Annus Horribilis...Annus Mirabilis
December 16, 2020

The year 2020 is a year that many would like to see behind us, due to the upheaval and tragedy caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Initially this shared trauma confounded our collective response. As social beings, we are accustomed to rallying together in solidarity to ease the suffering of those most affected. But public gatherings were verboten on the good advice of our epidemiologists. Ultimately though, humanity did find a way to forge collective purpose through virtual means. And, typical of other times of catastrophe and strife, we adapted and improved in many ways. 

There are parallels in our own District. Some time ago, we identified student engagement as a key focus area. On March 11 of this year, our senior District and school leaders were concluding a provincial ‘Good at Learning, Good at Life’ conference, energized and motivated by our work with the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL) team, led by world-renowned educational author Dr. Micheal Fullan. Little did we know that in just two days we would face our last day of in-class learning for the 2019-20 school year. While it was a shock to the system, we leaned on our initial foray into deep learning to navigate the spring school closures and pivot to learning at home with a vigilant eye on equity and a focus on relationships. Despite the additional burden of preparing and planning for a safe return in September, we invested considerable time in NPDL over the summer and sustained it in the fall. It has allowed our District and our schools to prioritize what is right for student learning in a pandemic situation and beyond. It really is the torchlight in the tunnel right now.

How many of us really thought we would be able to maintain in-class learning for the vast majority of students until Christmas? While a great deal of credit goes to the expert advice of our public health officials, I thank our Board of Trustees for their guidance and I must also single out District office staff and our school administrators for their detailed planning, preparation and support for a safe return to school. Additionally, it was the bus drivers, custodians, secretaries, student assistants, teachers, and teaching and learning assistants who diligently strived to provide a safe and welcoming school environment. We are also very proud of our students for adhering to a litany of new procedures and for sacrificing so much of the ‘fun’ activities to be able keep our schools safe. Our parents and guardians also played a key role by reinforcing health messages, carefully screening their child’s attendance at school, all the while supporting their child’s learning. I acknowledge that none of this has been easy and has exacted many a personal toll. I can only say thank you to all. 

We are still compiling the many lessons learned from the challenges of 2020. It is clear that the K-12 public education system is both cherished and integral to the basic functioning and betterment of our society. We have also found out some things about how we operate that points the way to a more equitable and engaging school system for our students. Challenges will still be evident as we begin 2021, so we must remain vigilant. But the torchlight in the tunnel is illuminating the way to the tunnel’s exit. 

Have a safe and happy holiday season, and all the best in 2021!

The End of a Most Unusual Year
June 25, 2020

The word “unprecedented” has been bandied about a lot this year, but surely there is no better way to describe the situation in which we found ourselves these past few months. Even when we were forced to suspend in-class instruction, I’m not sure many realized we would be out for the remainder of the school year. 

Now we are focused on September 2020 - hoping and planning to return to in-class, face-to-face teaching and learning, but preparing for the possibility that we cannot. We continue to work with the Provincial Government and our educational partners on plans for multiple case scenarios, depending on the Covid-19 situation in September and direction from the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Clearly our collective goal is to have all teachers and students back in the classroom, 100 per cent of the time. But rest assured the health and safety of students and staff is of paramount concern, and the implementation of any educational delivery model will be guided by that principle. 

We do know this - there will likely be adjustments made at the school and classroom level, and it is possible there will be at least some virtual instruction and learning required for some students. We know there will be challenges. We know there will be inconveniences. We know it will not be perfect, or even near perfect. But we also know that we will continue to leverage our commitment to relationship-building to move through these challenging days together, united in a commitment to student success, safety and well-being. It is important to acknowledge the productive collaboration with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers’ Association, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees.

The year 2020 is half over, and we have seen global issues resonate in our communities like never before. Global warming, the continued plight of our province’s and our country’s Indigenous Peoples, violence, societal injustices, the Black Lives Matters movement and, of course, the worldwide pandemic. It is more clear than ever that we are raising and educating young people in a global society, and must prepare them to be critical thinkers, working collaboratively with others to problem-solve issues of equity and succeed on a world stage.

Once again I take this opportunity to congratulate the Class of 2020 for finding new and innovative ways to mark your graduation from K-12 schooling, and wish you all the best as you pursue this next exciting stage in your lives. I thank our school administrators and teachers - who stepped up to the plate and put students first as they devised innovative ways to connect and encourage ongoing learning. I thank our school support staff: bus drivers, custodial staff, secretaries, student assistants, community partners and volunteers who supported their school communities throughout this challenging year. I thank our District programs staff for facilitating professional learning and providing leadership to our families of schools. I thank our executive support team, our human resource group and corporate service team (information technology, facilities, finance, and student transportation) for their diligent efforts to provide the best possible learning environment, in whatever form, for our students. In closing, I would also like to thank our volunteer, elected Board of Trustees for their policy guidance, advice, and support this past year and through these unusual times.

We are so looking forward to welcoming our students back in September and greeting our new Kindergarten students. Have a safe summer everyone. 

Weathering the Storm
January 31, 2020

As you know, the Avalon and parts of the Bonavista Peninsulas were hit with a monster storm on January 17. Some areas were hit harder than others, but it’s fair to say the St. John’s metro area bore the brunt of the blizzard and - due to the population density - cleanup was challenging, to say the least. 

Our friends and colleagues in other regions, who are well-accustomed to adverse weather conditions and the large accumulation of snow, teased us a bit, but we appreciated their support in taking care of some matters while many Avalon and headquarters staff were working from their phones and laptops at home.

People can be at their best, or worst, in challenging situations. Our staff members were at their absolute best. While the loss of instructional time is a concern, it certainly is not unprecedented within the District and I am confident our teachers and administrators will find innovative ways to ensure curriculum outcomes are met. 

In the effort to reopen schools as soon as possible, with safety top of mind, our small student transportation division took on the monumental task of reorganizing dozens of metro area bus routes to ensure students could get to school. Our communications and IT staff worked tirelessly to inform schools, parents, the public and the media of the latest developments and to have information readily available on our website. Our facilities staff members were given special permission to venture out during the state of emergency to assess school buildings and clear doorways and walkways so that when conditions improved, our schools were ready for students and staff. Our senior leadership team and executive staff were on deck throughout, liaising with provincial and municipal representatives and working together to problem-solve in the best interest of students.  It was often difficult, and sometimes fraught with frustration, but everybody pulled together to make it work.

I take this opportunity to thank District office staff, provincial and municipal leaders and officials, administrators, teachers, school support staff, busing contractors and drivers, parents, caregivers and others who helped us to weather the storm and get our students back to their learning environments. 

Let’s hope for milder weather ahead.

Thanks for 2019
December 17, 2019

I recently received a letter from a couple of parents regarding a school bus driver who has gone out of his way over the years to provide a warm, welcoming, and fun environment for their children. They point out that a bus ride can be an intimidating experience for children, particularly for those who deal with anxiety. They took the time to write because of the positive impact this man has on all the children he has interacted with, year after year, without any recognition or desire for same. 

There are so many of our custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, student assistants, teachers, and teaching and learning assistants like this gentleman who are going above and beyond, day-in and day-out, mostly unrecognized, throughout our more than 250 schools. Similarly, there are many education staff and support staff in our regional offices, depots, and headquarters who are dedicated to providing the very best for our students and those who care for them. 

As CEO/Director of Education for the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, I take this opportunity, as we close out 2019, to say how proud I am to work with such caring and committed professionals. I thank each and every one of you for doing what you do to support learning and personal development in positive spaces in which our students can thrive.

All the best this holiday season and for the New Year.

Tony Stack
CEO/Director of Education

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St. John's, NL · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706
95 Elizabeth Avenue
St. John's, NL · Canada · A1B 1R6
Tel: (709) 758-2372 · Fax: (709) 758-2706

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