The New Westminster school district's superintendent recently took 15 people from the district to a conference in Vancouver that cost $6,000 and, even though the district is facing a serious budget crunch, he says the event was a worthy investment.
John Woudzia said he would pull back on funding other professional development endeavors because the Educational Leadership Conference, organized by the B.C. School Superintendents' Association, and held in November, was important for the district's development.
"This is one of the best uses of professional resources that I make every year," Woudzia said. "The intent here is to create some sort of district inventory we can draw on for best practices and innovative approaches."
Two parents, two community school coordinators, two teachers, two principals, two trustees and senior district managers, including Woudzia, attended the conference, he said.
"Overall, we took a team of 15 that the district paid for," he said.
Registration cost about $390 per person.
The district has an almost $2.8-million shortfall from last year's budget, which it is required to pay back, and must make cuts to balance the books this year.
Sixty school districts were involved in the conference, which had 14 speakers over the course of the two-day event.
Woudzia said he wants to "pool" the local attendees' collective experiences and create a district inventory of best practices and innovative approaches that the district can draw on in the future.
"In the next week or two, I'm going to put an invitation out to the folks that we took to the conference to come together to create this district inventory and work on team building," he said.
Woudzia said he attended one particularly interesting session on a school district that is using art therapy - performing arts, visual arts - for at-risk kids.
Trustee Jonina Campbell attended the conference and said being there as a group meant they could discuss the ideas they heard and talk about what they would look like in New West.
"The best part was being able to hear this great information about education and actually sit down and digest and discuss it with people that were there with you," she said.
One of the concepts that stood out for Campbell at the conference was a forest kindergarten the Sooke school district is piloting.
"It's based of the model of the forest preschool program that's really popular in Scandinavia and Germany . they're taking that and they are implementing it into a full-day kindergarten program, she said.
Students spend class time outside in the forest, learning the curriculum in nature, she said.
"The presentation talked a lot about the philosophies behind it, practical things like how they do their funding, how they accepted kids in the program, because there was, like, 70 parents for 22 spots," Campbell said. "Those kinds of things, you come back and you think 'Wow, what can we do here?'"