Graduation ceremonies have been taking place over the last several weeks, with schools adapting the annual ritual once again to the realities of the pandemic. Many schools opted for a return to traditional indoor ceremonies; others preferred to continue to honour their graduates in outdoor settings.
“People are still being vigilant,” says the New Frontiers School Board (NFSB) director general, Rob Buttars. He notes that while the 2021-2022 school year has ended on more “normal” terms, “it is still unnerving” as a handful of cases was reported in the schools right up to the final day.
“We are really looking forward to moving on to a new start,” he says, while adding he is hopeful the summer vacation serves as a bit of a reset. At the same time, Buttars is aware of the possibility of a surge in virus cases come fall, suggesting he has already been in contact with the Montérégie-West Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO) about possible vaccinations campaigns timed with the August return to school.
In looking back over the last year, Buttars highlights some of the major changes that were implemented as a result of the pandemic. Students returned to school amid a vaccination campaign and rising case numbers. By December, schools were asked to administer rapid tests with students who began to show symptoms during the day. The Christmas break was extended to January 17 with a week of online classes, as new variants led to a fifth wave. By the end of March, however, students were able to remove their masks while seated, and then entirely in May. Formal ministry exams returned to end the year, after a two-year hiatus.
Buttars says he is especially proud of all the staff, including everyone who has worked in the schools, for their dedication. “They have really dug deep,” he says, acknowledging “all they have done to keep kids engaged and involved throughout the year.” And, as the dust has settled somewhat, he is confident in saying the decision by the government to insist on a full return to class for students, despite worrying public health information, was the better thing to do for the students and staff.
Looking forward to the 2022-2023 school year, Buttars says the NFSB should have a student body of over 4,000 in the youth sector alone. This is good news, given the political battles the board may face as the impacts of Bill 96 are still unclear, as well as those of Bill 40 which threatens to convert English boards into service centres.
The NFSB, along with other English boards, is hoping to tackle staffing shortages through a federally funded international recruitment program. Already, two French teachers from France are expected to arrive come fall.
The NFSB has announced several administrative changes and appointments within its schools in recent weeks. Megan Martin, who has worked as an elementary school teacher with the NFSB since 2010, will become the new assistant centre director at the Huntingdon Adult Education and Community Centre.
Brian Woods will be moving from his teaching position at Ormstown Elementary School to a vice-principal position at Howard S. Billings. Woods has previous administrative experience as a vice-principal at the two NFSB high schools.
The Ormstown Elementary School principal, Joanne Henrico, is taking a leave of absence for the upcoming school year and will be replaced by Nancy Richer, who is currently serving as assistant centre director at the Nova Career Centre. She has previously served as the principal of Harmony Elementary School in Chateauguay and has held several administrative positions with the English Montreal School Board as well.