For the 700 students enrolled in Outlook’s three schools the month of June is filled with anticipation as thoughts turn to the summer that is just ahead. Principals and staff meantime are working hard to help each student finish well, while simultaneously reviewing the year and planning for the fall.
“It’s been a great year,” remarked Outlook High School principal Walter Wood. “Every day something goes on that allows us to focus on celebrations and the good things that are happening all the time in our building. We’ve had a lot of successes.” He indicated that a focus on character education the last couple of years helped set a good tone. “We had a character day in the fall and basically asked students to make a commitment to OHS, asking them what they want the school to be known for and how they see their role in that playing out. The students saw what they can do to make our school a better place so we had a successful start-up,” Wood explained.
The younger students who fill the classrooms at Outlook Elementary School are guided by principal Darla Thorstad and vice-principal Carol Britnell. Thorstad remarked, “We’ve had a great year. Our school goal this year was around two different things; making connections within the community, within our school, classroom to classroom and school to school. The other goal was character development and focusing on what our kids really need to know.”
Andrea Klassen, who is completing her first year as principal at LCBI, indicated they have also experienced a successful year. “We saw an increase in student numbers, our dorm numbers are up, and the year has flown by. We feel good about where we are at.” President Wayne Hove said the year continued to build on what the school has been for the last 108 years. “We are a ‘We Would See Jesus’ school working in the lives of our students and staff. That makes us a Christian school, that’s the fundamentals of who we are.”
Discussions this time of year often revolve around funding and what might be impacted come fall. In Outlook the picture is bright. Principal Wood is pleased with the work being done to ensure schools are adequately staffed. “The Sun West School Division and Sun West Board of Education have done a really good job in my opinion in planning financially and using the resources available.” There have been a couple of tough budget years but the focus has been on changes that minimize impact on students. “They’ve done their best to keep the teaching staff/student ratio the same and keeping support staff in place,” he said. Over at the elementary school those thoughts are echoed by principal Thorstad. “We have been fortunate. We’re not losing any staffing. The division has done a really good job of keeping that front line stable.”
With respect to the ministry of education, LCBI is not a private school, but an independent school, one of 5 historical schools in the province. As such it is funded at 70% of the public system in the form of a grant for each Saskatchewan student. In June 2016 the school announced they were doing away with their tuition model, hoping to increase student numbers. In assessing that decision President Hove explained, “We didn’t gain in overall revenue but we increased our enrollment. In the first month or month and a half of our announcement we gained 26 students. So in losing 60 tuitions and gaining 26 grants we didn’t gain financially but we gained the students which, in the end, is why we’re here.” He feels the school offers a tremendous amount to students. “The value would tell us that we could charge very large tuitions but in terms of the character of the school that just is not who we are. We were started by grassroots farmers way back when and we believe that education is open to everybody. We are not an elitist school. We are here for as many kids as want to come.”
At OHS just under 300 students are taught and supported by a staff Walter Wood describes as hardworking and professional. Although a lot of attention around the province focuses on ideal class size he would like to see a shift in that discussion. “I think the conversations have to be more about class make-up, abilities and the needs in that class rather than an actual number.” OHS develops individualized learning programs designed to meet each student where they are at. “The 35 staff that walk into the building every day come here trying to do what is best for students on a daily basis.” OHS students also benefit from classes offered through the Distance Learning Centre which provides over 100 additional course options.
At OES there are 33 staff nurturing the 335 students enrolled this year. “We have a really good problem and it’s that our school is really full,” Thorstad remarked. “We’ve been getting a little more creative about what the teacher role/student support looks like in the building in order to give good support. It’s not necessarily the biggest classes but the ones who have the most needs. We provide those supports in key places at key times in order to try and meet the needs of all those students.”
At LCBI a staff of 20 that includes teachers, dorm, kitchen and support staff care for 79 students. Klassen says average class size is 15-16 this year. “They are a really nice size. Teachers have time to talk to each of the students and help them out. They also have access to teachers in the study hall for an hour in the evenings on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
There are educational aspects the schools share in common including seeing an increasing number of students with little or no English language background. The principals of all three are happy to welcome these students and say it adds a special dimension to the culture of the school. As well, making connections to the broader community is a priority the schools are actively pursuing. The goal at OES was to set up intentional connections at least six times during the year but they far surpassed that. “People have totally embraced it,” Thorstad said. “What it really comes down to is buildings relationships. We live in a really great community and have been so fortunate to have the partners we have within our community.” Examples include the garden beds that were provided by local businesses and cared for by parent volunteers over the summer, local singers and artists coming to share their gifts, as well as the efforts of the health division and Variety Place in preparing snacks for students. Carol Britnell explained that boxes of apples are provided by the health division, and the Variety Place participants come in and get them all washed and ready for students. “The teachers send kids down from the classroom with the bowl and it gets washed and filled with apples and taken back to the classroom. It is a healthy alternative and the kids love it.”
An initiative that was successful in its inaugural year was the loyalty card program launched at OHS. Wanting to develop something in which there was a local benefit, the staff came up with the idea last spring. “We were flattered and overwhelmed by the support we received,” Wood indicated. “There was a lot of positive feedback because we were keeping it local.” It is a way of giving back to a community that has given them much he said, including work placement partnerships, assistance with a local career fair, and support for a breakfast program which now runs five days a week. The funds raised were used in purchasing two water bottle filling stations, renting equipment for the year-end carnival, and replacing microwaves with commercial upgrades.
Also looking to increase community connections are the students and staff at LCBI. Klassen said they feel it is important to integrate a community service component into their leadership program. “We want to be involved in different ways and connect to the community.” In the fall of 2017 LCBI expanded its program to include grade 9 day students and this past year accepted grade 9s into the dorm as well. In looking to the future one of the initiatives being explored is offering college credit courses. Hove said, “It’s going to take community support to do that but is something we are certainly looking at as part of a longer range plan.”
There will be five new faces in the halls at OHS following one retirement, three maternity leaves and one new .5 position. At OES there will be one maternity leave, a new student support teacher, new counsellor and a change in vice-principal with the retirement of Carol Britnell. Tears come quickly when Britnell speaks of how much she will miss the kids but she appreciates what OES has meant to her. “It’s a great place to send your kids. There is a good staff and good opportunities for learning here.”
The leadership teams are excited about the future of their schools. Student applications at LCBI indicate numbers will rise once again, OES will be launching a character development program they have selected, and in addition to seeing a rise in numbers OHS will continue their emphasis on character as well as celebrating the resurgence of some of their athletic programs.
There is much to be optimistic about when it comes to the young people studying in Outlook schools. Wayne Hove said the students at LCBI are an engaging group and that has really lifted the school. “At LCBI you can be on the honor roll, play on the soccer or football team, be involved in drama and it’s all cool. You can participate in all of those things and I think it’s a beautiful thing.”
Walter Wood wishes everyone had the opportunity to get to know the young people in our community. “I wish others could be fortunate enough to be in our position for a little bit of time to get to know some of these students. We’re very lucky to come here every day as a team and work together to do what’s best for our students. They are a great bunch of kids.”
Darla Thorstad remarked, “I’m excited about the path we are on. I think it all starts with people being good people. That’s what we’re trying to teach our kids to be. We will keep that as our focus and keep on growing the connections in our community. It’s exciting to be teaching these skills to these young people who one day are going to be leading this world.”