Discover Moose Jaw is taking a look back at 2023 and today's article is with Ryan Boughen, Director of Education for the Prairie South School Division. 

Q: What were some of your highlights with the Prairie South School Division in 2023? 

A: “We continued our focus on mental health and wellbeing, and the learning department, on behalf of the school division, developed a mental health and wellness room on the Prairie South website. Just recently, they’ve added what's called an Adult toolbox to the already-present Parent, Student, and Teacher toolbox. If you have a chance to go to our website, there’s a pretty robust collection of information and support documents around mental health and wellbeing. This has built on the mental health and wellbeing focus we were working on with Dr. Robyne, so that’s continued.” 

“Related to the mental health and wellbeing pieces – a huge thank you to River Street Promotions, for all they do for the support of our students and for Holy Trinity students. They do a bunch of work – just recently they held that music at A Nashville Christmas Concert at the Mae Wilson Theatre. We don’t have a final tally on that, but the funds raised go back to both school divisions to support mental health and wellbeing of our students. That follows up on the Homestand concert that they have in the fall - there was an announcement that they donated $130,000 to the two school divisions.”  

“The fact that we’re continuing our focus on mental health and wellbeing, and the fact that we have such support from an incredible group of people willing to donate to help support students puts us in a good position to continue to do that work. In April of 2023, we used some of those funds that we received from River Street Promotions and had a grade 6 through 12 mental health and wellbeing conference. Prairie South’s own Lisa Franks was one of the keynote speakers – that was a pretty impactful and pretty neat thing for the school division.” 

“Dustin Swanson, who’s an operational superintendent for Prairie South, and Amanda Olson, who is the learning superintendent for Prairie South, published an article about the work of River Street Promotions and the partnership that we have with them. Their article, which was called “Hitting a Home Run: A Partnership to Support Mental Health in Southern Saskatchewan” - that article was published in Leaders & Learners, which is an education publication. That’s quite impressive to have two of our superintendents publish an article, so pretty proud of that.” 

“Beyond that whole focus on mental health and wellbeing, we did receive some additional ELIS (Early Learning Intensive Support) programs. We received an additional 4 ELIS spots – that's impactful because it supports young students who are basically early-entrance students, and that helps them get going so they’re on the path to be more successful in school.” 

“Another thing that happened in 2022-2023 was the full return to a slate of activities that are very good for kids, in terms of extracurricular activities. Kids returning to athletics, to the music, to the arts. Our students did quite well in provincial competitions – that was a lot, because a lot was taken away from the students during COVID, especially in terms of extracurricular activities. Having them be able to return to basically a full slate of extracurricular activities was pretty nice, and we’re happy that happened for our students. 

We have a partnership with New Southern Plains Metis Local 160, and in 2022-2023, we engaged in a flag-raising ceremony with them, to demonstrate our commitment to our partnership together, and to take some action towards meaningful truth and reconciliation in Prairie South schools.” 

“The Board approved the budget that aligned with what they want to achieve in terms of their priorities for our school division, and a lot of those priorities centre around supporting the classroom. Senior administration works with the Board to understand what their priorities are, and then we build the budget around their priorities, and then we actualize the budget to bring those priorities alive. That’s a big thing – their priorities centre around what they would call enhanced opportunities for students - supporting the classroom, and then endorsing the provincial education plan.” 

“Out of that budget came Prairie South Pathways School, that was just opened in the fall of 2023. That idea was borne by a group of high school administrators who brought that idea to the Board earlier in the year, to talk to them about the concept of supporting students who are struggling to append, who are maybe not being as successful in the traditional school as they could be in a non-traditional school. The Board heard from those administrators, and then we built into the budget the support of creating that school and that program. That was something we’re quite proud of, because it aligns with the Board’s priorities around enhancing opportunities for students, and supporting the classroom, and also endorsing the provincial education plan.” 

“We did some feedback work with the entire Prairie South sector, asking all groups of people ‘what are some of the things we do well, and what are some of the things we need to do better?’. We heard, loudly, that we need to do a better job recognizing and celebrating our staff. We took the concept back to the Board around staff appreciation and recognition, and the board supported that, so we introduced that this year. That recognizes people with 10, 20, and 30 years of service, and we’ll also recognize our retirees at the end of the year. Not that that’s a big piece of work for us, but that’s certainly a highlight.” 

“We have a group of students that we work with called the VTEC students – Voices to Encourage Change. They’re a group of primarily grade 11 students that come together from across the school division. They represent a diverse group of schools and students. We work with them – they work with one of our superintendents directly - and we talk about from their perspective, what are things that are going well in our schools, and what are some things that we need to do better in our schools.” 

“One of the things that we're proud of is that we continue to have a really high graduation rate [...] our three-year graduation rate is about 88 percent, and our four and five year extended rates are about percent, and these numbers are well above the provincial average of about 75 and 77 per cent." 

“Our overall attendance rate for the year went up slightly, so our overall attendance rate was 91% for the 22-23 calendar year.” 

“We have some growth in our reading results - our grade 1 reading results went up, our grade 2, reading results went up, our grade 3 reading results went up. 

“We saw significant enrollment growth again in 22-23. We actually are looking at upwards of another almost 250 students on top of the 250 students that our enrollment grew by in September. We saw about a 250 – 260 full time equivalent increase in September from what we projected for the number of seats we had.” 

Momore Afolabi was named to the 23-24 Youth Council [...] those students come together from all over the province to do the same thing we do with our VTEC students – to hear from students and to learn about what’s going well in the education sector and what are some things that the sector needs to do better.” 

Q: What were some of the challenges that the Division faced in 2023? 

A: “There’s still some talk about health and COVID and things like that – those are challenging for everyone. We’re slowly getting through that, but those challenges may be around for another year or two.” 

Funding has been an issue for the sector – It's been an issue for all school divisions, and it’s an issue for us. We talked about the Board’s commitment to the classroom in terms of their priorities [...] for us to do what we've always done in terms of having the classroom resources that the Board wants to have, the Board has access to surplus funds. It’s a challenge because the more you access the surplus funds, the more surplus funds are depleted, and it’s not too long before your surplus funds go away. That’s a challenge for us – it's not only a challenge for Prairie South schools. I would assume it’s a challenge for the entire education system in Saskatchewan.” 

“We’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen, and what’s going on with the teacher’s contracts [...] it’s just important that we navigate this potentially upcoming challenge together, and we’ll do the best we can to support teachers and understand our role in that.” 

Q: How is the joint-use school coming along? 

A: “The school is projected to open the start of 2025. It takes some time to build a school, but people who’ve been up at that site will see progress. We actually have a link on our website people can click on to see updated pictures. We have a camera set up there to take pictures frequently. In the end, what well do is put something together that shows the transition of the build over time.” 

Q: What are you looking forward to this year? 

A: “The board has started their strategic plan work. One of the things that happened with COVID is that all we really did is deal with COVID [...] our strategic plan had expired, and so we’ve been talking about getting that going again. We did, and we’ve been doing some work this year already and we have a draft strategic plan. We’re still working on that. Will have that ready in the new year.”