How is a School Calendar Determined? #cisva

This year I am planning a series of blogs on “stuff people have probably wondered but never asked” in education.  The first question may seem like a rather mundane subject, but it actually really impacts the lives of students and their families; how is a school calendar determined?

The process of setting a school calendar begins with the provincial government’s Ministry of Education.  Independent schools are required by the Ministry to have 850 hours of instructional time.  This includes time during which students are under the supervision of their teachers, so in addition to regular class time, it includes things like student-led conferences, fun day, talent shows and school Masses.  It does not include after school activities, recess and lunch time (even though I would argue that in some ways they learn more at these times than they often do in class!)

The next stage of the calendar making process is the school board that oversees Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Vancouver (CISVA).  The CISVA has a higher standard for minimum hours than the government, requiring 900 hours of instructional time.  The CISVA also sends out a calendar mapping out mandatory holidays like Christmas Break, Spring Break, as well as three system-wide professional days.  The CISVA also determines the first and last day of school.  Schools are required to use these dates unless there is a very special local circumstance (i.e. construction projects) that necessitates a change.

At the local level, there is very little leeway in terms of holidays, start and end dates, and professional days.  We get to choose a couple of professional days and a day for a staff retreat.  This is done in alignment with the needs of the staff and the school.  Usually, one day is set aside for planning near the end of the year.  Another day is used to work on our school growth plan, which this year is renewing a comprehensive reading strategy.  Our staff retreat this year is in January and will be focused on our school theme “Caring for Everyone in Our Common Home.”  It usually involves bringing in a guest speaker and spending the day in prayers, listening and quiet reflection.  Finally, dates like fun days, talent shows, and fundraisers are usually determined based on when there is time, facility availability, and the needs of the organizers of the events.

I’ve heard it asked (though never by CCS parents), “if professional days are really for “learning”, why are they always on a Monday or Friday?  Sounds like just another long weekend for staff.”  When we choose to put professional days on Mondays or Fridays it is not to make a long weekend for staff, but it is a consideration for families.  Professional days can give families some extra time together.  Having professional days on Mondays and Fridays also allows for at least four days in a row of school, thus disrupting the learning week less than if you had it on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

Finally, I’d like to address the issue of the two week Spring Break.  As an educator I am not a fan of it, but as a parent whose schedule fits with it, I love the extra time with my kids.  Originally the public schools had a one week Spring Break.  To save money, they began adding a “shut down” week to their one week Spring Break.  This “shut down” saves public school districts a lot of money.  During that week they do not pay hourly staff, or clean or heat the school.  If a district could save $10,000 per school, and had 100 schools, they would be saving $1 million dollars per year.  Public school districts save a lot of money as a result of the extended Spring Break.  As an independent school we don’t save much, if any, money.  I will resist any move to save money by taking pay away from some of our hardest working employees who happen to be on an hourly scale.  Catholic schools went with a two week Spring Break mostly to align ourselves more closely with the public school calendar.  We did so without sacrificing any instructional time as we still are required to exceed government expectations for instructional hours by 50 hours.  The decision to go with a two week Spring Break was ultimately made several years ago by the CISVA Board of Directors after consultation with all stakeholders.

So that is my understanding of how a school calendar is determined.  If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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Farewell Address to 2017 Graduating Class: Know Your Worth #cisva

Today I want to talk to you about something most of you don’t know or at least forget too often: your worth.  You are far more valuable than you give yourself credit for.

How do you know how much something is worth?  Is it the asking price?  Is it a random guess?  No.  When it comes down to it, something is worth what will be paid for it.  A bottle of water? $1  A fidget spinner? About $10.  The Ferrari Marcello will own by the time he is 21? $200000.

Well, if the worth of something is determined by what some one is willing to pay for it, what are you worth?  $1, $10, $200000?  What would someone pay for you?  We could ask your parents.  I’m certain everyone of them would say they would do anything for you.  They would give their lives to save yours.  How does that make you feel to hear that?

What if I told you that you are worth even more than that?  Look upon the cross behind me.  God, the creator of the mountains, oceans, planets and the entire universe, loves you; enough that he himself came down to earth to die the most agonizing death upon the cross to save your life.  You are worth that much.  The life of Jesus Christ was paid for you.  Do you remember when you were little and you would say to your parents, “I love you this much” with your arms stretched out?  When you look upon the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross remember that he was thinking of you.  He was and continues to say “I love you this much.”

Let’s bring that back into the context of your everyday lives.  If you are worth this much, why do we so often struggle with self-esteem and confidence?  We forget our worth.  We look at celebrities and think they are worth more than us because they are more beautiful, more talented, smarter, more loved.  We look at our classmates and think they are more popular, more cool, more athletic.  Every time I see one of you in tears I think to myself “If only you knew your worth.  If only you knew how much you are truly loved.”

You are so loved.  God loves you.  Your parents love you.  I and the staff of CCS loves you.  Your friends… they are nice but don’t rely on them for determining your worth; they are often as confused and messed up as you are.  How do we continue to remember how much we are worth?  By spending time with those who love us.  Go to Mass, pray, and read Scripture to remind yourself of God’s love.  Have dinner with your family, help around the house, and snuggle on the couch while watching a movie to be reminded of your family love.  Finally, when High School has got you down, come back to CCS.  You will always be welcomed and loved here.

May God bless you all as you make the next step in your journey.

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How a Catholic Worldview Inspires a Catholic School’s Special Education Policy #cisva

Below is the Principal’s Address I gave at our school’s Annual General Meeting from May 24th… 

First I would like to talk about what makes us special.  There all sorts of schools in the province.  There are public schools, private Christian schools, other religious school, private non-religious schools, and other Catholic schools.  What sets Catholic schools, specifically Cloverdale Catholic School, apart from the rest?  What is a worldview? What, specifically, is the Catholic worldview?

At it’s very essence, a Catholic Christian worldview is the worldview of Jesus Christ Himself.  The more we see the world and its inhabitants as Jesus does, the more we are aligned with Christ’s worldview.  How does this differ from the secular worldview?  After all, do we not share the values of the “secular” world; truth, beauty, science, making the world a better place, freedom of speech and tolerance?  First of all, part of the “Catholic intellectual tradition” is to define our terms.  What does a typical secular person mean by words like “truth” and “beauty”?  I’m fairly certain that the Catholic definition of these terms would differ from the secular one.  Nevertheless, let us assume for a moment that we do agree on the definition of these terms.  What then differentiates the “Catholic” worldview from the secular one?


I would argue the fundamental difference is why these things matter.  Beauty, truth, science, the environment etc… do not matter for their own sake.  They matter only insofar as they contribute to our eternal destiny.  Through knowledge of truth we understand the truth of God.  Through appreciation of beauty, we grow in our love of God our creator.  Through environmentalism, we share in God’s gift of creation by caring for our common home.  Through the lens of a Catholic worldview, all aspects shared with a secular reality take on an eternal purpose.  In believing that we are all destined for immortality, we erase the boundaries of class, race, religion, ability, and utility.  In a Catholic worldview we see all people as beautiful, good, and worthy of love not just based on their usefulness and achievement, but because they are children of the King, our creator.  If all ends in death and nothingness, there are human limitations to how far we will go.  With an eternal purpose in mind, or a Catholic Worldview, there are no limits to our love and care.  Not even death can stand against our eternal purpose; to know, love, and serve God and be happy with him in this world and the next.

As an example let me discuss how a Catholic Worldview has influenced how we approach Special Education at Cloverdale Catholic School.  At CCS each and every child is valued and treasured, not because of their potential as learners, athletes, musicians, or future workers, but because they are created in the image and likeness of God.  Therefore when we accept students into our school we do not consider how much their support will cost or how challenging certain behaviours may be.  We accept all children unconditionally.  I am proud of the progress we have made in the area of Special Education.  When I started here 8 years ago we had only a few Special Needs students and only 3 Educational Assistants on staff.  Now, we have 14 designated Special Needs students and 14 Educational Assistants on staff.  We have gained a reputation not necessarily for expertise in the area of Special Education, but in our willingness to love, accept, and support every child and their families unconditionally.

Let me conclude by answering the question that may be in the minds of some; that is great for kids with special needs, but how does it help my child?  First of all, I have seen countless examples of students growing in gentleness, compassion, and acceptance by working daily with kids with challenges.  But I think the real impact is far deeper than that.  What I want for my children is to know deep down that they are loved unconditionally not just by God, but by the adults in their lives who they admire.  What greater way for them to learn this than by seeing unconditional love at school every single day.  They can look around themselves in every single classroom in our school and see that unconditional love at work.  When my child fails a test, loses a game, or makes a stupid mistake they can know that like all the students in the school, without exception, they are loved and valued not because of what they can do, but simply because they are a child of God.

Thanks for reading!

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Play Hard, Play Smart, and Play Together: Sports Philosophy at CCS #CISVA

Our school sports motto is “Play hard, play smart, and play together.”  This motto has served us well over the years and has helped to direct coaches and players in the choices they make.  Living up to this motto is often a challenge as we seek to balance competition with participation, teamwork with personal achievement, humility with confidence.  We are far from perfect, but having a vision of teamwork, thoughtfulness, and effort is helpful at every game and practice.

While I am so grateful for all the parents and staff members who have contributed as coaches over the years, I want to highlight the effort of one special coach in particular.  Tara has been coaching soccer at CCS for many years.  First with her son, then with her daughter, and sometimes when neither of her kids were on a team, Tara has been a consistent and expert coach.  She is always uplifting and constructive.  She never settles for less than everyone’s best effort, but also never stops building up every player’s confidence and self-esteem.  She builds confidence not through shallow or false praise, but through building skills that also translate into real success on the field.  She celebrates every accomplishment, whether it be a championship goal or just being in the right position while the ball is downfield.  Tara is in every way the epitome of what I want in the CCS sports program.

Tara’s commitment to the athletes of CCS is something I will always be grateful for.  I have learned so much from her about what it means to have a team play hard, play smart, and play together and I aspire to be a coach more like her.  Go United!

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FSA Results Don’t Tell the Whole Story #cisva

At the Catholic Educator’s Conference earlier this month Father Tony Ricard from the Archdiocese of New Orleans spoke in the keynote address.  His message was loud and clear for teachers in Catholic Schools: If you don’t see yourself first and foremost as a Religion teacher, get out!  He went on to say there are lots of jobs for people who just want to teach Math, Science or English.  There are public and private schools that do that stuff.  The reason we have Catholic Schools is so that we can form students in Christ.  No matter what grade or subject you are teaching you must help form the students in their Catholic worldview.

Recently the Fraser Institute released it’s annual rankings of schools based on the annual Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) test.  This test is deployed by the government each year to look for trends in education and academic achievement.  I am actually in favor of standardized tests when used for the right reasons.  I believe the government has every right, and the duty, to find ways to make sure the billions of dollars spent on education each year are well used.  The problem with the FSA test is that it is only a very small sample of one aspect of schooling.  It is certainly not meant to “rank” school from best to worst.  For one thing, the results as published by the Fraser Institute do not compensate fairly for ESL or special needs students.  They don’t take into account the socio-economic status of a population.  Yes, that information is in there if you dig, but the message the average reader gets looking at the results is that #1 is the best school and #900 is the worst.  This is simply not true.

There is so much more to school than just a single test score.  Being here everyday and seeing all the creative thinking, artistic development, athletic competition, and personal formation reminds me of just how much we do above and beyond academics.  Most importantly, as a Catholic School, our most important mission is formation of the whole student in Christ.  I am proud of the work our staff do with students each day in every aspect of school life.  Don’t get me wrong, we do just fine on the FSA test, but I never have and I never will use it as the number one reason for families to choose our school.

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Setting Expectations #cisva

A challenging part of being a principal is managing academic expectations.  When set too high, expectations cause frustration and disappointment.  When set too low, expectations can create a culture of mediocrity.  Two things are necessary when it comes to setting appropriate expectations: personalization and moderation.

For Aristotle, all virtues are to be understood as the mean (moderation) between vicious extremes.  Our goal is to be virtuous and avoid the two extremes. We must be diligent and create goals that challenge each learner to be their very best.  At the same time, we must not push too hard, setting expectations that are unrealistic and lead to low self-esteem, frustration, and a loss of the love for learning that is innate in every child.

When it comes to expectations for academic achievement, we can push too hard.  Each student is different and our expectations for each student need to be tailored to their own abilities and goals.  Each child develops differently.  While there are standardized math concepts, sight word lists, and expected “words read per minute” for each age level, these should be taken as rough guidelines and not held as absolute.  It is not much different from developmental milestones like rolling over, crawling, or walking.  Some kids develop later than others and a child that walks at ten months is not necessarily smarter or more athletic as an adult than a child that starts walking at 13 months.  As long as there is consistent improvement there is no need for concern.  The same is generally true for academic milestones.  To demand the impossible from students with challenges in their learning is unfair and disrespectful to them as learners.  We need to meet each child where they are at and tailor their programming and our expectations to their level.

The challenge as a principal is being the person that effectively holds the tension of expectations between the extremes and between all stakeholders.  Parents and teachers sometimes have different expectations based on their own hopes, experiences and knowledge of student development.  Setting expectations for each student that are challenging, fair, and respectful is key to working together as an effective school community.

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Why I Send My Children to Catholic School #cisva

I have been working in Catholic schools for 18 years.  For the past eight years I have had the privilege of serving as Principal at Cloverdale Catholic School.  While I have done my best to improve the school over the years, I believe the school has done even more to improve me.  CCS is not your average, run-of-the-mill elementary school.  The faith life of the school, the personal commitment of the staff, the inclusion of students of all abilities and differences, the growing and vibrant community, and the child-centered appreciation of fun make CCS not just a great place for me to work, but a place where I have chosen to send my own children to school.

Faith comes first at CCS.  Our teachers are committed to developing the children in their appreciation of the love of God.  From this love bursts a desire to live an ordered and moral life.  Our students receive religious instruction and opportunities to pray daily.  We also celebrate weekly Mass, Adoration, and Confession.  Celebrations of traditional and communal Catholic prayer are balanced with personal prayer and praying with scripture.  Our students are given every opportunity to open their hearts to Jesus and grow in faith.

The staff of CCS are chosen not solely on their resumes and curricular expertise, but also on their love for God, teaching, and for developing the whole child.  Our teachers give of themselves both in the classroom and outside of it through extra time spent with students in a variety of extra-curricular activities.  Most importantly, staff see their time at CCS as part of their vocation and ministry; not just their job.  As a result, students feel welcome and wanted in the classroom.

CCS is proud to welcome students of all different religions, ethnicities, languages, and abilities.  There is a culture of caring not only among the staff, but also among the student body.  Students with disabilities are nurtured and provided resources they need to reach their personal full potential.  It is an integral part of our mission to serve all with great love just as Jesus would.

The community of Cloverdale Catholic School and Precious Blood Parish is relatively small.  Whether you are at a basketball game, Sunday Mass, or the annual Parish Bazaar, families have many opportunities to pray, learn, and play together.  There is no shortage of ways to get involved and connect with other parents and children.

Since our school is full of children, it makes sense that we have a lot of fun.  Our beautiful and spacious playground makes for great opportunities for both creative and structured play.  Our teachers get in on the fun too, planning popcorn sales, themed activity days, teacher vs. student sports, and spirit days.  Although we take our jobs seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.  This sense of fun makes CCS someplace both adults and kids can look forward to going to each day.

Catholic schools are great places to live, work, pray, and play.  CCS is a special school and I am proud to be both the Principal and a parent.  If you are a parent at a Catholic school and you have reasons for sending your kids that I have missed, please post them in the comments.

Thanks for reading!


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