A Message from Director of Education
As we prepare to wrap up an incredible 2023, and embark upon a fresh new year of opportunity and learning, I invite you to join me in reflecting on all that we accomplished together this year. The Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) Annual Report provides a look at the day-to-day and annual work of students, staff and community members in a shared effort to support the six strategic directions laid out in our Strategic Plan.
To make these goals a reality and to guide our annual work, we created our 2022-23 Board Improvement and Equity Plan (BIEP). Fundamentally, the BIEP understands that every student is unique, and lays out our commitment to providing all students with the resources and support they need to achieve their full potential in the classroom and in life. In October 2023, we shared the impact we’ve seen so far.
The results of the implementation of the 2022-23 BIEP are encouraging and allow us to better understand the effectiveness of the strategies we’ve put in place. Most importantly, we are seeing growth in students’ academic achievement, especially in the key areas of literacy and numeracy. This is as a direct result of understanding that equity must be foundational to the work we do as a system. We know this progress alone is not enough. We are committed to continued growth in an effort to systematically reach each and every student that we serve.
As we reflect on 2023, the data gives us plenty to be proud of. In fact, it shows that the strategies and plans we’re putting in place are having a positive impact on achievement and well-being for the students we serve.
The 2022-23 EQAO assessment results are a key piece of data in helping us to determine the effectiveness of our strategies, and how we can fine tune our approach to support more students.
For students in Grade 3, WRDSB results were equal to the provincial average in Reading and Writing, and 1% below in Math. Compared to our results in the 2021-22 EQAO assessment, this represents:
The results of the Grade 6 assessments were also encouraging, with WRDSB results meeting the provincial standard in Reading, and 1% above in Writing and Math. Compared to our results in the 2021-22 EQAO assessment, this represents:
Grade 9 Math
For the Grade 9 math assessment, the WRDSB results showed we were 1% above the provincial standard. Compared to our results in the 2021-22 assessment, this represents a 4% increase.
In the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) results for the 2022-23 school year, the WRDSB results were equal to the provincial standard. Compared to our results in the 2021-22 assessment, we see no change.
EQAO MLL Primary and Junior Assessments
A year ago, we shared data for our MLL students’ performance. At the time, it revealed a lot of work to do better. We took that to heart and staff continued to work hard at doing better. Taking a closer look at the most recent EQAO assessment data, specifically focusing on our multilingual learner (MLL) students, we see even more to be proud of. When we compare the results for 2022-23 to the previous school year, we see that there were notable increases in the number of MLL students achieving the provincial standard at the primary and junior assessments.
The good news continued at the secondary level, too. We saw a 21% increase in the Grade 9 math assessment, and a 35% increase in the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) compared to the previous school year.
These results are especially impressive, recognizing that WRDSB has traditionally been below the provincial standard in MLL assessments. Now, we find ourselves above the standard in six areas.
Suspensions and Expulsions
Our work in the area of suspensions and expulsions remains rooted in anti-racist, anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-carceral practices. We’re seeing the results of this work in a drastic reduction in suspensions and expulsions, even when taking into account the removal of discretionary suspensions in Kindergarten to Grade 3.
Using suspension days as a measure of the effects of suspensions, we’ve seen this indicator reduce from more than 10,000 suspension days in the 2018-19 school year, to 7,000 in the 2022-23 school year. As a result of various learning modes over the past few school years the best comparator to this year's suspension and expulsion data is 2018-2019.
This is as a direct result of understanding that human rights must be foundational to the work we do as a system. We know this progress alone is not enough. We are committed to continued growth in an effort to systematically reach each and every student that we serve.
Student academic achievement and well-being represent our core work. We are committed to making our schools places where every student can be successful. However, we know we can’t do this alone. We are committed to meaningful engagement that is open, accessible, inclusive and responsive. We know that decisions are improved by working with students, families and community members.
In May, we hosted the Transforming Education: Literacy and Numeracy for a Changing World event. The event highlighted the programs and partnerships available through WRDSB, from how we’re transforming STEM education, to the innovative work educators are doing to de-stream math and English. The evening presented a unique opportunity for attendees to hear directly from educators and students about how they are developing knowledge, skills, and interests to help them succeed in their chosen path. Students shared examples of their work and spoke directly about how their learning experiences provided them opportunities for growth and supported their academic success.
Preparing students for the success as we head towards the 22nd century, using a public education system conceived of before humans had discovered flight, is an uphill challenge. Instead, we’re transforming education as we know it, with those we serve.
Our efforts to support students in key subject areas like math and literacy are starting to pay off. We still have much work ahead of us to get where we want to go. However, the latest Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessment results from the 2022-2023 school year reinforce the strategies and approaches educators are employing in their classrooms. WRDSB students are surpassing or meeting provincial results in all but one assessment area. Not only do these results show us that we’re on the right track with our work, but they also help to guide us in better supporting students to achieve their full potential.
Math Action Plan
We’re already putting enhanced learning and instruction strategies into action, like our new WRDSB Math Action Plan. While guidance from the Ministry of Education recommends that school boards focus our attention in our math strategies on schools with the most need, our enhanced mathematics strategy is for ALL WRDSB students.
The Math Action Plan outlines our commitment to empower all students to achieve their full potential while providing pathways for students to meet their postsecondary goals. Our approach builds on the guidance from the Ministry of Education by expanding focus from only the schools with the most need to every student we serve. Our goals span all grade levels, from kindergarten to graduation. It’s a plan that supports all students, and all educators.
We know that a strong, foundational understanding of mathematics is a fundamental part of supporting students in achieving their full potential, and providing pathways for student success after graduation. Our Math Action Plan is a key part of our work to ensure that identity and social location no longer predict student outcomes.
This work is supported by the amazing efforts ongoing in Grade 9 and 10 classrooms across our secondary schools to implement de-streaming. We saw the impacts this is making for student achievement demonstrated in Angela Schaefer’s math class at Huron Heights Secondary School (HHSS). The single stream Grade 10 class means that students aren’t required to make a choice between applied or academic level courses before they have an idea of what they want to do after they graduate. It also means that when they are asked to decide in Grade 11, they can do so equipped with a better understanding of where they want their learning journey to take them.
Of course, Math is not all we are focused on. Amazing work is also ongoing in Literacy, which we saw reflected in the results of our 2022-23 BIEP. Specifically, we were pleased to see more than three quarters of Grade 2 students achieve a final grade of B- or higher in reading on their final report card. This is an important milestone in our commitment to having all students reading confidently by the time they enter Grade 3.
As we continue to make our work more transparent with the community, we will also be sharing our Literacy Action Plan with the community. Stay tuned for that!
Students and staff across WRDSB continue to shape our approach with feedback about their experiences through the Safe, Caring and Inclusive School and Guarding Minds at Work surveys. Together with students, staff, parents, caregivers and families, we are building our capacity to create equitable and inclusive learning opportunities rooted in a culture of respect for sovereignty, human rights and equity.
In May, I was honoured to speak with over 100 students from WRDSB secondary schools who took part in the first-ever Student Wellness Conference. The event brought together students, staff and community partners at The Family Centre in Kitchener for a day to focus on equipping students with the information and resources they need to support their mental health and well-being. It was exciting to see students coming together to share new ideas and create innovative methods of addressing the challenges they see in their schools and communities. As I said back in May, the answers are with you.
Charter for Engagement
We believe it takes a village to raise a child and we need many villages across the region to help us raise all the children in WRDSB. One of the things we heard loud and clear through the Strategic Planning process was the need to help you see the results of the feedback you have given to us. We are committed to being clearer about how what you tell us changes how we work.
In September, we unveiled our framework to transform education through engagement. It has three separate plans, with tailored approaches to fostering partnerships and increasing agency for students, families and community members.
Though we aim to bring our community together, towards our shared goals of supporting student achievement and well-being, we find ourselves doing so in an increasingly polarized world and community.
As we work to build a better education system, one which truly serves the needs of all students, we hear calls for a move “back to basics.” The implications of these calls can mean keeping intact a public education system that serves some students better than others, and one where identity and social location too often predict outcomes. These are really calls to keep public education a system of exclusivity, where some have all the opportunity, and in spite of the hardest work of many, others do not. We are staying focused on literacy, numeracy and compassionate citizenship for the world students are going to graduate into. Language and Math skills need to apply to a new rapidly shrinking world with ever increasingly complex challenges, with new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, changing economies and global environmental realities.
We are preparing students for jobs that have not yet been conceived to solve problems that have not yet occurred. In these challenging times, I call all of those who make up WRDSB - students, families, staff and community members - to our shared humanity. Let us focus on our collective goal of serving all students in their academic achievement and well-being towards the landscape and world they will enter into. This is how we will create better global citizens, who have the right skills, talents and abilities necessary to be successful and for a future we all deserve together.
As an education system, we serve approximately 65,000 students. As we listened to them through the Strategic Planning process and through multiple platforms such as focus groups, roundtables and other platforms, we know that they want to have a stronger voice in their education. This is even more critical as we prepare them for the future.
This includes providing them with innovative classroom-based, learning opportunities that have real-world impact. This year, we saw elementary and secondary students taking part in a design thinking project led by their educators in partnership with Smart Waterloo Innovation Labs (SWRIL), and receiving funding to take their plans from words to action. Secondary students returned to the University of Waterloo’s Electric Vehicle challenge, allowing them to hone skills in subject areas from the arts to engineering as they competed in electric vehicles they built themselves.
The skills WRDSB students are learning from their educators will allow them to succeed in the world they graduate into. It’s a place we cannot yet truly imagine; however, we do know the skills and knowledge that students will need to thrive.
As we engage Design Thinking in our classrooms, students are already taking the lead through events like the Groh Global Gala. This gala brought community members into the school to look at the learning outcomes of students based on months of exploration and study. It even included the opportunity to sample foods from around the world as they took in student-led displays of dancing and fashion.
Family and Community Engagement
We are a part of a community - we need to live this as a value. As a part of a community, we continue to think about how we can be active supporters of the well-being of the wider community. Issues like food and housing security impact students and community members. Through our Community and Municipal Roundtables we continue to work to address some of the impacts of these issues on students and families.
To do so provides the best opportunities to become the change we want to see in the world. We are now in the second year of our partnership with A Better Tent City. The success of this community next to our Education Centre is an important reminder that when we look after the most vulnerable members of our communities, we’re building communities that better support all of us. We’re proud to be a part of this important work that continues to inspire similar efforts across Ontario as a result of this partnership. We are better and stronger when we are together.
We see the results of our collective efforts in action in our work to address food insecurity with our partners at Nutrition for Learning, Food4Kids Waterloo Region and the May Court Club of Kitchener-Waterloo. In April 2023, the Waterloo Education Foundation Inc. (WEFI) reaffirmed our commitment with a $30,000 donation to these same three local organizations. We’re working together to create a school system where no student struggles with a lack of access to food.
Our hope is to continually grow, develop and model what partnerships such as this can look like if we all work together.
Staff well-being and leadership
In very trying times we continue to work on helping staff develop a stronger sense of well-being and leadership.
We know that staff well-being directly impacts the academic performance and well-being of the students they serve. We’ve laid out our commitment to support staff in achieving work-life balance through the Disconnecting from Work protocol, and clarified these expectations in messages to the families and community we serve.
As we continue to listen to staff and what is important to them, we will also be releasing plans that centre Staff Well-being and Leadership Capacity. This supports us as an organization to address the learning and work needed to continue to build sustainable staff capacity and leadership for the organization.
Looking to 2024
As we navigate these challenging times, the work doesn’t stop here. We continue to think about how we can position ourselves to support students to develop the skills and characters to lead us towards the 22nd century.
As a Senior Team, with the goal of better serving staff, students and the community, we’ve all successfully completed part one of the Global Innovation Management Institute’s certification in partnership with Smart Waterloo Region. We are now engaged in part two of the GIMI certification and setting our sights on taking what we’ve learned and applying it to our shared work of transforming education
We know we can’t do this important work alone, though. Only by working together with those we serve can we hope to truly reimagine public education. This means unlocking the potential of schools as the hearts of their communities, partnering with families and neighbours to support the success of all students.
2023 has provided an amazing foundation for us to build on in 2024. This means continuing our core work of supporting the academic achievement and well-being of the students we serve, as we reimagine a public education system that truly provides equitable opportunities and outcomes for all students. This is not something we undertake alone, though. Every parent, caregiver, family or community member is a partner in helping to prepare the students we serve for success in learning and life.
Let’s make 2024 another year of creativity, learning, compassion and love in and across the WRDSB.
Director of Education