This is a historic time in Bluewater District School Board as we adjust to an entirely new reality. You may have heard reported in the media this week that the provincial government has extended Ontario’s state of emergency, and that public schools will not be reopening on May 4 as previously announced. To date, no decision has been communicated about an extension to the school closure period.
As we continue to navigate the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to update our school communities on where we are in the implementation of our continuous learning plan.
Firstly, my sincerest thanks and deepest respect go out to our students, parents/guardians, staff, and families. I cannot say enough about your heroic efforts in adapting to a new learning model on top of the countless other responsibilities you are currently managing. This has not been an easy time for anyone, and the patience and support shown by so many of you is beyond appreciated. Your continued cooperation and understanding as we work together through the bugs of remote learning means so much to us at this time. We can do hard things!
From day one, I emphasized the importance of an inclusive, flexible, and balanced continuous learning plan that would be customized for Bluewater and not overwhelm or add stress to families. I still stand firmly by that commitment. Chair Jan Johnstone and I recently had an opportunity to address our plan by making virtual public appearances on the CFOS Open Line radio talk show and Politically Speaking on Rogers TV.
Our board has taken a cautious and measured approach to how we support student learning while schools remain closed, and we will continue to do so. Our first phase of the plan, which began last week, focused on establishing reconnections between teachers and students. This included instructions, resources, and support to help our teachers get started. We also initiated a survey and schools began reaching out to gather information from families requiring support with technology and internet access.
This week, we entered the next couple of phases of our continuous learning plan, which were heavily focused on lesson planning and delivery, as well as teacher professional learning. We also began implementing the third phase that involves the distribution plan for those students requiring computers, including students with special needs. Principals are connecting with families who have requested support to arrange for accessing devices. Print materials will also be distributed soon to those requiring them. I would like to thank sincerely our school administrators for their leadership during these challenging times.
While these are only the early stages, we are already collecting feedback on our plan to date. Students and parents/guardians are being encouraged to respond to a short question and rate their experience in a communication we are sending through SchoolMessenger and posting on our board website. This will help us to identify gaps and inform our next steps.
I recognize that teachers are at different stages of initiating their learning plans as they climb a steep learning curve. If you have any questions regarding expectations and next steps, please reach out to your child’s teacher. They have your child’s best interests at heart and want to support their learning as best they can. I cannot say enough about how proud I am of our Bluewater staff. Again, your support and patience are so important as our teachers adapt to a new way of delivering learning content. To help our students and families along, we are regularly adding resources to our dedicated Continuous Learning web page. Here you will find our Brightspace virtual learning portal, videos on getting started, Q and A documents addressing commonly asked questions, and several other learning resources.
I continue to participate collaboratively in weekly teleconferences with other Ontario school board directors and the Ministry of Education, to ensure Bluewater is aware of emerging issues and in alignment with best practices across the province. There are still unanswered questions that we are working through at the local level, such as the status of secondary commencements and Grade 8 graduation ceremonies. We will have further details soon on contingency plans for recognizing our students, even if these occasions end up looking a bit different than usual.
In closing, I would like to make a special mention of our next director. As many of you are aware, I announced my retirement from Bluewater District School Board this past December. Earlier today, we issued a media release regarding the appointment of Lori Wilder as Director of Education effective October 1, 2020. She will become Director Designate as of June 27. Lori is a superintendent of education who has spent many years working in Bluewater in a
variety of roles and portfolios. Her amazing public education experience and dedication to students will make her a wonderful fit for the director role, and I am honoured and thrilled to welcome her as my successor. Please join me in congratulating Lori!
Until next time, I urge you to continue practicing physical distancing, regular hand washing, and the other recommendations of our public health officials. Thank you for all your support of Bluewater District School Board. We are getting through this together. I look forward to seeing everyone again when the time is right.
Stay safe and well!
Director of Education