SCHOOL FEEDBACK - Brian Holland [Left] spoke about Eckville Jr./Sr. Highs thought exchange results.

SCHOOL FEEDBACK - Brian Holland [Left] spoke about Eckville Jr./Sr. Highs thought exchange results.

Q and A with Eckville Jr./Sr. High Principal Brian Holland on community feedback

Our growth areas are legitimate. We are provided many advantages by our small size - Student safety, access for students.

Q: How do you feel about the thought exchange results?

A: Our growth areas are legitimate. We are provided many advantages by our small size Student safety, access for students to find staff and those kinds of things. The counter of that is with diversity of programming and the inability to steer around issues with personality conflicts. In a large school, there will be three different people that teach math with three different styles and students will likely acclimatize themselves to the situation best to them. So when have a class with one teacher, as skilled as they are, attempting to meet the needs of a bunch of diverse learners not everyone’s needs will be met all the time, every day in each situation. So the types of things that came across are the same types of things I tell the students after diploma exams they were fair.

We spent some time at our last two collaborative days learning how to walk through the feedback we received, particularly focusing on the opportunities for growth. The things that we are doing well we appreciate but they aren’t our growth opportunities. Some of the things that came across in the feedback is the desire for additional supports for our struggling students. As resources have declined at each and every school site, we have attempted to reach the needs of our very highest needs students while some of the students who used to receive supports no longer do. The variety and complexity of these needs continue to change and increase which is a challenge. We attempt to address those needs through things like targeted professional development in certain learning styles or behaviour patterns, but it is a constant area of growth for us.

We lack some of the hands on activities of larger sites, although we have mechanics and offerings of physical fitness and activity levels, they are other areas we are challenged. Things like fine arts at the senior level and second languages. On of our next steps will be determine the real need for these things. It’s one thing to ask a student about their access to second language the more important question is whether they do want to learn a second language and then addressing how we can meet those needs, be it digitally or other frameworks. There are other opportunities we can seek out when those desires are sincere.

One of the challenges not only at are school is the chasm that exists between the expectations of high school versus the expectations at post secondary. In high school, we work with students with the push, pull or drag mentality making it harder not to experience success. Whereas in post secondary, the mentality is a little more Darwinian.

Q: How can you meet the needs of things like fine arts with a limiting funding model?

A: The fine arts is a challenge in virtually all places because even in large enough schools for fine arts programs, the number of people willing to take the risk involved with training to be a full-time art teacher or a full-time music teacher has declined. So even in schools with a full-time positions, when someone leaves, retires or goes on maternity leave they struggle to replace the position.

I am encouraged. The Board of Trustees have also seen this feedback and noticed a similar situation in each of their small schools and have discussed the possibility of shared positions. They will do what they can assisting us with meeting those needs but in order to us to make the smartest decision possible its incumbent upon us to find out how many kids really would access these programs. If the number is to small to address collectively, we can deal with those needs on an individual basis.

The small school one is a hard one because it is easy to focus on structural challenges based on the size of the building, but our size also provides us with the structural advantages I mentioned as well.

Q: With a small school, it seems like you can form better relationships due to time spent together?

A: In most instances. If our students spend the six year time frame with us they will work with the majority of the staff in our building a minimum of twice and as many as 4-5 different times. Over time we gain the advantage of an innate level of understanding that larger schools have to invest a lot more at the beginning before they can begin to do curricular and knowledge work. When you have a level of trust, you can move on with the work.

We also have the luxury of our students becoming, to a certain degree, like a relative. When they are struggling you can have a little bit of heads up and intervene quicker. Most of our students are more then willing to seek out help when they need it and that is an example of the structural advantage we have.

Q: Is it difficult to properly staff extra-curricular events?

A: One of the challenges we have, and I will use this as an example, is our choice to host the upcoming volleyball provincials in the fall. In order for those days to run efficiently, we will need all hands on deck. There are 12 teams, which is the same amount of teams at a 4A provincial. The staffs at 4A schools are 80-90 people, so a quarter of the workforce is doing the same amount of work. In some ways, that is the taxes that come with a small school.

Some of them are self induced. In the fall we had six volleyball teams in a school of 120-130 students. There are schools of over 1500 where there are only 24 opportunities to play volleyball at the senior high level. If you don’t make one of those spots, you don’t play and statistics show that when someone gets cut within 18 months they are likely to opt out of all activities.

We couldn’t run these teams without the time, expertise and volunteer spirit of community members. We couldn’t offer the breadth of it.

Q: In areas of growth, can you lean on the community?

A: In addition to ways where we lean on the community like our longtime partners in work experience who are ready and willing to assist young people in experimenting with future career paths. We are always also open to bring in people to help out. For example we have brought in financial assistants to help out with the financial component of Calm 20 and one of our parents is coming into assist with our 7,8,9 Art option.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: I think it was a real, well-intentioned opportunity to gather feedback. I liked the aspect that it highlighted more then just where we are lacking and what we are doing well. The easiest thing in group dynamics is to identify those factors of good and bad. The challenge is recognizing how we move forward those areas that need growth. There is the opportunity to continue feedback form those discussions. We thrive on feedback, we ask our students in each and every course to evaluate the work we are doing as staff. Growth is a process.