Students remain priority for schools

The opening of the brand new Vernon Secondary was a highlight for the school district in 2013. - Morning Star file photo
The opening of the brand new Vernon Secondary was a highlight for the school district in 2013.
— image credit: Morning Star file photo

Every day, teachers, administrators and support staff demonstrate their dedication and commitment to student success in the Vernon School District.

School board chairman Bill Turanski said besides doing an excellent job daily in classrooms across the district, hundreds of staff members are also involved in professional development opportunities to learn new methods and strategies to meet the needs of all students.

“For example, there are 45 primary teachers working with district staff on the Changing Results for Young Readers Program to ensure our youngest learners are able to read well and to enjoy reading,”  he said.

And that’s just one of the areas in which trustees take pride in the work being done in this district.

But with success comes the same challenges the district has faced for a number of years: providing the services and programs that students need, with limited resources.

“We are thankful to parents, PACs and community organizations for their help in providing funding for hungry student food programs, school playground equipment, many extracurricular activities and classroom equipment and supplies,” said Turanski.

In order to balance the budget in the past year, reductions included relocating more than $400,000 from school surpluses; reducing teaching staff by just under 20 full-time equivalent positions due to reduced enrolment; elimination of one vice-principal position; reduction in education administrators’ budgets of $38,394; maintenance department reductions of $70,000; custodial reductions of $60,000; working to reduce natural gas costs by $160,000; and transportation reductions of $51,000.

“Budget discussions have not yet commenced for the 2014/15 school year,” said Turanski. “This school term was, however, the beginning of a good news story.

“Our elementary enrolment increased over last year and we expect it to continue to increase next year. Our secondary enrolment is still declining but at a slower rate than in the past few years.”

Secondary enrolment is expected to improve, he said, through increased international student enrolment and the addition of snowsport, baseball and Vernon Community School academies.

The past year saw the opening of a brand-new school for Vernon secondary, with the grounds work expected to be completed in the spring.

Next up for renovation is the board office, with an assessment to be conducted including factors such as training space, storage space and the space requirements of the District Resource Centre.

As well, Turanski said an effort will be made to find ways of achieving energy savings comparable to those experienced at the new Coldstream elementary school and VSS.

The district received $887,258 Learning Improvement Funding from the Ministry of Education to help address class size and composition issues. After consultation with schools, the funds were used to add teachers and Certified Education Assistants to address identified learning needs.

“Our hope is that the provincial government and the BCTF will conclude successful negotiations that will resolve the class size and composition issues.”

In the fall, the district hired Dr. Doug Hoey to do a complete review of the district’s aboriginal program. He interviewed more than 100 people from all partner groups, including students, teachers and Okanagan Indian Band representatives  and examined every facet of the district’s current aboriginal program and presented his report with recommendations in six areas.

“Among his recommendations was the importance of achieving an Enhancement Agreement and that this should be a high priority,” said Turanski. “This is consistent with the position of the Aboriginal Education Committee and the plan is to get the process under way as soon as possible.”

While the aboriginal graduation rate is encouraging, increasing from 61 per cent in 2011 to 68 per cent in 2012, Turanski said trustees will not be  satisfied until it reaches 100 per cent.

Increasingly, trades training has seen an interest by students, who are becoming aware of the opportunities available to them by entering an apprenticeship while still in high school.

“Trades are no longer a last option for students who have become disengaged with school. The opportunities available in the trades now encourage students to re-engage with the school system so that they can take advantage of the programs offered in our schools.

“Students with high academic achievement levels are also now seeing the trades as an area that can offer a high level of return on their educational investment.”

As a veteran trustee, Turanski has come to know that the job can be a very rewarding experience.

“One gets to know and work with so many outstanding individuals both local and provincially and because one is directly involved in ensuring that our young people have the best learning opportunities possible.”

But he’s quick to caution those thinking of running in the next municipal election be warned that the job requires a major time commitment. Each month, there are two board meetings and trustees are also assigned to a certain number of PACs, usually three, with the expectation that they will be attending their assigned PAC’s monthly meetings.

The board also has trustees sitting on various committees and each trustee is expected to represent the board on the committees assigned to them. As well, special board meetings may be called at any time to deal with emergent issues.

Trustees also attend a variety of school functions, participate in student exit reviews and speak at Grade 12 graduation ceremonies. Trustee Academies, branch meetings and the BCSTA AGM are held in Vancouver and other centres and each of these usually require the trustee to be away from home for several days.

“This is by no means a complete list of the demands on a trustee’s time and during the period of September to June of each year, it is not unusual for a trustee to attend 70 or more meetings and functions.”


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