Wrapping Up a Good Year in PSD!

As another incredibly successful year in PSD winds down, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the many successes that we achieved together in supporting over 9,700 students across the Division. And, most importantly – I wanted to say thank-you to staff, parents, and our community partners. Quite simply, without your ongoing commitment of time, dedication, energy and resources we would not achieve what we have together this past year. On behalf of PSD’s senior executive, administrators and staff, thank-you for your service to PSD.

So, what were some of the highlights in PSD from the past year, and why do we have so much to be proud of?

Let me start by highlighting the importance of our community partnerships. Engaging our communities and stakeholders has been a significant priority for PSD over the past number of years, and these efforts grew by leaps and bounds this past year. As we all know, education is a partnership between our schools, parents and communities. In PSD, we are committed to enhancing these valuable partnerships year-after-year. This past year, our Board continued to show its commitment to community input and feedback through our System Review which examined enrolment trends and facility requirements for west end schools, and will next examine Stony Plain attendance boundaries.

As many of you know, this past year also saw the introduction of a new report card for grades K-9 in PSD. Over the course of the year we received positive feedback and some concerns from many parents, students and teachers regarding the new report card. Based on that feedback, we made a number of improvements to the report card for next school year. We know the new report card format is a big change for parents and students and we’re committed to helping parents understand how assessment has changed from evaluating knowledge to evaluating skills and competencies.

Our leadership role as an innovative school division was evidenced in the many successes and accolades received by our ‘Innovative Teaching and Learning Initiative’ after only its first year of implementation. We have seen exciting developments within our learning community and we want to continue to strive to create opportunities for our students to thrive in an increasingly digital age. The introduction of the Learning Leader Program, 184 Days of Learning, the Digital Portfolio Initiative, and our increased social media presence have all shown very positive results for both students and staff alike.

As famed American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan once said, “The times they are a’ changin,” and the adage holds true today as there are many exciting new things you’ll see unveiled in PSD this fall. We’ll ask you to stay tuned for more specific information, but we’ll offer a quick sneak peek now.

Our Board of Trustees is incredibly pleased that we’ll be sharing newly created Division-wide vision, mission, and values statements with our stakeholders this fall. These new statements really do reflect the future-focused and innovative organization that we are today.

We’re also pleased to unveil a new ultimate goal for PSD that focuses on student success and well-being. All of our programs and resources in PSD will be directed to this goal and supporting ‘key elements’ that include: engaging our students, engaging our staff, engaging our community, and stewardship of resources. Collectively, these goals and strategies will enable students to explore, create, imagine, and engage in lifelong learning as they develop their skills to prepare to enter the world of post-secondary studies or work.

This upcoming fall, PSD will also be introducing school-based learning coaches who work to improve student learning and achievement by removing barriers to learning for diverse learners and providing support to teachers to strengthen inclusive practices. The primary goal of the ‘Learning Coaches Program’ is to ensure that in relevant and meaningful ways all students will learn, contribute and be active members of their learning community in the most inclusive and enabling environment.

And, lastly, building on the success of the Parkland Village Resiliency Project, in 2012-2013 PSD will be introducing the Youth Resiliency Initiative across the Division. The Youth Resiliency Initiative is intended to build community capacity to provide programming and educational opportunities focused on developing prevention-focused strategies that build and support a strong foundation for mental health and resiliency in the youth who are served by PSD.

As you can see, when you add everything up, 2011-2012 was another remarkable year for PSD – and, we couldn’t have done it without you! 2012-2013 looks equally as promising, and we look forward to your ongoing contributions when we’re all back in the fall. In the meantime, enjoy a restful and enjoyable summer holiday. We’ll see you in late August with the start of a new school year as we prepare, engage, and inspire our students for another year.

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Message from the Superintendent (May)

Excellence! Teachers teach for it. Students strive for it. Parents expect it. Alberta Education praises it and the community celebrates it. So what is excellence? How do we define excellence and how do we measure it?

The accountability agenda is alive and well in Alberta and we are not shying away from it. In these times of high stakes provincial testing (Provincial Achievement Exams and Diploma Exams) we strive to achieve Excellence, as recorded by these exams. And while PSD students are doing very well at the Acceptable Standard, our schools endeavor to find ways to increase the number of students who are achieving the Standard of Excellence as measured by these paper and pencil tests. Teams of teachers pour over results and analyze the data to determine where they need to reinforce curriculum, change their teaching strategies, introduce new vocabulary, resources or activities.

At the same time, we continue to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning, skills, aptitudes and performance in endless situations beyond paper and pencil testing.

Our work is first and foremost about lifting students up to become more than they have imagined possible. As we prepare students for their place in the world – a world, that in some ways we can’t even anticipate, we are always encouraging growth and excellence as defined for the individual student. In addition to demonstrating excellence on provincial tests – our staff, parents, community and students themselves expect see excellence in many different areas of education.

Those areas of potential excellence are endless. We recognize excellence in leadership, music, art, drama and athletics. Our students have opportunities to excel in Career and Technology Studies (CTS) where we see demonstrations of amazing proficiency in Food Studies, Mechanics, Welding, Construction and beyond. Some students have a gift for language learning that is celebrated in second language instruction: French Immersion, French as a Second Language, German or Japanese. You don’t have to look far to see the incredible talents of our youth and we strongly believe that it is our responsibility to serve our students in ways that give each and every student the greatest opportunity to succeed.

Operationally, that means change continues to be the theme for the future. While the educational system of the past has met the needs of the past – today’s situation looks very different. Dr. Sam Shaw (former President of NAIT and currently with Encana), speaking to the College of Alberta School Superintendents last week, talked about the real needs in today’s work place. The skill set of today’s graduate centers around the ability “to learn”, to problem solve and to work as a committed team player. Those critical thinking, decision-making, collaboration and communication skills that we are focused on are the right ones! These process skills are the foundation of life-long learners. Gone are the days when we can focus solely on knowledge and content.

As teachers and students are planning for learning they should be creating a critical question for inquiry. If you can “Google” the question and get an answer – it is the wrong question! Today’s engaged learning needs to pose questions that require students to use their skills to find answers to real problems that are bigger than contrived, isolated subject, text book questions of the past. The stage has been set for students to achieve excellence in meaningful and relevant ways.

We are so proud to say that we are on the right track. And we are so quick to say that we have not arrived. Most importantly we continue to be thankful for the amazing students who learned with us every day. Thanks also to the hundreds of staff members who come to work every day to do what is best for kids. And to our parents, families and community we appreciate your ongoing support that keeps us going and for your tough questions that keep us researching and reflecting and always staying focused on what is best for students. Excellence is always the goal and we have agreement that there is a continual need to find ways to more accurately measure, report and acknowledge a broad range of excellence. Excellence is not the same for every student!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

Tim Monds
Superintendent – Parkland School Division

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Message from the Superintendent (March)

We frequently talk about all of the changes in education and the “messy” work that is involved in transforming a good school system into a great one. Some days it seems like we are taking baby steps as it takes commitment, time and lots of work to make effective change happen across a diverse school division with 9500 students and 1000 staff. We have a century of good practice that has served us well. However, we now have decades of effective schools research, and studies in teaching, learning and assessment that provide such a powerful basis to ensure we move from good to great!

Parkland School Division (PSD) has been focused on student assessment for over a decade. Our schools have been working hard to ensure that students have multiple ways to demonstrate learning and that they receive meaningful and timely feedback. Students need to be at the centre of the assessment process so that they can take responsibility for their learning.

Back in the day, a student may have received a zero for a missed assignment. Today, we would expect that a student is not permitted to take a zero. Learning is not optional. Today there is an expectation that the assignment would be completed and handed in – choosing to skip the assignment is typically not an option. And when a student does not achieve an acceptable mark on a test or paper, he/she is likely expected to do some further learning and then redo the assessment. Back in the day, we focused on the “teaching”, today we focus on the “learning”. In other words, it is not good enough for a teacher to say “I taught that”. The question is whether EVERY student actually learned what was taught. It is a subtle but very significant shift – moving from ensuring teaching to ensuring learning.

Several years ago, teachers in PSD began asking for an improved report card format – one that more closely aligned with good assessment practice and the expectations of Alberta Education. That request was heard and schools were encouraged to consider alternate reporting formats including report cards, portfolio assessment, student lead conferences, etc.

Following three years of pilot projects and alternative assessment strategies and reporting, our Division created the Assessment Working Committee – staff from various grades, schools, departments, administrators and teachers who have coordinated the development of our new report card.

We are half way through our first year of a two-year implementation plan. Each school community is working at their own pace to transition, recognizing that there is a learning curve for all of us – students, parents and staff.

Parents and teachers are expecting students to strive for excellence and to that end we are holding students more accountable than ever! We know the importance of having high expectations and continue to set the “learning bar” high. One of the concerns about our new report card is the question of how we report excellence.

We have heard this comment and will be sure to address this as we make this and other adjustments to the report card for next fall.

We appreciate the conversation, question and debate about reporting student growth. The introduction of our new report card has encouraged some terrific interest in assessment and it has generated great conversation between home and school. Thank you to the parents who have offered feedback. Every comment is being considered as we work to improve the report card – always mindful of the goal to increase parent understanding and to improve learning.

Transitioning to the new report card will take time. We recognize the shift to a curriculum-based report card will require conversation between home and school. We invite you to visit our websitehere to find out more about the report card. In the very near future, you will find details about improvements that will be made for the upcoming school year.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Superintendent’s Message (February 2012)

Parkland School Division Superintendent of Schools Tim Monds

As this message is being written, the community is buzzing about the upcoming Alberta Winter Games. Once again, the communities of Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Parkland County unite to share in the work, in the joy and celebration of an event that will bring opportunity and pride to the youth and families within our region and beyond. Parkland School Division is proud to be a partner in this exciting sporting and cultural event that will touch the lives of people across the province.

Schools have been the “heart of the community” since the beginning of public schooling. It is compelling that despite the many changes that have occurred in so many aspects of schooling there continues to be an ever-important focus on the connection between schools and the community. Relationships are at the core of the teaching and learning process and our work is in the people business. That will never change.

More than ever today’s fast paced environment requires community and parental involvement in many aspects of the education system. We have known for decades that student success increases when parents are working collaboratively with school staff. It is important to recognize that parental involvement happens in a variety of ways. While we appreciate the active commitment and leadership of our School Councils and the Council of School Councils we recognize that there are many other ways to be involved!

Whether a parent or community member is able to be a regularly scheduled school volunteer or whether a parent simply makes the time to sit down to talk with his or her child about what is happening at school, the connections between home and school make a valuable contribution. And we all know that even finding the time to have those important conversations isn’t so simple!

Parkland School Division celebrates Alberta Education’s increased focus on community engagement. Hearing the voices of interested, caring and concerned parents and public make us better. You can continue to be an important part of the action through our open invitation to talk with staff at any time with your thoughts and questions. More specifically there will be times where we come to you in a more systematic manner to seek your feedback on certain topics like the System Review (the important work that the Board is undertaking in order to address ongoing challenges with over and under population of schools) and the implementation of our new report card. Talk to your local school and be watching our website for updated information about these and other current initiatives.

With feedback and opportunity to provide comments and advice and to ask questions comes the chance to clarify thinking, to open up to change and new ideas. While the challenges within education may not always have clean and easy decisions, the value of healthy debate strengthens our decisions and helps us move forward with our commitment to ensuring that students have the greatest chance for success.

Along with the voice of parents, we strongly support the value of hearing student voice and of helping our students to make positive contributions and as they find their place in our communities. I have just accepted the invitation to provide opening remarks to the upcoming school wide Student Convention at Duffield School on March 2, 2012. Their theme: Communities – Working Togetherreminds us of the powerful relationship that exists between home, school and community.

Having firsthand experience with children who have competed in the Winter Games in the past, I am fully aware of the significant impact that these Games will have on so many families. With your help, our legacy of community involvement and commitment to the development of youth will continue to be seen in our schools and will be felt long after the closing ceremonies!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Message from the Board Chair (January 2012)

Welcome to 2012. What will the New Year hold for education in Alberta, for our students, employees and community? Normally over the Christmas season we make wishes for Christmas and resolutions for the New Year, but as we move into 2012 wouldn’t it be great if:

  • Every child in Parkland School Division had the best learning year of his or her life.
  • A new school was announced to accommodate overcrowding issues in east parkland.
  • A new government committed to education as its top priority, solidifying Alberta’s place as a world leader in preparing the new leaders of the global community.
  • Adequate, predictable, sustainable education funding would allow for long term planning and goal setting.
  • A new Education Act empowered school boards and communities to make the best decisions at the local level.

It is clear that 2012 will be a watershed year in education. As teachers and parents strive to prepare our children for successful and productive adulthood in an increasingly global and changing community, the traditional face of education will change. We must be prepared to accept the fact that ‘schooling’ plays only part of the role of preparing our children for their future. The face of education is changing and will continue to change. We must be prepared to value this change as a whole community, embracing the new reality of life in the twenty first century, while offering constructive, critical thought on the value of these changes.

So, the Trustees on the Board look forward to the exciting challenges and possibilities ahead. On behalf of the Board, I wish each and every student, parent, employee and community member the most prosperous New Year.

Richard Gilchrist
Board Chair – Parkland School Division

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Message From the Superintendent (January 2012)

Whether your school holiday time was enjoyed at home, at the home of family or friends or in a tropical vacation spot, I hope that you had the opportunity to appreciate the best of the season! As I shared in my Christmas message to our wonderful staff across Parkland School Division, let’s carry the joy and hope of the season into the New Year and throughout 2012!

The beginning of a new calendar year provides the opportunity to refocus and to set goals for continued growth and success in all aspects of life. It offers those same opportunities for students as they return to classes. This is the perfect time to talk about accountability and the emphasis that we place on holding students responsible for their choices and progress relative to both behavior and learning.

I cringe when I occasionally hear parents or our public complain about the lack of accountability in schools today. Our assessment strategies are all about holding students accountable. When we talk about second chances on assessments and about not allowing students to take a zero on an assignment, that does not translate into coddling our youth and accepting less than best effort. In fact, it demands that students do their assignments, that they strive for excellence and that they take additional steps to learn the curriculum before having another chance to demonstrate their learning. It’s not about being lenient, lowering the bar and giving unlimited chances to students who are not working.

School is often compared to “real life”. Parents expect that school will model real life and that students will be prepared for real life. In school, just as in real life, people sometimes get only one chance to perform or to demonstrate their learning (for instance on provincial exams) – however, most often (in schools and in real life) people get the opportunity to improve and to try again – to get assistance and to really learn. How many people do you know who are very thankful that the citizens of Alberta have more than one chance to pass a driver’s test? Giving a second chance does not mean lowering the standard. It means expecting everyone to meet the standard, even if it takes some folks a little longer.

As you likely know we are taking the next two years to implement our new K-9 Division report card. Several schools have begun that implementation this fall, while others are preparing for implementation in the fall of 2012. In either case, there is conversation happening in all corners of the Division as staff, students and parents work together to make the shift to reporting more about how students learn rather than just about what they learn.

In many ways, the written report card represents the “public face” of a decade of work in assessment. Discussions around the new format continue to give parents and staff the chance to have meaningful conversation about student growth. The report card must always been seen as one “snapshot in time” about how a student is learning. It needs to be considered in the context of a much bigger and more comprehensive picture of a student’s development.

If as parents you ever have questions about how your student is achieving, please contact the classroom teacher who will be very interested in sharing her/his perspective, working with your child to show you evidence of learning and to identify areas for growth and strategies for addressing those areas.

So, in your conversations about returning to school please encourage your child to establish some new goals or to recommit to those areas identified earlier in the school year. Let’s unite in our expectation that students must be held accountable – after all, that is how we can increase learning. Happy New Year – here’s to six awesome months of learning!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are always welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will open. Or, if you prefer you can send me a tweet @tmondsPSD70!

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Playing In Public

In Parkland School Division, we have been trying to model our learning, both the struggles and successes, with our community.  It is imperative that we are modelling for our students the process of learning and through initiatives like the 184 Project and The Learning Leader Program, we are able to share and learn both openly, and globally.

Recently, Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning, George Couros, created a video for the K-12 Online conference, as a featured keynote.  His video highlighted some educators from around the world, but also a great deal of work that is being done in Parkland School Division in continuously striving to model being a learning organization. 

Please feel free to check out the video below and share any comments that you may have.

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The Power of Sharing

We were extremely excited to see an outside educator talk about the sharing that is happening so openly at Parkland School Division recently on the 184 project.  Kurtis Hewson, an educator and professor at the University of Lethbridge, recently talked about the influence Parkland’s open learning model has had on his own professional development.

 I have never set foot in a Parkland School Division School.

To my knowledge, I have never physically met a teacher working in a PSD70 school.  I have never attended a professional development session hosted by a Parkland staff member or had any friends or family members attend Parkland schools, past or present.

Yet, Parkland School Division has had a tremendous impact on my growth and development as an educator over the past year and a half and its staff and students collectively continue to influence my teaching and learning.

We are very proud not only of the work that we have done in Parkland, but our open learning model and willingness to share.  Our Learning Leader Project is now fully underway, and traditionally, we would hold on to that work (unintentionally) and have it only shared with PSD70 Educators, but now it is open to the entire world.  Parents, students, and educators from all over the world do not only have access to the information, but they are more than welcome to use it and modify it in a way that works best for their kids.  When we share, we can also learn from others in what they do with our work, and it helps us to continuously create better learning opportunities for our students.  It is always about relationships and learning, and through this sharing, we know that we can improve both.

Kurtis continues on in his post to talk about this open learning and how it is transforming education:

Parkland staff represent a large percentage of my current Professional Learning Network on Twitter.  I follow a number of PSD blogs and I am accessing resources suggested by my PSD colleagues daily.  At a time when many school divisions are still ensnared in Digital Footprint 2.0 mindsets, Parkland strives to push the boundaries in how technology can support purposeful learning for students, staff, community and the greater educational community.

We are honoured that another educator has recognized the work that Parkland School Division has been doing.  We are taught in kindergarten that sharing is important, and in Parkland, we will continue to model that for our community, local and global, and most importantly, to our kids.

Thank you Kurtis for your kind words.  Hopefully we can continue to collaborate, create, and learn together.

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Shrinking World

As you are reading this message I am in the final stages of packing for my trip to Japan.  Passport – check – cash converted into yen – check – gifts to share with hosts, information about our great School Division, and a special plan on my Blackberry to ensure communication from abroad – check, check, check!  What?  I need formal documentation of my blood type?  Wow – it would be easier to stay on home turf.  I enjoy what I do and look forward to the daily opportunities and challenges working with others to ensure the continued success and improvement of Parkland School Division.  So why bother with the expedition to Japan?

First of all, it is by invitation from the Japan Foundation and connections through Alberta Education that I received the opportunity as one of 5 Canadian educators joining a delegation to visit Japan, to continue to develop relations with our Japanese counterparts and to deepen our understanding and commitment to second language education. It is truly an honor to represent our School Division and our province.

Beyond that, our world is shrinking…and I see such benefit in being abreast of the issues and advancements of education – not only in Alberta, but throughout Canada and beyond. Having recently participated in the OECD International Conference that was held in Banff, PSD Board Chair Richard Gilchrist and I, along with other Trustees and staff worked alongside colleagues from 18 countries as we grappled with exciting opportunities that exist for our students and in making learning meaningful and relevant in our new world.

You would be surprised at how frequently we experience events (small and large) that remind us of how the world is changing. Just last week we were contacted by a school in the Silicon Valley (California, USA). Via PSD blogs, websites, Twitter, etc., they have been following our advancements in assessment, embedding technology as tools for learning and in professional development, etc. and they are looking to us for support as they attempt to build teacher capacity in the use of technology. Imagine the call coming to us from the Silicon Valley – the US hub and think tank of all things technology!

We are serious when we talk about ensuring that our students are prepared for life after public education. That requires us to be on the leading edge – in the know and leading transformation in our schools. As Superintendent of our learning organization I am committed to taking the steps necessary to remain current in my understanding of the educational landscape and in having the tools necessary to continue to uphold the vision for our journey.

Will I become a fan of sushi? Highly unlikely. But I promise to represent all that is valuable and attractive about public education in Parkland School Division and in Alberta. I will ask lots of questions and do my best to gain an understanding of Japanese education, culture and relationships that will add value to what we are doing specifically with our students who are studying Japanese, those in other second languages and general principles related to education.

Have you checked out my recent blog “Hope”? As always, I look forward to hearing from you. You are still welcome to stop by my office, just call ahead and the door will always open. But now, like many of you, I have entered the world of social media, so you can even send me a tweet!

 

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Hope


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by DieselDemon

Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.  ~Christopher Reeve

 

The last two weeks have reminded me of how fortunate I am as a husband, father and in my career as a teacher and now Superintendent.  We sometimes face adversity that causes us to lose hope.  I on the other hand have felt nothing but hope!

What comes to mind first is Parkland School Division’s amazing students, staff, parents as well as the community support shown for the family both immediate and extended to the Greystone School Community with the recent passing of Jolene Cote.  Parkland School Division will remember Jolene as a treasured staff member who shared her talents and passion for the profession of teaching.   Pastor Wiebe sp0ke at Jolene’s Memorial Service about hope.  A message for all of us, even during the darkest hour, there is hope.  To move on in life we must have hope.  We must always remember…but we must always believe there is hope.

I believe we must embrace this sense of hope as we continue our journey in education. Last week our Board Chair Richard Gilchrist and I had the honor of atteninding the International conference on Innovative Learning Environments in Banff (October 10-12) organized by the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Alberta Education  conference in Banff.  Together we learnt about innovative learning environments and discussed steps in encouraging innovative education around the world. Representatives from  Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Hong Kong, and five provinces of Canada collaborated and shared thier vision and hope for our children’s future, and ultimately, ours.  There was a high degree of hope for the future of education and the ability to meet the needs of our learners in a new century.

Recently, Principal Shauna Boyce from Memorial Composite wrote “High School Parents can still be invovled“.  She stated the following:

The key to a successful high school experience, for parents and students, is communication.  We all want the same thing – for your sons and daughters to be happy, responsible, respectful, caring, and learned individuals. We want them to get everything they can out of high school and to achieve their potential.

I again felt hope for our future…ethical citizens ready for an everchanging world who will be our future leaders.

Principal Shaye Patras recently wrote a blog titled “Here we Go“.  In his post, he concluded with:

There’s an old story that I remember reading in Times Magazine some time ago.

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred year snooze and is of course utterly bewildered by what he sees’. ‘Every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when finally he walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school”, he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906”’

Every profession, field, industry etc. have evolved over the past 100 years; has the reporting in Education evolved?”

This also affirmed my hope for the future.  We are having conversations and looking to the future doing what is right for kids.  Trustee Ron Heinrichs, Trustee Eric Cameron, Associate Superintendent Emilie Keane, and Division Principal George Couros,  attended the  21st Century Learning Conference in Banff, Alberta, from October 12-14, 2011. The Pillars of the Forum were Career, Learning, Globalization and Sustainability (economic/environment). PSD representatives spoke about a presentation by  the Cenovus corporation, which focus on hiring employees that are critical thinkers, and problem solvers who are engaged and passionate about the work they do.  As a company, they will teach the content, but are more focused on developing staff with the necessary skills/competencies that will be needed by those working in a “knowledge economy”.  My hope for the future of education in Alberta is that together we embrace the recently released Alberta Education document, “Framework for Student Learning“, which very clearly describes the vision that they have for Alberta’s students as we continue into the 21st Century. A vision that supports what this company is asking for.

My blog today was to share a few thoughts that support there is a wonderful future for our children in Alberta.  Together we will find our way down this path always doing what is right for kids…our future leaders.

When the world says, “Give up,”
Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”
~Author Unknown

 

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