Altario Schools newsletter blog.
September 8th, 2015
Dear Students, Parents, and Guardians,
Welcome back! Summer has once again flown by and it is the time of year for school to begin. I hope you had a great summer and are as excited as the staff at Altario School to begin this new school year. The enthusiasm we have already created in our building is contagious and we hope that students and community members love coming to our school. This year our school slogan is “Own It!” We are emphasizing that education and learning belongs to the students. When they take ownership for their learning in a positive and meaningful way, quality learning will be the foundation of their success. As staff we hope to provide all the tools and skills necessary for successful student ownership.
There are not many significant staffing changes for the 2015-2016 school year. I would like to welcome back Mrs. Maggie Baier, Ms Lauren Baier, and Ms Alicea Sliwkanich. I would also like to welcome back Miss Kelts as Ms Owens. Finally, I am pleased to have Ms Roworth join our teaching staff. Personally, I am very excited to be back for my second year in Altario. I hope this year is as great or greater than last year.
Welcome back to all our support staff as well: Mrs. Isabel Ference, Mrs. Lisa Vert, Mrs. Kari Evans, Mrs. Jean Bouchard and Mr. David Anderson and Mr. Ken Williams as maintenance staff. We wish our bus drivers Ms. Corrina Hagen, Mrs. Diane Evans, and Ms. Heidi Salt safe travels in this year. Ms. Tanya Guenthner will handle special education and Mrs. Stacie Bedwell will be our Family Resource contact.
We continue to try to improve communication with parents and are trying to perfect our website to include emails, facebook posts, and a twitter feed. Last year we began using Maplewood for our marks program and hope to continue using this program and keeping it up to date for the sake of parents and students. The school handbook will also be posted on the website.
Working together with staff, students, and community, I hope Altario School has a great year.
Let the learning begin!
Mr. Kevin Van LagenD
October 20, 2015
November 5, 2015
Principal to Parents
Recently I attended a workshop in Red Deer and was privileged to hear Kurt Sacher, the superintendent from Chinook’s Edge School Division Speak. In his keynote address, Mr. Sacher identified five criteria by which to measure the success of a school. These included the following:
- Does it have a clear vision?
- Does it have strong relationships built around this vision?
- Does it have the right team to implement this vision?
- Does it have the right structures to achieve this vision?
- Does it have consistently high expectations on the path to realizing this vision?
I have spent some time reflecting on these questions, and thought it would be beneficial to share these questions and some of my thoughts or answer to these measurements with the greater community.
Over the years, Altario has been a small school with big ambitions. During good times and bad, the spirit of a small school cannot be lost, but must remain strong and focused. Over the past year, we have tried to practically live with the mindset that we may be small, but we are mighty. Based on the input of all the stakeholders in the community, but especially based on the feedback of the students, we have defined these big ambitions to include a very clear focus on academic excellence. We consistently try to choose a schedule that sets students up for success in their core subjects. At the same time, we are emphasizing thinking skills to help students approach their education with confidence. Metacognition continues to be an area of focus for teachers and students alike as we try to grow a community of active thinkers. Creating an attitude where everyone believes our students are being set up for success is contagious and encouraging.
With an appropriate focus, relationships become much more meaningful. With a belief in student success, each stakeholder considers what they need to do to help create an atmosphere of positive student growth. With relationships built around a clear vision, comes a responsibility to reflect on whether or not I am helping or hindering student engagement. With big ambitions comes an awesome opportunity to see our students achieve great dreams. Thinking about our students, I have to recognize our nine graduates from last year. Each one of them is attending a post-secondary institution and following their dreams. I have had the chance to speak to a few of them and have asked them if they felt Altario School prepared them for this next step in their life. Their answers have all been a resounding “YES!”
To implement a vision takes a team. When I think of a team in education, I think of students, parents, community, and staff. It is exciting to be part of a team that is all aiming at the same targets. Within this team, I can’t help but compliment the teachers and support staff in our school. I cannot begin to explain how exciting it is to work with a staff that believes they can always do better. It is powerful to hear the care staff have for our students. It is humbling to see the hard work staff consistently shows to help students be the best they can be. It is not just the staff that is pushing students to go for their dreams. To date, I have been impressed with how parents consider what they can do to help their child succeed. Finally, we continue to see improvement in students ‘owning’ their education when making positive choices that lead to academic success.
The structures we have chosen for this year allows us to focus on creating quality learning opportunities in core subjects. This has taken some sacrifice from parents, but also from students and staff. PE has a wider age group of students in one class. CTS classes require more self-regulation on the part of students. It is greatly appreciated to hear positive students embracing these challenges because they understand how important a strong core offering is to their future. As we enter High School Redesign, we will continue to have opportunities to build on the feedback of students so that we can continue to structure classes and schedules that set each child up for success.
Finally, high expectations may be easily defined, but are far more difficult to be consistently upheld. It is only through a team of stakeholders that high expectations are embraced. When teachers demand excellence in their own teaching, when parents strive for their child’s success, and when students desire and celebrate the results of hard work, high expectations become a way of life.
Are we a perfect school? No. Do we have to reset our focus at times? Yes. Are there challenges along the way? Absolutely. Do different stakeholders become discouraged at times? Of course. Even with our imperfections, we can say that Altario School is heading in the right direction. We continue to be a small school with big ambitions. We recognize that to achieve these ambitions we need a clear vision, meaningful relationships, a strong team, the right structures, and high expectations.
Using last year as a positive foundation, this school year is off to a very strong start. Thanks team!
Mr. K. Van Lagen
January 19th, 2016
Principal to Parents
As the first semester is quickly drawing to a close, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on our year to date. As I mentioned in my letter to the parents at the beginning of the school year, our slogan for this year is “Own it!” You may have noticed this theme on bulletin boards when you have been at school, or perhaps your children have mentioned that we have tried to emphasize in classes and assemblies throughout the year. At this time, I would like to try to explain some of the considerations that compose our slogan.
Already towards the end of last year, staff had indicated that we had an awesome opportunity to build on the successes of 2014-2015. Reflecting on the growth we experienced last year, staff acknowledged that we still had more work to do (and always will have more work to do). Through conversations with students, parents, and other stakeholders, we arrived at the need to emphasize student ownership of their education. By the end of grade 12, we aspire to have independent, self-motivated learners. The question became: What specifically can we do as teachers to help students achieve this ideal?
We began with dividing the idea of ownership into three cultural goals: a culture of ownership, a culture of metacognition, and a culture of excellence.
Culture of Ownership
When we speak about a culture of ownership, we are particularly striving for intrinsic motivation that is accompanied by independence and a high level of confidence. This should result in students feeling personally responsible for their learning. On a larger scale, this also will be evident in a strong school spirit and a healthy sense of school pride. How can we as teachers and parents help students thrive in a culture of ownership? Some specific plans include the following:
- teaching skills to be successful
- increasing flexibility in the learning environment
- allowing students to feel the results of a lack of effort
- streaming students appropriately so they are set up for success in school and beyond
- having very high expectations that are continually modeled, repeated, and emphasized
How are we doing? We have noticed that motivation seems to decrease with the age of the students. Thankfully, we have noticed more and more exceptions to this trend over the past months. There has been a marked positive shift in some of our senior students’ work ethic and attitude towards school. We have also observed many students making self-directed learning time more meaningful. We see that students are very aware of their responsibilities, and more students are beginning to act on their responsibilities. We do, however, notice that there is a certain passive acceptance of mediocrity. Of course this doesn’t apply to every student in every circumstance, but far too often we still hear “it’s good enough.”
Culture of Metacognition
Elementary has been focused on metacognition strategies for several years. Over the past year and a half we have tried to teach and use metacognition strategies throughout the school. What are we aiming for with our emphasis on metacognition? Ultimately we are trying to create strategic thinkers who would automatically use specific thinking strategies across multiple curriculums. Put simply, teaching critical thinking is essential in helping students “own” their education. Students need the thinking tools necessary for success.
To create this culture of metacognition we are doing the following:
- overusing the language of metacognition across all curriculums
- scheduling classes to explicitly teach metacognition skills
- emphasizing why we are teaching metacognition
- improving questioning strategies as teachers
What successes have we noticed so far this year? With explicit teaching being scheduled, we are noticing that students throughout the school are recognizing metacognition language and utilizing metacognition strategies in a variety of curricula. That being said, at times students still need prompts and one specific strategy (determining importance) needs more emphasis.
Culture of Excellence
Having identified a culture of excellence as a worthy goal for Altario School, we immediately recognized that this goal takes time and hard work from every stakeholder. A culture of excellence will boast high academic achievement. It would also create a situation where students are seldom absent because school is a high priority in their lives. With such an approach to school, high post-school dreams become a reality because a love for learning will be born when students begin to experience and celebrate excellence.
Our approach to creating a culture of excellence includes the following:
- staff focusing on the positive
- having students set personal goals and celebrate achievement in a variety of ways
- creating opportunities to educate students on post-secondary options (advisor block, guest speakers, career fairs)
- continuing to emphasize metacognition
- focusing on effective teaching and quality learning opportunities
- limiting out of class activities.
At this point we have noticed some progress in creating a culture of excellence. Student achievement is improving including on government testing. At times, we notice excitement in students who perform well. We do, however, feel that we have not adequately created a culture that shares and celebrates excellence. Sometimes, it feels like school is rather low on the list of priorities in some students’ lives. As a staff, it is our responsibility to create opportunities for success so that students will begin to see the value of aiming for the top. We continually strive to create a community of learners who consistently try to improve and reach for the top. Thankfully, our students recognize that post-secondary education is important, and as we continue to introduce new career pathways, we hope that a culture of excellence will increase.
Creating a positive culture of ownership, metacognition, and excellence takes time and hard work. As parents, we also play an essential role in developing such a culture. The support we consistently receive from parents is phenomenal, and I encourage each parent to continue supporting your child by having high expectations for them. Families where academic success and dedication to education are stressed and modeled may be the biggest factor in creating a school where students “own it.”
We are always open to suggestions and sometimes parents may observe or hear things that we as a staff do not know about. Please continue to help grow Altario School by communicating with staff about any ideas you have that may help improve the culture of Altario School.
Finally, we have much to celebrate at Altario School. Visitors regularly comment on the amazing students we have, the warm atmosphere of the school, and the amazing things such a small school is able to accomplish. Most importantly, we hear from various sources that our students speak well of our school. These positive comments are a clear indication of how students are feeling about their school experience. They also indicate the progress in making students feel like it is “their” school and they are proud of it.
In my next principal to parents, I hope to explain how these efforts are important for our children’s future.
Yours in Education,
Mr. K. Van Lagen