By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
For the Horizon School Division, a new year’s report in January is actually a mid-season report. Superintendent of Schools, Wilco Tymensen, said “Unlike the calendar year, the school year is from September to June, so we are only four months into our operational year.”
Tymensen highlighted the positives from a busy 2023, saying, “What stands out is the efforts our staff have undertaken this year to ensure our students are succeeding. This is especially evident in the elementary grades where staff are implementing new curriculum and ensuring students have the foundational knowledge as they shift to the new curriculum.”
The Division moved forward with an eye on three strategic priorities for the 2023-2024 school year. Tymensen identified the first one as strong instruction. “With multiple new curriculum in every elementary grade, grade one through six, we are working to support teachers as they undertake significant work to implement the province’s new curriculum.” He said that school practices and the province’s provincial assessment practices are returning to normal. “Diploma exams weightings are increasing back to normal. Work is also being done to prepare students for writing provincial assessments using a new digital platform as opposed to paper exams,” he said.
“Horizon continues to have diploma examination results that surpass the provincial average,” he continued. The division recorded and 81.6 per cent pass rate, as opposed to the province’s 80.3 per cent, and Horizon’s average mark on individual exams was higher than the province on seven out of nine exams.” He said that parent and student satisfaction is also high. “All six qualitative measures are above the provincial average.”
In the division, 90.5 per cent of parents and students believe they’re in a high quality education system, as opposed to 88.1 per cent provincially. In addition, 90.5 per cent of parents and students feel welcomed, cared for, respected, and within a safe learning environment, as opposed to 84.7 per cent provincially. The numbers show that 87.9 per cent of parents and students feel that there is adequate access to support and services, as opposed to 79.1 per cent provincially.
The second strategic priority focuses on intervention. Tymensen said that the province has implemented new literacy and numeracy early years assessments in grade one through five, and based on the results from the tests they “provide intervention support to ensure students gain the missing building blocks for a strong foundation.”
“Schools are also renewing their collaborative frameworks which lay the foundation for school improvement work,” he said. “Rather than working in isolation, staff come together regularly to discuss issues and concerns and develop strategies and opportunities for growth and improvement that lead to greater student success.”
Horizon’s third priority is workplace wellness. “Students continue to struggle with mental health, and the stress on adults has also increased since the pandemic. We know that when staff and students have the tools to overcome challenges, anxiety and depression goes down. We continue to work to build people’s efficacy and resiliency so that challenges can be addressed with confidence and success.”
Tymensen noted that one of their main challenges is in staffing. “Staff turnover and retention continues to be an issue not only for Horizon but for all of Alberta. School systems across the province as well as many other professions continue to face challenges recruiting and retaining highly skilled jobs. Solutions to this challenge are complex and discussions between school divisions, unions, and the province are ongoing.”
He said, “Although the challenge is not resolved, we are very grateful for the amazing staff we have. Their efforts can be summarized as going above and beyond to support students and ensure we have optimal learning opportunities and safe and caring learning environment.”