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Montreal Families

Awards celebrate schools that aim high

Discussions about education often focus on what is missing or going wrong: too many kids dropping out, a lack of services for children with special needs, overcrowded classrooms, etc. Absent from the dialogue is mention of schools that, despite sometimes great hurdles, are helping students learn.

Now, a new set of awards aims to celebrate these schools, offering prizes for those who show consistent improvement over five years, determination to achieve excellence and overall academic achievement.

They are called the Garfield Weston Awards for Excellence in Education and have been created by the Fraser Institute, known for its annual ranking of schools across Canada. The Institute has partnered with the W. Garfield Weston Foundation (the Canadian who created Weston bakeries) to offer cash prizes of $3,000 and $1,000 to the first and second place winners. This is the second year they are being offered in Quebec.

Tasha Kheiriddin, director of the Fraser Institute’s Quebec office, explains that the awards represent a move away from the strict ranking system used for the Institute’s annual School Report Cards, which give a numerical grade to pubic and private schools across Canada. “There are always going to be winners and losers in a ranking,” she notes. “The awards are about a celebration of teacher excellence. They are geared towards making teachers feel good about themselves and their work.”

Three awards are given: Improvement in Academics, which honours a school that has shown consistent improvement over five years; Determination in Academic Achievement, given to a school where students face greater challenges, especially poverty; and Overall Academic Achievement, which goes to a school that has shown excellence in academics. (Information on the awards can be found at www.forexcellenceineducation.org.)

Schools are selected based on the data used for the annual report cards — test scores from provincial exams as well as socio-economic information provided by the Ministry of Education — but with a focus on looking for schools showing improvements or consistent excellence. This year, the Institute looked at data from 474 Quebec schools, eventually nominating 17 schools across the three categories. The schools do not apply for the awards and don’t have to pay any fees to be eligible.

Particularly in the case of the Determination award, a school’s ranking in the report may actually be low but the Institute tries to underline just how much progress students are making. “On a ranking, these schools may only be one out of 10, but if they have come from negative three, then that success should be celebrated,” says Valerie Legge, Assistant for the Outreach Programs and School Performance Studies.

Award nominees are invited to a gala banquet, where the names of the winner and runners-up are announced.

Kheiriddin says the awards serve several purposes, including honouring the hard work of teachers and administrators. “Last year at the gala, people told us how grateful they were to finally be recognized. It made them feel very proud.” But she also hopes that awards will encourage school communities, including parents, to talk more how what these schools are doing right. “We hope that a dialogue will happen and that it will encourage teachers and schools to pursue their path to excellence.”

2009 Award Nominees

This year, the winners of the Garfield Weston Awards for Excellence in Education will be announced at a banquet in Montreal on April 22. The top place school receives a $3,000 prize and the runner-up gets a $1,000 prize. Here is a list of nominated schools:

Overall Academic Achievement

Collège Notre-Dame de Rivière-du-Loup, Rivière-du-Loup
Collège Saint-Sacrement, Terrebonne
Selwyn House School, Westmount

Improvement in Academics

Collège Français Secondaire de Montréal, Montreal
École Paul-Hubert, Rimouski
École secondaire Augustin-Norbert-Morin, Ste. Adèle
École secondaire Natagan, Barraute, Abitibi
Lester B. Pearson High School, Montreal
Rosemere High School, Laval

Determination in Academic Achievement

École des Chutes, Shawinigan
École polyvalente de Paspébiac, Paspébiac, Gaspé
École Rivière-des-Quinze, Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Abitibi
École secondaire de Dégelis, Dégelis, Bas-Saint-Laurent
École secondaire Saint-Marc, St. Marc des Carrières, Portneuf
Polyvalente des Rivières, Forestville, Côte-Nord
Polyvalente Mgr Sévigny, Chandler, Gaspé
Séminaire du Sacré-Cœur, Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Laurentians

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