Friday, December 21, 2007

Wishes for the season

It is the last day of school. My family is all very excited about the holidays and spending two weeks together, skiing, laughing, sleeping in, visiting friends and family, skating and enjoying a break from all our usual obligations and routines.

I hope you will have the time to reflect on the blessings in your lives and to share some good fortune with others. May 2008 be a year to learn from our past and move forward with compassion and optimism.

Best regards to all. See you in the New Year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Election Promises

"Oh, politicians...they promise the moon during election time and then don't even give you a lump of cheese once they're elected."

I thought I'd include my forum speech, so you could see what I've promised...and hold me accountable:


Hello and thank you for coming tonight.

My name is Sue Huff and in the next 6 minutes, I’d like to introduce myself, my beliefs, start the discussion of what I would do as your trustee.

First of all- who am I?

I am a professional writer, performer and film-maker. I’ve written for national television, CBC Radio, film and the theatre. As an actor, I’ve performed on most of the professional stages in Edmonton and appeared in both film and television productions. I have directed a film for the National Film Board of Canada called Kids Talkin’ About Death, which has been recognized locally, nationally and internationally.

I am married to a teacher who works in Spruce Grove and we have two fabulous children, aged 9 and 12. Like you, I am actively involved in my children’s school through the Parent Council and countless volunteer hours. Last year, I formed the Westglen Advocacy Group to address our school’s declining enrolment. As head of the group, I organized monthly meetings, set the direction and met with everyone and anyone who I felt had a role to play in keeping the school open…including parents, teachers, EPSB Planning Dept., Trustee Don Williams, our MLA, city councilors, the community league, school alumni, local businesses and the media. I organized a presentation on the Designated Community School Program, to share information on this formerly provincially funded program. I scheduled regular meetings with our principal and together we set priorities and objectives for the year. And I’m happy to report, we hit them all. One year later, Westglen’s enrolment has jumped significantly and we are no longer on the 1-3 Year Sustainability Review List. It was truly amazing to see what can be done with a concerted, collaborative and dedicated effort. It was a year of unpaid work, but it was well worth it.

What do I believe?
I believe in community and that we have a responsibility to look after not just our own children, but all children.
I believe community schools are vital and must be preserved as a choice for parents.
I believe in public education and the right for every child to be well-educated and to realize their potential, regardless of their race, creed, religion, socio-economic standing or disability.
I believe children’s success should be measured by more than a series of test results; they are individuals and should be treated as such.
I believe teachers have an incredibly challenging job to do and they require more support. I believe parents are being asked to do too much to support schools and that their primary role should be to support their child at home.
I believe education is under-funded in this province--- the richest in Canada—and that it is the trustees’ responsibility to increase that funding and to advocate for public education strenuously and fearlessly.
Most importantly, I believe in children.

Someone said to me, it’s not enough to say you represent change. We want to know how you will do it. Good point.

How will I effect change?
Slowly, persistently and with a smile. A combative, divisive stance gets us nowhere. Change happens with increased awareness and a true desire to work collaboratively with others.

Currently, collaboration is not just happening. Too many people feel unheard. Too many good ideas are being dismissed. Too many concerns are left unaddressed. And there are too many restrictions on open communication between trustees and the public. Trustees are frequently advised not to speak, not to comment and their silence does great damage to the perception of the role and its usefulness.

To restore trust in our trustees, I think, transparency, accountability and open communication are essential. We need to put the PUBLIC back into public education.

To do this, I would re-establish the public ward meetings that were held by former trustee Lynn Odynski. Everyone would be invited to share their concerns and ideas with me. These meetings would be held four times a year in community league halls, throughout the ward and the cost for these meetings would come out of my expense account. I would also explore additional avenues to open up the lines of communication, including using my website, emails, and regular newsletters to make it easy for my constituents to contact me, ask questions and find the information they need.

I would establish working relationships with all levels of government and begin the process of advocating for change. I would work towards increasing the authority and accountability of trustees, including a return to the right of local taxation, an open book policy and fewer meetings behind closed doors. I would listen and learn from all the partners in education: custodians, teachers, parents, advocates, principals and community members and bring those views forward. Ultimately, as an elected official, I answer to you, the constituents, not to the administration or the province.

Finally, I promise that I will be a strong advocate for children, because they deserve nothing less.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions and hearing your ideas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Activities of your trustee

So, what have I been doing lately?

Here's a few things from my daytimer for the past couple of weeks:
- attending the Many Faces of Childhood Well-being symposium (focused on children 2-6 yrs.)
- attending and speaking at the District Recognition Awards
- meetings for both the Community Relations and District Priorities committees
-Serving pizza to principals
-visiting Inglewood school
-being interviewed by the Examiner
-performing in and attending the 1881 Schoolhouse Christmas concert
-meeting with Crestwood parents about their concerns
-listening to individual parental concerns and providing links to appropriate supports
-attending the All-city Junior choir's performance at the First Presbyterian Church
-meeting with parents from Laurier Heights
-attending Westglen School's choral performance at City Hall
-Public board meetings and conference board meetings(of course)
-Hosting the District Priorities committee consultation with high school students (great feedback!)
-participating in the trustee coffee party for administrative staff
-researching and preparing for the school closure review debate in January

It's a busy time of year...but children's voices bring great cheer.

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Timing of closure process

I've heard a number of emotional stories about enduring school closure and although some would say there is no way to do it without creating animosity, I think the answer lies in timing. We need to allow sufficient time for communities to feel heard, to know they've been given a fighting chance and, if closure is indeed the only option, they need time to realize this fact, to grieve the loss and to grow to accept this reality. Like a death, you don't ask people to "get over it" within a matter of days. And like a death, you help people rebuild their lives afterwards.

The process needs to be compassionate, human and sensitive. People will not remember what we said but they will remember how we made them feel.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Promoting Community Schools

RE: "evaluating EPSB policies to ensure equity in promotion of all district schools"

When I was head of the Westglen Advocacy Group, I began exploring options to market and promote the school. I discovered that a number of schools had websites; we did not. I heard that some schools were funded in part by societies, parent tuition or cultural groups which supported their program of choice. We did not have this additional funding.

I turned to EPSB to see what promotional support they could offer. I saw brochures advertising the many alternative programs. I asked if EPSB could put out a brochure highlighting community schools and all they have to offer, but it never materialized.

I've since discovered what may be a reason. Although we have an open boundaries policy, which allows any school having an alternative program to promote to any student across the schools are only permitted to advertise or promote their school within their boundaries. This strikes me as unfair. Open boundaries should be open for all or open for none.

In order for people to understand that community schools are an excellent choice, more equitable promotion is necessary. Given the inadequacy of previous policy, it may require considerable effort to "level the playing field" for community schools. Community schools are not a second-rate, default choice for parents who can't be bothered to find something better. They provide an excellent education, foster strong citizenship and responsibility in their students, and ultimately a sense of belonging and community for all.