Education director says PD has helped staff weather breakneck changes during COVID

By Kirk Winter

Education director says PD has helped staff whether breakneck changes during COVID
Wes Hahn, director of education.

After more than a year of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of Education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Wes Hahn, focused on how change has been constant for the staff and students attending the local board in his March director’s update.

“There have been many challenges and hurdles to overcome in the last year,” Hahn said. “Our goals have become moving targets because of COVID and we are just trying to stay ahead of issues on a daily and weekly basis. Health and wellness of staff and students remain our priority, but we continue to have a huge commitment to student achievement in literacy and numeracy in the elementary panel and in delivering octoblocks at secondary, which continue to be a great success.”

Hahn singled out executive assistants at the board level, school secretaries and superintendents for their efforts in managing change and dealing with “the massive amount of information that has come across their desks the last year.”

“We are not perfect,” Hahn said. “We have made mistakes and a lot of self-reflection and professional learning is ongoing every day. The board is a learning organization.”

Hahn explained to trustees that even during the pandemic, senior staff have been engaged in professional development, looking at a book called Leading in a Complex Time.  The director suggested that the book, written by a Harvard education professor, stresses four key qualities of leadership that Hahn believes have been on display locally since the advent of COVID. They include:

  • Acting with urgency within a crisis but never rushing to make bad decisions
  • Communicating with transparency and being willing to take the blame for mistakes and moving forward with lessons learned
  • Responding productively to missteps, focusing on what can be improved
  • Learning how to solve problems on a daily basis with ever-changing information

While on this topic of change, Hahn addressed the move of the March break from its normal time to April saying, “This has been hard for many staff and students. People have an internal clock and when there is no break when it was expected that is difficult.”

The director reminded trustees that the two local health units responsible for the board’s schools “are very cautious regarding variants and despite the fact there have only been six cases board wide and all of them the product of community spread, staff and students must remain vigilant. This is a very stressful time for everyone right now.”

Hahn said as of right now, “there will be the expectation of a return to brick-and-mortar schools next fall.”

“Learning at Home will likely be on a much smaller scale. Plans for the destreaming of Grade 9 mathematics are well underway and will be in place for the opening of school next September.”

Student trustee Kaylee Kelly asked for more information regarding what next year’s school structure might look like, aside from a return to physical schools.

Superintendant of Learning Katherine MacIver said they are “keeping a close eye on this.”

“We are planning for a normal year but we expect that cohorting will continue and that octomesters or quadmesters will be likely. We realize that octomesters and quadmesters are not without drawbacks for staff and students. We are waiting on direction from public health and the ministry of education before we make any final decisions,” said MacIver.

The board learned that COVID-19 has taken its toll on pandemic-related absences. Superintendent of Human Resources Traci Hubbert reports that the board has lost more than 1,504 days to pandemic-connected absences where staff have either failed their self-identification regarding COVID symptoms or been forced to quarantine because of potential contact with COVID carriers.

At the elementary panel, custodians have been off 151 days, educational assistants 355 days, office staff 74 days and fulltime teachers more than 582 days because of COVID protocols. At the secondary panel, fulltime teachers have taken more than 167 days related to COVID.

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