2020 Summer Message from Superintendent Sheppard

Category: DistrictSchool

As I take some time to reflect on the 2019/2020 school year, I think it’s fair to say that the year started off like any other. However, it has certainly ended in a way unlike any year we have seen before.

Prior to the declaration of a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, students and staff went about their respective studies and work in the usual way. International issues that were top of mind were burning issues, literally – the climate change strikes in September and the devastating fire season in Australia towards the end of 2019 and early part of 2020, which unfortunately ended with major flooding in many areas.

At the provincial level, the school district was involved in contract negotiations for both teachers and CUPE 1091 staff. The district also provided feedback to the Ministry of Education advocating for appropriate levels of funding for public schools as we awaited the Ministry release of a new funding model.

Locally, the district continued to work with the city to enhance playgrounds and other recreation projects, such as the planned beach volleyball courts at Delta Secondary and upgraded track and field facilities at South Delta and North Delta.

Within the school district we had much to celebrate. On September 30, to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, we were honoured to unveil a new Truth and Reconciliation Pole at our school board office in Ladner in recognition of our ongoing working relationship with Tsawwassen First Nation (TFN). The 3.6m Pole, was carved from red cedar by TFN artist Karl Morgan, with the assistance of three other TFN Members and numerous SD37 students. The House Post serves as a daily reminder of the teachings and storied history of the people and lands on which we work, learn and play. Our educators participated in important ongoing professional learning to more deeply understand curricular connections. And in January, we delighted Delta students by announcing a Snow Day, a rare occurrence in our district!

Then COVID-19 hit the world stage and life as we knew it began to change radically. The first inkling we had that this was not going to be a regular school year came with the great disappointment of having to cancel all school trips. That was quickly followed with the unbelievable news that all in-class learning was suspended indefinitely. School administrators, teachers and school office staff rallied fast to deliver a completely new learning model and provide a multitude of different supports to families. We know this wasn’t easy – it took a lot of hard work and commitment, and created a huge amount of concern and worry for our staff who are focused on putting students first. Time and again, we saw them go above and beyond to ensure that the impact on students’ learning was minimized. In addition, schools distributed close to 500 laptops to students without access to a computer at home. Students had to adjust to learning from home and being separated from their friends, while parents did as much as possible to support their children. Thank you to all our staff and parents for supporting students through these times.

I would also like to take this time to acknowledge and thank our Facilities and Maintenance staff who continue to work so hard in these unprecedented times. We are so grateful for all they do to ensure our schools and work sites are clean, ready and safe for students and staff. I would also like to thank staff who work at DMEC, Tilbury and the school board office. Their commitment and support, much of which happens behind the scenes, has been essential in allowing school operations to continue.

Our international students were deeply impacted by this year’s turn of events. Sadly, many of our international students had to make the difficult decision to return home early. We miss them and the valuable contributions they make to our schools, their host families and the greater community.

Although we don’t yet know what our return to school in September will look like as it will depend on the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in BC at that time, I am confident that we will achieve whatever is required of us. Already, we have shown that together we can be flexible and successful in planning for different scenarios and changing our approach to instruction and student learning quickly. Although the current uncertainty we are facing is not ideal, whatever September brings, I know we will again work together to support our students and their families in the best way possible.

I am filled with admiration by the countless acts of kindness I have witnessed over the past few months. It is wonderful to see our district values of caring, respect, responsibility, community, and excellence being lived each and every day. A great example of this is the widespread community support we have seen over recent months for our Food Security Program. We received generous donations from many local organizations and individuals that enabled us to distribute more than 175 food hampers each week to families in need in North Delta, Ladner and Tsawwassen. As the saying goes, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ and I hope that the silver lining of this pandemic is that it has shown us we are more caring, community-minded, flexible, resilient and capable in the face of adversity than we ever realized.

My hope is that 2020 will be remembered for more than just the pandemic. I sincerely hope 2020 is considered as a pivotal year for the anti-racist movement. Clearly, there is an urgent need for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and diverse ethnicity to be treated equitably.

Here in Canada, and indeed within our school district, we are not immune to systemic racism and injustice. We must address this issue. This will involve much listening, learning and growth in the months ahead. There is no doubt that we can and must do better. Education plays a pivotal role in tackling the systemic racism and bias that exists in Canada. The district’s Executive Team is investigating how to discuss anti-racism within our schools and communities. Another step will be creating a teacher-resource kit that is ready for distribution in the fall. This will be co-constructed with educators as we work to build our knowledge so that we can strengthen our approaches to talking with students about racism.

For the past three years, the school district has been an active participant and contributor to the Ministry of Education’s Indigenous Equity Scan, addressing issues such as white privilege, racism and curricular biases. The school district also participates as a member of Delta’s Organizing Against Hate and Racism Committee (OARH). We believe our work in this area to date will help provide a solid foundation to move forward.

As Superintendent of Delta School District, I commit to upholding the vision of our schools nurturing caring relationships, connections and a sense of belonging to our local and global communities. I remain committed to fostering a culture of inclusion and ensuring a safe and supportive community for all students and staff, including those who identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Colour. Over the coming months, I will be working closely with members of our Executive and Board of Education to identify other ways we can enhance our efforts to build a more inclusive environment. We will actively solicit feedback from students and parents to gain their valuable perspective on how we can eradicate and prevent racial discrimination within our policies, programs and practices.

It is important that all of us understand our own biases and privileges and how these affect our attitudes and behavior. We must use this knowledge to create an education that is equitable and inclusive of all people regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender. I encourage all members of staff to think about the role they can play in fighting discrimination, just as I would encourage all parents to talk to their children about the need to respect each other’s differences, stand up for one another, especially where they witness discrimination, and choose kindness always.

At this time of year, we always have to bid a fond farewell to the many staff who are retiring. To all of our retirees, I say thank you for creating a wonderful legacy. You have made a positive impact mentoring and guiding so many students during your career.

To our Trustees, I am grateful for the passion and expertise that each of you bring to the table every day. Thank you for your continued leadership and dedication to our students, staff, and district.

To the class of 2020, I know you have heard this from so many others in recent weeks, but I truly share in your disappointment at missing out on the usual grad ceremonies and celebrations. Please accept my heartfelt congratulations. I wish you every happiness as you head into the next chapter of your life.

As we see this strange school year come to an end, I want to thank our parents, community partners and staff for your hard work, dedication, passion and commitment to our students. As already mentioned, we are planning for multiple scenarios for a return to school in September. We expect to receive further guidance from the Provincial Health Officer and Ministry of Education in mid-August. We will be in a position to provide more detailed information around the return to school at the end of August. Please rest assured that we will take what we have learned over the last few months to create the most effective and safe learning environment possible.

To all of our Delta students, I wish you a safe and fun summer. Stay safe (keep physically distanced and wash your hands often!) and we look forward to welcoming you back in a couple of months.

See you, hopefully in person, in September!

Doug Sheppard
Superintendent, Delta School District