“Maybe it's an addiction, she says, but she looks around her at meetings and she can't help thinking that meetings are good for people. They make people feel everything isn't such a muddle”. Canadian Nobel Laureate for Literature, Alice Munro made this poignant statement and based on what has been experienced by many if not all of us, it is true that most of the time, meetings do bring closure to some of the muddles. Unfortunately, they probably create some confusion too. Regardless, this past week was full of meetings, many of which were focused on the challenges related to Covid-19. One of the unintended challenges that we have experienced is in relation to the “masking at recess” protocol that was recently highlighted for schools. Over half of Horizon’s schools were already implementing a practice where children were masking so the recent announcement that provided the mandate really did not change anything for those schools. However, for some communities where Covid-19 has had relatively limited impacts, the practice has caused some angst for some parents.
I know we all share the same perspective in that we hate to see children, youth, young adults, or even adults wearing masks. No one wants to wear them and especially, have our children wear them. That said, it is a necessary practice that when combined with our other mitigating protocols such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and the continued inoculation of our citizens, will create a herd immunity that will eventually make masks and this pandemic a thing of the past. For now, and with clear guidance from our medical health officers, masking will continue to be necessary…even at recess. If 2 meters physical distance is maintained outdoors, our children are encouraged to take breaks by removing their masks. If they forget to keep them on when they are within 2 meters, we will treat them as always, with love and kindness and provide them simple reminders.
Our world is in a very challenging time with three variants in our province and a potential fourth in our country that is wreaking extreme havoc and tragedy on India. As a society, we took precautions and implemented practices to save the lives of our grandparents and great grandparents who were most impacted by the virus…and we were not always successful. Families had to endure the worst tragedy stemming from the pandemic. And now, we continue to need to stay this course and even heighten our efforts in order to continue to protect citizens of all ages. Just this past Thursday, a 13-year-old became one of the youngest Canadian’s to die of the disease. Earlier in the week, a 36-year-old educational assistant from southern Saskatchewan passed away due to complications related to contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The virus has many variants and we do not want to say we could have done more when lives are at risk. We will stay the course and we will continue to answer questions and concerns from parents and community members. We will continue to follow the research and the direction that is provided by our health officials. We have been told that the provincial plan will see children 12-15 years get the vaccine in the summer and the fall will potentially see the youngest of our population receive the vaccine. I know that we all agree that a much better future is ahead. What a welcome change we will experience, and I will be most grateful for our kids!
We began the past week with the Horizon Board of Education regular monthly meeting. We met virtually once again and had a full day of important conversations. Discussion topics included Board committee reports, ongoing discussions related to pandemic response planning, the Early Learning Family Resource Centre that has been announced for Humboldt, and reports from Finance Services, Human Resource Services, and Operational Services. We also had reports from Superintendent of Student Services, Darrell Paproski, and his team joined the meeting to share about our Literacy and Safe & Caring goals. Assistant Superintendent of Literacy, Numeracy, and Early Learning Services, Katherine Oviatt, and her team of Literacy Coaches shared their annual accountability report about their incredible work supporting student and staff learning. Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, Jason Neville, shared about the wide-ranging work to support Safe & Caring schools, focusing on the work Horizon staff are doing to support mental health.
On Monday evening, I joined trustee Dr. Cheryl Vertefeuille for a virtual meeting of the School Community Council (SCC) for Schell School. I value the opportunity to meet with our critically important SCC members, to hear from them directly, and to share about the work going on in our system. We had an important conversation and I want to thank the Schell SCC for the invitation to join their meeting with principal Donna Appel, staff, and students.
On Tuesday, I reviewed proposed updates to several of our administrative procedures. Our Senior Leadership Team reviews the APs in their service areas each year and submits any needed changes for my approval. I want to thank my SLT and Executive Assistant, Marni Sogge, for coordinating this important work.
I joined two of our Board committees on Wednesday; the Election Committee and the School Community Council Engagement Committee. The Election Committee is reviewing the processes of our most recent Board election and developing recommendations for the process going forward into next term. Our SCC Engagement Committee is looking at the ways they can assist and empower SCCs and SCC members across Horizon School Division which includes the preparation for an early November SCC workshop or symposium. SCCs will be able to share the great work they are doing with other SCCs and engage in collaboration through a virtual process.
Wednesday evening, I joined a committee meeting regarding the guidelines for this year’s graduation ceremonies. More information regarding graduation ceremonies is coming soon, and we will share this as it is finalized. After my grad meeting, I joined a conference call for Education sector pandemic updates including a discussion with Dr Shahab who shared the most current epidemiology in the province. Assistant Deputy Minister of Health, Rebecca Carter also joins us at the meetings and shared some additional insights related to vaccine rollout and rapid testing considerations. She also reiterated the most recent information regarding school staffs being able to be vaccinated along with the 40-year-old age category. I know most of us in Saskatchewan were relieved to hear this news as teachers and support staff are truly front-line workers in so many ways.
On Thursday morning, the Director’s Leadership Team (DLT) met briefly to discuss a couple of updates regarding graduation guidelines and recess masking protocols. I then joined Saskatchewan’s Board Chairs for an update from our sector’s Response Planning Team (RPT). I finished the day with a weekly provincial meeting of school officials and Public Health out of Regina Qu’Appelle before meeting with the Deputy Minister of Education regarding graduation ceremony protocols.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials (SASBO) held their 75th annual convention. While this year’s convention was held virtually, I have heard that it ran very smoothly and was a very beneficial conference for our SASBO members in Horizon and across Saskatchewan. Congratulations to Jamie Valentine, SASBO Executive Director, and his planning committee for providing this important opportunity for professional development despite the challenging circumstances of this year.
Principals, vice principals, and central office staff met again on Friday morning. We covered a lot of important topics for discussion during this meeting, and I am always so appreciative that we have access to technology that allows us to meet despite the distances between us. During our DLT meeting, I joined a meeting with my fellow Directors and the executive director of LEADS who sits on the RPT, to discuss updates and planning related to several items including graduation plans and rapid testing. As I mentioned, we can expect to see a memo on Tuesday that will outline the guidelines for graduation ceremonies for May of 2021. I will be sure to send this out as soon as the media release comes from the Ministry.
Lastly this week, I want to share my deepest condolences to the family, friends, students, and colleagues of the educational assistant from Moose Jaw and the child from Brampton who passed away last week. I know I speak for everyone in Horizon School Division when I say our hearts and thoughts are with these families and all families across Saskatchewan, Canada, and beyond who are experiencing tremendous grief as a result of the loss of a loved one.
Have a great week, Horizon. Thank you for your ongoing heroic efforts to keep everyone safe, our schools open, and our businesses operating.
Kevin C. Garinger B.Ed., M.A.Ed.
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205