Mental Health Literacy

Prairie Rose School Division #8, in partnership with our Alberta Health Services Health Promotion Coordinator and all four school divisions in Southeastern Alberta (PRSD8, SD 76, Grasslands, and MHCBE) applied for a cross-jurisdictional grant through the University of Alberta Wellness Fund to provide Go to Educator and Mental Health Literacy training to teachers and administration within southeast Alberta. The grant application was successful, awarding the project $60,000 to be divided among each school division.

The Go To Educator training was developed in 2009 by Dr. Stan Kutcher, Sun Life Chair in Adolescent Mental Health. The “Go-to-Educator” component of this training is based on observation that in each school, there are educators with whom students form good relationships, naturally go to for help, and feel comfortable talking about their problems. Therefore providing training to this group of educators in how to recognize mental disorders can be expected to substantively promote early identification of mental health problems and mental disorders, thus potentially leading to earlier effective interventions of mental health problems and mental disorders.  In turn, this can potentially lead to earlier effective interventions and the provision of ongoing support within the school setting to those so identified. These “go-to” educators can include subject teachers, student service providers, principals and other staff members.
The Mental Health Literacy Curriculum Guide provides a complete set of educational tools to increase understanding of mental health and mental disorders among both students and teachers. The guide, developed in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association, focuses on training teachers to be comfortable with their own knowledge of mental health and mental disorders. The guide then empowers the teachers to share this knowledge with their students through curriculum delivered in a multiple-media module format.  The program uses a variety of interactive sessions that help to promote dialogue among students, as well as with their teachers. Discussing mental health and mental illness in a supportive, familiar environment enables youth to feel safe, ask questions, gain knowledge, combat stigma and develop their own opinions of the world around them.

We are very excited for this opportunity to provide mental health literacy training to teachers and school leaders.  We will update everyone once more concrete plans related to professional development of teacher and implementation with students are finalized.

Use this link for more information:


Wellness Wildly Important Goal

We have recently launched a new second Wildly Important Goal (WIG) in Prairie Rose School Division in addition to our first WIG of improving literacy rates.  That goal is to collaboratively plan and implement strategies related to healthy school communities and division.  Students report to us through the Canadian Tell Them From Me Survey that anxiety is their number one wellness issue.  Anxiety rates are on the rise in our school division in spite of our best efforts to date.  Dr. Jody Carrington, a well-known Psychologist from Olds, AB told our staff that the Alberta School Employee Benefit Plan reports unprecedented rates of depression in Alberta school staff families.  Our society has become very complex indeed. There is never enough time or money.

Our wellness model is intended to be very broad and consists of three main pillars: Psychological Capital, Drive (Motivation) and Purpose.  Although the model has it’s roots in business and human resources, we believe the model holds huge potential for improvement in overall wellness.

I encourage you to learn more about the background related to the model.  We have added a new section to our Prairie Rose School Division website specifically related to this new Wellness goal.

Click here to view the new Wellness WIG webpage.

I am honored to have been selected by my Superintendent peers to the provincial “Valuing Mental Health” committee and I look forward to talking about the potential of psychological capital as a framework for improved well-being and self care.  Learning is improved in a culture of care and wellness.  I plan to report on this journey  in the future through this blog.

In the meantime, I am very proud of the gains we have made as a division on multiple indicators related to our first WIG related to literacy.  Hope is about multiple pathways and strategies; I hope we will be as successful with improvements to wellness as we have been so far with literacy.



Gearing Up for a New School Year

I would like to take a moment to welcome both new and returning families and school communities to the 2016-17 school year at Prairie Rose School Division.  Our mission here is to positively inspire lifelong learning through everyone learning together.  Most of our energy is in one way or another directed to this purpose.

I thank our school communities for your support last year.  Achievement results from Alberta Education’s Accountability Pillar will be available in early October.  Survey results from last May and all other indicators such as graduation rates, transition to post-secondary and all other indicators show significant improvements.  I am proud of the staff for their very active support related to our first Wildly Important Goal (WIG) of improvements in literacy, especially reading.  The Board of Trustees invested significant dollars last year in improving and updating classroom literacy resources.  Your active support of this and other strategies included in the Board’s Education Plan is greatly appreciated and is making a positive difference for students.

A trend as indicated by staff, students and the media includes concerns related to wellness.  Although we continue to improve in most data indicators, the weakened economy and more complicated societal factors have led to an overall increase in student anxiety.  Unresolved anxiety leads to depression and other mental wellness disorders.  Our second Wildly Important Goal will include work on this topic.

Other successes lately have included additional partnerships with Medicine Hat College and other community colleges related to dual credit opportunities for high school students.  Dual credit partnerships mean that students can gain high school and college credit while still high school.  We have included media announcement this summer and will have further announcements about this soon, stay tuned.  We also would like to have some important conversations about reporting achievement to parents this year.

We are very excited to see a new school at Schuler this year, high water tables have destroyed the foundation and we are excited to see the prototype building for small rural schools open later this spring.  Planning related to modernization work at Eagle Butte High School continues.

Start-up for a new school year often brings some challenges.  Our communication protocols include first speaking with the most direct person, usually this is the classroom teacher and/or the school principal.  Most issues can be solved at that level.  The use of social media will not solve a problem.

I am excited for another year filled with engagement, learning and fun.  We hope to improve a little each day and we will by working together for the best interest of our students.  On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I would like to welcome all to another year of “everyone learning together.”


Literacy and Results June 2016

I have had the fortune of being invited into a number of our Prairie Rose classrooms this spring.  I have been doing my own very informal research on how teachers have been putting to work new assessment tools and resources throughout PRSD8.

It’s interesting to note that the updated accountability report from Alberta Education has been released today.  I am very pleased to report that our perception (survey) results from parents, students and staff are significantly improved this year and indicate very high satisfaction across the division in all areas.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.

In the classrooms I see a number of exciting trends.  While some teachers have more or less direct teaching compared to student directed learning within choices, I see a great balance of both.  I see more precise guided reading instruction at the students’ stretch reading level.  I see more resources being used at appropriate student reading levels.  And I see more appropriate student furniture that supports students’ needs and teacher instruction.

What is even more important is the love these teachers actively demonstrate for kids and teaching.  A smile  and positive reinforcement the whole class long.  A high level of exchange of energy between teacher and students is also evident.  This is where it starts.

I believe there is there is a strong correlation between this work and student, staff and parent perception.  I believe our staff are doing a better job than ever communicating with parents in ways that work for parents.  I am proud of the work of our staff and the improvement in results as indicated by the accountability report card.  I have also heard of many success stories of improved student reading scores from staff throughout the division.  The mission is to positively inspire students for lifelong learning by everyone learning together.  I think we’re moving in the right direction!  We just want to get a little better each day.  It adds up!






Welcome to silly season; that time of the year between the provincial budget release and the end of the school year.  Everyone works together to continue to keep one eye on the current year’s education plan while expecting part of the brain to plan for the next school year.

The board’s purpose is “to positively inspire students for lifelong learning” by “everyone learning together.”  While the education plan has many goals, outcomes and strategies, the two current Wildly Important Goals (WIGS) include:

  1.  To improve English language literacy opportunities for students across the grades  Did you know?
    • The PRSD8 logo is intended to show both a prairie rose AND a person reading a book?
    • The board contributed $350,000 to new literacy resources for the public schools?
    • Much of the energy and professional learning in PRSD8 this year has been dedicated to this goal.
    • We are very proud of the dedicated efforts of our staff in taking on this goal this year.  I have received many success stories this spring related to improved reading strategies and results from our schools.  I have been in a number of classrooms this spring with very rich and engaging literacy lessons.
  2. To implement Inspiring Education strategies as learning and resources allow            Did you know?
    • The new grade 5-9 Career and Technologies Foundations (CTF) program was optional this year in preparation for mandatory implementation next year.  Almost all of our schools piloted modules within this curriculum this year.  Much work on assessment in CTF was piloted as well.
    • We have termed the Prairie Rose interpretation of Inspiring Education as “Forward to the Future.”
    • Much work has been done in our schools related to the new student competencies.  These competencies are consistent across all grades and courses.
    • We expect to announce later this spring some very exciting dual credit partnerships with Alberta colleges at the high school level in preparation for September 2016.
    • EBHS and SCHS have high school redesign projects that are highly valued by Alberta Education.
    • Each month,  one of our schools presents a project related to this goal to the public board meeting.  These student presentations are a highlight each month.

We are planning some pilot writing project work in select PRSD8 schools for the fall.  It is our intention to keep an eye toward numeracy outcomes and personal and organization wellness too.  A key outcome in PRSD8 is to get a little better each day.


Safety at School

In early March, a student  from one of our PRSD8 schools and other students from neighboring schools received an anonymous, electronic threat which turned out to be a hoax.  Parents regularly tell me there is nothing more important than their child’s safety. Our safety protocols indicate that we take these threats seriously even if we suspect this may be a hoax.  As we had received notification of the threat fairly late in the morning after buses has already left for school, we placed additional bus supervision in place with the support from our RCMP partners and placed the school in HOLD AND SECURE.  This protocol is indicated when the perceived threat is outside of the school.  The students go about business as usual other than the doors are locked and directly supervised, access to outside is suspended and field trips and outdoor activities are cancelled.  Similar protocols are in place for severe weather, smoke and other threats that might be found outside the school.  In these cases, unless an evacuation is required, the inside of a school is among the safest places to be.  Our school staff are well trained in all these and other protocols. We are very thankful for the excellent support from the RCMP.

This should NOT BE CONFUSED WITH LOCK DOWN.  This protocol is activated when the perceived threat is inside the building.  Students are secured in locked rooms, windows are locked, blinds are closed and everything is done to keep the perceived threat away from students.

At the time of this event, PRSD8 was nearly, but not quite ready, to launch our new communication software SCHOOL MESSENGER.  We made the decision to NOT notify parents directly by phone as we were in the middle of switching over to the new software.  Instead, we chose to use the school and division websites and social media accounts to relay information.  I can now share that the SCHOOL MESSENGER software transition has started and staff are being trained this spring on its use.  In addition, the text messaging option of SCHOOL MESSENGER has now been activated and many of you have already chosen to opt into this feature.  More information on how parents will be able to choose their preferred method of communication for many items, such as emergencies, bus cancellations and school closures, school newsletter information and more will be coming this fall.  If emergency notification is required in the future, PRSD8 will be using the new system to provide information to parents in addition to posting news on our websites and social media pages.  We ask parents to use our the division certified sites (website and social media) as the best source of most accurate information.

A good example of this is the language used by some media and others.  In PRSD8 the situation was NEVER considered a lock down, nor should it have been.  The language Prairie Rose uses is consistent with the ICS protocols that are used by emergency personnel across North America (  We have some work to do to ensure all our parents, communities and partners are  well informed of these protocols to help reduce confusion in the future.  Thankfully the March incident turned out to be less serious and we can learn and apply the lessons learned to continue to get better every day.  Most of us here are parents too and so it is easy for us to walk in your shoes.



Reading and Literacy

The most important student achievement goal in Prairie Rose School Division at this time is improved reading.  I am very proud of how staff have taken up this challenge as an important strategy to work toward continuous improvement overall.

Reading is a very complex process that is easily taken for granted.  While reading is a very important component of literacy, it is not the only skill necessary for the “ability, confidence and willingness to engage with language to acquire, construct and communicate meaning in all aspects of daily living.”

Reading assessment and instruction have been at the cornerstone of the overall Prairie Rose professional learning plan this year.  About half of our teachers attended one of three workshops offered last Friday’s School Improvement Day as part of this plan.  There has been much debate of the best ways to teach and learn reading over many years.  Prairie Rose has advocated over this time for a balanced approach of strategies.  While different experts have slightly different approaches, most  balanced literacy instruction facilitators include the following components in one way or another:

  1. Read aloud
  2. Guided reading – often direct support from the teacher in small groups
  3. Shared reading
  4. Independent reading
  5. Application – word study, vocabulary, book clubs, etc.

Many of our teachers have also considered in their learning, related content such as routines and procedures for literacy, timetabling, additional time for reading, reading improvement across subjects and grades and much more.  While a rounded learning experience is important, the ability to read well is foundational.  Parents are a child’s first teacher.  You can assist by reading for enjoyment and modeling this, setting time as a family to read at home and having a wide variety of books and materials for your children to read.  We recently shared through the Prairie Rose Twitter account some excellent resources for parents:

Please speak with your child’s teacher if you are looking for further ideas on how to support your child’s learning of reading.