Along with all the challenges and hopes facing the Okanagan Skaha School District, 2012 will also be a year of laying the groundwork for the future.
But one of the first items to be ticked off on their to-do list, said school board chair Ginny Manning, is getting ready for an upcoming visit by the minister of education.
“We have been trying to get a minister of education here for about a year-and-a-half,” said Manning. “We sent a number of invitations to Margaret McDiarmid, and when George Abbot became minister of education, we sent a couple of invitations to him.”
The visit is planned for Feb. 2, not long before the 2012 budget allocations are expected to be passed down by the Ministry of Education. Manning is looking forward to showing the minister what the district is accomplishing, but said they have a lot to accomplish on the single day.
“It would take several days to show him all the amazing things that happen in this district,” said Manning. “I am looking forward to showing him a lot of what we can do around technology. Part of the focus of the B.C. Education plan is technology … our technology is quite sophisticated and we can offer a lot.”
But with a projected shortfall of over $1 million and changes to the formula the Ministry of Education uses to allocate operating funds, dealing with the 2012-13 budget is sure to be a difficult task.
“I know that we are going to have some challenges with our budget, with the changes that the ministry has announced. Most of it is not going to be in our favour,” said Manning. “We have some work to do with the city as well, around utility costs. Our utility costs are quite high.”
Manning also tries to be optimistic the six-month old contract dispute between the B.C. Teacher’s Federation and the provincial employers association will be resolved soon, allowing the teachers to end their job action.
“We are doing some great work in our district around individualized learning. A lot of our teachers are doing some phenomenal work,” Manning said. “I am looking forward to that continuing as we move into fulfilling the education plan the ministry has laid out.”
The 21st Century Learning plan developed by the Ministry of Education focuses on offering students improved options and choices and strengthening the teacher’s role as facilitator, helping guide students and pick up on things they are interested in.
“It’s all part of moving from the agricultural-industrial model to a modern education plan, where you can have this kind of freedom to allow kids to learn in ways they are comfortable with and express themselves and use their imagination and use their abilities,” said Manning, adding that many teachers in the district are already developing innovative practices, not only around delivering instruction but assessment practices.
“There are a number around our schools that have embraced this in different ways, that are doing marvellous work with our students,” she said. “What it is, is ways to keep students engaged and interested. And, ultimately, staying in school, graduating and becoming productive members of our society.”