The community school program for the Sask. Rivers School Division is not being cancelled -- instead it is being changed to serve more students.
© Daily Herald staff
Last week, people were stunned to hear Sask. Rivers would be phasing out their community school co-ordinators, fearing the worst.
“We are not eliminating our community education program,” said Robert Bratvold, Sask. Rivers’ director of education. “We are in fact expanding it to include more schools.”
Bratvold said the school division recognizes that there is a growing vulnerable population that needs to be supported so the children are successful in school.
“Why we did this was for two primary reasons,” Bratvold said. “One is to align our resources in a way that most directly effects student learning and enhances student learning. The second reason is to ensure we are equitable in how we allocate our resources across the school division.”
The community school program came into place in 1998 and Prince Albert has a long history of community schools, Bratvold explained.
“In terms of ministry funding, designated schools received direct funding from the ministry,” Bratvold said. “If you were designated as a school you got some special funding for that school.”
Although the schools received additional funding, since only a certain amount were given the designation many schools who could have been designated were left without those funds.
“That inequity was continued over time,” Bratvold said. “On top of that, we have had a shifting enrolment and demographics. Some of our schools that really wouldn’t have been considered part of a community school designation possibility 10 years ago, had many of those factors and elements that would qualify them today.”
When the ministry decided to instead give the money designated straight to the school divisions to divvy up, instead of just giving it to specific schools, Sask. Rivers decided to make some changes.
“What we found is we were constantly couldn’t live with that capacity where we have that inequity in funding,” Bratvold said.
Instead of using the funds to pay a community school co-ordinator, Bratvold said they instead decided to align the resources to connect with student support and student learning.
“We have community school programs that do great things and have substantial benefits for our schools and we hope to continue those,” Bratvold said. “If we can focus our efforts on those things that directly enhance student achievement then that’s what we should do. We will still have those things like snack programs, parent engagement and building community partners, but not in a single position.”
Since they are phasing out the co-ordinator position, Bratvold said other people will take on the responsibilities of that position.
“We do know we have a superintendent who is charge of partnership and community education,” Bratvold said. “His role, particularly during this transition time, by that I mean over the course of this year, next year and maybe even the year after that, his role will certainly expand and be more demanding to make sure we can still build those community partnerships, engage parents and support low income families.”
It will also encourage the schools to look at the programs they have in place and decide which are the most important.
“I would expect every school will take a look at things that are the best bang for the buck, where are those biggest impact pieces that we can continue to do,” Bratvold said. “Some of them will be done with other staff, some with a committee and some might be done with the support of our community school councils or with other community partners as well.”
Another piece that has shifted is they now have strong partnerships in the community that were not in place when the community schools were first conceived.
“We have had a number of partnerships that have really grown to help serve some of those needs that were originally intended to be served by community schools,” Bratvold said. “We have some partnerships that can help support that weren’t in place when schools were designated several years ago.”
He said they are not belittling the work the co-ordinators have been doing, but understand things can be done in a different way instead.
“I know community school co-ordinators did a lot of partnership work. It’s not like they weren’t doing it so we are going to do it like this,” Bratvold said. “It is that a lot of those partnerships have expanded and we can allow those partnerships to serve that need and not necessarily have an individual person in each school to try to do it.”
One of the concerns the schools had was the lack of funds coming in from grants if the co-ordinators were not there to apply for the grants.
“When we eliminate these positions, we can expand our staffing and we will also do some allocation to schools of actual dollars so I expect that can help us with some of (the funds) those grants that were applied for (would bring in).”
Applying for grants is hard work, as they have to be reported on regularly, researched and monitored.
“Instead of that amount of work going in to get that X dollars, some of that can just be provided by the school division,” Bratvold said.
Many of the non-community schools have applied for and received grants as well, so others could take on that job if they wanted.
“I’m expecting that will still continue -- It is not like the community school co-ordinator was the only person doing that type of work,” Bratvold said. “We have had non-community schools get substantial grants because someone in the school took that initiative to do it.”
He hopes without the community school co-ordinators they can put in community school initiatives into non-community schools.
“That was the intent in the message that came out originally when we talked to our staff and teachers we made it clear -- we are not cancelling community schools,” Bratvold said. “We are expanding our educational resources so we can reach more kids in more schools. We have schools that have the population that would qualify for a community school but have never been by the ministry.
“We can use some of these staff allocations and some of the money to provide that school an opportunity to reach those parents and do those community education type of things they want to do but just haven’t had the resources to do,” he added.
On Wednesday, Bratvold met with the school principals and answered some of their questions from the staff.
“I expect that once people understand that initial message that we aren’t eliminating that school program, once that understand that was inaccurate and misleading that they get a sense that yes, this could be a challenge without the co-ordinator but they see the intend to reach more kids who are vulnerable, more families that are in need of that support across our division,” Bratvold said.
The other piece Bratvold wants people to understand is that there will be no job loss.
“That was one of the fears too that ‘you are cancelling community schools and laying off community co-ordinators,’” Bratvold said. “Every E.A. who was a community school E.A. will be able to become a student support services E.A. Every community co-ordinator will be offered a position in our schools.”
The new position will be at a reduced pay, which may not meet their needs but there are opportunities are educational associates moving forward, he said.
“We are not into laying people off and putting them out of work. We get we have to realign our resources but we need to take care of our staff too.”