Features & Resources

Good Things are Happening: 2020-21 in review

In their end of year letter, Chair Gurveen Dhaliwal and Superintendent Karim Hachlaf outlined some of the remarkable aspects of the school year year 2020-21, focusing on thanking all those who made this year’s many successes possible.

As we look back, the obvious factor we all managed was COVID-19. We adapted, collaborated, introduced new protocols, made some tough decisions to ensure safety was always our top priority, and created new opportunities to help better support all families as we navigated the pandemic. And while doing so, we continued to support the educational and social-emotional needs of over 7000 students.

We did all that thanks to the professional and personal commitments of almost 1000 staff, while we partnered with a wide range of community members and organizations.

That’s not all though. We also continued to deliver on a wide variety of other projects while we kept students engaged in learning (see the highlights below).

It was a lot of work. And it was not easy. But we did it together.

We happen to think the successful wrap of the 2020-2021 school year was something everyone should be exceptionally proud of.

And now as we look forward to the all the opportunity we have in the 2021-22 school year, we do so feeling confident in the foundation we’re building on. We already know we’ll be opening a new school and expanding another. There will be a greater breadth of learning opportunities as we return to a slightly more typical school return. And there’s just excitement around the sheer possibility of what lies ahead this year.

There are countless ways to measure the 2020-21 school year. But here are some highlights we think you might be interested in …

Successes and markers, by the project

The opening of NWSS

Filling the shoes of the historic 70 year old NWSS, we proudly opened the doors to the new New Westminster Secondary School in January … having accomplished a monumental move over the winter break. Staff and students have been wowed by the modern, innovative, collaborative and beautiful new building that will lead us forward in learning, together.

We’ll be looking for opportunities to invite more people in to see the space in this coming year, but if you’d like to learn more or see the video we produced as an interim virtual tour, check out the story of the opening (and the video) here: https://newwestschools.ca/welcome-home-new-west/ 

Inclusive Education Review – Report, guide and roadmap ahead

After a year of consultation, review and critical conversations around our Inclusive Education practices and processes, this year marked some major milestones in our targeted efforts to make improvements where we can:

Skwo:wech Elementary rises, where McBride steps back

McBride Elementary has a long and celebrated history in our District. But as we moved forward with the new and modern replacement school that’s going onto the site, it was an invitation to also take a new approach to naming. This year we saw two very important aspects of this story and project move forward:

  • The continued build of the new school that’s taking shape. You can see some photos taken over June and July here: https://www.facebook.com/newwestschools/posts/2862375717357653
  • We went through the year-long process to rename the school, following the Parent Advisory Council’s request to the Board to consider the change. To learn more about the thoughtful approach, in-depth consultation and meaning behind the new name (including a short video that can help with pronunciation), check out the fuller story here: https://newwestschools.ca/a-new-name-with-meaning/

Advancing our anti-racism commitments

In the Spring of 2020 our District made a commitment to do more when it comes to actively combating the racism and discrimination we know is negatively impacting students, staff and the families we work with. Here are some important steps we took last year:

  • We struck and hosted an Anti-racism Committee to oversee and consult on the plans we were developing and putting in place.
  • We engaged a small consulting agency (Bakau Consulting) to support us in doing an impartial review of our practices and systems.
  • Along with the Bakau team, we hosted surveys that went to students, to parents, to staff and to the broader community.
  • Along with the Bakau team, we organized focus groups for students, parents and staff to participate in.

These pieces will lay the groundwork for the policy development and learning opportunities that will come as we move forward with this important commitment. Expect to see more in this coming year.

Learning with Pride

Watch out for this new student-inspired emblem that will start to pop up across the District. In collaboration with student groups and SOGI Leads, our District staff worked to create this eye-catching new emblem that will land on stickers, shirts and more in the coming years.

Read the full story here: https://newwestschools.ca/learning-with-pride/



Learning and growing is a fluid process in education, including for teachers. Last year we launched a new Mentorship Program, where volunteer teachers at various points in their career levels were partnered with teachers who had five or less years of experience. There were informal check-ins, structured workshops, sessions meant to inspire wonder and a general sense of connection developed between peers … and it was a hit with both mentees and mentors alike.

Look for more as this peer-based program will return with a new set of recruits for the 2021-22 school year!

Central Registration

This year we moved to a central registration model. Why? We want to give parents and the community one team to help them with all their registration needs and questions … whether that means supporting parents of a soon-to-be kindergarten student, answering questions about all of our programs of choice, or perhaps walking a family that’s new to the city through what to expect and what they need to register at one of our safe and welcoming schools.

*Fun fact: New Westminster is one of the fastest growing Metro Vancouver school districts. That means our new Registration Team supported the enrollment of more kindergarteners and their families than ever before … kids who are all set up in classrooms and ready to grow and learn here at New Westminster Schools. 

Health and safety upgrades

It was no small feat to outfit and upgrade our schools to get them ready to keep students and staff as safe as possible. From developing central and school versions of the health and safety plans, to creating plexiglass barriers and district-wide signage,  through to installing 52 new sinks and handwashing stations before the year even started. And that effort lasted throughout the year with all the additional levels of cleaning the hard working custodial team delved into, the adaptations made, the deliveries of specialized supplies that just kept coming.

But as as much as COVID presented us with challenges, it also opened up opportunities. Our Facilities team was inspired by that as they took advantage of one-time funding to source and build Outdoor Covered Play & Learning Centres into four schools across our District. Allowing more classrooms to learn outside, this project supported safer learning options through what was a challenging year. End even better, these spaces are also investments that will support more students for years to come … as we increasingly see the advantages of what outdoor play and learning can do for students. Read a great article* about them here: https://newwestschools.ca/outdoor-covered-play-and-learning-centres-at-four-schools/
*Article shared thanks to Julie MacLellan and the team at The New West Record. 

By the numbers

District growth

We’re the fastest growing District in Metro Vancouver! We’ve already surpassed our anticipated 3.1% increased enrollment, and we’re not stopping anytime soon!

Online learning

Over the 2020-21 school year, pushed the limits of our capacity to support families facing all kinds of health issues and concerns … working as partners to create supportive environments for kids to continue to learn.

While other Districts took a shorter term transitional approach to home learning, we proudly created a year-long Online Learning for K-8 opportunity to fully support kids and families who needed to learn from home in an unusual year … working hard to guarantee and maintain connections to their enrolled schools as well, to make the 2021-22 school year transition would be a good one. Lead by a team of teachers and other staff, this temporary program supported 450 students at the peak of interest, and offered multiple windows to transition into schools (or into the Online Learning stream) as the COVID situation changed and evolved.

Supporting our older students and their families also meant growing our online options. Our Virtual School added grade 9 classes they had never before taught and supported around 75 full-time grade 9-12 students from NWSS, to ensure all students had the opportunity to work from home as they completed the school year.

215 children … with thousands more to follow

215 kids at Kelvin Elementary gather in the shape of a heart in honour of the children who never made it home. – Photo created and captured by Eden Fine Day

The tragic news of the remains of 215 children that were found at a former residential school in Kamloops – news shared by representatives from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation – caused us all to stop.

While we knew and understood that atrocities like this had happened, the reality of the discovery was heartbreaking. Collectively we took the time to listen. We learned. And we honoured and grieved as a community … with classrooms at every school and grade level engaged in the important discussions and activities.

As we already know, thousands of more have already followed. We sadly anticipate that number will keep growing.

Our District remains committed to supporting Indigenous students and families in New Westminster, to seeking ways we can participate in the journey towards reconciliation, and to creating opportunities that will allow us to grow and learn together.

Look for more in this coming month and year.

A nutritious start makes a significant difference

Kids can’t learn if they start off hungry. And for a wide variety of reasons, we all know there are some kids and families living in our community who are facing more challenges in providing that baseline. That’s where our commitment to ensure full participation in learning comes into play, with access to a range of food security options. In addition to breakfast programs and other measures each school coordinates, at a District level:

  1. Thanks to our partnership with Fuel Up lunch program (care of Simply Foods), we were able to provide full or partial subsides to help feed over 250 kids last year.*
    • Did you know lunch orders on a daily, occasional or one-time basis are available to all elementary and middle school families? Taking the stress off of busy parents who want an easy and nutritious lunch solution, and reducing stigma around hot lunches … with small amounts from each purchased lunch supporting the partial and full subsidies other families count on. Find out more here: https://newwestschools.ca/programs-services/fuel-up/overview/
  2. Thanks to a partnership with BC Dairy and the Fuel Up lunch team at Simply Foods, we collectively participated in a two month trial program that saw 6656 free dairy products be given away (yogurt, milk, or soy milk for those who needed a non-dairy alternative). These were added to the meals and available for any of the families on full or partial subsidies. Discounted rates on those products were also offered through that time to all families who use the program.
  3. Knowing many families were facing additional factors in this COVID year, a partnership with the Greater Vancouver Food Bank allowed our schools to distribute a total of $28,000 in grocery store gift cards to help take a bit of the pressure off of families with some additional needs or challenges!

Child care options for families

Thanks to ground-work done over the course of the 2020-21 year, this school year our child care partners will be adding 59 additional before-and-after spaces … to better support the working families who live in our community!

Look for more information coming soon on an innovative pilot program! Because we want to be partners in making child care more accessible, while we better support students moving in and out of our classrooms!

Engagement across all of our communities

We asked and you answered! Thank you to all the parents, students, staff and community members who showed us record-breaking engagement in everything from our informational townhalls that started the year to the surveys we ran to inform future learning. We really value the time you shared with us and the commitment and connection that shows as we work together to build even better educational opportunities in New Westminster. Of particular note:

  • Thank you to the over 1000 people who shared their thoughts on our budget consultation surveys!
  • We were honoured to learn that more than 1200 people took time to share their thoughts on the Diversity and Inclusion survey that was sent out as part of our work around anti-racism … providing us valuable feedback that will inform policy and learning opportunities for years to come.

By the people

Award winning teachers

There are countless staff across our District who achieve beautiful things every day. But this year we had four teachers recognized by their peers and provincial organizations for the exemplary jobs they are each doing as they inspire students in our schools:

  1. Carmen Woo … the dedicated, welcoming and multi-talented Teacher-Librarian at École Glenbrook Middle was awarded a Regional Certificate of Achievement for the 2020 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence.
  2. Kristie Oxley … our District Teacher-Librarian whose significant contributions and dedicated efforts have been celebrated as she was named the 2020 Teacher-Librarian of the Year, by the BC Teacher-Librarians’ Association.
  3. Barb Paul … the infectiously energetic and passionate music teacher at Lord Kelvin (for 40 years as she has just retired!) was awarded as the 2020 Outstanding Elementary Music Educator of the Year, by her peers at the BC Music Educators’ Association.
  4. Darren Ng … whose explosive passion for teaching and learning resulted in him being named as the inaugural recipient of the Gorden Gore Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching, as designated by his colleagues at the BC Association of Physics Teachers.

An artist at heart

Our custodial team worked additionally hard this year, keeping our schools as clean and safe as possible for all. But one custodian, Kent Charles, also revealed a previously hidden talent when he went the extra mile to create a window mural that inspired kids and coworkers alike at Qayqayt Elementary! If you haven’t yet, we encourage you to read the story of this artist at heart: https://newwestschools.ca/custodian-by-day-artist-at-heart/

The women who lead the way

Taking advantage of International Women’s Day, we also took the opportunity to showcase how women are leading the way at New Westminster Schools – from our top School Board Offices to local union leadership: https://newwestschools.ca/the-women-of-new-westminster-schools/

By the pictures

Some stories are best told through pictures. Take a moment to scroll the visual story of 2020-21 in review (below). We can’t wait to see what this coming year will look like in New Westminster Schools. But we’re excited to be facing this opportunity alongside such good company, as we build on a remarkable year.

As we start the new school year, we’re taking a minute to look back at the foundation we are working from, celebrating…

Posted by New Westminster Schools on Friday, September 10, 2021