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Upbeat message about school district progress

Positives of past school year echoed by superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal
Kevin Kaardal, superintendent/CEO of Central Okanagan Public Schools.

Anyone who pays regular attention to board of education meetings knows that superintendent/CEO Kevin Kaardal doesn't hesitate to take the opportunity to publicly praise the accomplishments of students, teachers and operation staff.

So it was no surprise that the theme was echoed this year in Kaardal's 2023-24 year in review and student achievement reports to the trustees at the board meeting on June 26. 

While the year got off to a rocky start last September dealing with the family upheaval aftermath of the McDougall Creek wildfire that displaced many students and staff from their homes, student achievement graduation numbers continued to exceed provincial averages over the past school year. 

Kaardal noted in the report the six-year B.C. resident graduation completion rate was 96 per cent for the Central Okanagan School District, compared to the provincial average of 92 per cent. 

And the Indigenous six-year B.C. resident graduation completion rate was 81 per cent, compared to the provincial average of 74 per cent. 

Kaardal noted the overarching goal of the school district is for their learners to develop foundational skills and core curricular competencies so that they can be empowered to follow their passions and strengths and thrive holistically as resilient and engaged global citizens. 

That educational engagement was reflected in a variety of ways as outlined in Kaardal's report. 

Classroom achievement was reflected through the Central Okanagan Bursary and Scholarship Society distributing 548 bursaries and scholarships awarded for a total donation of $539,672.95 to assist grads with their pursuit of post-secondary education options.

On the social responsibility side, many schools participated in the annual Terry Fox Run, raising $42,084.28 in support of ongoing cancer research; Relay for Life organized by École Okanagan Secondary students raised more than $56,000; École Dr. Knox Middle School's annual Bald Falcon Day raised $25,959.60; along with numerous individual school toy drives and Jump Rope for Heart events, and the student-led Walk for Mental Health at Mount Boucherie Secondary.

Student accomplishments were also registered in sports with the École Kelowna Secondary AAA senior boys and girls volleyball teams winning provincial championships, while the KSS curling team captured second place at the provincial curling championships, and the Rutland senior boys football squad reaching the semi-finals of the provincial high school championships for the first time.

The Mount Boucherie Secondary robotics team won first place in the Canadian Pacific Regional First Robotics Competition held in Victoria, earning a berth in the First Robotics Competition Championships held in Houston, Tex.

Six Central Okanagan school staff members were recognized for the 2023 Premier's Awards for Excellence in Education, while Rutland Secondary hosted the 2023 BC Student Leadership Conference drawing students here from across the province. 

Kaardal also related how floods were an issue for the school district causing students to be temporarily relocated from Anne McClymont Elementary to other neighbouring schools and flooding to École George Elliot Secondary, both in January 2024. 

He said while those events were disruptive, he praised operational staff for responding to both situations and minimizing the impact on students. 

Kaardal also cited the board of education's diligence behind the scenes, along with administrative staff, for a recent wave of announcements about school additions and new school site acquisitions, along with getting a commitment from BC Unity Party leader Kevin Falcon to replace the aging Rutland Middle School if elected to government and the support of the province to fund hundreds of new childcare spaces using school sites to house new daycare facilities. 

Indigenous education continues to be a forefront issue for the school district, Kaadal reported, noting this year 3,351 (K-12) students identified as Indigenous (First Nations, Metis or Inuit) representing more than 60 bands and territories, with a further 54 preschool-aged Indigenous learners and their families accessing StrongStart programs. 

The school district's 2020-2025 Equity in Action for Truth and Reconciliation Agreement is now in its fourth year, with an Indigenous education department in place to support and achieve the education goals of that agreement. 

Two early learning teacher consultants provide targeted literacy intervention for primary students, two land-based learning teacher consultants connect students from all middle schools to land and culture, success teachers (tutors) assist students at each secondary school and three middle schools, 54 Indigenous students advocates and one lead advocate support the emotional, spiritual, physical and academic needs of K-12 Indigenous students, two wellness workers offer mental health and wellness support to middle and secondary Indigenous students, two cultural presenters and one cultural coordinator facilitate responsive cultural learning for students across the district, and six Elders in Residence guide staff and connect students to cultural wisdom. 

Another year in the growth of that truth and reconciliation relationship was the five Indigenous graduate blanketing ceremonies held at six secondary schools and at Central Programs and Services last month. 

But amongst all the positives, there remain learning issues in areas such as numeracy and literacy where Central Okanagan students are lagging behind provincial averages, areas that Kaardal says the school district has identified and is continuing to work on strategies for improvement. 

"It's always an ongoing process," Kaardal said. "We know the areas we need to work on and we continue to work to put strategies in place." 



Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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