A Year in Review - Lawsuits, Budgets and a Pandemic!
I have been in education for 20 years, and this has easily been the most challenging school year I have been through. It wasn’t just because of the school closure due to the COVID -19 Pandemic, though that was certainly the icing on the cake. We started the year off at ABJ by being one of the lucky participants in the discovery stage for a lawsuit between the Council of Education Ministers and Access Copyright (see the news story here). ABJ was one of 8 school in EICS that was involved in this discovery process which meant that every teacher had to submit every lesson plan, assignment, or resource dating back to 2012. This was a challenging task, as we were a month into school year and we had to dedicate time and resources to get this job done. But thanks to the nature of the amazing staff at ABJ, we worked together to complete this giant task and then got back to focusing our energies on our students. Relief, however, from external pressures were short lived as the provincial budget was finally tabled and passed in October.
The provincial budget allocation for funding specifically for our school district was less than we had predicted when budgeting for the school year back in April and May. The provincial budget, along with challenge of having to absorb costs related to the Access Copyright lawsuit and a massive spike in costs by our insurance provider meant that we needed to find financial savings mid-year. This meant having to make changes to staff schedules as we managed a reduction in our school budget as well as letting go one of our contracted staff members (see the story here). Due to this change, we had to ask a number of our staff to do more; adding teaching assignments to some teachers, administrators, counsellors and coordinators. But thanks to the nature of the amazing staff at ABJ, we worked together to ensure minimal impact to students and we did everything possible to support each other through a challenging time. Relief, however, from external pressures would not last long, as the news in February made us rethink our international travel plans!
The rest of the story has been well documented. As the COVID-19 pandemic surged globally, Alberta Education and Alberta Health Services closed schools in mid-March, asking all students and staff to engage in distance education. The events felt very sudden and by April, I occupied a high school built for 1400 with a skeleton crew of staff, and eventually I started taking a turn working from home too. Being at school without students was surreal, and I would occasionally reconsider my reality - is it possible this was all just a dream, or nightmare? My interactions with staff were reduced to Google Meets and my interactions with students were reduced to emails, Google Classroom posts, and Youtube videos of me explaining why it is important for them to continue with their lessons and online learning. The lack of face to face interactions and not being able to see the results of our collective work in person, left me with an emotional void as a school leader. I was amazed however at the capabilities of our students and staff who found a way to persevere through a very challenging situation. Our staff were able to switch from in person teaching and assessing to online teaching and assessing in one week, which was no easy feat! Thanks to the nature of the amazing staff at ABJ, we worked together to figure out how to best continue our programs to the best of our abilities using the resources available to us. Our staff did a truly brilliant job of learning, sharing, and teaching each other how to best serve our students in a distance education environment. Our staff’s ingenuity, dedication to their students and teamwork were at the heart of a very short turn around enabling us to serve our students through the remainder of the year. Another challenge up, anther challenge accomplished! Unfortunately we had to manage another set of budget cuts announced in April, which resulted in layoffs of most support staff at the end of May (see the story here). Once again we had to stretch our staff to support our most vulnerable students for the final month of the school year.
Thankfully, we were able to wrap up the year with some fun online staff challenges, virtual awards and virtual grad ceremonies, a grade 12 car parade, and a final week at school with our teachers to finish off report cards and prepare for September... and all of its possibilities. It felt good to put a bow on what has been an absolutely crazy school year! This year has felt like some type of teacher reality TV show - “SURVIVOR - The Teacher Edition!” Relief, however, from external pressures will be short lived as we anxiously wait for the August 1st announcement from the Minister of Education on school re-entry details for September.
Summer holidays officially started for teachers yesterday, and it has been filled with rain, huge COVID-19 reports from our southern neighbour, and news stories about what politicians, health experts, child advocates, and other experts believe school should look like in September. Although the future leaves many questions still unanswered, I can confidently state the following to all school staff, both at my school and across Alberta: You are amazing; you did a fabulous job of sticking it through the craziest school year in recent memory. You worked so hard to manage through a number of very challenging situations and you did it knowing that at the end of the day, you did everything possible to serve your students. You were asked to scan all of your lessons, assessments and resources dating back to 2012 in September, manage budget adjustments in November (and again in May), and then take your entire classroom online in March!!! You have been superhuman in navigating all of these challenges, and I know you have not heard this enough - THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!! Enjoy your summer holiday - rain or shine - it is so well deserved.