Teachers, staff and students got over their back-to-school jitters quickly this year, says the new superintendent for Arrow Lakes School District 10.
“All schools reported a smooth start-up, kids were incredibly happy to be back,” says Peter Dubinsky in a report to the board of trustees at their September 21 meeting. Dubinsky attended his first trustee board meeting as new superintendent of the school district. “With some of the restrictions taken away – like no more grouping of students into cohorts—that makes a huge difference.”
While they had hoped to begin the year in a more traditional manner, Dubinsky said schools continue to follow COVID health and safety guidelines set out by the Province, including limiting indoor assemblies to 50 people or two classrooms in a single space, and limiting outside visitors into the building who aren’t supporting student learning activities.
Mask use is also still mandatory for staff and grade 4 students and up, and extracurricular sports require limits to the number of people who can gather to play or watch.
CUPE and the Teachers’ Association officials also reported smooth start-ups in a report to the district’s Education Partnership Committee.
Dubinsky says staff in the district are again relying on their expertise in outdoor education to help students learn in the safest way possible.
“We’re naturally outdoors anyway, and COVID accentuated what was already a strength in the district, which was to be outside even more,” he told the Valley Voice. “And while we look at the challenges COVID has presented, there’s also been some benefits. And one of them is reinforcing the fact that being outside is a great place to learn.”
The district is also going to continue to develop and implement mental and emotional well-being programs, as it did last year as well.
“What we know is in order to do well with learning, you have to be well,” he says. “So the district is continuing to place an emphasis not only on student, but adult well-being.”
Meanwhile, the district is reporting healthy enrolment numbers, with 525 students registered, around 50 more than was initially projected. Nakusp Elementary saw the biggest jump in numbers, and no schools saw a drop in numbers – though some Distributed Learning students have returned to classroom learning.
Fire emergency preparedness
This summer’s forest fires were an eye-opener not only for the public and firefighters, but also local school officials, who are now aware they might have a role to play in future emergencies.
In July, as the Arrow Lakes Complex of wildfires threatened and forced the evacuation of Fauquier and Edgewood, south of Nakusp, the district was approached to possibly provide buses to assist with transportation of evacuees if needed.
The request came as a bit of a surprise,” says Dubinsky. “We hadn’t thought of the district as a possible source of transportation.”
The district’s buses are usually taken off the road for repair and maintenance over the summer, and pretty well are out-of-mind until the fall semester approaches. But after the inquiry from emergency officials, the district reinsured its buses and reached out to CUPE drivers.
“It was on a volunteer basis – ‘you don’t have to, but would you be willing, because we need qualified bus drivers?’ – and of course they all said yes, which was amazing,” he says. “So there are implications for our partners and our facilities crews.”
While ultimately the threat receded and the bus fleet was not called upon, the district had a small role to play, with its property used to pitch tents for wildfire crews stationed in the area.
The district’s Education Partnership Committee discussed the incident at the September 21 meeting, and what role the district might have in forest fire emergency response in the future.
“So one of the things we realized is, we responded, but it was very reactive,” he says. “It would be really great to be proactive, to share information like, ‘here is what the school district can do, here’s what’s available.’
“So at EPC we discussed with our partners, is there interest in coming back to this topic, maybe invite the community or emergency officials to talk about the protocols, communication and how we might respond.”
Staff have been asked to look into the matter further so the district’s a bit better prepared for next time. It’s still at the earliest stages – a formal plan to support forest fire emergency services may or may not come out of it – but it’s clear with climate change, the district may have a role some day, and they want to be prepared.
“It’s part of our reality now, and we have to pay attention to it,” says Dubinsky.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice