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Under the Northern Lights - November 29, 2023

Good News Items

  • Board Chair Karen Packard congratulated all of the teams from Northeastern Alberta who participated in the Unified Sports Bean Bag Tournament at Cold Lake High School earlier this month.

  • Board Chair Karen Packard thanked MLA Scott Cyr, MLA Glenn Van Dijken and Minister of Energy and Minerals Brian Jean for connecting with trustees at the recent Alberta School Boards' Association MLA breakfast.

  • Board Chair Karen Packard also thanked all of the dignitaries who participated in school Remembrance Day ceremonies. Several schools were fortunate to have military veterans speak at their services, which made the ceremonies memorable for those in attendance.

  • Trustee Debra Lozinski attended the film release Melvin Whitford's Residential School Experience in Kikino on November 1. She encouraged other trustees to view the film which recounts Whitford's experience of being removed from his family at age 3 and taken to residential school where he remained for 13 years. 

  • Trustee Lois Phillips commended the organizers of the Lac La Biche Festival of Trees, many of whom are staff members or former staff members of NLPS. The event continues to grow, showcase NLPS students, and raise money for charities that benefit the division's students, including the Kids Are Worth It Nutrition Program.

  • Trustee Roy Ripkens complimented Bonnyville Centralized High School on its recent Coffee House and Fair Trade Market. The event was well done and a great opportunity for the community to interact with students and staff at the school.

  • Trustee Cheryl Edwards thanked the career options class at H.E. Bourgoin Middle School for inviting her to make a presentation. The class introduces students to the variety of careers that are available for them to pursue after graduation.

  • Superintendent Rick Cusson thanked the school council members and parents who attended the recent workshops on fundraising groups that were hosted by the Board and presented by the Alberta School Council's Association (ASCA). He noted that feedback from participants indicated it was one of the better sessions parents have been involved in. The Board will be writing a letter thanking ASCA for the exceptional learning opportunity for parents.

  • Nicole Garner, Communications and Public Relations Manager, presented Good News Items focusing on Student Achievement from schools across the division. The full presentation is available on the NLPS website: Good News - Student Achievement - November 29, 2023.

2022-2023 Annual Education Results Report

The Board approved the 2022-2023 Annual Education Results Report for submission to Alberta Education. This document outlines the results achieved by the division in relation to its division priorities and the goals set for it by Alberta Education. 

Superintendent Rick Cusson noted that 2022-2023 was a year of recovery for the division with many activities and initiatives reintroduced following the pandemic. That included the re-engagement of students through the Student Advisory Council to the Board. The division also faced challenges in 2022-2023 including staff recruitment and retention, as well as student and staff absences that remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Division Priority 1 is student mental health and wellness and Cusson noted that the results on the K-2 student mental health survey indicate students are doing well. While results have improved somewhat at the Grade 3-12 level, there are some areas that need attention. For instance, over 50% of students indicated they need assistance to cope with and manage their fears and anxieties. 

A number of strategies have been put in place to address student mental health and wellness including wellness coaches, student advocacy counsellors, Positive Behaviour Intervention Supports, Community Helpers and the e-Mental Health project.

The division's second priority is improving students' numeracy skills and understanding. Assessments done at the grades 1-4 level show greater than expected growth for students who were identified as at-risk. Provincial Achievement Test results for students in grades 6 and 9 have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, but did see growth from the previous year. Cusson noted that disruptions to learning due to student and staff absences may have impacted those results, as well as Provincial Diploma Exam (PDE) results. High school PDE results also improved from the previous year.

NLPS also saw growth in literacy at the grades 1-4 level as a result of interventions put in place with the provincial learning disruption grant. Similar to numeracy, the assessments done showed greater than expected growth for students who were identified as at-risk.

The engagement the Board did with the Student Advisory Council and with school councils last year resulted in actions that have been put in place for the 2023-2024 school year. This includes revitalization of Positive Behaviour Intervention Supports at the division's schools, increased custodial time to address cleanliness, increased academic and career counselling and the revitalization of Board Policy 22. 

The Board will be consulting with stakeholders this year to determine what the division's priorities will be moving forward. That will set the direction for the division's 2024-2027 Three-Year Education Plan.

Alberta Education Assurance Measures

Superintendent Rick Cusson reviewed the division's 2022-2023 Assurance Measures with the Board. Many of these measures were included in the 2022-2023 Annual Education Results Report.

The Assurance Measure report is made up of two forms of data. The first is results from the Assurance Surveys done by Alberta Education in February-March. This includes surveys of staff, students and parents in grades 4, 7 and 10. The second set of data is based on Provincial Achievement Tests and Provincial Diploma Exams, and high school completion.

The Assurance Survey asks staff, students and parents/guardians about their satisfaction with student learning engagement, citizenship, education quality, safe and caring learning environments, access to supports and services and parental involvement.

Cusson noted that response rates had increased by 18% over the previous years which is good news as it indicates stakeholders are taking advantage of this opportunity to provide feedback. That increase included responses from 244 more students than the previous year and 43 additional parents/guardians.

The results of the survey showed only small changes to the satisfaction levels of staff, students and parents. The largest increases were in parental involvement (up by 3.5%) and access to supports and services (up 1.1%). The largest decrease was in student learning engagement (down 2.5%).

One area noted by the Board was the five-year completion rate. Cusson explained this number is high because many high school students decided to come back for a fourth or fifth year due to the disruptions to learning that occured during COVID. Board Chair Karen Packard suggested that due to the large numbers of students taking additional time to complete high school, the Board may want to advocate for increased funding. Currently the division receives 50% less funding for a student in their fourth year of high school, and 75% less funding for a student in their fifth year.

2022-2023 Audited Financial Statement

The Board approved the division's 2022-2023 Audited Financial Statements as presented by Jeff Alliston from Metrix Group and NLPS Secretary-Treasurer Paula Elock. On paper, the division finished the year with a $1.9 million surplus. However, Elock explained that this was mostly due to how the division had to record the transfer of the former Grand Centre Middle School to the City of Cold Lake. Even though NLPS did not receive any cash for the exchange, the transaction was valued at $2 million and had to be recorded that way. The division had budgeted for a $151,000 deficit.

The Board is currently required to have no more than $3.9 million in its reserves (3.42% plus an $800,000 exemption approved by the Minister last year). As a result of that, and the requirement for all transfers in and out of reserves to be approved by the Education Minister, the Board will be sending a letter to the Minister to request the following:

  • A transfer of $1.9 million from its unrestricted surplus to operations and maintenance capital reserves to fund future rental costs at the Cold Lake Energy Centre that offset the transfer of GCMS to the City of Cold Lake;
  • A transfer of $1.5 million from system administration operating reserves to system administration capital reserves for future repair or modernization of division office space; and
  • A transfer of $485,000 from transportation operating reserves to transportation capital reserves for the future purchase of yellow and white school buses.

Elock noted that if those transfers are not approved, the division will likely be asked to return the money to Alberta Education. Clawbacks are expected to be confirmed by the province in December.

Facilities Update

Facilities Director Leah Rout provided the Board with an annual report on the work that has been done to maintain the division's schools and other facilities, a total of 41 buildings. Total expenditures for the department were just over $13 million in 2022-2023.

Summer is the busiest time for the department and a total of 121 school-related projects were completed including envelope repair, accessibility and modernizations. CMR Stimulus funding was put toward changes to the Glendon School envelope and building automation at Ecole Plamondon School. A priority for the division has been upgrading entrances to be more secure. Nine secure entrance projects have been completed and more are underway.

Facilities staff also completed the move and setup of four modulars at North Star Elementary School, and the modernization of several rooms at Ecole Plamondon School after three modulars at that location were deemed structurally unsafe.

Rout noted that one ongoing challenge for her department is finding custodial staff. In November alone, the department has had to find replacements to fill 314 days of custodial time. Casual custodians are scarce and recruitment efforts have not been successful.

2022-2023 Student Achievement Accountability Report

Directors of Instruction, Lorrie Makepeace (K-6) and Karen Draycott (7-12) presented the Board with a report on student achievement that included student assessments done during the 2022-2023 school year. Assessments include Provincial Achievement Tests for students in grades 6 and 9, Provincial Diploma Exams for high school students, the LeNS and CC3 for grades 1 to 3, CAT4 numeracy assessments for grades 1 to 4, and NLPS common assessments in grades 7 to 9.

In Provincial Diploma Exams, NLPS results increased in the acceptable standard on 9 of the 10 exams. Math 30-1 is approaching the provincial average and Math 30-2 exceeded the provincial average. In addition, NLPS increased its results on 7 out of 10 exams in the excellence category. On 7 of the 10 exams, NLPS resrults are also above or similar to provincial results.

In Provincial Achievement Tests, NLPS results improved at the acceptable standard in 4 out of 8 categories and both Grade 6 and Grade 9 showed improvement. 

The literacy and numeracy assessments show that fewer students were deemed to be at risk at the end of the school year. CAT4 numeracy assessments indicated that Grade 4 students exceeded the national norm. 

The EYE assessment is given to Kindergarten students to identify readiness for Grade 1. Makepeace noted that there was a notable decrease in students needed group or individualized interventions by the end of the year. 

Strategies to address achievement include common assessments in grades 7 to 9, Mathology in the elementary grades, focusing on Building Thinking Classrooms, and using Learning Consultants to provide support to teachers. 

One of the challenges noted by the Board was the timing of announcements for specific grants that impact achievement. By the time an application is submitted and approved and resources are put in place it can often be well into the school year. Learning about these opportunities sooner, when there is time to plan and hire staff would increase the benefit to students. 

School Council Reports

Board Chair Karen Packard thank school councils for the quality of their annual reports that were submitted to the Board this fall. She said it was clear the councils are making a difference in their schools and their efforts are appreciated by the Board. 

Ward Boundary Review

The Board approved moving forward with a ward boundary review. Any changes to ward boundaries would need to be implemented one year prior to the next board election, which is scheduled to take place in October 2025.

Policy 22: Board Supported Projects and Initiatives

The Board approved three projects for funding in the first application period. The Cold Lake High School EnviRoyals will receive $2,050 to offset the costs for five students to attend the Youth Climate Summit which took place in Canmore in October.

The Ardmore School Students' Union will receive $3,960 to replace the school's 3-D printer and purchase a camera and tripod.

The Grade 5 class at Ecole Plamondon School will receive $2,880 to start a paper and cardboard recycling program. 

Policy 22 invites student groups and school councils to apply for funding for projects that align with division priorities, enhance the culture and climate of schools, and/or create new opportunities for student success. Projects are eligible for up to $5,000 in funding. The next application deadline is March 31.

Board Policy 18 - Professional Staff Early Retirement Incentive Plan

The Board approved a motion to rescind Policy 18 as of June 2024.

Staff Wellness Report

Associate Superintendent Jimmi Lou Irvine provided the Board with an overview of staff wellness data and initiatives from the 2022-2023 school year. 

A total of 54 individual school and collaborative wellness activities were approved last year, with 1,234 participants. Approximately $40,000 was committed to these projects from the fund the Board has set aside for healthy living initiatives.

The Board also supported staff wellness through liaison committees, wellness communications, and staff events and activities.

Occupational Health and Safety Report

Associate Superintendent Bill Driedger presented the annual OH&S report to the Board. He noted that the division currently receives a discount on WCB premiums based on experience and that the division's claims are 55.76% below the industry average.

The division has a Joint Workplace Health and Safety Committee that works together to address worksite health and safety issues. The division is currently working towards a Certificate of Recognition, and recently implemented on online training program for staff to assist with ensuring compliance with training and reporting requirements.