As I take some time to reflect on 2021 and its many challenges, I see what has also been a year of continued growth, resilience and many successes. Though we were faced with a number of switches from in-person to remote learning, we saw our staff and community coming together, exercising compassion, creativity and innovation to safely support students’ continued learning, well-being and growth.
Waterloo Region is known as Canada’s innovation hub, and we saw more evidence of this in 2021. In October, the Province announced that the Ontario Government will distribute six million free menstrual products per year to school boards. This is a step in the right direction. Since 2019, the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) has addressed period equity in our system, beginning with providing free period products in every school and alternative education site.
We are building the classrooms of tomorrow in the WRDSB. In 2021 we built on our existing Chromebook Project, expanding the rollout of individual devices to Grade 7 and 8 students. Additionally, we became the first school board in Canada to implement Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) which allows students to access a high-performance complete modern desktop computer from any device, anywhere with an internet connection. We now have 250 classes with more than 5200 students actively using these virtual resources and we continue to receive requests from different educators to extend access to new courses. This will help to ensure that students have equitable access to devices that are important for learning, student achievement and well-being. Whether students were learning in our schools, or remotely at home, we worked together to help WRDSB students reach their fullest potential.
In spite of the pandemic-related challenges, our strategic plan continued to serve as our guide. We continued to demonstrate our commitment to putting each and every one of our students first as we faced new challenges. An integral part of this has been our work focusing on Indigenous students and communities, and the prioritization of human rights and equity in all that we do as a school board. With the launch of the Indigenous, Equity, and Human Rights Department in June, this work becomes a clear focus for us. In December we continued to build on this with the launch of our Anishinaabemowin Language Program. This offers students in Grades 1 to 12 and adults in our community the opportunity to learn about Anishinaabemowin heritage and language.
The culture of innovation in Waterloo Region, and in the WRDSB, continues to shine bright. We saw standout examples, like Ashley McCarl Palmer at Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI), who received the 2021 CAP Award for Excellence in Teaching High School/CEGEP Physics (Ontario) in recognition of her approach to teaching physics, which included moving away from exams. Hardit Singh, a Grade 10 student at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute, set his sights on addressing global eye health by inventing a hand-held device to screen for disease. Innovation occurs every day in our classrooms, both in person and online, as our system continues to evolve and adapt.
We know we are not alone in supporting student learning. We are partners with parents, families and caregivers in every student’s journey on their learning pathway. The WRDSB’s commitment to this partnership was seen in the work of our Black Brilliance team, which includes both former and current students and staff, in addition to community members and groups like the Black Brilliance Advisory Council.
We also had incredible examples of progress across our system in meeting our operational goals. Our students were recognized for their passion and skill in STEAM, our staff built a new system to allow students to access the tools they need to continue learning remotely and the efforts of our students showed that they learned just how important well-being is to their success and the success of their peers.
The WRDSB Board of Trustees continues to play a vital role in guiding and leading our system. On behalf of our community, they provide an important conduit for the voices of parents, caregivers, families, students and the broader public.
This past year I had the chance to visit 100 schools and sites across our district and spoke directly with hundreds of students, including student journalists. It allowed me to hear what mattered to them, their hopes and vision for the future. We must set our sights on creating an education system that meets the needs of all students, so that every one is able to reach their fullest potential, and succeed in school and life.
One of the things I have been most proud of as the challenges have unfolded has been the way staff have come forward and co-led with love and compassion. I must acknowledge the leadership of Associate Director Lila Read and our full senior team who have come together and continue to do their best in challenging, ever-changing circumstances. What you see here is a representation of our circle of shared leadership and the work of many people in all parts of our organization. Whatever their role, it takes a village to do what we have been doing – we are the WRDSB village and I am grateful for each and every member. We are stronger when we lead together and on behalf of all we serve.
I can’t wait to see where we’ll go as we embark on a new strategic planning process where we emphasize our commitment to our students – each and every one. I hope you’ll join me on this journey to reimagine public education in Waterloo Region.
Director of Education