By Cole Parkinson
With 2019 at the its end, Horizon once again looked back at the previous year stats and looked ahead at their three-year plan.
While typical years have allowed Horizon to get started earlier on their work, this year’s change to a United Conservative government delayed things.
“Historically, we get the business plan when they release the budget. Normally we are aware of what their priorities are early in the spring. This year, with the delay in the budget, the business plan wasn’t released until early in November so it has been a work in progress over the last number of weeks,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “For the most part, we didn’t change our core goal or are key action areas. We continue toward building confidence in our kids. There is still a ministerial order on student learning that talks about high-level competency around problem-solving, critical thinking, managing information and so on. Our core goal is we want to be successful in life, not just in school. That notion that when they get out of school they can be contributing citizens and help maintain and move this province forward. That can be through a variety of means. How we get there is focusing on strong instruction and also if kids aren’t doing well, proving intervention. For the most part, our strategies continue to be ones we have done in the past.”
In the report, it states Horizon has 3,500 students, 40 per cent are English language learners, and 450 staff among their schools.
Some of the current results for 2019 include 86.9 per cent of students met acceptable standard on diploma exams (3.3 per cent above the provincial average), high school completion rate is 83.5 per cent (six per cent above the provincial average), 93.4 per cent of stakeholders believe schools are safe and caring (4.1 per cent above provincial average), 90.3 per cent of stakeholders felt students exhibited the characteristics of good citizens (7.4 per cent above provincial average), 85.3 per cent of stakeholders felt schools are improving (4.3 per cent above provincial average) and 87.1 per cent of parents feel they have opportunities to be involved (5.8 per cent above provincial average).
On the other side, PAT acceptable scores are 71.7 per cent (73.8 per cent provincial level) and PAT excellence is at 15.6 per cent (20.6 provincial levels).
“The English marks and the science marks for the province of Alberta are number two and three in the world. Math marks improved from 14 in the world to ninth. So Alberta as a whole continues to have a very strong background,” added Tymensen.
As far as their accountability pillar overall summary, many stats have continued to be maintained at their high level, some have seen a dip.
“Some of the numbers have dropped a bit. When you look at that data, there is really two types — qualitative, which is surveys and the other is hard numbers. Things like the provincial achievement exams, diplomas and so on. What is interesting around the qualitative, often it is perception. You need to be aware of some of the biases. Certainly, we have had conversations with the schools this year and there were a number of surveys that had exceptionally high do not know answers. If you ask is the board amazing or is the superintendent doing a good job, if one person says yes and the other says don’t know, the I don’t know answer means no,” stated Tymensen. “We’ve tried encouraged our principals to reach out to the parents and explore what the ‘I don’t know’ is. Is it because they truly don’t know because that is different than I’m satisfied or dissatisfied.”
The one category that saw a declined improvement in survey-based stats over 2019 was school improvement.
Tymensen highlighted the fact many parents who are just entering a new school may answer ‘I don’t know’ on that particular question due to no prior knowledge.
Moving forward, Horizon is focusing on the incoming new curriculum.
“As we work with our leaders, some of the areas we focus on is literacy and numeracy. We continue to work towards preparing for the new curriculum. It is our understanding that the minister is supposed to be making some communication after Christmas in regards to that. The ball is rolling again and we are expecting for something to happen this fall. Assessment is something that has been on the forefront across the province and many jurisdictions on that piece,” explained Tymensen.
Among a list of other initiatives the division will be focusing on over the next several years includes mental health and indigenous knowledge.
“Mental health is always something we focus on. Making sure our kids are doing well and also our staff,” said Tymensen. “Indigenous foundational knowledge is certainly something we have focused on over the last number of years. It continues to be a priority for the province. It’s a small number of kids, around 100 kids in our division, but for the most part, we want to make sure we are meeting the needs of all of our students.”