On Tuesday, the Government of Saskatchewan officially announced a one-year Interim Provincial Education Plan developed support Saskatchewan schools coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan will provide school divisions with an additional $21 million in funding as students return to school in the fall.
According to Saskatchewan Rivers School Division director of education Robert Bratvold there was good work done before developing the initial 10-year plan, which expired at the end of 2020 and has been temporarily replaced with this one year plan.
“It's unfortunate that had to be delayed, but it makes sense,” Bratvold said. “It just makes sense to have a one year plan to respond to the needs from a year and a bit of COVID interruptions.”
Bratvold said the board supports introducing an interim one-year plan. He was happy to see that the province provided funding along with the interim plan.
“Sometimes I think our education sector talks about some great planning and some great work by individuals and that's absolutely true, but I think there's an importance to the connection (between planning and funding),” he explained. “It’s, ‘here's the plan, here's some resources, here's some people that are going to be in place to put that plan into reality.’”
The funding will only be in place for the next school year, and Bratvold said they know they have to make the most of it over the next few months.
“These additional teachers and TAs and coaches and social workers are for this year, so we will do our very best to actualize and make things happen this year,” he said. “We know that it seems unlikely the ministry will provide this extra funding beyond this year.”
Saskatchewan Rivers has also hired additional teachers for Grade 1 to 3 reading intervention, among other things.
“We will have an additional coach in the early years for this interim plan,” Bratvold said. “We are going to have additional social work support in our division and an additional coach focused on mental health that is all part of that interim plan.”
The Interim Provincial Education Plan will focus on three key priorities, including additional reading supports for grade 1 to 5 students. Reading data will be collected from students in Grades 1 to 5. This will allow educational professionals to create specialized reading plans where needed to meet students at their individual skill levels.
It will also focus on supporting mental health and well being, learning resources with a reading focus from pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12.
Catholic Division director of education Lorel Trumier said their division is already working on a literacy project for the next school year, with more teachers hired to focus on reading.
“We are excited about our literacy teachers, who have expertise in those areas,” Trumier said. “They are also going to receive some more training, and have a vested interest in supporting literacy. We are looking forward to having those teachers help us with reading levels in our schools.”
Trumier added that the Catholic Division has developed a priority action plan for Pre-K to Grade 8 and looked at elements across the division to increase student literacy.
“We have a literacy plan, a new literacy plan, and want to support our staff in understanding how that can support student learning as well as reengaging our students,” she explained. “That's a big part of reengaging our students.”
Trumier added that the division’s faith aspect would be an important part of the school year. The division will focus on how they are a faith family, and how they can support each other, work together, and heal from some of the impacts COVID had on the community.
“We know that has always been a very difficult thing through the pandemic—to help children learn to read and write—because it is something you do beside them,” she said.
The second priority is supportive learning opportunities for students whose education may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. High school students will be able to obtain credits through a variety of educational avenues, such as classes offered out of grade order, special project credits and online learning.
The third priority is mental health supports for students and staff as they return from a challenging year. This includes nearly $600,000, provided in the 2021-22 Budget, to support initiatives related to bullying prevention and promotion of positive mental health and student safety.
It also encompasses nearly $500,000 committed by the Government of Saskatchewan for Mental Health First Aid training to school divisions.
Trumier said Catholic School Division's goals are optimistic for the coming year.
“We really want to do well for our students, and our staff has always been so committed,” she said. “This year we will reenter the school year and look forward to rebuilding our relationships and working towards our priority action plans that we set out that align with our provincial plan.”
The process on developing the plan started when then-Minister of Education Gord Wyant invited 20 organizations to nominate representatives for an initial two-year term with a possibility of an extension. The representatives are from the Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 sector, Indigenous organizations, post-secondary institutions, business and industry and both French and English schools.
The plan was developed by the Provincial Education Council who first met in December, 2020 to discuss the development, implementation and governance of Saskatchewan's next decade of learning.
The one-year interim plan will be in place as the 10 year plan is completed.
The draft interim priority plans will outline education policy at the provincial level, not at the classroom or school level, and will be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year. The interim plans are set to guide the system for the next year while the next PEP is completed.
The provincial-level plan was originally expected to be released in June 2021.
Using these three priorities, school divisions and participating First Nations education authorities will build their own plans in order to meet the unique needs of their students and schools.
Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald