Tag Archives: school

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.

Thanks for reading!

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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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Rules, Rituals, and Routines; but Relationship First #cisva

godothers

If you stop and think about it from an outsider’s perspective, we as Catholics believe and do a lot of peculiar things. Our Mass is filled with symbols like incense, bowing, kneeling, gestures, words, and songs that would be hard to understand for a first timer. Our church teachings, particularly in the area of morality, can be challenging to understand for people formed in a Catholic world view.

The same is true for Catholic schools as well. Beyond our unique religious practices are routines and expectations like uniforms, drop off zones, bells, door buzzers, playground rules, line ups, and assemblies that may seem strange to someone new.

As important as our rituals, rules, and routines are, they are not primarily what we are about. They are ways we live and express our faith and our commitment to our school. The problem is, sometimes we fail to convey our faith to newcomers and outsiders when we rely too heavily on the rules and fall short in the first and most important thing: relationship.

In last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest. Keep in mind at that time the Jewish people had hundreds of religious laws to follow. Jesus’ famous reply was, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus’ reply does nothing to disrespect the other laws, but he puts relationship first. Without a loving and personal relationship with God, we cannot have a loving relationship with our neighbour. Without this understanding of relationship first, all the other laws lack their true meaning. Pope Francis echoes this sentiment regularly. By reaching out to people of other faiths or people living outside the moral expectations of the Church in a very personal way, he is fulfilling Christ’s instructions to love God and love neighbour.

So how does this apply to us in a Catholic school? School rules are important, but they are not the first thing for us to be concerned about. We must first see each other with love and build relationships. Our commitment to rules and routines will serve as expressions of our love. Be it on the playground, parking lot, or classroom, may our love for God and neighbour always come first!

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Catholic Schools: Our Best Opportunity for Evangelizing the Family #cisva

The “evangelization of the family” is one of the priorities of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The focal points of this priority are twofold; the growth of youth ministry and the expansion of adult faith formation opportunities. These are great areas to improve in, but I would make a case for an even more effective area for evangelization, the expansion of Catholic schools.

Each year at Cloverdale Catholic School we turn away numerous (like 20 or more) families due to a lack of physical space. Our classes in most grades are full. For some of the families we turn away, I have no doubt they will send their kids to PREP or another Catholic school. For many more, however, I fear their school application was the one and only time they are going to reach out to the Church. They may return at Christmas or Easter, but our opportunity to evangelize that family in a long term and meaningful way has passed us by. I spoke to one father in our school just yesterday who admitted that had they not been accepted into the school they would likely not have become the active and participating members of the parish they are today

It is for the reason of evangelization that I believe Catholic schools exist and need to grow. No youth ministry program has the opportunity to evangelize for 6 hours a day, 200 days a year. No adult faith formation experience can bring people back for faith formation meetings, community events, parish sacramental celebrations, and informal gatherings for 13 years. The opportunities for evangelization of the family through Catholic schools are almost endless.

Not everyone sees things the way I do because we don’t have firm numbers and we as catholic schools still need to improve. I think two things need to happen:

  1. We need numbers. We need firm data that proves that, on average, kids who go to Catholic school (and their parents) a active, generous, and faithful both while in their school years and after. As far as I know our archdiocese has never surveyed graduates on a large scale to determine our effectiveness. Why not? Are we afraid of what we may find, that Catholic schools are not effective?
  2. We need to use data to find our which schools, teachers, pastors, communities, and programs have been most effective and copy them. We can plainly see that the practice of the faith is declining. We cannot ignore it, but we can do something about it. We can use data to tell some they need to change and tell others they are on the right track. There is a best way of doing things, we need to use data to determine what it is and make it happen everywhere.

I hope you can tell I am not saying Catholic schools are perfect, they are far from it. I’m not even saying they are all doing a terrific job, though I think many are. I am saying that if the “evangelization of the family” is our goal, Catholic schools give us the best opportunity I can see to get us there.  We need to continue to grow and improve them to ensure our “evangelizing moments” don’t pass us by.

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Combined Classes: What to do in 2014? #cisva

Sometimes combined class work.  It depends on the needs of the students and the capacity of the school to meet those needs.

Sometimes combined class work. It depends on the needs of the students and the capacity of the school to meet those needs.

While there is never really a slow time around the school, this time of year is particularly busy at Cloverdale Catholic School. We find ourselves working across three years right now. We are issuing tax receipts for the 2013 school year, doing our regular day-to-day business this year, and already planning for the 2014/15 school year.

When looking ahead to next year we once again face the problem of Kindergarten registration. For the 2013/14 school year we were able to welcome all applicants. This was a great thing, but it will prove difficult to repeat. First of all, our school is limited for space. While plans are in the works to add classroom and library space, we cannot guarantee its availability for September. Secondly, while we are glad to have two small classes of 20 kindergartens moving up to Grade One next year, we cannot afford to admit so few students on an ongoing basis. Right now we have 38 applications for Kindergarten; too many for one class but not enough for two. If, like me, you want to open wide our school’s doors and accept all who desire a Catholic education, please spread the word and get more families to apply! If the demand is there for an additional class we will have to find a way to make it work.

A second decision in planning is how to align our classes. Should we combine classes in primary (i.e. 1, 1/2 , 2) or keep the classes “straight” (i.e. 1,1,2)? In the intermediate part of the school, should we move the 5/6 class into 6/7, or should be move the combined class down to align the classes as 5, 5/6, 6, 7, 7? There are some advantages to combined classes, but at certain grade levels the advantages may be fewer that the challenges they pose.

One thing is certain; these decisions have to be made on a year by year basis depending on the needs of the students and the capacity of the school to meet those needs. A straight class this year does not guarantee one for years to come, nor does a combined class have to remain that way forever. We all need to share the load of our growing community and be adaptable and flexible on an ongoing basis.

I look forward to input from stakeholders and any readers around the world with experience that may offer insight into this process.

Thanks for reading!

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Humility is Required for Change (in Both School and Church)

humilityI haven’t blogged much this year.  Things have gone well at school, perhaps not giving as much to fret (and thus blog) about.  Home life has been busy too, giving less time to write.  Pope Francis has, however, jarred me out of my busyness and self-satisfaction.  His words of late have given me pause to consider my own faith and how we transmit that faith to others.  I have also juxtaposed this with the direction of education in our province.  It’s a complicated thought process for me but it is taking shape.

Our Holy Father has challenged us in a recent interview to focus on primary faith over secondary faith.  He rightly suggests that Catholics have been so busy defending Church teachings on moral issues (i.e. abortion, marriage, etc…) that we may have failed to help people focus on the primary issue of our faith; belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who saved us from our sins.  To evangelize we need to focus on our joy in Christ, not just on our moral rules (as good and true as they are). As strange as it may sound, this is a shift in thinking.  In schools we spend lots of time teaching, but how much time have we spent evangelizing our students?

Of course a great deal of evangelization takes place on an implicit level.  Students learn from our witness, our prayerfulness, our attitude, and our love.  But I think a more personal, direct, and intentional effort is also required.  When was the last time I said to my students “I love Jesus”?  I do love Him, but when was the last time I told my students that?  When did my faith commitment to Jesus become a personal matter?  It can’t be if we are going to evangelize our students effectively.

Meanwhile, in education we have been challenged by our government and continually emerging research to move forward with 21st century learning.  This means individualizing education, unlocking and pursuing student interests, and integrating technology as a tool for learning.  Good teachers have been doing this all along.  They find ways to help students pursue their interests and achieve at their own highest level.  The challenge is to do it explicitly and across the board, so it is no longer something that only happens haphazardly.

The problem in the church and in education is the same; you can’t always put new ideas into old existing structures.  People and structures that have been doing things the same way for a long time are being asked to do something new in both church and education.  How can we make change when those people and structures got to where they are (secure, successful, and comfortable) by doing it the “old way”?  The answer, I believe, lies in the humility and goodwill of us all.  I look forward to writing more about what this may look like in my next blog.  It is definitely possible.

Thanks for reading!

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We Don’t Teach Subjects, We Teach Students

What matters about school are not facts, worksheets, and tests.  We make students memorize levels of government, provincial capitals, names of aboriginal groups.  Why?  Do we really care whether they know the names of the last eight prime ministers or the atomic weight of aluminum?  I know I don’t.  When kids finish their grade, will they remember or care whether they got to chapter 18 or 20 of their spelling textbook?  Will it make any difference in their lives?  I spent 10 years teaching grades sevens the names of the Egyptian gods.  If I met them today would they remember even one?  Probably not.

What do students remember?  They remember the time someone wrote a swear word on someone else’s textbook and I kept them in until the offender confessed.  They remember the time I threw a basketball in class and it hit someone’s lunch and sent it flying across the room.  They remember the time I helped them create an interpretive dance that they performed in front of the entire parish.  They remember the class barbecues and the bullying talks.  They remember how I helped them when they were in trouble, or got them in trouble, or helped them prepare for a good confession.  Those who remember me at all remember me because I cared about them.  The most valuable lessons they learned from me didn’t come from a textbook.

I’m not saying content doesn’t matter.  It does in two ways.  Firstly, there is a certain amount of content you must have to be a fully functioning adult in the world.  I would include in here good reading and math skills, a fundamental knowledge of the world and how it works both scientifically and socially.  Secondly, and more importantly, content is important as a vehicle to appreciate how to think and learn.  We don’t teach kids the names of the mountain ranges in western Canada because they need to know them, we teach them because we hope it sparks an interest in geography.  I never made students memorize a poem because I needed them to know the poem, I needed them to appreciate poetry and the power of words.  Content is important, but it is meaning that matters.

So teachers shouldn’t stress out about finishing textbooks or covering content.  Part of being a great teacher is learning to prioritize content into “need to know”, “good to know”, and “nice to know” categories.  What kids will really remember is the teacher’s passion for learning and for the students themselves. They will remember the moments in between the lessons more than the lessons themselves.  How a teacher treats the kids, their joy for living and teaching, and their love for Jesus are what are going to make the biggest difference.

So if you are a teacher reading this and you are stressing out over “how I am going to cover all this content”, take a deep breath and relax.  The content will always be there.  Those students won’t always be there.  Do something memorable while you have them!

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