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Catholic schools cherish role as good 'stewards'

The Catholic School board is looking back on how well it achieved the theme of stewardship and other goals during the 2010-11 school year.

According to the vision statement of the Renfrew County Catholic School Board, the Catholic community is called to claim its goal as global stewards cherishing the environment and all life in it.

"In broad terms, we are stewards not only of our physical environment in our schools, the spiritual and emotional well-being, as well as the health and security of our students and themselves," said Michele Arbour, director of education, in the opening message of the director's annual report.

"The board's goal is to encourage the academic success, spiritual growth, physical and emotional wellness of our students in a respectful and safe environment," she continued. "We also work to build awareness in our students of their roles and responsibilities in the world around us."

On an academic level, Ms. Arbour feels the students' success in the Education Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) provincial assessments speaks for itself. In the most recent testing, the students in the board exceeded the provincial average in all six elementary categories. Meanwhile at the secondary level in math, the students either surpassed or met the provincial average.

Educators across the board worked on several strategies during the year to improve the learning environment for students, particularly literacy and numeracy, Ms. Arbour noted.

Of note during the 2010-11 school year was the expansion of the full-day kindergarten, with four of the board's elementary schools - St. John Bosco in Barry's Bay, Holy Name in Pembroke, St. Mary's Deep River and Our Lady of Fatima in Renfrew - providing the full-day early learning program which is a play-based learning program where teachers and early childhood educators work together throughout the day to help children learn.

Three schools - St. Francis of Assisi in Petawawa, Our Lady of Lourdes in Pembroke and Our Lady of Grace in Westmeath - introduced full-day, everyday kindergarten.

Ms. Arbour is also delighted with the establishment with of the parent involvement committee, in the hopes of increasing parent engagement in the schools.

Expanding on the stewardship theme, the board is proud to have four schools outfitted with solar panels. Ms. Arbour feels that these solar projects and other new technology initiatives provide excellent learning environments for the students.

"Looking back on the board's accomplishments over the past year, I am gratified by the efficient and respectful use that we have made of our personal and material resources," she added.

The RCCDSB encompasses 20 English elementary and two secondary schools in 16 communities across Renfrew County. The board also runs two alternative secondary sites, one young parent support program and three Valleycrest/New Horizons classrooms.

As of Oct. 31, 2011 the board's enrolment was 4,652 students with 3,540 or 76 per cent elementary and 1,112 or 24 per cent secondary. The board employs 575 permanent and 300 occasional staff, with annual expenditures of $58.7 million.

The highlights of the 2010-11 budget include $178,000 for the school effectiveness strategy to enhance pupils' literacy and numeracy skills, almost $90,000 to continue the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program to strengthen ties between high school and the trades and $80,000 to continue tutors in the classroom to provide extra coaching and support to students.

As far as upgrading the board's physical resources, the Catholic school board spent more than $3.7 million in infrastructure improvements leading to energy savings at 15 schools throughout the board including lighting retrofits, occupancy sensors, and building automation systems. It also received $340,000 in provincial funding through the Renewable Energy Funding program for solar panels at Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Joseph Catholic High School. Other projects included parking lot improvements and paving at Bishop Smith and replacing the gym floor at Lourdes.

Projects to upgrade the board's technology infrastructure include spending $100,000 to build on E-learning technology in the classroom and to provide online homework support, purchasing interactive Smart boards for classrooms and expanding wireless Internet capability to 10 elementary schools.

The majority of the 2011-12 budget, 73 per cent, went to instruction, with 12 per cent for pupil accommodation, seven per cent for pupil transportation, five per cent for administration and governance and the final three per cent for other non-operating expenses.

Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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