in grades 5 to 12. This is due to schools, and sometimes school councils/ parent fundraising groups purchasing devices to supplement what is provided by the division.
The division invested additional resources in technology this year due to COVID-19 to support teachers with delivering online programming. This included webcams, headsets, laptops and Chromebooks. The division also sold 1,000 Chromebooks to parents to help support learning from home. Technology was also used to offer supports to students while they were learning from home, including speech-language and occupational therapy.
Upgrades were also made to technology that will result in long-term cost savings for the division. This included the introduction of a VOIP phone system and transitioning to cloud-based services. The IT department is also working on replacing the division's SMARTBoards with SMART TV's.
Learning Together Anywhere
Associate Superintendent Terry Moghrabi provided the Board with additional information about the Learning Together Anywhere program to help them determine whether or not to proceed with the program and if it should be attached to an existing NLPS school or as its own school.
Moghrabi noted that when families were initially asked to identify interest in an online alternative for the 2020-2021 school year, there was interest from over 400 students. As a result, the division introduced the Learning Together Anywhere program as one of three Learning Pathways and 300 students enrolled in September. The program was supported by an assistant principal and administrative assistant, and programming was provided by 15.5 teachers, as well as support staff.
Approximately 75 to 100 students have committed to the program for next year. Other families have indicated they want to wait and see what happens with the pandemic over the next couple of months before making a decision.
The Board approved a motion to establish Learning Together Anywhere as a school. The Board will review the viability of the program in two years. Trustees noted that this process is similar to what the Board has done in the past with the French Immersion program in Cold Lake.
The Board's Political Advocacy Committee will be focusing on two areas over the next few months: mental health supports and Internet access in rural communities. The committee is currently collecting data in preparation for meeting with municipal councils and other elected officials to discuss these issues.