Birthdays, babies, awards, issues, meetings…oh, and the transformation of education

Bought myself a new hat. The dog likes it too. Thanks Ambler!

September flew by without my managing more than one blog post. Now it’s the spook-tacular last day of the month. I am not dressing up but Rose the dog might. That’s her in the photo, wearing MY new Ambler hat…she needs to stop borrowing my clothes.

To follow up on previous posts:

  • my father-in-law, Eldon Comfort did indeed celebrate his 100th birthday on September 30th. He was surrounded by a multi-generational collection of relatives, friends and colleagues… and love. The MP from the constituency attended to bring greetings from PM Stephen Harper – an un-Comfort-able moment, since Eldon is an NDP supporter and deplores our PM. Ah politics. Greetings from the G-G and HRH were welcomed.

    Her majesty sends her best to our honoured centenarian.

    It was also a reunion. Many folks reconnected, some after long absences. There was cake:

It was Black Forest. It was homemade-delicious. It was all gone within 10 minutes of the first cut. Thank you, sis-in-law, Janet Bojti!

De rigeur at all such Comfort celebrations were the limericks.  Eldon was selling his latest edition of his collection, “The Satanic Verses”,  proceeds to charity.

and here’s my favourite, Eldon’s take on reaching 100:

October the 4th is when

 I turned a hundred , and then

                                                          There was a celebration

                                                         With considerable elation.

                                                    But I don’t think I can do it again!

The whole family hopes to have Eldon with us, hale and hearty and compos mentis for some time to come.

  • No grandbaby yet. Enough said. The due date was two days ago. My son, the grandbaby’s papa, has a well-deserved reputation for outrageous Halloween costumes. Wait one more day before you meet your dad. Please. What could one more day hurt?

    Sorry for the graphic imagery but too good to resist for my nurse daughter-in-law due NOW!

     On to school board business. With the advent of our new superintendent, Chris MacPhee, there’s change in the wind. Chris is taking the time to meet everyone in Canadian Rockies Public Schools – and beyond –  face-to-face. He is on a Listening Tour. Chris is a passionate advocate for teacher leadership excellence. He is instituting change where it is necessary.

    Superintendent MacPhee has also made a priority of bringing our technological capacity up to speed, by partnering with another school district in a pilot program that may one day serve as a model for the province. The main district website is now full of very current information on such diverse topics as Professional Development with a video of Sharon Friesen’s presentation to the work being done in two of our elementary schools on habits of mind. Please visit often to explore what’s going on in the division. Oh, and please, give us feedback!

    And a hip-hip-hooray to Deb McKibbin, who I think is the first teacher in CRPS to have a blog that is all pedagogy, all the time.  I look forward to following the deep learning that Deb is pursuing.

    The Canadian Rockies Public Schools international student program website is up and running. This is an important part of our school community. Aside from the much-needed revenue received, these foreign students add richness and diversity to our school population, broadening the minds and aspirations of our young people. That being said, this aspect of the district operations is under continuous close examination through the IHM filters to ensure it makes sense for this division.

    Getting our ducks in a row.

    At the September 11th Board Committee meeting, the discussion ranged over issues and opportunities arising from previous strategic planning sessions + Inspiring Hearts and Minds (IHM) work + the June 20th meeting of the Community Education Network (CEN). The strategic function of the board is developed through a generative process with staff, school councils, students (where appropriate), and other partners.  This process is both generative and iterative; it is useful at times to declare current priorities. These are not fixed in stone, but will be informed as further learning emerges in consultative collaboration.

    So these are the four key priorities for this 2012 – 2013 school year:

    1) EDUCATIONAL/LEARNING – The Board expects that the Superintendent commence division-wide work, going deeper with our three-year work/plan to bring IHM to life by “Nurturing a Culture of Excellence” by focusing on the two most important factors to improve student achievement:

    1. instructional excellence
    2. instructional leadership

    2) FINANCIAL PLANNING – To increase the effectiveness of our financial planning in relation to our key priorities. We are changing the way we review and monitor our ongoing financial management as well as the budget process.  Alberta Education undertook a review of our financial situation which confirmed what was already known. The board has formed a budget committee (board, superintendent, administrators) to deal with these challenges.

    3) COMMUNICATION  – To review and update our communications processes and systems so that we are timely and relevant in how we communicate with our public – parents, students, school councils, community and other audiences.  The goal is to improve the flow of information, knowledge and understanding to inform effective action and decision-making.  Last year’s 3-year Calendar and Superintendent hiring processes were examples of a more focused and intentional approach to communication. New this year is “Board Highlights”, a newsletter produced by trustee Carol Picard. Exactly as the title describes, it will bring to the forefront the issues and initiatives that the board is jazzed about, as well as concerns and issues seen over the horizon.  The board and superintendent will also provide information to politicians and other stakeholders, and advocate for the division with those parties.

    4) POLICY REVIEW–  To update our policies to reflect current practice and the new approaches developed through IHM, CEN and other processes. This is often dry work – housekeeping outdated documents, cleaning up redundant or moribund items. Anything of significance will be brought to public scrutiny.

    WHEW! The picture below is by way of an intermission, to break up the text before launching into the next section. It is just one day recently, up at the off-leash area above Canmore.

    There are days when the Rockies look like the Himalayas – this was one of them.

    So the Community Education Network (CEN) had a broad discussion about options to manage the issues of grade configuration and infrastructure within CRPS in order to address the twin issues of declining enrollment and the attendant reduction of funding.  The CEN group told CRPS: “Don’t fear making the tough decisions which need to be made for both fiscal and academic reasons. What does it do to the community if we don’t make decisions?” In addition CEN wishes to continue its involvement in the ongoing decision-making process. Moving forward, the model will be similar to the process used to determine the calendar: gather data from multiple sources, provide plenty of time for input and discussion, communicate. Elements of IHM will be used as a basis for discussion to zero in on the key issues:

    1. Academic: ensure there is sound pedagogical reasoning behind options
    2. Social
    3. Economic/fiscal
    4. Community needs

    And, overarching it all: what is best for students?

    Last couple of items:

    The Education Act, Bill 3, just passed the committee stage in the Alberta Legislature last night. Follow this as you can; Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) and other groups will be shedding light on the implications. As always, the devil is in the details, so it will be the regulations put in place to implement the laws that will inform what comes next.

    Tripartite talks: breaking news: October 31, 2012
    Parties agree to continue tripartite talks beyond Oct. 31 deadline
    Joint Statement – Government of Alberta, Alberta School Boards Association and the Alberta Teachers’ Association have been engaged in discussions on a new long-term framework to achieve workforce stability and transform Alberta’s education system.
    All three parties share a common interest in reaching an agreement. At this point, the parties have agreed to continue these discussions beyond our self-imposed deadline of Oct. 31, 2012.
    We remain committed to the transformation of the education system to ensure student success in the 21st century.                                                                                                  Stay tuned. This one is important, but may not be settled very soon.

    And finally, a brief shout out on the Canmore Collegiate High School Awards presentation. I know many pedagogues and parents who are against or ambivalent about such celebrations, but I find these ceremonies meaningful and uplifting, not just for the students and their parents, but for the whole community. The affection and respect between the students and the teachers is palpable.

    Huge props to Canmore Rotary. President Lawrence Nyman presented 18 cash prizes, four of which are new this year.  This organization does so much to support our schools with the foreign student exchange program and the “Adventures in...” courses for 15 to 18-year-old youth, as well as other behind-the-scenes efforts – the breakfast program and Science Fair in particular. Many thanks to this public-spirited group of doers.

    I did miss May Riva who passed away in June of this year at the age of 94. She always came and said something like “I’m back. Fooled you, didn’t I?” She told the kids to not only remember to thank those who gave them money but also to take the time to tell those sponsors and supporters what they were doing with their lives.  Principal Glenn Nelson called her to mind at the presentation of the Eileen Reid Fine Arts Bursary and we all smiled at the memory of her inimitable presence. In the Craig Douce photo here, May is at the dedication of the park named for her at Elizabeth Rummel School.                            Miss you, May.


About Esmé Comfort

My husband Jim and I moved to the Bow Valley in 1980, settling in Canmore in 1983. Both my children were born in Canmore and attended K -12 in Canadian Rockies Public Schools District (CRPS), French Immersion. For the past six years I served as vice-chair of the board. Alberta Government support to the CRPS Inspiring Hearts & Minds initiative created opportunities for provincial, national and international outreach. In the past I held positions on the Canmore Daycare Board, the preschool board, and various school councils/PACs; I served as president of the local chapter of Canadian Parents for French for five years and sat on the provincial board for two. I currently sit on the board of the Canmore Folk Music Festival, work full time at an events management firm and edit, copy-edit and proofread on contract. My husband and I ran a small main street business for 18 years: supply and install floor wall and window coverings.
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