The Greater Essex County District School Board: Building strong community partnerships to strengthen educational practices
The Greater Essex County District School Board includes Windsor and Essex County and consists of over 45 hundred staff members and over 35 thousand students. The district’s director, Erin Kelly, is proud to be part of an organization such as the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) that demonstrates such a multiplayer approach to continuous learning for the staff and has many community partnerships to strengthen the support to the students. Their Mission is that they are a learning organization committed to the engagement and empowerment of students, staff as well as families and community partners. “Our board approval plan is excellence in education, every learner every day,” states Kelly.
Parent involvement towards better mental health
Parent involvement is a critical importance to the GECDSB. The district is committed to promoting parent involvement and encourages parents and guardians to actively participate in their child’s educational experience. In her Director’s Message to parents, Kelly encourages them to, “Express a sincere interest in projects and homework and you should set high, but realistic, expectations for your child's schoolwork. Encourage and recognize his or her special talents and successes at school and share them with family and friends.”
The GECDSB offers a variety of workshops and activities, which are organized by the Parent Involvement Committee, to provide many opportunities for parents to stay involved and maintain two-way communication between home and school. Some of these activities focus on the importance of mental health, which is a key component to the GECDSB, and a specific series of mental health workshops are offered. “Mood Fluctuations in Children and Youth”, “Are Life Stressors Causing You or Your Child to Make Poor Choices or Blow Up” and “Fighting ADHD Not Your Child” are a few examples that are available to interested parents. Mental health is a huge commitment of the Board. They are one of the only Boards in the province to dedicate a superintendent to oversee the mental health initiatives.
Forging strong partnerships
In addition to maintaining positive relationships with parents and guardians, one of the number one things the GECDSB has that sets them apart from other school districts in Canada is its multitude of community partnerships. The district identifies partnerships with the community as a priority in its 2011-2015 Strategic Plan and is committed to the goal of extending its collaborative partnerships. The GECDSB is partners with READCO, BASF, the Regional Children’ s Hospital, the Southwest University of China and many more. This year the district hopes to engage and connect with even more new partnerships and local communities.
Why does the GECDSB see such importance in community and vendor partnerships? One reason is that for students to properly learn lessons that re relevant to real life experiences, it is crucial for them to see how businesses operate and what they require from the employees. Another benefit is that these partnerships offer their own educational influence to the school district and unites students, staff and the community.
The district gives back to the community by offering the Community Kitchen Program. The unemployment help center has a kitchen where one of the district teachers works as the chef and makes meals for the community. The Community Kitchen Program is proud to serve over a thousand meals per week and about 46 hundred snacks for the snack program.
Kelly has previously worked in other school districts and has acquired a wide range of experience from her role as superintendent. Now that she has completed her first year as director in the GECDSB, she reflects, “I am very impressed with the amount of partnerships and philanthropy we have and we’re also in an area where the mental health initiative is quite strong. Our employee relations are great, and I think the partnership piece is, in many respects, and good communication to our community in terms of what’s happening and how we can work together.”
Green initiatives and ecoschools
As mentioned earlier, an important partnership is BASF. BASF has been very helpful in providing a site for environmental learning for students. This became especially important once the board began implementing ecoschools in 2006. These ecoschools were implemented in four phases and have been established under an ecoteam consisting of an administrator, teacher, custodian and students. The ecoschools program measures and rewards the participation and involvement of each school by using a scoring system of bronze, silver and gold. About 80 % percent of our schools being certified. Kelly states that the GECDSB stands apart because, “It is one of the only school boards to make school based environmental stewardship mandatory part of the board though policy.”
The use of energy in the facilities is monitored by means of energy data software so that any abnormal usage in water, electricity or gas may be addressed. The GECDSB has been recognized by ERCA (Essex Region Conservation Authority) for its ecoschools stewardship program. The Board is also proud that the sustainability of the ecoschools program has been recognized in the Provincial Operational review as a best practice across the Province and it has sustained a Service Quality System in its Facilities Services Department which meets an ISO 9001 standard for 10 plus years.
Additionally, the buildings the GECDSB constructs, particularly in the last year, are built to LEED standards. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. A LEED designation is one of four level: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The designation is determined by a point system depending on how well the building is designed. Most of the schools the GECDSB has constructed in the last few years have been built to meet the LEED Silver standards and the Board is proud to announce that the recent David Suzuki School has been designed to a Platinum LEED standard, including features such as ground source heat pumps, in floor heating, light tubes and sun pipe technology, rain water harvesting, solar wall and panels, living wall, polished concrete floors, cork flooring, windmill technology, maximized natural light into hallways and classrooms, landscaping bio swales to control water runoff, and naturalized landscaping.
Supporting the staff to offer excellence
Te GECDSB also offers centralized support to the staff so that they are best equipped to meet students’ learning needs in the areas of math, literacy, differentiation of instruction, assessment and evaluation. The district works to determine what each school’s specific learning needs are to ensure that the staff has the most accurate knowledge so they can provide the best teaching methods. Kelly explains that, “The core of the learning for our staff is really focused on their respective continuous improvements plans for student achievement so we focus on what the school is targeting. Each school will then review the relevant data, report cards, and school climate data and determine what they believe to be the most important needs of their students, and this allows them to determine what learning they must better adjust within their building.” This allows the staff in each school site to be highly engaged in the learning as it is tailored to their needs and their students.
With the staff, parents and community working together, the GECDSB offers a quality education experience to students unlike any other.