This afternoon I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with a really dynamic staff from the Byrne Creek Secondary School from Burnaby, British Columbia. Taking part in the conversation was:
- David Rawnsley – Principal
- Lynn Archer – Director of Instruction
- Lorraine Hodgson – Counsellor
- Iha Farquhar – Community School Coordinator
- Mirella Gargiulo – ELL Coordinator and Teacher
Byrne Creek was awarded the Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award – in the press release it states:
The overall success at Byrne Creek is the result of passionate staff, thoughtful planning, and integrated programming coming together in a vibrant and diverse community. The staff members at the school are dedicated educators who genuinely care for their students and approach each new challenge with an open mind.
In conversation with the staff I learned some wonderful information about their model, but one of the most interesting parts of the conversation (for me) was hearing about how they came up with the model and implemented that model in their community. Many people believe SLA should be scaled or replicated, which is a complicated conversation. A conversation I love to have, but the end run for me is that schools need to be responsive to the communities they serve. In chatting with this delightful group, it became more clear to me how important this really is in the visioning and building of a new or transforming school.
Lynn Archer, Director of Instruction, who was part of the 4 year process of visioning the school, spoke at length about the protocols they utilized. To start they polled the community, analyzed demographics, and formed a parent advisory council prior to the opening of the school. After doing all of this work, she acknowledged that the school could have gone off in a number of different directions. It was the work of the administrative team to synthesize all of the community generated information to then build systems and structures that “focused on learning within the framework of the whole child so that they become contributing citizens. Once the school was open one of the most critical pieces to put in place was establishing a positive school culture and Ms. Archer identified the fine arts as exceptionally key in the process.
Learning about the Community School Coordinator position, which was added this past year, was encouraging. Iha Farquhar, who serves in that role, was incredibly energetic and interested in the conditions for building strong partnerships with families and breaking down the barriers for parents and community members to be more active in the school environment.
When I asked about what has worked well from the beginning, Counsellor Lorraine Hodgson, commented on their Code of Conduct which utilizes an acronym – HEART – Honesty, Empathy, Achievement, Respect, Teamwork. She noted that the visual was especially helpful because of their substantial ELL population –
The area has a high population of immigrant families, many of whom are refugees from war-torn countries. More than 60 percent of the students come from families where English is not the primary language spoken at home.
In addition, they implemented teacher collaboration time each week to embed professional development and learning. The final point was that the administrators truly embraced the idea of fostering reflective practitioners
Mirella Gargiulo – ELL Coordinator and Teacher – spoke masterfully about the adjustments they made throughout the years with the intense experience of educating a large portion of students that not only were learning the English language, but learning a written language for the first time. As a teacher who worked with a sizable ELL population in Arizona, I know what a challenge it can be to get it right. The steps they are taking to evaluate and re-evaluate the successes and adjust for new realities is impressive.
Throughout the whole conversation, they emphasized the importance of relationships as the foundational element that allows them to pursue lofty academic goals for all students. They spoke of individualizing the definition of success due to the variety of circumstances that the students bring to the school community. This school gets it. It was a pleasure and joy to have the time to share and chat about what makes them so successful. I hope to be able to visit them in the near future and see the space and environment with my own eyes.