June 24, 2016
The end of the school year is an opportunity to reflect on all we’ve accomplished over the past year. When I think about the challenges we faced this year—welcoming newcomers from Syria and supporting students from Fort McMurray, to name two that saw a lot of public interest—I am incredibly proud of our District. Not only did our staff rise to these challenges and do amazing work, our students and their families pitched in and showed how generous and welcoming Edmontonians can be.
Our students are truly the leaders of tomorrow, and all of the staff who make our District run so well are excellent role models for them. Thank you all for your hard work this year.
At our final board meeting of the year, on June 21, the Board was pleased to announce the names of 9 new schools opening in September 2017:
These schools, along with two others that were named last year (Ivor Dent School in the Greater Lawton/Rundle Heights area and Michael Phair School in Webber Greens), will collectively provide space for 9,400 students in some of Edmonton’s fastest growing neighbourhoods.
The war in Syria has displaced millions of people and is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. I am proud that Canada has decided to take in thousands of Syrians who have been forced to leave their homes, and that our District has been able to play a part in supporting these newcomers.
Over 500 Syrian children have joined our classrooms. We’re glad to have them!
We have supports in place to help these students develop their English language skills and adapt to life in Canada. This is nothing new for us. We accept new students from around the world regularly, and have successfully welcomed refugee children in the past.
Our Diversity Education department has also set up mobile support teams to help Syrian newcomers. Each of these teams is made up of an Arabic-speaking intercultural consultant, an English-as-a-Second-Language consultant, a mental health therapist and a social worker.
The wildfire in the Wood Buffalo region, which caused many people to lose their homes and resulted in the evacuation of the entire city of Fort McMurray, dominated the news near the end of the school year. I am so proud our District stepped up to help.
One of the first things many families from Fort McMurray did, upon arriving in Edmonton, was to inquire about registering their children in school. We were ready and District staff did an incredible job making this process as quick and easy as possible. I want to thank everyone who helped make room for these students, arranged for transportation and generally provided a warm welcome to students and families from Fort McMurray. It was truly amazing how quickly administration was able to gather the resources needed to help.
We believe that, wherever they live, students deserve a great education, great teachers and high-quality places to learn. Today, many of our older schools are reaching the point where they will soon need major repairs. The older these schools get, the more expensive they are to maintain or upgrade. As you well know, a school's condition has a direct impact on a student's learning.
That’s why this year, we visited three mature communities—Britannia, Rosslyn and Westlawn—asking families and community members what they’d like to see in their neighbourhoods in terms of school spaces, programming and community resources. We discussed options like full modernizations and new replacement schools to serve students currently attending several smaller, aging schools, like we’ve done with Ivor Dent School in the Greater Lawton/Rundle Heights area.
We held two rounds of meetings in each community. At the last meeting in May, potential concepts, based on feedback from the first round of meetings in March, were presented for each community. The feedback from all three communities has been mostly positive, and the plan is to start Community Working Committees in each area in the fall.
I was honoured to take part in the ReconciliACTION event on June 3, the anniversary of the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It was a day for reflecting on the painful legacy of Canada’s Residential School System. But it was also a day for looking forward and making a commitment to ensure our schools are truly inclusive for all students.
True reconciliation is a national effort, but our District is committed to doing our part. On behalf of the Board, I committed to continue building relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous students, staff, families and community members to enhance and acknowledge indigenous peoples, their history, and our journey towards healing and reconciliation in our school communities.
That journey is one that will continue into the next school year and for many more years to come.
I have to give credit to the Board of Trustees for bringing a unified focus to our strategic plan, and continuously demonstrating an unwavering commitment to what is good for our kids. We’ve wrestled with many complex and difficult policy and budgetary discussions this year, and I believe we’ve consistently found common ground.
This year we welcomed Ward G Trustee Bridget Stirling (replacing Sarah Hoffman), who has strengthened the Board with her contributions. I’m honoured to be the Chair of such a high functioning team. We set high standards and ask tough questions, but we have fun too. If you don’t believe me, tune into a board meeting webcast anytime!
Our team would not be so successful without the leadership of our Superintendent Darrel Robertson. Darrel is well-supported by an all-star cast of senior leaders who have made tremendous contributions to achieving our strategic plan objectives.
We have big challenges ahead, but all the oars on the boat are rowing in the same direction.
As we end our school year and look forward to the summer, I want to thank our staff for living our Cornerstone Values of equity, collaboration, integrity and accountability. Thank you also to all of our students for their enthusiasm and energy for learning. And, of course, a big thank-you to our parents and community members for their tireless partnership in support of public education.
I hope everyone has a safe and fun summer break with friends and family. See you back here in September!