Strategic Planning Community Conversations
Mountain View School Division is embarking on its next Strategic Planning Process. The last plan was for 5 years and ended in 2021. Subsequently, two one-year plans were adopted that continued the priorities established in the previous plan.
This year the Board wants to reignite the planning process and hear from its various stakeholders. This planning process aims to develop a new multi-year plan shaped by the engagement the Board will have with all of its communities.
This discussion document is intended to provide context for these discussions. It is a living document and does not contain all of the information that will be shared as the plan is developed. Rather, it will provide not only the context but also the environment that exists in which Mountain View operates.
(Click on the section titles below to expand the detail in that section. A link to a printable copy of the document is available at: Strategic Planning Community Conversations Apr 11 2023.pdf)
Mountain View School Division has existed since 2002. Within the first decade of its existence, the school division engaged in conversations with its communities about the direction education should take in meeting the needs of its students. These conversations were based on a document, Pathways to Success, that set the groundwork and provided background information and options for communities to consider.
The document focused on all aspects of education, including early, middle, and senior years. It examined some potential ways for Mountain View to provide a positive learning environment for all students. This document also identified some of the challenges that existed at the time, in trying to meet the needs of all of its students.
During these conversations, each community provided its perspective on how the school division should move forward to address these existing challenges. The discussions were held over the course of a year and built understanding while garnering potential solutions to strengthen the education system in Mountain View.
While several issues were identified, the focal point for these discussions became providing high school education. Even though other areas were identified and addressed, the need to provide high school students with what they need to graduate and prepare for their future was central as the K-12 system was discussed.
For students to graduate with what they need for their future, it is necessary to have enough course options. This was increasingly more difficult in our smaller schools given the teacher/student ratio that existed.
From the Pathway to Success discussions, Mountain View School Division Trustees heard how important maintaining the current high school configuration was. Areas were established or enhanced to help provide students with what they needed. This included cross-transportation, video conferencing, synchronous timetables, etc. These initiatives were supported through local taxation, as they are not directly funded through provincial funding.
As Mountain View contemplates this next decade, another series of conversations are required with our communities to determine whether the direction of schooling in our division is where it needs to be or whether there are changes required.
The 2022-2023 Division Plan provides direction and strengthens Mountain View School Division’s commitment to continuous improvement in student achievement and staff effectiveness. This Plan is a one-year plan, as was the 2021-2022 Division Plan.
In pursuit of the Division’s mission and vision, Mountain View School Division approved the following strategic directions and focus areas for 2022-2023:
- The first strategic direction is that of Student Learning. This direction has three focus areas: Numeracy, Literacy and Credit Attainment.
- The second strategic direction is that of Student Well-Being. This direction has four focus areas: Safe and Caring Schools, Student Voice, Indigenous Education, and Mental Health and Wellness.
Each of the focus areas include a goal statement, rationale, data collection and monitoring tools and action plans. Many of these focus areas have been in place for two years and schools have been able to develop baseline data and will be able to compare data to inform decisions moving forward.
Mountain View School Division has been a leader in the province with respect to continuous improvement strategies and divisional planning processes, and we intend to maintain these strong practices moving forward. This robust community engagement process is part of that practice.
These areas define what Mountain View School Division identifies as being important and key to our educational programming, and seeking input from students, caregivers, staff, and community members for our next Division Plan is necessary and invaluable. We encourage you to participate in our upcoming focus groups and surveys.
School Division Climate
Mountain View is well positioned in 2023. The school division has a relatively stable student population, a highly skilled staff, and facilities that are generally well-maintained. The division has a history of being connected to its communities and has largely experienced support.
Mountain View has 16 schools in seven communities with various configurations to support the learning needs of students from K-12. These include French Immersion and Ukrainian Bilingual schools. The division operates an International Student Program, a High School Apprenticeship Program, and a strong high school Vocational Program. These offerings provide additional experiences for students to enhance their learning.
The division has also been able to add to its course offerings over this last decade as opportunities were identified and became available. In recent years, some of these have faced challenges, but are poised to recover. Areas like the International Student Program obviously were challenged when students were unable to travel easily to Canada. Other programs like the High School Apprenticeship Program have lost momentum but are working to restore opportunities for students.
Yet, even with these disruptions, additional opportunities exist for Mountain View students. These extra course offerings are intended to increase the engagement level of students and enhance their learning. Some will require community partnerships and support. Others will be dependent on having a sufficient amount of interest from students for them to be offered. The potential for this next decade to provide even more learning opportunities and support for students and their families is possible.
However, there are challenges on the horizon. These have the potential to impact whether or not Mountain View can provide the current level of programming and services for students. It will certainly impact Mountain View’s ability to expand programming.
Part of the strategic planning process this year will be to look forward to meeting the present and future needs of students. Looking for opportunities to add what students need for their future is vital to keep the students engaged. At the same time, an eye needs to be kept on the factors that impact the division’s future.
It is important to note that these conversations do not exist in a vacuum. Not only are there internal factors unique to Mountain View that impact our future, but there are also external factors that impact the future direction of the school division.
As our communities begin to examine the direction of education in Mountain View, an awareness of these many factors shaping the future is important. We are going to highlight some of them in the next section.
A number of actions or decisions made outside of the division affect the future of learning in Mountain View. The most significant discussion about the direction of education in Manitoba was made when the provincial government conducted the K-12 Education Review.
1. K-12 Education Review
The Commission’s report contained 75 recommendations for improving the education system in Manitoba (Our Children’s Success: MANITOBA’S FUTURE: Report of the Commission on K to 12 Education, March 2020). This took place after consultations across the province with tens of thousands of Manitobans. While not all of the recommendations were accepted or acted upon, a number of them have become the foundation of the K-12 Education Action Plan the Province has introduced (Manitoba’s K to 12 Education Action Plan – April 2022).
In the public education system, the provincial government is ultimately responsible for the delivery of education in Manitoba. School divisions are required to carry out the directives from the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning. These directives become the framework for the school division to operate under.
While a level of autonomy exists for the school division to meet the needs of its students, there are some areas that are required for the public school system. These may be a priority for the school division or they may not be its prime focus. However, if they are directed by the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning, they are required to be followed. This tension between the provincial government and local school boards will always exist. However, the provincial government is ultimately responsible for education.
The recommendations found in the K-12 Commission’s report speak to not only actions the provincial government can take, but to actions school divisions can take with their communities to build a better K-12 system.
An example of the recommendations from the Commission’s report is recommendation #8, which states:
8. Encourage school divisions to explore innovative options regarding the organization of the school day and the school year.
Looking at innovative options for the school day or school year requires input from communities as well as, ultimately, approval from the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Learning. Actions cannot occur without consultation and require looking at what is in the best interest of students and their learning.
Through these many recommendations and in particular, through the Action Plan, there are areas where school divisions need to determine the best path forward to meet students’ needs. Deviating from these directions is not possible without ministerial approval. However, some require examining how divisions can achieve the desired results within this framework,
2. Funding of Education
Another significant external factor is the funding of education. This is divided into two components.
The provincial government has taken steps to move away from relying on property tax to fund a significant portion of education. In the past, local school boards were able to raise revenue from property tax levels in order to meet the local needs of students. This allowed the division to be responsive to the needs of its students or to supplement the support provided by the provincial government. If, for example, the support from the province did not keep up with the costs of transporting students, the school division could raise additional resources to meet the needs of transportation.
In recent years, a variety of actions have been taken to limit, freeze, or use various tax schemes to address the reliance on local property tax. With the current budget announcement, 50% of the money collected through property taxes will be rebated directly from the provincial government. In the meantime, an offset grant, which has the equivalent of a 2% increase in property taxes, was distributed to school divisions. While attempting to shift the funding of education away from property tax reliance, it has also created less flexibility for school divisions to meet local needs.
The stated intention is to move farther away from using property tax to fund education. However, most Canadian jurisdictions continue to use property to raise revenue, although it is the provincial government that sets the mill rates and collects and distributes those resources through its funding formula.
At present, it is unclear what will happen with property taxes in the future. Concerns continue to exist about the need for flexibility to address local needs as more of the revenue available for the school division comes from provincial funding, which may or may not adequately address the needs of the division.
On its own, this shift in funding is concerning as each school division has unique needs and the need for flexibility is so important. This is especially the case when most services for students are shared between provincial funding and local funding.
This is further complicated by a new funding formula. The current model has existed for decades and while it served the needs of divisions for many years, due to a number of shifts or changes, it no longer is reflective of the needs of the education system in Manitoba. The details of the new model have not been released as yet and its implementation was delayed for at least another school year. Whether it will benefit Mountain View will depend on not only the model but the resources that are allocated to the funding of education.
While discussions about education should not revolve around funding, it often enters into the dialogue. Education is an investment in people. It is also people-intensive. You need people to provide quality education.
A couple of additional factors exist that will impact Mountain View.
3. Provincial Bargaining
Contractual agreements with staff are a normal procedure for the school division. However, the collective agreements with our teaching staff have shifted from local bargaining to provincial bargaining. This move has impacted the school division in two ways.
It slows down the process, especially as the first round of bargaining takes place. Bringing more than 35 collective agreements into one agreement takes time. Each has unique components that reflect the priorities of a local school division. Blending these into one agreement takes time to ensure it is workable for all.
Bargaining always takes time, even local bargaining. However, in this new process for bargaining the length of time involved adds a greater level of uncertainty. Without being directly involved in the process there is less control in preparing and planning for the impact of the agreement. It makes budgeting more difficult.
Besides the time involved and the complexity of the bargaining itself, another factor about this move toward provincial bargaining exists. Given this is the first collective agreement, it is unclear how the impact of the agreement will be resourced. Whether the province will provide additional funding to support what is agreed to or whether school divisions will be fully responsible for the impact of the agreement, is unknown.
Our staff needs to be fairly compensated for the work they do with our students. The change in the process of bargaining will impact Mountain View, but “how” is yet to be determined.
4. Human Capital
Education is a people business. Mountain View employs around 600 people, including part-time employees and substitutes. Given the number of people required to provide services to students, there is a constant need for the division to hire staff, whether as additional substitutes, to replace those who have retired or resigned, or to provide new services for students.
In some cases, the hiring process is seamless. In others, it is difficult to find people willing to be trained and fill positions, such as bus drivers. In still other cases, there are challenges to employing people in areas where shortages exist. Some positions have limited applicants due to the high demand for these positions. This makes filling some of our vacancies more difficult.
Where we are in the province affects the ability to recruit and retain staff. Opportunities exist across the province and Mountain View needs to be an attractive employer. Yet, coming to work in the school division is only part of the equation. Our communities need to be attractive places for people to move to in order to reside and stay. This is an issue beyond the school division’s own purview. It is something we need to build as communities.
Inflation also affects the school division in meeting the needs of our students. Rising costs continue to impact our ability to maintain what is currently being offered for educating students. Everything from the ability to heat and maintain buildings to transporting students is impacted by rising costs. While this is more of a budgetary item and has ties to inflation, it is separate in that it further limits the capacity for the division to meet the needs of students.
While these external factors impact the education system as a whole and how our school division meets the needs of our students, there are also other internal factors affecting the delivery of education in our division.
External factors are, for the most part, outside of our control; however, there are other factors within our control.
Each of the following internal factors has an impact on the future of Mountain View School Division:
1. Population Growth
Mountain View School Division has witnessed declining enrolment since its inception in 2002. Enrolment impacts what a division is able to do as it affects the amount of funding we receive from the provincial government. While we have seen the enrolment numbers stabilize recently, the student population continues to be a factor.
Given that enrolment is tied to funding these enrolment changes impact what the school division receives and therefore, what services can be provided for students.
While minor shifts in student number impact revenue, these slight changes do not alter expenditures very much. For example, we can see a reduction of 20 students in any given year. While 20 fewer students would translate into fewer resources, countering this reduction in funds by reducing expenditures is not as simple as reducing one staff member, for example. This could work if the decline in enrolment occurred within one school. If, however, the decline of 20 students was spread across 16 schools, the revenue is decreased, but the ability to easily find reductions in expenditures is not there.
In the converse scenario, seeing increased enrolment provides additional revenue, whether it is in one school or spread across a number of schools. This allows the division to maintain or provide additional support to schools whether in staffing or in other areas.
Enrolment in Mountain View is relatively flat. However, with that said, each community is not the same. Some of our communities reflect the division declines and there is little movement or changes in the student population. Others have witnessed declines and others have seen increases in enrolment.
This issue of enrolment shifts has existed for a long time in Mountain View. Steps were taken more than a decade ago to help address these changes as mentioned earlier. Things like video conferencing courses, cross transportation and even the International Student Program were all locally funded ways to address the impact of enrolment changes, and in particular, to help keep small high schools viable.
As the enrolment changes continue to exist, there is a point where we must once again examine their impact on our existing schools and whether reconfiguration is needed. At what point does a school become too small to staff adequately? Are there steps being taken to grow our communities and in doing so, to increase student populations?
In recent years, the use of technology has certainly changed. While it took on a much larger role and became a necessary tool in course delivery when schools were limited in attendance, it exposed challenges to meeting the needs of all students.
Video conferencing was put in place to assist high schools in their course offerings. Using this tool effectively required aligning timetables across the six high schools so students could access these courses. Recent changes in technology tools have made this less important for delivery.
What continues to be a concern is the accessibility of these tools for all students to have the same access. Currently, that is not possible.
During the period of remote learning, it was clear that accessibility for all students does not exist. Not only is affordability a barrier for some students to have access, but so too is accessibility itself. Depending on where someone lives within the division, you may or may not have access to quality high-speed internet.
While there is access at school sites, due to the investment made by the school division through local taxation, it limits the options for students to gain access outside of the school day if they do not have access when they are at home.
This issue has been raised with various governments at different levels and continues to be something the division has advocated for improvements on.
3. Hands-On Learning
Another area where the division has invested resources is in providing students with connections to the community through apprenticeship programs. These provide students with experience in areas where either a trade or potential future employment skills can be acquired.
Recent years have impacted the use of apprenticeship opportunities, but efforts are being made to increase the options for students to attain this experience.
What is necessary for this to be a part of a student’s high school experience are enough employers willing to take on apprenticeships or to train students. The labour market within our school division impacts this possibility and to see a vibrant job and training market goes beyond the school division’s role. We need our communities to have a healthy economy so students can have options to further their own future goals.
The school division has added options to help in providing courses that are pertinent to employment in our communities; however, greater connection needs to occur to fill the gaps that exist.
4. Community Partnerships
Education belongs to the community. As a result, the strength of the education system relies on partnerships that exist between the school and the communities they are in.
Historically, this connection was obvious as local revenue was raised to support initiatives that the community valued but were not directly funded through the provincial government. Communities saw their investment in education directly impacting the local schools and division through this local support that made it possible to enhance the opportunities for students or to develop local programs that best served the students and communities.
With the move away from this local investment, the direct connection of investing in specific areas is somewhat lost. However, the need for partnerships is of even greater importance. It is a partnership that not only provides students with opportunities through areas like the High School Apprenticeship Program, but also in a number of other ways, including accessing financial support to benefit communities. Opportunities exist, for example, to add daycare spaces to existing schools to benefit communities if the need is present. These require shared priorities of the community and the school division and greater partnerships. They also require students to have the desire to train for these positions.
Increasingly, education has taken on a greater role in providing services that would more naturally be provided through other government agencies – like Health. Whether it is mental health workers or clinical services for students, the school division has employed people to provide these services for our students. Part of the reason for engaging people as a division is that we are then able to ensure that our students have timely access to what they need when they need it.
It is certainly not ideal. Shortages exist in accessing trained personnel and given the division’s size, too much time is spent getting to all of our communities. However, we are grateful for the service our staff provides in meeting the needs of our students and families.
While advocacy has existed to provide these services through other government agencies, there has not been much movement in this area for decades.
One possibility is to create community schools where various agencies are able to operate out of a school building and may create more and better access to some of these services in the future.
In moving toward developing the strategic direction for the school division there are a series of questions for discussion that the division wants to pose.
These will further the dialogue so we can shape the future of Mountain View. They are as follows:
- How can your community grow the student population to ensure the sustainability of your local school?
- What is your current access to Internet connectivity where you live? How can MVSD advocate for your connectivity needs?
- Do you think that students have access to a variety of opportunities in preparation for life after graduation. Why?
- What types of community partnerships would you like to see for students in your community?
- What types of services would you like to see being delivered by other agencies in your local school?
- In the area of Student Learning (programming), what would you identify as a priority?
- In the area of Student Well-Being (safety/wellness), what would you identify as a priority?
The above questions may be answered in an online survey, which is available at: https://forms.office.com/r/enKi3UAy3H.