Principal's Blog

March 2020

From the Principal's Desk

Change is always an interesting process.  Sometimes we embrace it and sometimes it’s more like being dragged into a new reality kicking and screaming.  In education, we try not to scream too much (not very dignified) but we also try not to jump on every new thing that comes along or we can end up with whiplash from shifting directions so often. 

A big change coming from Alberta Education is the new funding model for K-12 education which moves from 36 individual grants to 15.  This large of a change makes the division and school-based leaders a bit nervous as it is hard to determine its true impact.  Often those who make these changes do not walk in our shoes so they don’t fully understand the significance of the changes at the local level.  Our current education minister, Adriana LaGrange, worked for many years as a school trustee so she is pretty familiar with how things work.  She and her deputy minister are also very willing to listen to feedback and make adjustments based on that feedback.  She has not been portrayed this way in the media but she appears to be a true friend to education.

Now to the details – it appears that traditional home education will not be impacted by this interim funding plan.  Parents will still receive 50% of the funding given to school authorities and there is no indication that the guidelines for acceptable purchases will change.  School authorities will have to return to Alberta Education any of the 50% that parents do not spend.  This will mean we cannot carry forward funds from one year to the next but the vast majority of our families already access all of their home education funding so this will have little impact on us.

Online and Paper Based Resource students at the high school level will be counted differently next year.  This may have some impact on students who are registered at one school and want to take one or two courses at another.  The flexibility to take individual courses at different schools may be reduced.  Students who are registered full-time at NorthStar will not be impacted.  Our division leadership is still working out the details of this piece which I will share with you all once the picture is clear.  We are in the favoured position of our superintendent, Bevan Daverne, being the president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents.  He has been heavily involved in the consultation process with Alberta Education as they have worked on this new funding model so he will be able to make sure we are on the right track.

As believers, we are also fortunate for we know that God is in control.  He tells us what our attitude should be even in times of change - “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9

Randy Wood

Principal

 

 

February 2020

From the Principal's Desk

February is Teachers Convention time for our school division.  Teachers take two days to attend sessions of various kinds.  Some are large group sessions that tend to be inspirational and informative.  For example, Michael Landsberg, host of TSN’s Off the Record will be speaking on his personal mental health journey and how he finds hope in the midst of his personal darkness.  Another keynote address will be given by Dr. Todd Whitaker an educational researcher and presenter.   His topic is “What Great Teachers Do Differently”. 

One of the things great teachers do is learn themselves.  We invest a lot of energy in professional development at NorthStar as education is a very dynamic endeavour with new resources, new programs, new curriculum, and new ideas on how to best engage our students.  While February 17-21 is a week off for students, our teachers will be spending three of those days as students themselves – a refreshing and challenging time.

Alberta Education has released a draft ministerial order on student learning, which is kind of a blueprint for changes to how education is to be done in the province.  They have asked for feedback on the draft ministerial order which you can do online or in print.  Here is a link to the survey and the background information.  The opportunity is open until February 24th.

https://www.alberta.ca/vision-for-student-learning-engagement.aspx

Moodle will be available to students during the Family Day and Teachers’ Convention week, and our office staff will be able to assist you, but NorthStar’s teachers will not be available from the 17th to the 21st

May God bless you and your family in the weeks ahead.

Randy Wood

Principal

 

January 2020

From the Principal's Desk

I hope you all had a great Christmas vacation and a good start to the New Year.  We teachers tend to think as September as the start of the year as our lives revolve around that calendar but January 1st gives us all chance to think of a fresh start and the blessings we have received over the last twelve months.

If you have been watching the media lately, teacher strikes in Ontario and talk of layoffs of hundreds of teachers in Calgary are concerning as these are factors which can take our focus off of educating our students.  We are grateful that we work for the Golden Hills School Division as their careful planning for September means that we have not had to deal with possible layoffs and cutbacks in the midst of the school year.  There are still some uncertainties going forward as Alberta Education is making some changes including revamping the funding model they use to support school divisions but on the good news side there is clear evidence of support for parental choice in education.  For us at NorthStar, the good news is two-fold with support for choosing Christian education and for choosing to partner with us as you educate your children from home.

We are close to wrapping up our first semester courses for our grade 10-12 students and the grade 12’s diploma exams begin next week.  These are important exams as they count for 30% of a student’s final mark in the grade 12 diploma subjects: English, Social, Math, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.  Please join us in praying that these students will have safe travel as they head to write the tests and that the hard work they have invested in these courses will bring answers to mind – the right ones!

May God bless you and your family in 2020.

Randy Wood

Principal

 

December 2019

From the Principal's Desk

As Christmas time approaches students, parents, and teachers are looking forward to a couple of weeks off of school.   School is hard work for all of us so a break is a good thing.   I also find that it is a good time to pause and think about how God has blessed me and my family. 

I do this in part to counter the pull of all the gift buying opportunities – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Terrifying Tuesday (parking at the mall!).  The commercial side of Christmas can be a bit overwhelming so challenging myself to think of blessings whenever buying comes up helps me.  I’m not a complete Scrooge, as I have four preschool-age granddaughters who are a lot of fun to buy for, but I do need to reign in my buying impulses as the media developers know how to push my buttons with all their advertisements.  I don’t even know what a 4K UHD OLED TV is but the ads have me wanting one. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is great to celebrate the birth of Jesus – to be surrounded by family and friends as we remember the events of his arrival on earth.  It just helps me stay grounded to remember that Jesus’ humble birth began a journey that ended on the cross – the ultimate blessing as he took upon his shoulders the weight of my sin. 

My God bless you and your family as you celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Randy Wood

Principal

 

November 2019

From the Principal's Desk

The NorthStar teachers had the opportunity last week to attend our Christian school teachers’ convention.  It is always a great time of fellowship and usually has some very insightful sessions to take in.  One presentation was by a University of Alberta professor who has a dentistry degree and two Ph.D.’s – one in evolutionary biology and the other in theology.  He was an interesting guy.  He spoke on the origin of the universe & life, presenting five different scenarios:  young-earth creation, progressive creation, evolutionary creation, deistic evolution, and atheistic evolution.  This professor has a heart for students who lose their faith under the pressure of the influences at university, especially from the science people.  It was a lot to take in and your view on the authority of Scripture both speaks to this issue and can be shaped by it as well.

One of the keynote speakers was a professor from Taylor University who spoke on interpreting the Bible – very timely for me after hearing the other guy.  One piece that stood out is how understanding the audience that a Biblical author was speaking to can influence our understanding.  As an example, he spoke of how dogs are seen in the Scriptures.  In Luke 16:21 the author tells us about a beggar named Lazarus saying “Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”  As a 21st century westerner, I read this as the dogs were being kind to Lazarus, helping him out.  The presenter showed a video of a dog trained to place its body under the head of its owner when she is having a seizure.  The dog’s dedication to this woman is amazing to see and fits with my notion of dogs.  To the 1st-century audience dogs licking your sores meant something quite different.  Dogs were considered scavengers so this was describing how lowly this beggar was – how much of an outcast he was. 

Our understanding of the Bible matters a great deal to our faith.  The message of salvation is simple – even a child can understand it.  However, the Bible is not simple – it is a complex collection of documents that take a great deal of effort to understand deeply.  When someone brings a viewpoint or an idea that is a challenge to how we think we need to weigh that idea, to evaluate it.  The standard we need to evaluate it against is God’s Word but we need to dig into the Word and to understand how we approach the Word.  We can’t just take someone else’s viewpoint, no matter how many degrees they have or what job they do.  I like how the New American Standard Bible translates 2 Timothy 2:15.  “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”  This is the work we do in a Christian school as teachers and the work you do at home as parents.  May we all truly be diligent as we help to shape the minds of our students and children.

In Christ,

Randy Wood

Principal

 

September/October 2019

From the Principal's Desk

Welcome to all of our new students/families and welcome back to all of you who are returning.  September is kind of like spring for schools – everything is new and fresh and filled with the promise of good things ahead.  I hope that your summer was filled with refreshing activities that connected you with family and friends.

We just wrapped up our back-to-school barbeque which was blessed with good weather.  There were a little over 200 of us that shared some food and fellowship.  Many of our staff commented on the high number of students and families that were visiting and making connections, something that can be a challenge in the education from home world.  Thank you for joining us and for being so willing to assist with cleanup.

We are pleased to welcome back Mrs. Jennifer Fluney who is returning from medical leave.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Kimberley Brown and Mrs. Roberta Onyschtschuk are not yet able to return.  We have a couple of familiar faces from last year who are helping to fill in for them:  Mrs. Jill Schmidt and Mr. Rick Glasspell.  In addition, we have a new teacher assisting them, Ms. Madison Haller.  Individually and collectively they are a blessing from the Lord.

I’m not certain what lessons God has in mind for each of you for this school year.  Our staff have been praying for some students who find themselves in difficult situations, for some staff members and their families who are also walking some challenging paths, and very recently for some students from the boys’ volleyball team at Strathmore High (in our school division so lots of connections) – three of them were hospitalized on the same day for drug overdoses.  When the prayer requests for people I know and care about start to stack up sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed with all the troubles out there.  Trusting God is a lesson He is working with me on.  I’m focusing on Proverbs 3:5 & 6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Perhaps leaning on your own understanding isn’t a problem for you, but if like me, it is a work in progress in your walk with the Lord, let me encourage you to keep focusing on this verse. 

May God bless you with a great school year.

Randell P. Wood

Principal

 

June 1, 2018

From the Principal's Desk

As the school year draws to a close NorthStar Academy would like to thank all of our students and their parents for choosing to study with us.  It has been a great year filled with learning and adventures.  Online and Home Education learning opportunities both enjoy the advantages of being highly individualized.  However, that individualization can also be a bit isolating so I hope you had the opportunity to join us at a variety of Activity Days and a chance to join in on some of our Activity Clusters.  The golf, karate, baking, gymnastics, and many more activities were great times of fun, fellowship, and learning.

Summer school is happening at NorthStar.  Recent changes to the funding model for senior high students made for some challenges in figuring out how we could offer summer school but we have a plan!  Contact the office if you are interested in taking a senior high class in July.

Our back to school barbeque will be happening on September 8th at the Zion Church just across from our offices in Didsbury.  It is a great chance to meet your teachers in person, rather than just through your computer screen.  We have food and games as well.  Please come and join us.

As we look towards the next school year, we are excited to see what God has in store for us as we work together with our students and parents to expand our understanding of God’s world and his will for our lives.  Have a great summer and we will see you in late August.

Yours in Christ,

Randy Wood

Principal

 

May 1, 2018

From the Principal's Desk

Students and teachers are back at work now that Easter break has come and gone.  Part of the reason the school year is organized with this week off in it is that school is hard work.  It can wear us down if we don’t take time away once in a while.  With over 650 students at NorthStar Academy, the staff is kept hopping.  Hopefully, your teachers have caught up in their marking by now as a lot of assignments came in while we were taking our break.

You should have noticed some changes to Moodle when you logged back in.  The company which hosts our Moodle worked with a couple of our lead teachers to upgrade our software over the Easter break.  These upgrades allow for us to add new features to our Moodle such as the new navigation bar that toggles on and off and the links in the title bar.  One of those links is PowerSchool, which takes you to the student/parent portal where you can access the latest information on your child’s progress in his/her classes.  An email was sent out with your login information, but if you need any assistance with getting into the portal, just call the office.

We have had lots of questions about summer school but unfortunately, we don’t have any definite answers yet.  The changes Alberta Education introduced to the way senior high students are funded (45 credit cap) have led to concerns about whether or not we can operate summer school, since we don’t know for sure we will receive funding for any classes we offer in July.  We hope to hear from Alberta Education regarding their plan by May 1st.

Please join us in continuing to pray for the families touched by the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.  The scope of this tragedy is such that its impact is being felt by many, many people.  One of the side effects of being in education for a long time (32 years for me) is that the loss of young lives is familiar; rare but familiar.  One funeral is too many – 15 young lives lost is hard to comprehend.  May God have mercy.

Yours in Christ,

Randy Wood

Principal

 

 

March 1, 2018

From the Principal's Desk

Did you know that teachers do classwork much like they ask their students to?  It doesn’t look exactly the same, although a room full of teachers can be just as hard to control as one full of enthusiastic kids.  At NorthStar Academy, our teachers are part of a collaborative group within our school division that has us looking at best practices for online and home education.  On January 31st we got together with the other online school in Golden Hills to spend the day working on how to make our classes more engaging for our students (online instructional design).

As well, as a part of our focus on Powerful Learning, we are also engaged in making our classes and our school into places of thinking.  Sounds pretty simple but it turns out we have some things that we need to “unlearn” before we can go forward.  Ron Ritchhart, the author of Creating Cultures of Thinking, spells out some of the challenges we face:

  • Focusing students on learning vs. the work
  • Teaching for understanding vs. knowledge
  • Encouraging deep vs. surface learning strategies
  • Promoting independence vs. dependence
  • Developing a growth vs. a fixed mindset

Online learning and home education can make some of these challenges even more difficult to overcome, but our staff continues to work on making ourselves and our students into better thinkers.

NorthStar will have a new program for the 2018-2019 school year.  We will be offering our families a blended program.  A blended program combines the benefits of parent-directed home education with the advantages of teacher directed and online programming.  In the past NSA parents have had to choose either a traditional home education program (parent directed) or a fully aligned program (online or teacher directed).  We will now be able to offer the opportunity for a student to be a part of both of these worlds.  There are some boundaries, so we will provide all the details in the days ahead, but here are the basics:

  • Grades 1-9 – home education portion of the program must be 50% or higher
  • Grades 10-12 – home education portion of the program must be 20% or higher

Stay tuned for more details as we will send out guidelines for the NorthStar blended program in the near future.

Yours in Christ,

Randy Wood

 

December 4th, 2017

From the Principal's Desk

Feedback is at the core of good education, both for learners and for schools.  Alberta Education provides feedback to its schools through the Accountability Pillar which includes data from sources such as diploma exams, high school completion rates, and Rutherford scholarship eligibility.  Stakeholders are also surveyed on their views in regards to areas such as how safe and caring schools are, how well students are prepared for the work world, and the degree of parental involvement in schools.  We at NorthStar use this data to craft our improvement plans so we can better live out our slogan “Connected by Christ, Committed to Learning”.

We continue to excel receiving the highest rating in all seven of the survey areas: Safe & Caring, Parental Involvement, Citizenship, Work Preparation, Education Quality, Program of Studies, and School Improvement.  As well, we had strong results in our Physics 30 and English 30 diploma exam result, both of which were above provincial average.  However, the number of students achieving the standard of excellence declined slightly in Biology this year.  Our teachers look at all these results with an eye to determining opportunities for improvement.

GSAs are once again in the news in Alberta with the introduction of Bill 24 – An Act To Support Gay-Straight Alliances.  There is cause for concern for Christian schools, in part because the minister of education does not appear to understand our position.  He is rightfully concerned for the well-being of LGBTQ students, as their rates of self-harm are very high.  Christian schools share this concern but this is not fully recognized by some.  They don’t see how we can be supporters of LGBTQ students when we are not promoters of the LGBTQ lifestyle.  This is possible.  The Western Canada Director of the Association of Christian Schools International, Phil Hills expresses this better than I can. 

"Firstly, we believe that all students are created in the image of God and have innate value.  But adding to this is the belief that all of us are sinners.  Our shared brokenness is a powerful reality that can create a humble and inclusive atmosphere in a Christian school.  We aspire to deal with the log in our own eyes before focusing on the spec in the eyes of others.  Finally, we believe that Jesus offers all people an opportunity to find forgiveness, freedom and the hope of a glorious future."

While this debate is not likely to affect a home and online school like NorthStar Academy, please pray with us that our political leaders may see the truth.

Yours in Christ,

Randy Wood

 

December 1, 2017

On November 30th and December 1st, the Law Society of Ontario and Trinity Western University are presenting arguments to the Supreme Court of Canada.  The Law Society wants to be able to refuse to recognize graduates from TWU’s proposed law school.  Their objections began on the basis of TWU’s community covenant which includes a commitment to reserve sexual intimacy to marriage of one man and one woman.  Those objections now appear to have grown to include the “distinctly Christian” environment of Trinity Western. 

This case has relevance for me both personally and professionally.  I did my Masters in Leadership program at Trinity.  The school does an excellent job of staying true to a Biblical worldview, while at the same time being welcoming of people with different points of view.  Some of my classes had students who were from different faith backgrounds and some who would not profess any faith.  The personal relationships I built as we wrestled together with some very demanding topics, allowed me to share my faith as I learned how to better lead a school community.  Professionally, as principal of a publicly funded Christian school, the Supreme Court’s decision on the place of religion in the public sphere will have an impact on our community here at NorthStar Academy.  Not immediately, but it will shape policy for years to come.

I am reminded of the words of Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete and missionary to China when he was called before British officials who wanted him to compromise his principles.  “God made countries, God makes kings, and the rules by which they govern.”  I ask you to pray with us at NorthStar that the Supreme Court will uphold the religious freedoms that God has granted us here in Canada.

Randy Wood

 

November 27, 2017

Dear NSA Parents,

I have some information to share with you today on a couple of topics:  diploma exam accommodations and home education reimbursements.

Diploma Exams

  • Alberta Education has made available to all students writing diploma exams the additional time accommodation. 
  • Diploma exams are released with a time frame of 2.5 to 3 hours, depending upon the exam.  All students may now take up to double the set time for their diploma exams. 
  • This means that the total time available will be 5 or 6 hours.  Alberta Education has not changed the exams so the expectation is that most students will finish within the allotted time.
  • 5 or 6 hours is a long time for an exam but the same exam supervision conditions will remain in place.  This means you can’t bring your lunch and there are no coffee breaks.  The usual bathroom breaks, sealed drink containers (no open coffee cups), and unobtrusive snacks such as candies and gum (stuff that won’t get on your fingers and onto the exam papers) are all that will be allowed.

Home Education Reimbursements

  • Alberta Education has provided us some feedback on the last yearly audit of traditional home education reimbursements.
  • They indicated two specific ineligible reimbursements:
    • Butterfly Life Cycle Kits
    • Shipping costs from the NSA office
  • We are seeking clarification on the concern over the butterfly life cycle kits as these are closely tied to the grade 3 Science learning outcomes.  Unless we receive the go-ahead from Alberta Education, we will no longer be able to reimburse for butterfly kits.
  • Materials that we occasionally had shipped to our offices and then sent out to families will now have to be shipped directly to families.  This should not be a significant concern.

On an unrelated note, the Trinity Western University case on their law school application will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30th.  These kinds of decisions have great impacts on all Christian schools.  Please be in prayer that the court will continue to recognize the religious freedoms that we have enjoyed in Canada and will find in favour of Trinity Western University.

Yours in Christ,

Randy Wood

Principal