The NAN (Nishnawbe Aski Nation)/KPDSB School Support Program
The program was first introduced in September 2016, following the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. As part of the support program, our school board collaborates with eight First Nation schools to “design and promote strategies to equip First Nation students with the self-confidence and educational opportunities required to be successful in reaching their educational goals”.
The following First Nations participate in the NAN/KPDSB School Support Program: Bearskin Lake First Nation, Fort Severn First Nation, North Spirit Lake First Nation, Marten Falls First Nation, Mattagami First Nation, Mishkeegogamang First Nation, Webequie First Nation and Long Lake #58 First Nation.
The NAN/KPDSB School Support Program assists in the following program areas: Principal Mentoring/Coaching, New Teacher Induction Program and Mental Health Champion Program.
The KPDSB principal mentor/coach collaborates with the NAN principals to provide opportunities for them to develop the knowledge and skills needed to do the following:
- Implement high-impact leadership practices to ensure that the everyday actions of staff are focused on improving student outcomes.
- Utilize instructional leadership practices that encourage exemplary teacher practice while setting targets to improve student learning.
- Create and implement effective school improvement plans based on student and staff needs, including culturally-relevant programming.
- Develop a collaborative professional learning environment where staff work continuously to improve their practice to meet individual student needs.
- Support teacher learning through ongoing feedback and the effective use of the teacher performance appraisal process.
The KPDSB principal mentor/coach works with NAN principals to support the New Teacher Induction Program’s implementation. The NAN NTIP teachers participate in various professional learning sessions facilitated by the KPDSB. The teacher mentees also have the opportunity to work with experienced KPDSB teacher mentors. Successful teacher candidates receive NTIP Accreditation on their Ontario Teacher Certificate following completion of the program. The Mental Health Champion Program focuses on training initiatives and networking opportunities supporting capacity building among school staff, including mental health and wellness awareness among staff and students.
Rapid Response Northern School Team
The work of the Rapid Response Northern School Team (RRNST) continues despite the pandemic and is perhaps even more critical given our current reality.
The RRNST’s purpose during a regular school year is to provide interim support to schools during times of crisis so that schools remain open as a safe, caring environment for students. When requested by a community or Nishnawbe Aski Nation, the team provides staff support to continue delivering education and wellness for students. This is provided through the support of the Ministry of Indigenous Education for all NAN and Treaty 3 communities.
Although the team is unable to travel due to COVID at this time, they are actively engaged with several communities to provide various support options. Support in the spring of 2020 focused on providing students with equitable opportunities to access learning while the school is shut down. As students returned to school in the fall of 2020, the RRNST supported schools with safe re-entry planning. Beyond this, the team’s current work with communities has been focused on providing support through professional learning, mentorship and resources to continue to help staff achieve their goals of improving student achievement and well-being.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
Supporting & Designing Learning During a Pandemic
In March 2020, the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board, with boards across Ontario, responded to mandated school closures and transitioned to remote working and learning. They identified a need for educator support in their new teaching and learning environments. Recognizing KPDSB staff’s capacity to support one another, a professional learning and support model and a platform to house internal and external resources were created.
A public Google site, Supporting Distance Learning, served as this work’s platform. It collected lessons and tasks, recorded webinars delivered by our educators and sourced experts, linked to professional resources and connected staff to our human resources to further support teaching and learning.
Lead Administrators and Lead Educators assembled Learning Lead Teams. These teams collected our system’s educators’ voice to identify needs and support one another in new learning modalities. Each team extended the platform by further organizing their work and curating resources specific to their teaching and learning needs. The Lead Teams were given the autonomy to support their divisions or areas at their discretion. Each Lead Team held its meetings, and the larger group also held regular meetings to assess the model’s effectiveness, review the system’s needs, share best practices and determine the next steps.
Continuing to Support Educators in Brick-and-Mortar, Virtual and Blended Learning Environments
As we moved into the 2020/2021 school year, facing multiple learning environments, the system’s needs were examined. This allowed us to evaluate the success of the Supporting Distance Learning platform and leadership model and evolve the framework as necessary. Recognizing the importance of maintaining learning and teaching regardless of physical or virtual spaces, a refined model, Supporting and Designing Learning, was proposed. Built on the foundations established in the spring and with some refinements to ensure representation, the Supporting and Designing Learning lead teams responded to current and future challenges. These include:
- gathering voice on 2020–2021 professional learning models;
- prioritizing support for the virtual schools through Special Education Leaders and Student Achievement Team members;
- critically examining and selecting web-based tools that support instructional design;
- designing and implementing KP Connect (educator chat rooms);
- providing ongoing professional learning that is responsive to educators’ next steps; and
- hosting the Supporting and Designing Learning Virtual Summit on November 21, 2020, partnering with EdTechTeam Canada, with a menu of relevant, innovative and timely professional learning sessions for all system employees.
As we continue to work in brick-and-mortar, virtual and blended learning environments, we acknowledge and embrace the possibilities of educational technology. We are extremely proud of the professional collaboration and collective efficacy KPDSB is known for. This continues to move our organization forward and provides supports for students in the world they are growing and learning in.
KPDSB built our Virtual School to welcome students for the 2020–2021 school year. This was an exciting endeavour that has allowed students from the many communities that our board serves to engage with one another and system-wide teachers.
While building a school presented challenges, such as coordinating and transferring special education students, staffing and building an accessible virtual learning environment, we have worked collaboratively with many experts in our system to overcome these challenges.
We have learned that we need to support students in new ways, and we are continually refining our approaches. We are learning how to best utilize educational assistants and reading intervention and student success supports in a virtual environment.
Students are now settled into classes with wonderful, innovative teachers who are learning new technologies to support students academically, socially and emotionally. We are seeing collaboration take new forms as teachers who have never worked in the same community or school are now supporting one another and collaborating to create exciting new learning opportunities for students.
With the support of central staff, elementary students and, where applicable, secondary students have received learning packages that allow teachers to build hands-on learning experiences into their classrooms. This has included cooking, music, math games, literacy activities, cosmetology, outdoor education and many other activities! We are grateful for the opportunity to get to know our students and where they come from and build a community of learners. Watching friendships develop across the board and seeing how families are taking time to join our students’ learning experiences is truly heartwarming.
Partnerships to Support Schools
The Northwestern Health Unit
The support of the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) has been critical to supporting our students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. From providing signage for our schools to one-on-one support from public health nurses and guiding us through positive student or staff cases of COVID-19 in our schools, the support being provided goes above and beyond. We are grateful for their guidance and support of our schools as we navigate the many challenges the pandemic has presented.
First Redeployment of Staff Partnership in the Province
The KPDSB was proud to be the first school board in the province to put agreements in place to support a voluntary redeployment of staff to support the healthcare sector during the first wave of the pandemic. We are grateful to every one of our local bargaining units for their support of this important initiative.
Childcare for Emergency Responders
In April 2020, we worked closely with the Kenora District Services Board and community-based licensed childcare providers to support emergency childcare for nurses, doctors and other frontline care workers. Childcare spaces/areas at New Prospect Public School in Dryden and Red Lake-Madsen Public School in Red Lake were opened to support the families of frontline workers.
Out of the Cold Emergency Shelter
Through a partnership with the Sioux Lookout Vulnerable Persons COVID-19 Planning Group (comprised of representatives from the Northwestern Health Unit, Municipality of Sioux Lookout, Kenora District Services Board, Emergency Medical Services, Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority and other organizations providing direct service to vulnerable populations in the community), we could temporarily offer 10,000 square feet of our former Queen Elizabeth District High School building to support homeless residents of the Sioux Lookout area. The shelter spaces included access to staff and teacher prep rooms, classrooms, and a separate entrance to the building.
Recognizing KPDSB Graduates on the Front Lines
For Education Week 2020, we partnered with numerous organizations to celebrate and acknowledge KPDSB graduates working on the frontlines to support our communities during the pandemic. The campaign recognized more than 100 graduates working in fields such as healthcare, policing, emergency services, food and beverage, childcare, essential services and more.
Supporting Local Healthcare Workers
Our Learning Technology Department utilized 3D printers from across the board during the closures to support frontline workers by producing flexible straps for facemasks. Our Learning Technology Team members made a variety of sizes, designs and colours of straps that could be attached to a facemask at the back of the head to take pressure off the ears during long hours of wear. Nearly 2000 straps were made and distributed through partnerships with local healthcare and frontline workers/organizations.
We provided families who would not have otherwise had access to internet services to cell phones with unlimited data plans through a partnership with TBayTel. In total, 100 phones were purchased and distributed to families across the region to help students stay connected to their teachers and classes.
Wilsons Business Solutions
Through a partnership with Wilson’s Business Solutions, we ensured all of our schools across the system were ready to welcome back students and staff in September. Staff from Wilson’s supported our schools in the following:
- Evaluated all sites for Plexi requirements
- Evaluated for signage required
- Evaluated for all decals required
- Undertook the sourcing of all required items
- Coordinated the complete installation of all items into every location over two weeks to have ready for the first day of school
Staying Connected with Families During the Closures
Staying connected to our students and families was important to us during the extended closures. Schools did a great job creating virtual content to reassure our students that we were still there for them and missed them. From school parades in communities where our students could safely see us from a distance and wave as their school staff went by to creating videos to put a smile on our students’ faces, there was no end to the dedication and creativity of our staff. Below are just a couple of examples of the work our schools did to help stay connected while we couldn’t be together physically.