Larry Hope hears the increasing cry from employers in Kawartha Lakes who say they need more skilled people for the positions they have to fill, whether in agriculture, trades, or other areas of the local economy.
As director of education for Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Hope says he’d love to play a bigger role in delivering young people with these sought-after skills to local employers. Trillium Lakelands has a close relationship with Sir Sandford Fleming College’s Frost Campus in Lindsay and Fleming instructors can often be found in the board’s schools, particularly with students in skilled trades and co-op programs.
The highly successful Specialist High Skills Majors program is helpful for creating more students with sought-after skills. The program allows students to complete a specific bundle of courses in their selected field, which helps them gain important skills on the job through their co-op placements.
“Can we fill every niche that’s out there? It’s a tall order, but we aspire to do so,” he says.
As another school year dawns this week, Hope says one of the things he’s up against is the simple “time of life” consideration when students graduate in June.
At this age, many young adults “want to spread their wings and see what else is out there in the world,” he says, so it isn’t always easy to retain students for careers locally.
“We hear loudly and clearly there are many unfulfilled positions in the communities we serve, so I’d like to see more of them remain in the area,” with training and further learning provided by Trillium Lakelands and its partners, says Hope.
“Part of the challenge for us is that many times students go elsewhere for training and then they don’t come back. So we need to find a way to do a better job at retaining more of our graduates.”
Feed All Four
As he weighs his board’s other priorities in this coming year, Hope says the continued support for student success is an obvious goal, and yet that also includes their overall well-being, too.
“Rightly so, we’re placing an enhanced focus on student well-being,” the director says.
This includes supporting students through their ‘Feed All Four’ philosophy, which was developed in Trillium Lakelands out of the need to align teaching and learning with safe and accepting schools, mental health, active living, and student well-being. Research indicates that supporting the body, mind, spirit, and emotions of an individual increases a sense of well-being, connectedness and resilience, and improves student achievement.
“It’s essentially based on the indigenous medicine wheel and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” says Hope, and it applies for both staff and students.
Hope says they are also pushing hard on embracing their strategic plan, where a big part of that is personalization, from assessment to instruction.
“It’s based on the individual needs of students. For us, this is absolutely the key – there can be no greater matter of importance.”
When pushed to explain how this can be possible, given the student-teacher ratios in schools, Hope admits it can be a challenge.
“But we think we’ve done an exemplary job of putting more support in the system, with new counsellors and consultants at the central level to support classroom work. We know this world we work in requires a lot of staff support.”
The other important piece is the role of Trillium’s specialized service department, to support the requirements of people with special needs.
In the coming year, Hope says the Board wants to hear from parents, partners in the community, and to gather student voice.
He says in the last five to seven years there has been less “protecting of turfs” in the community and instead a willingness to work better together.
“We’re all trying so hard to coordinate our efforts better. The school system is far and above the best place to give students what they need, so it’s great that agencies and school relationships have strengthened.”
This includes well over 100 formal arrangements for services and partnerships to support students and about 34 after-school care agencies, including mental health services, disability supports, sexual health clinics, and health units.
In polls, Hope says Trillium Lakelands usually does very well in pubic confidence and that they will be working to improve upon this in 2017 and 2018.