Friday, December 19, 2008

update- Setting the Direction (Special Education Review)

December 2008 Setting the Direction Update
In mid-November, Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta began the first phase of community consultations. Representatives from the Steering Committee, Stakeholder Working Group, the project team and an arms-length consultant visited 10 Alberta communities and heard from approximately 1,050 Albertans. If you attended a community consultation, you will be receiving by e-mail a copy of the raw data from the session you attended.

In addition, more than 800 individuals and groups have completed the online questionnaire, representing the views of 1,400 Albertans. Finally, the project team has received over 400 print submissions. In total, approximately 2,850 Albertans have shared their thoughts on vision and principles for the future of special education in this province. Your voice has been heard.

As well, special education is this month’s featured topic in Speak Out, an Alberta Education online initiative to encourage Alberta’s high school students to speak out about their experiences with the education system. At the end of the month, student input will be collected from this site and added to the mix.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to participate during this phase of Setting the Direction, it’s not too late. The online discussion guide will be available until December 31 and print submissions will be collected up to this date as well.

Input gathered during phase one consultation will create a vision and principles and help identify key elements for a new framework for special education in Alberta.

As we begin planning for phase two consultations in late February and March, discussion will turn to a proposed ideal future for an education system that displays the characteristics that participants say are aligned with their vision and principles and will serve Alberta’s students who have special education needs.

More details on this phase of the project will be available in January.
From the Steering Committee Chair
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your commitment to Setting the Direction and for your contributions to this important discussion. I look forward to meeting with you in February and March and working further with the Steering Committee and Stakeholder Working Group to propose a more effective direction for special education in Alberta.

Sincerely,


Naresh Bhardwaj
Chair
Steering Committee
MLA, Edmonton-Ellerslie
settingthedirection.alberta.ca Alberta EducationMain Floor, 44 Capital Boulevard 10044-108 Street Alberta, Canada T5J 5E6

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Visit with Santa


Today, Santa and his Trustee Elf (Sue) visited six schools in Ward C. It was great to see the surprise and joy when we walked into the classrooms. "SANTA!!!!!!" was often the response. The older children tried very hard to act cool, but you could tell, they were also happy to see the jolly old man.
HO! HO! HO!

Report to the Community

I encourage you to look at this report...which highlights some of the key initiatives of the District. It is an insightful overview and creatively formatted too! We shared this with our community partners at a special meeting a couple of weeks ago. http://www.epsb.ca/datafiles/CommunityReport_08.pdf

I want to also take this opportunity to wish you all the very best of the season. I will be taking the full two weeks to recharge and spend time exclusively with my family. (No emails, no blog, no cell phone!) I hope you can find time in all the hectic business of this time of year to count your blessings, remember who (and what) is important and share with those less fortunate.

See you in 2009!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Board Meeting outcomes

There was a good discussion about the Environmental Report, with three follow up actions by trustees. Trustee Gibeault asked for information on including more environmental references to the Energy Policy. Trustee Colburn put forward a motion to do a feasibility study on geothermal heating. And I put forward a motion to create an overarching environmental policy for EPSB.

The transportation of special needs children was also an important discussion. There was a follow-up article in the Edmonton Journal on Thursday, Dec. 11 by Sarah O'Donnell which provided some information on how the District hopes to move forward on this issue.

Trustee Colburn's motion to review the efficacy of our special needs programming and how our money is being spent in special needs education was defeated. Trustees Colburn, Shipka and Huff voted for the motion. Trustees Ripley, Rice, Gibson, Fleming and Gibeault voted against. Trustee Esslinger was in France on Board business.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Special Needs, Environmental action and student fees

The next Board meeting (Tues, Dec. 9) has some items you might find interesting:

The Environmental report- what is EPSB doing do be good environmental stewards?

Check out this link: District Energy and Environmental Management (This was carried forward from the November 25, 2008 Board Meeting)

Special Needs and Transportation, Student Fees, How much money does the province provide for technology, and how did EPSB address the Alberta Education Special Needs Recommendations

Answers can all be found in: Responses to Trustee Requests for Information

How will we spend$13 million in unreserved surplus funds?

See: Report #5 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held December 2, 2008)

And a motion re: a report on how effective our programming is for children with special needs.
To see the exact wording, go to this link: Motion re Special Education

As always, if you wish to speak to the Board on any of these items, please register with Anne Sherwood, (anne.sherwood@epsb.ca) by NOON on TUESDAY.

The meeting starts at 6 PM and there is free parking underground. (1 Kingsway Ave.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lieutenant-General to speak to parents

Lieutenant-General The Honourable Romeo A. Dallaire will be the presenter at the next Parents as Partners session.

Date: Sunday, January 25, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m.
Location: Fantasyland Hotel
West Edmonton Mall

Lieutenant-General Dallaire has requested that, in lieu of his usual speaking fee, attendees at the parent event be asked for monetary donations in aid of Rwanda. This is a unique opportunity for Edmonton Public parents and the address will likely include the importance of raising children to have a global perspective.

I pulled this from Lieutenant-General Dallaire's website:

Public Speaking Romeo Dallaire's presentations discuss leadership and conflict resolution, illustrated with stories of his own experiences. He inspires listeners to address the ethical and moral issues in conflicts and insists that governments put humanity above political and economic interests.

Client Testimonials "Through all your trials and sorrows, you have come to exemplify the greatest ideals to which we can aspire. You move us to come together and express our common humanity...you have made us all more human, more feeling, more emotionally attached to people and situations half a world away. We know one thing - you will not quit - and this in itself is a reason for all of us to remain hopeful, to keep looking for reasons for optimism."

For more info, visit: http://www.romeodallaire.com/

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Sustainability Survey

At Tuesday's board meeting, I gave a verbal report on the work to date by the Ad Hoc Committee to review the Sustainability Review and School Closure process. Here are the highlights:

Focus groups were held over the summer with parents, community members and staff to gather feedback on the current process. These sessions were held by an independent facilitator, Sandra Johnston. Sandra compiled the common themes and created a document that summarized the feedback attained during the sessions. From these common themes, a draft of an on-line survey has been created.

The survey was shared with trustees via email and, at the meeting, it was requested that it be included on the December 2 conference meeting agenda to allow input from all trustees.

Before the on-line survey can be posted, several things need to happen, including: final approval by the Board, building the survey with the help of our IT Dept, creating the letter to notify the stakeholders who have experienced either closure or sustainability reviews and stuffing 3,500 envelopes (of said stakeholders!).

Needless to say, we don't want this survey to get lost in the Christmas shuffle...so the decision was made to delay mailing the letters until January 5. This will allow everyone concerned the opportunity to participate (rather than risk missing those who are away over the holidays.) Following notification, the survey will be up from January12- 23.

I know this is a long time coming...but, trust me, it's worth it to get it right! Building consensus has been challenging and the committee has worked very hard to make sure that all points of view are represented and acknowledged.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New School Closure plan

I've pulled this report out of the November 25 agenda for easy access (see link at the end of this entry). It discusses the plans for the next year and in particular, references the new sector-based planning idea. I've titled this blog: "New School Closure Plan" because I've heard from many people that sometimes our language in education is not readily understood. So, "Annual Implementation Plan" or indeed even "Sector-based planning" might not be automatically translated into "school closures" or "how are we going to deal with our low enrolment schools?"

I hope my attempt at plain language doesn't alarm you, but I think it's important to be clear. We have a problem with under-utilized schools in mature neighbourhoods. Because we are funded by student (not by building), when there aren't a lot of kids in a school, the budget is stretched very thin. As a District, we will be gaining 5000 more student spaces in 2010 when the new ASAP schools are built.This will make our existing space problem even more pronounced.

So, how will we deal with this challenge? This report outlines a new process, to look at schools in a cluster, within a sector and try to decide what makes sense for the area. Which school could best handle consolidation? What are the options? How can the community best be involved in this process?

Please read the report and if you wish to speak to the Board on November 25, remember to register with Anne Sherwood, Board Secretary (anne.sherwood@epsb.ca) before noon on Tuesday.

Here's the link:
http://www.epsb.ca/board/nov25_08/item04.pdf

Nov. 25 agenda

Improving Student Achievement:

2. Improving Student Achievement Through Technology Integration Planning Services

G. Reports from the Superintendent of Schools:

3. School Year Calendar 2010-2011

4. Annual Implementation Plan: 2008-2009

5. Aboriginal Education Policy and Regulation Implementation Plan: Year One

6. District Energy and Environmental Management

7. Responses to Trustee Requests for Information

H. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports

8. Report #4 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held November 19, 2008)

9. Report #1 of the Audit (From the Meeting Held November 19, 2008)

10. Trustee Subcommittee Review of 2007-2008 School and Central Department Results

11. Annual Education Results Report 2007 2008

12. Fall 2008 Update to 2008/2009 Budget

Inclusion- Special Needs consultation

Join us for a stakeholder consultation:

“Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta”

Monday, December 1, 2008
6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

Community Options
#200, 12345 – 121st Street, Edmonton, Alberta

Alberta Education is conducting a comprehensive review of special education entitled: Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta. Phase 1 of this review is gathering stakeholder information from the public. The goal is to generate a vision and principles that will shape future policy, funding and accountability for Special Education in Alberta. The purpose of this ERC-hosted consultation is to ensure that the critical voices of families are heard.

You are encouraged to find out more about the review on Alberta Education’s website: www.settingthedirection.alberta.ca. We strongly suggest that you download the discussion guide, read it over and bring it with you to the consultation. This document will form the basis for the consultation discussions that evening. If you are unable to join us on December 1, please take the time to be involved. Visit the Alberta Education website to find out how to:
- participate in one of the other in-person consultations taking place in the Edmonton area
- participate in the online consultation
- print a discussion guide and mail it in

For more information contact: Wendy Sauve
Phone: 780-490-0574
E-mail: wensauve@shaw.ca
To register to attend this event:
Phone: 780-453-3971
FAX: 780-447-4948
Email: autism@autismedmonton.org

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Next Ward Meeting

Thanks to C.P. for rattling my cage about my next ward meeting.

It will be:

Thursday, December 11, 7-9 PM
AFTON School, 16604- 91 Avenue
Free childcare provided (and snacks!)

Bring a friend! Bring your ideas.

Topic for first hour: What can we do to improve student success?
Topic for second hour: Whatever you want to talk about.

You don't need to stay for the entire two hours, if you are busy (and we all are!)

SEE YOU THERE.

An ad will be sent to schools. If you are willing to put up a few posters for me in your neighbourhood, please let me know. I'd love to reach out to that large (and largely quiet) public.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Building Hope

The last two weeks have been a bit of a blur. Results Reviews occupy a lot of time for trustees at this time of year. As part of our oversight function, we go out to schools and talk to the Principals about their results last year- celebrating the successes, examining the challenges and discussing implications for the upcoming year. Parents attended most of my sessions and it is always valuable to hear their insights and perspectives as well. Each trustee reports back to the Board on what common themes they heard and this information helps guide the planning for the upcoming year.

I am still sifting through all that I've heard thus far (I have one more review session to complete).

My first impressions are:
(1) The challenges facing teachers today are immense. Teachers are being asked to differentiate instruction for children whose abilities and background experiences are so incredibly diverse. We have children showing up in kindergarten who have had such tremendously rich preschool lives that they can already read. Other children arrive at our schools who have never seen a book and don't know "how it works." We sometimes get hung up on split-classes and the impact that they may or may not have on learning. I would say that my impression is, really, there isn't a single class in Edmonton that ISN'T a split class, when we consider the wide range of abilities. A supposedly "single grade 5" class, can easily have children reading at grade 2 level sitting next to children reading at grade 8 level. The teacher is also likely to have children who are English language learners, children with learning disabilities and sadly, children who are hungry. Somehow, the teacher is to teach them all, nurture them all and see they all fulfill their potential.

(2) There is a growing disparity between our schools. Some schools have incredible achievement results; some do not. How will we confront this disparity and provide support for the schools that are experiencing challenges? I do not believe that there are "bad schools" or "bad kids". This type of labelling is very destructive and when you enter the building and talk to the teachers and see the children's faces...it is simply wrong. Some schools have a higher percentage of "at risk" children. They have a higher percentage of families living below the poverty line. We know there are pockets of need. So, how can we fill those pockets? How can we provide additional support to the families, the children and the teachers? How can we empower the community to help itself? And how can we build the bridges of understanding and compassion between the "haves" and the "have-nots"? How can we strengthen the human bonds?

(3) So much work is already being done. Our schools are working very hard to meet these needs and challenges. We have breakfast clubs, mentoring and success coaches. We have partnerships with Aboriginal Elders and Multicultural health brokers. Teachers do home visits, come early and run homework clubs after school. Principals drive to pick up kids on exam day and secretaries call to wake up kids in the morning. The compassion and dedication is overwhelming. The stories are endless. But still, some kids are falling through the cracks. The band-aid solutions can only take us so far.

(4) We need something larger than individual efforts. I don't think the Principal, the teachers, or indeed the Education system can solve the underlying problems that are facing our schools. A more integrated, cohesive and comprehensive system needs to be constructed to serve the complex needs we're seeing in our classrooms.

What will I do? What can I do?

The solution will emerge by listening. I will be listening to those who understand the problem best and who can help me develop a keen understanding of the barriers to success. I'm not willing to give up on these kids. I'm not willing to accept that "some of our kids just can't make it."

What can you do?
A lot! Join me in learning more about these children, these families and these communities. Don't see these children as "someone else's problem." Reach out. Get involved and most importantly, have the courage to believe that you can make a difference.

Last night, I attended a joint board, cross-ministry (Health, Children's Services, Justice and Education) dinner meeting. A young man spoke about the importance of simple gestures in the lives of at-risk youth. He read a message from a young woman who said that the day her counsellor told her he was proud of her was a pivotal moment. She saw herself differently and from that moment decided to turn her life around.

It was a powerful message: we all have the capacity to build hope.

Special Needs Review- part 2

Hello-
All EPSB parents who have children with special needs should be receiving the following information via their school.... just in case anyone is missed, here's a reprint of the information. Please note the NOVEMBER 26th sessions at the Ramada Hotel. I will be attending the 1:30 PM session. Hope to see you there!


Attention Parents: Speak Out on Special Education

Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta is a provincial initiative intended to create a framework that will assist students with special education needs to be successful in school and in life. Alberta Education is providing opportunities for input on the vision and principles that will govern special education programming into the future.

Make sure your voice is heard. Your three options for participating in the consultation process are:

Participate in the online consultation by completing the survey at https://phoenix.edc.gov.ab.ca/surveys/web/cgi-bin/qwebcorporate.cgi?5ZQHEB.

Print the discussion guide found at http://education.alberta.ca/media/885351/phase1discussionguide_e.pdf (English version) and http://education.alberta.ca/media/885355/phase1guidedediscussion_f.pdf (French version) Then fill it in and send it to:
Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta
c/o Special Programs Branch, Alberta Education
10044-108 Street
Edmonton, AB T5J 5E6
Fax: 780 422-2039

Register at http://education.alberta.ca/apps/settingthedirection/default.asp to participate in one of the in-person consultations taking place in Edmonton on November 26 at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Centre.

For more information on Setting the Direction for Special Education in Alberta, see setting.direction@gov.ab.ca.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Special Education Review- provincial

Special Education Review
Alberta Education is consulting with Albertans on Setting the Direction for Special Education. The project will create a new special education framework that includes vision, principles, policy, accountability and funding. You only have until December 31, 2008 to ensure that your thoughts and opinions are heard.

Albertans can share their views at: http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/settingthedirection.aspx

In addition, there are in-person consultation sessions around the province that you can register for, see: http://education.alberta.ca/apps/settingthedirection/default.asp

Please participate in this important discussion.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tues- Nov. 4- lecture on learning disabilities

On Tuesday, Nov. 4, I will be attending a lecture entitled, "Early Intervention Works! Screening and Early Intervention for Students at Risk for Reading Difficulties."
The session is free and open to the public, so if you are interested in attending here's the info:

University of Alberta, Faculty of Education
Room 254, Education South. 7-9 PM

Internationally known scholar, Dr. Linda Siegel will present her exciting research evaluating the outcomes of North Vancouver School District's Firm Foundations Program screening and early intervention program for students at risk for reading and writing difficulties. This intervention has resulted in dramatic decreases in students assessed with reading difficulties, among both English speaking and English language learners.

For more information, call 780-448-0360 or visit www.ldaa.ca

Writings on the Wall

Congratulations to the McArthur School Council that hosted the third annual free conference for parents. It featured many interesting sessions on how to support your child's success in school. I attended a session on increasing reading capacity and will be receiving the notes on adaptive technology for children with learning disabilities. Sessions were grouped into six streams: Authors and Writing- encouragement for student writers
Careers- why writing matters in the world of tomorrow
Technology
Parenting
Special interest- all about health and safety in school and out
School Skills- tips and tricks to help you help your child learn

I believe the plan is to make all the information available via the website. www.WritingsOnTheWall.ca. I encourage you to check it out and plan to attend the fourth annual conference next fall. It is truly an amazing resource.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Board meeting outcomes

Policy- Purchasing
At the last Board meeting, I raised a concern that our Purchasing policy made no reference to environmental or ethical considerations. At this Board meeting, I provided further research in the area. The Board decided that this warranted further discussion and referred the policy back to the Planning and Policy Committee.

The Board Chair advised us that she will be having a meeting with the Minister of Education to discuss the next round of ASAP (P3) schools and that if we have any questions for the Minister to get them to her by Thursday. Two questions already on ready are: Community Use of the ASAP schools (i.e. daycares), and if the current economic situation will effect the time lines.

We had a number of information items last night, including a report from Consulting Services, a report on the new Skill Centre, and information on Accountability Pillar, Student Achievement, Satisfaction survey results. We have areas of great success in our student achievement and areas that need improvement. The data provided is quite dense and requires further analysis ('drilling down') to understand what our responses should be to the challenges we face. As with any large group data, it can be confusing until we break it down to specific schools and specific students. The trustees will be visiting schools to do this work starting in early November. At the same time, the administration will be looking at patterns and trends and bringing forward recommendations to improve student achievement. I look forward to this work, as ultimately, this is our mission- to see that every child succeeds.

MOTION- re: implementing School Zone
Trustee Colburn introduced a revised wording of the motion and ultimately the Board decided that it was a significant change, thereby requiring Notice of Motion, so we could duly reflect on the new motion. The new motion reads:
"Move that the administration engage in discussions with the Edmonton Public Local of Alberta Teachers Association on ways to improve parent engagement, including a review of all current tools and resources currently supporting parent engagement and that the administration report back to Public Board on the outcome of these discussions before the end of the school year." This motion will be debated at our next Board meeting.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Agenda- Oct. 28

Here's the highlights of Tuesday's meeting... as always, I welcome your insights either by posting here or sending me an email.

Board agenda, complete with reports available on line at http://www.epsb.ca/board/oct2808_agenda.shtml

Reports:
Improving Student Achievement through Consulting Services
Accountability Pillar and Student Achievement Results 2007-2008
Satisfaction Survey Results 2007-2008
Career Education Focus- The Skill Centre Pilot
School Capital Projects Update

Trustee Requests for Info:
Full Day kindergarten in other districts
Educating differentiated by gender
Staff shortages
High school completion- transition to work
Status of Annual Implementation Plan

Motion:
Implementing School Zone by 2010

Policy Approval (3rd and final reading for):
District Staff Code of Conduct
Appointment of Principal Banker
Appointment of Auditor
Purchasing Policy

What, Why and How- Governance/ Admin

The last week the Board has done some very important and time-consuming work, wrestling with the sometimes blurry line between what is Board work and what is the work of administration. I think this should be part of any new trustee's first order of business because having a clear understanding of this concept will, in my opinion, alleviate a lot of stress and misunderstanding down the line.

So- here's my understanding of the distinction:

The Board of trustees deal with the WHAT and the WHY. Administration deals with the HOW.
The Board of Trustees set the policy which defines the WHAT and the WHY. The Administration develops the regulation which details HOW the policy will be executed.

The temptation is, of course, for trustees to jump into the HOW, because the details are what most of us have some experience in. We hear about the details from our constituents. We experience or have experienced the details ourselves if we have children. People talk about the details, rarely about the concepts (WHAT) or the underlying philosophy/rationale of public education (WHY).

But, with practice and a clear understanding of this key difference, I think effective leadership (governance) happens. I have been guilty of finding or looking for the solution, rather than clearly identifying the problem and the underlying reason why it is a problem and allowing the administration to find the solution (the HOW). This comes from my background as a freelance creator.... you don't, in that role, complain about the problem without offering a solution. It's not productive. However, in this new role, I need to understand why the division of labour is there, respect the expertise of the people we employ, and allow them to do their work (finding the how). This doesn't mean that I will abdicate my responsibility to monitor and evaluate their solution and ultimately, require accountability if the HOW is not successful. Delegation is not abdication.

This is the new lens through which I will be evaluating recommendations, motions and decisions. What part of this problem is ours to tackle; what part of it is the administration's ?

A few links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governance
http://www.iog.ca
http://www.iog.ca/boardgovernance/html/gov_the.html

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to Vote- Ethical purchasing/School Zone

Hi!
At the next board meeting (October 28th), I will have to vote on two issues and I would appreciate your input, comments, questions, suggestions, etc.

VOTE #1:
We will vote to pass or amend or defer the following policy below. This will be the 3rd and final reading. Readings 1 and were done last night. I and one other trustee opposed having both readings in one night, 7 voted for this- majority wins.

Policy DJ.BP
1. The board believes in purchasing competitively and seeking maximum educational value for every dollar expended, consistent with good purchasing practices.
2. All factors being equal, purchases shall be made from local, provincial and national supplies in that order of preference.

My question is: should ethical, health and environmental concerns be incorporated into our purchasing policy? In other words, do we only want the cheapest deal, or do we want to also consider whether a purchase is environmentally damaging, might have health implications for students with severe allergies, or is made in another country using child labour? (Or are there other factors I'm missing?)

I realize this is a big can of worms to open; I heard that if North Americans were to stop buying things made as a result of child or unpaid labour, we would be amazed at how many of our common everyday (dollar store!) products would come off the shopping list. So---maybe we're not ready to include all three.

Perhaps putting "green products" into the policy is a baby step in this direction. Many Canadians are committed the environmental issue, so perhaps our purchasing should reflect that public desire, at the very least. As consciousness grows around the true costs of "cheap goods"...perhaps then public sentiment will also grow to include ethical purchasing. I know it's a complicated issue....and that's why I would appreciate your thoughts! (before Oct. 28th!)

VOTE #2:
At last night's Board meeting, Trustee Colburn gave notice of motion regarding the implementation of School Zone at all District schools by the year 2010. Currently, 103 of our 192 schools have School Zone. It is offered at no cost to the schools and in-servicing from the District is provided to bring teachers up-to-speed. What do you think? Does your school have School Zone? Is it helpful? Are you a teacher who uses it? Is it labour-intensive? Does your school lack School Zone? Do you think it would be beneficial in increasing school-home communication?

Please send me your opinions, either by posting here, or sending a confidential email to suehuff@shaw.ca

Many thanks for your input!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Discussion on the Muni Lands

Thanks to whoever connected my request for information on the development of the muni airport lands to the on-line discussion on connect2edmonton. Great food for thought!

As it was posted as a comment under "Healthy Schools Symposium", I thought I'd repost the link here, where more people might find it:

http://www.connect2edmonton.ca/forum/showthread.php?t=9294.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Healthy Schools Symposium

In support of the District Priorities around healthy schools, EPSB is hosting a two day Health Symposium. The first will be held on October 27 at Barnett House and teachers from all across Edmonton will be attending (free of charge) to learn more about how they can support student and staff health. The second day will happen in the new year.

For more info you can visit:

www.consultingservices.epsb.net/08_09DAYS/healthyschools.cfm

Board Agenda

The upcoming board meeting's agenda is posted. (click on "Board Agendas" under "Helpful Sites" on my blog---right hand column--- to get there quickly.) Parkview School will be highlighted at this Board meeting, re: their work to improve student achievement.

Also of interest, perhaps:

Under Trustee Requests for Information- a report on the predicted impact on city-central schools if the city develops the municipal airport site. www.epsb.ca/board/Oct14_08/item03.pdf

Under Conference Report---Board evaluation report www.epsb.ca/board/Oct14_08/item04.pdf

And a couple of policy reviews...

one on a whistleblower policy www.epsb.ca/board/Oct14_08/item05.pdf

and another on auditor/finances/purchasing www.epsb.ca/board/Oct14_08/item06.pdf

Policies must have three readings before they can be passed. It seems to be a convention with EPSB that the first and second readings are done at one meeting and the final reading at another meeting. If you have any comments or questions about either of these policies, please let me know.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Read In Week

This week was Read In Week. Like all the trustees and countless other citizens, I spent a good portion of my week in schools reading to children. I had the pleasure of visiting: Coronation, Grovenor, Inglewood, Westglen, Glendale, Edmonton Christian West Campus, Sherwood, Prince Charles and Brightview. Each class was attentive, engaged and offered great comments or questions following my reading. I was scheduled to read at Winterburn but because the Public Accounts session ran over time, I couldn't make it out on time. As well, I was supposed to visit Laurier Heights and Youngstown today, but came down with an infected wisdom tooth. (Very painful!!)

I want to thank all the parents, community members, athletes, firefighters, authors, police officers, EPSB staff and others who took time out of their busy lives to read this week. And thank you to all the teachers/admin assistants/librarians who took on the task of contacting guest readers, selecting books and scheduling the week. These efforts are much appreciated and take us closer to our shared goal of instilling a love of reading in our children and ultimately improving their success in school and in life.

It's too bad, with other commitments and aching teeth, that I wasn't able to make it out to more Ward C schools, but there's nothing stopping me from coming out at other times to read.

As one librarian said to me: let's make it Read-In Year!

Governance Session at the U of A

On Thursday, October 9th, I attended a forum at the University of Alberta on Governance in Large Public Sector Entities. Brian Heidecker, the current Chair of the Board of Governors of the University of Alberta, gave a presentation on the U of A's award-winning system of governance. The session was put on by the Edmonton Chapter of the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD). I was impressed by the calibre of people in attendance, all with countless years experience in this field, who all clearly held Mr. Heidecker in high regard. (In fact, he was named as one of Alberta’s 50 most influential people by Alberta Venture magazine in 2005.)

I picked up several pamphlets to learn more about the courses and sessions offered by the ICD and left feeling inspired to learn more about governance. At EPSB, like so many large organizations, the details of day-to-day operations can be overwhelming, but as a trustee, this is not my job. My job is be well-versed in governance, direction-setting, strategy, accountability and advocacy. I commented after the session that I felt like such a newbie to governance, like I had training wheels on. One astute and highly influential attendee remarked: "You shouldn't beat yourself up about that. The only problem is keeping the training wheels on too long."

Rest assured, I'll be investing in more professional development in this area.

Here's the website, if you want to know more: http://www.icd.ca

Public Accounts Committee Review

On Tuesday, October 6, Edmonton Public School Board was reviewed by the Standing Committee of Public Accounts. This committee, made up over a dozen MLAs from all three parties, is charged with reviewing a variety of organizations and agencies that are funded by the public purse. This is the first time that school boards have been invited to appear before the committee. EPSB was one of three boards reviewed (the other were Calgary Separate and a rural board). The session lasted just over two hours and the questions ranged from ones on accountability & student achievement to school closure, from the provision of services to children with special needs to transportation & infrastructure. All the questions (and answers) will be a matter of public record, when the Hansard comes out. I will provide the link here, when it is available in a couple of weeks, so that you can be informed.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Brunch with Ben Henderson

On October 5th, I attended the brunch with Ben Henderson (City Councilor, Ward 4). The room was packed with Ben's constituents-- all happy to hear his report on his first year in office.

I learned about the City's strategic plan, its vision for the future...and I was impressed. The ideas are:
--making public transit THE way to move people around the city (buses and LRT), while encouraging more walkability and bicycle routes.
--densification of the urban core AND reducing urban sprawl
--making a liveable, vibrant city (Winter Festival, arts support, noise reduction)
--continued focus on the environment (nature spaces, reducing greenhouse gas emissions)

Ben also cautioned that to implement these ideas will require courageous decisions on the part of Council. None of these are cheap ideas, but it is Ben's belief, they will create the kind of city that attracts people, that is sustainable and ultimately a great city to live in.

Now, as a trustee, I will be thinking about ways that EPSB can contribute to this vision and complement its focus. We are a big part of Edmonton. We need to consider our footprint and our impact.

To that end: Mark November 25 on your calendar. That's when an overview of EPSB's environmental work to date and dreams for the future will be presented to public board. If you have an opinion, you can, of course, voice it at public board* or send me an email.

* To speak at Public Board, contact Anne Sherwood (anne.sherwood@epsb.ca) one day before the meeting to register as a speaker. You will have 2 minutes to speak. (Time your speech ahead of time, 2 minutes goes by very quickly!)

The Support Network

On October 2nd, I attended a breakfast in support of The Support Network. This amazing non-profit organization provides free professional walk-in counselling and a distress line (manned by trained volunteers) to people suffering from depression, contemplating suicide or affected by the suicide of a loved one. I was moved by the stories told by people who had reached out for help: one mother told of how they had taught her to survive after her son died by suicide.

I was also stunned by the stats: More people will die from suicide in Alberta than from vehicular accidents. Alberta has the highest rate of suicide in Canada. Men between the ages of 35 and 49 are at most risk of dying by suicide. Depression will move ahead of heart disease as the number one health problem in the near future.

Of course, whenever someone dies by suicide, they leave behind a family struggling to understand why. A family devastated by guilt and sorrow and the pain of silence.

I hope everyone knows of this service and knows that there is someone who is ready to listen.
Visit: www.thesupportnetwork.com

Deliberative Democracy Forum on Climate Change

On Monday, September 29th, I attended the final session of the Deliberative Democracy Forum on Climate Change at the U of A. Event organizer, David Kahane (U of A, Pol Sci Dept.) explained what had happened over the three-day event. By all accounts, it was an incredible opportunity to hear from people of many different backgrounds- politicians, people in the oil and gas industry, people from the left, people from the right... all together in one room talking about the environment and there was no bloodshed!

It gave me lots to think about--- especially in the area of engaging the public in the decision-making process by allowing them to own the problem in all its complexities. There will be no easy answers to many of the problems we face, but if we agree to listen to each other and find some common ground, we can move forward.

At my table, I encouraged the organizers to keep children in the equation. Most children I speak with are incredibly aware of the environmental issues and, in fact, are years ahead of the adults. As the ones who will inherit whatever mess we leave behind, children deserve to be heard. They had already thought of engaging youth (high school and university), but hadn't really thought about younger children. We spoke about how to engage different cultures and make the conversation accessible for all (not just the university-educated.)

For more info on the sessions and where it will go next, visit: http://climateconversation.ning.com

Monday, September 29, 2008

Trustee Requests for Information

At every board meeting, trustees can request information from the administration.

This past meeting,there were quite a few. I thought you might like to know what is being requested and when the reports will come to Board.

Info on number of schools using School Zone and benefits of School Zone (Trustee Colburn, info to be presented at board meeting on: Oct. 14, 2008)

Additional information regarding full day Kindergarten in other districts (Trustee Gibeault, Oct. 28)

Differentiated instruction for males and females (Trustee Rice, Oct. 28)

Special needs reviews over the past 10 years, recommendations, outcomes and impacts. (Trustee Colburn, Dec. 9, 2008)

Number of times we were unable to fill requests for supply teachers/staff last year and in Sept. 08. (Trustee Huff, Oct. 28)

Review of Canadian court cases and existing guidelines on use of in-camera meetings by elected bodies (Trustee Huff, Oct. 20 Retreat & Public board following retreat)

Status of initiatives to improve high school completion and transition from school to work (Trustee Shipka, Oct. 28)

Also, coming out of the last board meeting:

The date of the next board meeting will remain as Oct. 14. (Motion to move it to Oct. 15, due to a conflict with the federal election, was defeated 6-3).
Two day health symposium approved unanimously.
Recommendation approved to reduce the Board's borrowing capacity to $30 million, from the original $60 million.
Information presented on the New Teacher Induction Plan. Very promising, I thought.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Profound Teaching Moment

I had the honour to witness an incredible moment of powerful teaching this week. It reminded me why I am so passionate about education, about children and about community.

At my daughter's school, a little boy died from leukemia. Although this happened a year and a half ago, this week, the school gathered once more to honour him and plant a tree in his memory. His parents returned to the only school their son ever attended and listened to a remarkable teacher named Linda tell the story of his life. She told us that he was diagnosed with cancer in kindergarten and the school responded by organizing a head-shaving fundraiser. More than 20 kids (including girls) shaved their heads, while parents looked on, eyes glistening. Linda talked about how he returned to school for the beginning of grade one, having beaten cancer. He waved the flag to begin the Terry Fox Run. She said how sad we all were when his cancer came back, forcing him back into treatment at the hospital. She talked about how many children and parents piled into a bus and sang "Happy Birthday" to him outside his window at the Stollery Hospital. She talked about the Christmas packages that were put together by families to help brighten his days over the holidays and how, when he was flown to Calgary for a bone marrow transplant, the entire school faced south to send him good wishes. But, still, she said, despite everyone's efforts, he died on Feb. 3. He was 6 years old and he never made it grade two. We all cried, again. She reminded them why it's important to remember him and the lessons he taught us: Lessons of love, bravery and compassion. Lessons of life. And then we all went out to plant his tree. The children cheered when they saw the tree go into the ground and then this little boy's dad picked up the flag and waved it to start the Terry Fox Run, as his son had done two years earlier.

It reminded me what is important and how school is so much more than a building, so much more than a place that delivers curriculum. It is, thanks to great teachers like this one, a place that teaches young people how to be great human beings.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sept. 23 Board Agenda

Here's the highlights for Tuesday's Board meeting:

Improving Student Achievement:
Improving Student Achievement Through the New Teacher Induction Program
Reports from the Superintendent of Schools:
Proposed Plan for Comprehensive School Health Symposium
Borrowing Resolution
Process and Timeline of the 2007-2008 Results Review
Funds for 2009-2010 Professional Improvement Program
Responses to Trustee Requests for Information

As well, we will be debating whether to postpone our mid-October board meeting, as it falls on the night of the Federal Election.

If you have any comments to make on these items or any other educational matter, please feel free to contact me or come to the Board meeting and speak to all the trustees. (Register with Anne Sherwood- anne.sherwood@epsb.ca- if you wish to speak to an item on the agenda, or wait until the end of the meeting, when the Board Chair will invite anyone who wishes to speak to come to the microphone. In both instances, you will be limited to 2 minutes.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sustainability Review On Line Survey

I had a question about when this will be ready. We are in the process of developing the questions, based on the common themes that emerged from the focus groups (which were held over the summer.) It will take some work to get this work done and I would anticipate it will be ready sometime around mid-October. As soon as I know, I will, of course, put a big post on this blog... so keep checking!! As well, everyone who has been impacted by closure will receive notification.

Thanks for the question!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Policy Development & Review-- FEEDBACK

I've just discovered a link on the EPSB website that takes you to all the policies that are currently being reviewed. As part of this review, the public is invited to give feedback via a web survey. Typically, the response is very poor...but maybe you're the kind of person who likes to give feedback!

The link is: www.epsb.ca/policy/policyReviewListings.shtml I'll post this under my sidebar title: "Helpful Links" as well for future reference. I'll name it "EPSB Policy Review Listing".

You can also find it by clicking on Policies on the left-hand menu on the main page, then clicking on Policy Development and Review submit feedback, and then "Listings". (I think the link is easier!)

Policies that are currently under review and open for feedback until October 14th are:
Authority for Personnel Decisions
Employee Relations
Terms/conditions for employment
Pensions
Staff Leave of Absence
Acknowledgements of deaths/bereavements

If you are interested, you can see the existing policy and fill out a short survey to comment. I would be interested in hearing if you have any ideas to improve the format of the survey as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Calling all Parent Council Chairs

I will be hosting a free luncheon for Parent Council Chairs on Oct. 15. Invitations to all Ward C PAC Chairs went out today. It's my way of saying thank you to those people who fill this vital role.

Think you might like to be the Chair, but feeling a little intimidated and unsure? No problem.

Attend a free School Council Training Sessions at the Centre for Education (Blue Building, 1 Kingsway) on Saturday, October 4 from 9 am to 4 PM. Breakfast and lunch provided. Free parking underground. I'll be there to say hi.
Contact Sheila Thirlwell for more info. (429-8229)

Also: The Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium is offering two workshops-
Roles and Responsibilities of School Councils
School Councils and Fundraising Societies.
Visit www.erlc.ca for more info.

Parent Council-- have a voice in your school.

Raises and Requests

Some other outcomes from the first Board meeting....

The Board voted unanimously to give the Superintendent at 4.53 % raise. This was based on the Weekly Average Earning Index for the previous year and is aligned with the 4.53 % that the teachers were granted by the government and that we subsequently as a District offered to all our employees. This puts the Superintendent's salary at $209,000, which, of course, is a lot of money. However, I believe there are many CEO's of large corporations making much more. Mr. Schmidt is in charge of 4,320 teachers, 2,685 non-teaching staff, 80,000 students and close to 200 schools. The annual budget is over $700 million. The Superintendent's shoes are not easy to fill and I believe we have a very good one. So, although it's more money than I will ever see... I feel it is well-spent.

In a similar vein...we also voted to give ourselves a 4.53% raise. There was an existing clause in place to give us a raise just over 3 %...this was rescinded in favour of the Weekly Average Earning Index, which is what MLAs and nurses also receive. So, we will see an increase to our pay-cheque of just over $1000. The remuneration for trustees was reviewed in relation to other Metro boards and we at EPSB are right in the middle. I feel that if a trustee does his or her work well, this is a steal of a deal... of course, if they don't...then it's a waste of money. It's up to the electorate ultimately to make this decision and come election time, to make an informed decision.

Finally, I requested information on how the redevelopment of the municipal airport might impact schools. (They are talking about 32,000 homes.) Also, I asked for information on school fees- what the average and range charged per student, broken down by elementary, junior and senior high. As well, I want to know the total amount this represents being charged to parents.

Next Public Board meeting: Sept. 23, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chair, Vice, committees, etc

Last night was our Organizational Board Meeting, which is our first public board meeting of the year and focuses on who should fill which roles this year.


Here's the new line-up:

Board Chair- Bev Esslinger
Vice-Chair- Catherine Ripley
Conference/ Audit Chair- George Rice

Evaluation of the Superintendent Committee: Trustees Fleming, Shipka & Ripley
District Priorities Committee- Trustees Esslinger, Rice & Gibeault
Board Evaluation Committee- Trustees Gibson, Fleming and Huff
Community Relations Committee- Trustees Colburn, Ripley and Rice
Government Relations committee- Trustees Gibson, Esslinger and Huff
Planning and Policy Committee- Trustees Fleming, Shipka and Gibeault
Sustainability/School Closure Review Committee- Trustees Rice, Ripley and Huff
Multi-cultural Task Force- Trustees Shipka, Esslinger and Colburn

ASBA Provincial Executive- Bev Esslinger
Alternate- Dave Colburn
ASBA Zone 2/3 Executive- Don Fleming
Alternate- Sue Huff
ASBA for Languages Education- Ken Shipka

Public School Board Association Liaison- George Rice
Alternate- Dave Colburn

Capital Region Services to Children Linkages Committee- Ken Gibson
Alternate- Sue Huff


I'm looking forward to my two new committees (Government Relations and Board Evaluation) as both tie in well with my interest in strengthening the Board's work in the areas of advocacy and governance. The work on the Community Relations Committee and District Priorities last year was rewarding, but I leave those committees in capable hands! I will continue on the Sustainability Review committee as it was decided that continuity was important for this work. As well, I continue in my role as Alternate on Linkages. This is an exciting collection of people from various agencies, boards and levels of government all committed to creating partnerships to benefit children.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The New Couch Phenomena

This past week, we bought a new couch. It's a leather sectional that can easily accommodate everyone in the family comfortably and makes sense in our unusual living room. What an amazing thing to finally have something that fits! Being frugal by nature (and by design as a freelance artist), this was an expense that I'd long put off, telling myself that what we had was "good enough", even though my husband's feet dangled over the edge when he tried to recline and guests often looked awkward and cramped.

Now that we have this comfy couch, I wonder what took us so long.

Which made me think: What, within our education system, would also benefit from a well-fitting, expensive upgrade? How many of our schools are making do with systems or resources that may seem "good enough" on first blush, but actually are falling short, awkward, difficult or cramped? What response would a new "couch" bring? Would teachers, staff, students and parents marvel at how things were made easier, more enjoyable, rewarding and productive? Would improved results follow?

With an $8 billion surplus, perhaps it's time for Alberta to invest in a great educational couch.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Welcome Back

September is an exciting month of new possibilities and fresh hopes: new pencils, new haircuts and back-to-school clothes, fresh new agenda books and new commitments to reach for our greatest potential in the ten months ahead. The wish is shared by teachers, trustees, staff and students... we all want this year to be a stellar one.

In my opinion, last year was a year of "forming" for the Board. It takes a while for a group of nine to come to understand each other's perspectives and build trust...but investing this time was essential and I think we are now poised to take some significant steps forward.

One of the most significant pieces of work we've done over the past year is to create a Strategic Plan. Every board member had input on this and it is endorsed by the entire Board. This work is completely distinct (although aligned) with the dedicated work of our administration. In short, this is work that only the Board of Trustees can accomplish. The plan outlines our work in the areas of Leadership/Governance, Advocacy/Government Relations, Steawardship and Community Engagement. I'm very excited to see this plan coming together. It will help us to focus on the key areas and ensure that, at the end of our three year term, we will be able to clearly articulate our accomplishments as a Board.

What are some of the areas of focus for this Board?
-Governance and stewardship- We want to be an effective and relevant Board and are willing to examine our own practices to continually improve.
-Early learning opportunities. We believe that having children ready for kindergarten will greatly improve their success throughout their entire school years.
-Increasing mental health supports for at-risk students
-New multi-cultural policy to reflect changing Edmonton-- our multi-cultural task force will inform this work
- New Public Engagement Policy- We want to ensure effective, meaningful public engagement.
- High school completion-- our numbers have been increasing, but we want to go further. It is our belief that every child who enters kindergarten, should complete high school.

So, I look forward to seeing you over the coming year. And I look forward to working with you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Woodcroft School- Future use

15 language consultants and three support staff from the Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education will be temporarial working out of Woodcroft School for the summer. They were moved to Woodcroft due to space constrictions at their original home (the Alberta School for the Deaf).

Beginning in September, the district will undertake consultation with the community regarding future use of the building.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Office Hours- Balance

The summer months are a great time to sort, reflect and clear away the mess. My husband and I have set a target to remove from our house 50 large bags of "stuff" to donate to Goodwill. We're up to 21 so far! Clearing away the unusable, ugly, misshapen, ill-conceived, out-of-date, and ridiculous from our lives feels very, very good. I can now walk into my basement and feel calm. I can find things. I can breathe!

So, what's this got to do with my office hours?

Well, last year, I found that I was working all the time, around the clock, on weekends, evenings, at suppertime, etc. In my effort to be accessible and accountable and responsible... the pendulum swung too far and I was on the fast track to burnout. So, this year, I'm going to set some clear boundaries for myself and try to maintain a healthier balance. It may not be common knowledge, but the job of trustee is intended as a part-time job! It is compensated at a rate of approximately 20 hours per week.

So--- here's the plan:
My office hours next year will be between 10 AM and 1 PM everyday (Monday to Friday). During this time, I will be answering emails, reading reports, attending committee meetings and responding to constituents' concerns. Unless I'm in a meeting, (like the conference meeting which runs from 8:30 AM to 1 PM every second Tuesday), my office hours will be the best time to reach me. Anything I don't get finished by 1 PM, gets put in tomorrow's pile. The computer gets shut down and the cellphone goes off. (I'm feeling sweaty just writing this!)

5 hours a week will be devoted to other meetings and evening functions, including public board meetings, school visits, functions/events and intergovernmental meetings that can't be accommodated during the 10 - 1 PM hours.

I know I will run over 20 hours, but my hope is with these parameters in place, I'll be closer to 20 than last year's 40 or more!

Your patience is appreciated, as it may now take me a day or two to respond to your concerns. I wish you good health and may we all find balance in our lives!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Special Needs Review

The Alberta government will be conducting a review of special needs education. For more information, visit this link:

http://www.education.alberta.ca/department/news/2008/july/20080710.aspx

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Focus Groups- Sustainability/Closure Review

The focus groups for the Sustainability/School Closure Review have now been completed. Sessions were held with parents, staff and community members to gather their insights on the current processes and how they might be improved. The sessions were all conducted by an independent facilitator, at a professional research location. In order to more fully understand the context and body language of the comments made by participants, trustees were invited to observe behind a one-way glass. (The participants were informed of this!) I attended several sessions and was very impressed--- by the depth of conversation, the honesty of the participants and the skill of the facilitator in ensuring that everyone's point of view was heard.

The committee will be receiving a summary of the sessions and an on-line survey will be created based on the most common themes. Anyone who has experienced either sustainability or closure (including receiving schools) will be welcome to complete the on-line survey. This should be up on the EPSB website in the fall; I'll be sure to let you know when it goes up.

All of this feedback will help the Board to improve the process. I feel quite optimistic that this work will be very helpful and informative and I look forward to the results. The exact mechanism for providing feedback to participants and the public in general has yet to be determined.... but rest assured, I'll let you know as soon as it is clear!

Friday, June 27, 2008

On Holidays

I will be away until July 22, spending some time with family on the beach of a remote island off the coast of BC. No email, no phones, no cars, no video games and no stores! I can hardly wait.

I hope the summer months bring rejuvenation, rest, sunny days, family-time and good laughs for all of you.

See you in a few weeks!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tales of a First Grade Trustee

At the end of my first year, what have I learned about the role of trustee? What advice would I give to someone is considering running?

  • The first four months are very hard. The next four months are a bit easier. Hang in there.
  • Almost daily you will be confronted with your own lack of knowledge. Believe that your fresh eyes are an asset, rather than focusing on what you don't know.
  • You will be asked to make difficult decisions before you feel "qualified." Make them based on your best thinking as well as your guiding principles and values. Don't be afraid to ask for other's opinions.
  • Trust that you've been elected for some solid reason, even if you can't remember what that might be in Month Three.
  • You will meet a lot of people, who will all have the advantage of reading your name tag. You won't. Smile.
  • A tsuami of information will threaten to drown you. Learn to let go and recycle. Find out what other experienced trustees keep and what they throw out.
  • A sense of humour is a great thing.
  • Countless dinner functions and lunch meetings coupled with long hours of sitting are tough on the old bod. Get moving whenever you can.
  • You will meet amazing people, who are doing incredible things in education. Take full advantage of this opportunity. Listen. Be inspired. Marvel at their dedication and talent.
  • Working in a team of nine is hard if you're the typical Type A, get-things-done personality. Try to remain open and trust that you'll get there over time.
  • Get out to the schools as much as you can. Seeing kids smiling faces will remind you of why you are doing this and fill you with energy.
  • Meet other politicians. They know what it's like and will have words of advice far better than mine!

I hope some of you will consider running in two years time. The future of trusteeship depends on people committed to public education. Public service is not easy, but I think it is very worthwhile. Get involved. Imagine what your contribution might be. Whether I decide to run for another term or not, I will be offering job shadowing (as confidentiality permits) and mentorship in my final year of this term.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Culture/Arts

On Friday of last week, I attended the Aboriginal Day celebration at Prince Charles School, along with MLA Doug Elniski, Mayor Mandel and Councillor Hayter. We all thoroughly enjoyed the event which included dancing, singing, drumming and feasting. The sun's rays bounced off the beautiful costumes and every child's face was filled with pride. There was a strong sense of culture and belonging.

In addition to all my trustee-work this final week, I'm also attending the Sterling Awards on Monday night. The Sterlings are Edmonton's theatre awards and a great party to boot. It's a chance for everyone involved to connect, celebrate our work and get decked out in our finest. I'll be wearing a truly glamorous full-length blue gown and sitting with the director and crew of the show I did this year at Northern Light Theatre.

All this reminds me of something I heard last week from one of the EPSB delegation that just returned from China. The trip was filled with excursions and informative sessions. At one school, they witnessed the Chinese tea ceremony, which prompted this person to sigh: "We have no culture." I would beg to differ. When I see the pow wow dancers at Prince Charles, I see culture. When I see my friends creating eco-theatre pieces about the tailing ponds or rap shows about being gay, I see culture. Culture is not just historical tradition; it is an expression of who we are today and how we see tomorrow. And, in the words of Mayor Mandel: "It's essential." Without arts and culture, a city has no soul.

A question for you:
What part should creative expression and appreciation play in education?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Last board meeting 2008- outcomes

Sorry, these results are a little delayed getting posted. There's been a lot of "year end" activity and things are really ramping up for the Ad Hoc Committee. So, it's a busy time.

Outcomes of the final Board meeting:

Celebration of Aboriginal Day: I think this was an unqualified success. We had a traditional meal together with members of the Aboriginal community in our wards and were entertained by Metis fiddlers and dancers during the meal. Both before the meal and during the ceremony elders spoke and led the prayers. O Canada was sung in Cree by students from Prince Charles Awasis. And we exchanged hand-made gifts with Aboriginal children from our wards. I received a beautiful wall hanging/quilt from the Inglewood Sewing Club. I'll upload the photo to show you!

Motion on uncommitted surplus funds requiring board approval:
Deferred to the Policy and Planning Committee.
There was a good discussion about what would define uncommitted funds and whether we wanted to set a dollar figure threshold and if so, what would that be. The Policy committee will take these concerns into consideration and make a recommendation in the fall.

Three Year Capital Plan, 10 year facilities plan, Annual Implementation:
All three reports were discussed in detail. Perhaps the biggest change is the Sector Based Planning. This will see schools reviewed in groups/regions, rather than being reviewed individually. The Capilano area is being proposed to pilot this approach and the issue of timelines was brought up. I felt there would not be sufficient time to pilot this approach, incorporate the findings from the Ad Hoc Committee and the new Stakeholder Engagement policy and bring forward a recommendation all within one school year. I felt two years would be a better timeline. The report presented was only a draft and the full details and recommendation will come to board in September.

Inclusion Report: This was also discussed at length and several members of the public spoke to this item. I asked many questions about how we can improve in this area. The Province is also undertaking a review of special needs funding, so my impression is that this discussion will be revisited in the near future.

Those were the highlights for me.
See you in September!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

First Aboriginal Grad

Tonight, I had the great honour of attending the first (annual) Aboriginal Graduation ceremony for Edmonton Public Schools. It was hosted at Jasper Place High School and celebrated 164 Aboriginal graduates. The evening began with a pipe ceremony-the first I had ever attended. It was a very powerful experience and I found myself on the verge of tears a few times. Next there was a dinner and at the table with me were 2 constables from the RCMP and an officer from EPS, the Chief of Enoch, 3 elders, the Principal of the school at Enoch and several members of EPSB. The graduation ceremony featured prayers, dancing by the elementary students of Prince Charles, drumming and singing, and some incredible, heartfelt and honest speeches. Willy Littlechild was there to share his words of wisdom and encouragement. (Here's one link to Willy's work with the UN.
http://www.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/aboriginalplanet/archives/orphans/un_story-en.asp)

The evening concluded with a round dance, with graduates, parents, friends, elders, dignitaries...all alike, all joined hand in hand moving around the gym. It started as a line and as more and more people joined in, we eventually made a huge circle. At the moment when the last two hands joined, there was a noticeable feeling of unity. People were grinning and several let out whoops of joy. I felt lightened and proud to be in such great company.

I know there is so much work to do in the area of Aboriginal education, but I felt tonight like with the synergy of all the events---both locally and nationally--- of this past week, that we have indeed turned a corner. We have joined hands finally and are all in the same circle. Congratulations to all the planners of this historic event. Congrats to the grads who will lead the way and inspire so many more to follow in their footsteps.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Year Reflection- Board achievements

Last night was the final Public Board meeting of my first year. (I'll put another post on the outcomes, but tonight I'm in a reflective mood...)

As I look back on YEAR ONE in office, I can't help but note some of the outstanding work of this Board of Trustees. Here are some highlights:

  • We are open to trying new things (Board meeting at Jasper Place; an Aboriginal dinner last night to launch our celebration of Aboriginal Day; a new method of surveying the public called Discrete Choice surveys),
  • We have a new energy, with a strong commitment to community engagement (including Ward meetings, blogs, coffee chats, email listserves and door-knocking between election times)
  • We have moved forward on Aboriginal education, school health (junk food ban), sustainability/closure (review underway). We have agreed to establish a Foundation which will bring extra dollars to our students and approved a multi-cultural task force (to begin next year).
  • We have started working relationships with our MLA and Councilor counterparts and have connected with other school boards to share information and look for ways to work together. We have established a Government Relations Committee to increase our effectiveness as advocates.
  • We have increased public awareness of education and our work through the media and our attendance at many functions, conferences and events.
  • We have established a set of protocols for trustees to foster trust, mutual understanding, and effectiveness as a team.
  • We have been effective representatives for our constituents by bringing forward their concerns and issues. We have debated long and hard on issues (sometimes 'til midnight!).
  • We have developed a strategic plan and a three-year plan for community relations. The groundwork is in place and years two and three will be focused on implementation of these plans.

We are definitely moving forward and, although I may be impatient at times with the speed of change, there is no doubt that we are making progress.

Ever-optimistic (because remember: "optimism is a political act"),

Sue

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hardisty/Gold Bar- sector based planning

Item 9 of Tuesday's Agenda is a draft of the Annual Implementation plan for 2008-2009. It identifies a new method of addressing the District's unused space: sector planning.

"A new process for sector level planning aimed at potential school and program consolidation will be designed and implemented. The Hardisty/Gold Bar area of the city will be identified for a pilot application of the sector-based approach and will affect Capilano, Fulton Place, Gold bar and Hardisty Schools."

I'm not clear what the time lines would be for the sector-level planning and if it would follow the same time lines as the sustainability reviews. I will ask for clarification at the board meeting.

I told you this was a full agenda! If you're planning on coming to one meeting this year, I would suggest this one.

Three-Year Education Plan 2008-2011

I've just finished reading item number 4 of the agenda... The Three Year Education Plan. I would highly recommend reading pages 27-31 which outline all the partnerships Edmonton Public Schools has in place to help kids succeed. It is inspirational.

To find the report-
click on Agendas (tab to the right, under Links to Helpful Sites)
click on Tuesday, June 10 agenda
scroll down to item 4.

Before page 27, it references how we are doing in a number of categories (high school completion, school safety, transition to work, transition to post-secondary, etc.). It shows our current rating and how that compares to 3 years ago. This is all based on the province's accountability pillars. In most areas, our performance is high, with good improvement. We still have some work, of course...and the document outlines our plans to meet the areas of challenge.

But, check out the partnerships! It's very impressive.

Friday, June 6, 2008

BIG AGENDA- Tues, June 10

This week's public board meeting is jam-packed with important stuff. Bring your sleeping bags, folks, this could be a long one.

On the agenda:
Recognizing Aboriginal Day (we have some unique things planned this year)
Report on Inclusive Education (special needs)
Ten Year Facility Plan (includes recommendations for closures)
Three Year Capital Plan (includes recommendations for renovations and building new schools)
Motion on requiring Board Approval before spending unidentified surpluses
Plan for the One-day Health Symposium
Trustee Requests for Information

I'm waiting for the Big Box to be dropped off at my house (any minute now) with all the reports, mail and information. It's going to be a busy weekend of reading for me to get ready for Tuesday.

You can find details on all the reports by clicking on Agendas (right sidebar here on my blog, under Helpful Sites). If you have any comments on any of the agenda items, please drop me a line. (Sue.Huff@epsb.ca) I always appreciate your insights.

And... I hope to see some of you at the meeting!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

School speed limits

A recent study has come out from a national safety organization, which found that a child hit by a car traveling 30 km/hr has a 95% chance of survival, whereas the same child (size, weight, etc.) hit by a car traveling at 50 km/hr has an 80% chance of dying.

Many other jurisdictions have reduced speed limits, including Sherwood Park, Calgary and St. Albert. CBC Radio recently did a piece on this and found that Sherwood Park has successfully enforced the 30 km/hr speed limit with photo radar and has seen a dramatic reduction in speeding around schools.

The City of Edmonton bases its decision to remove reduced speed limits around schools on research (see below) which may pre-date the use of photo radar and may not take into consideration how different Edmonton is in 2008 compared to 1970. Now we have greatly increased traffic congestion and, (it seems to me), more harassed, lead-footed, distracted drivers. Streets around schools are clogged with parents dropping off their kids and then rushing to work, often making phone calls en route.

Although, we've been fortunate so far and there have only been near-misses at school crosswalks, I don't want to wait until a tragedy happens to encourage change. Let's protect our most vulnerable and treasured resource and make walking to school a safe option. I believe a joint effort between schools, school boards, parents, the police, the city and AMA can make this happen.

FYI: This is from an Edmonton Public report- Dec 2004:

ADDRESSING TRAFFIC CONCERNS AROUND SCHOOL SITES: Roadway traffic and pedestrian controls and signage are the responsibility of the City of Edmonton Transportation and Streets Department. The district relies on the expertise of the city transportation engineers regarding traffic and pedestrian safety. School zones, which operate with a 30 Km/h reduced speed limit during school hours, have not been used in the City of Edmonton since the early 1970’s. These zones were removed based on a city study indicating that the zones gave children a false sense of security and that motorists did not adhere to the lower speed limits. As an alternative, the major crossing points in school areas are highlighted and the students are taught safe methods of crossing the road that are beneficial in pedestrian situations.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Surveys- we want your feedback

There a couple of surveys on the EPSB website right now and if you have a few minutes to spare, we'd love to have your feedback!

District Satisfaction Surveys- these cover a whole gamut of areas from how safe do you feel your child is walking to school to how satisfied are you with the leadership provided by your Principal; from how much input do you feel you have in decision-making to....(drum roll please)....how much confidence do you have in the Board of Trustees?

You may have received this survey in the mail already. If not, you can complete it on-line:
http://surveys.epsb.ca/surveysweb/login.jsp.
If my link doesn't work, it's on the bottom of the homepage (www.espb.ca)

The second survey is gathering input on the new Respectful Learning and Working Environment policy and how it should be communicated and apply to parents. This was the topic of the last Parents as Partners meeting and we got some good feedback on the proposed pamphlet and how we can make schools welcoming and free of harassment for everyone, including parents.

Here's the link to give your feedback:
http://partners.epsb.ca/CF/parents.cfm and click on the "ON LINE Survey" button towards the bottom of the page.

Thanks for taking the time to get involved!

If you have any ideas to share with us about the Parents as Partners program, we'd love to hear from you. Typically, our turn-out is quite low, so we're interested in hearing how we can make it more relevant, accessible and workable for busy parents. Video-conferencing? Taking it out into the wards? A change of time or day of the week? Specfic topics you'd like to see? Providing free child care or even having a session for parents AND kids? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Outcomes- Board May 27

PASSED- The motion to provide free transportation to Woodcroft and Ritchie students, currently attending those schools, living within the attendance area, to their designated schools, for the duration of their elementary/junior high years. In essence, this translates to 28 Woodcroft students receiving free bussing to Dovercourt and 3 Ritchie students receiving free bussing.

APPROVED- The Budget for 2008-2009, amount $738,809,000.
We had a discussion about our budget subcommittee reviews and the themes/concerns/successes we heard.

AWARDED- The Margaret Stevenson Talented Young Writer Award to Westmount Jr. High student, Noel Toma

INFORMATION REQUESTED- I requested information on our current environmental practices across the District and where we would like to go in the future. I'm very keen to see our work in this area expanded as it is clearly a pressing priority for most Canadians. Environmental awareness is being taught in our schools, so why not walk the talk. I was very inspired to hear what is being done "on the Hill" in Ottawa. They have adopted a strong environmental policy across all their buildings, which includes composting all their paper towel and all their food waste in every lunchroom, cafeteria, etc.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Next Board meeting

Tuesday's board meeting is full of interesting items. We will be reviewing the budget for approval, hearing about full-day kindergarten and debating whether to provide free transportation to Woodcroft and Ritchie students. Hope to see you there. Remember, if you have an opinion on any of these agenda items, you can speak to the Board by registering to speak with Anne Sherwood, Board Secretary (anne.sherwood@epsb.ca) by noon on Tuesday. You will have 2 minutes to speak. A word of advice: write it down and time yourself; 2 minutes goes by very quickly.

I've cut and pasted the agenda highlights below:

Recognition:
Margaret T. Stevenson Talented Young Writer Award Recipient: Noel Toma from Westmount School

Reports from the Superintendent of Schools:
Longitudinal Effects of Full-Day Kindergarten Through to Grade Six
2008-2009 Non-Resident Fees
Board Review of 2008-2009 Plans and Expenditures Budget
Discussion of 2008-2009 Plans and the 2008-2009 Budget:
o Discussion of and questions arising from school budget reviews
- elementary schools- elementary/junior high schools- junior high schools- senior high schools
o Discussion of and questions arising from central services budget reviews
Trustee Motions for Amendments to the 2008-2009 Budget
Consideration of Trustee Motions for Amendments to the 2008-2009 Budget
Approval of the Proposed 2008-2009 Expenditures Budget

Responses to Trustee Requests for Information

Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports
Report #11 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held May 13, 2008)- This report will be posted May 28, 2008.

Motion re Free Transportation for Woodcroft/Ritchie Schools Students

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ward Meeting on Thursday

Just a reminder:

Thursday, May 22
Jasper Place High School
7-9 PM
First hour: community use of schools
Second hour: open discussion on any topic

Childcare and snacks provided. Councilor Ben Henderson is hoping to attend and I will have some administrative support on hand for the first hour to answer all your tough questions about the Joint Use Agreement!!

Also, as this will be my final Ward meeting before the summer break, I will be distributing a "Report Card for Sue" at the meeting, asking people to grade me on my first year in office. I think it's good practice to take time to reflect and evaluate. "Assessment FOR Learning" is used in most of our schools and I would like to create opportunities for me to follow this practice as well. What went well, what could I have done differently, what have I learned and where can I improve for next year. I hope you will attend the ward meeting and take a moment to fill in a report card for me to help me continually improve my service. The report cards will be anonymous, of course.

Happy Victoria long weekend. Hope you're all busy in your gardens! I'm off to finish the fence (assuming the rain will hold off.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Downtown Business Association Awards

Today, I (along with Board Chair Bev Esslinger) attended the Downtown Business Association Awards luncheon. This year it focused on the development of the film industry in Edmonton, with kudos going to Mayor Mandel for orchestrating the arrival of Lionsgate to film a 13 part series for NBC called Fear Itself. I met a number of interesting folks and easily struck up a number of conversations. It's amazing how many links there are to education, once you start looking. It really is a common thread for our society.

I met the volunteer coordinator for the Zebra Centre, which brings together a number of specialists to assist children victimized by sexual abuse. She told me how the centre was child-centered, so children no longer have to fill out reports in adult-centered police stations. Now, they don't have to disclose repeatedly to different authorities, and they are protected by a screen from having to face their abuser in court. In fact, their disclosure is taped at the Zebra Centre and played back in court. The child only has to confirm that the tape is indeed them. The conviction rate and guilty pleas have gone up incredibly since these protective measures were introduced. I asked her about connections with schools and how we could work together more effectively. She said that teachers are often who the child discloses to first, so a training program on how to receive that information might be beneficial.

Then I spoke to the woman who coordinates The Places (Art and Design in Public Places). She told me about a huge 80' mural that was painted on the side of the Boys and Girls Club in Little Italy. The artist mentored two youth and taught them how to create this type of large scale work. I asked what partnerships they have with schools. There aren't any formal ones yet, but schools are able to book free walking tours and learn about educational opportunities and scholarships through their website. (http://www.theworks.ab.ca/)

I spoke with businessmen from Oxford Properties about what skills our students need to be ready for the world of work and mentioned that we consult with business leaders in setting our District Priorities. I gave him my card and invited him to be part of the next round of consultations. We had an interesting conversation about the effects of our increased reliance on technology and how, for some people, engaging in face-to-face conversations were challenging. They prefer the anonymity of email.

I spoke with some folks from the Winspear centre about creating a Winspear School (along the lines of Zoo School or Museum School). The Winspear would be a logical place to learn about the Science of Sound, with its amazing acoustics and pipe organ.

Also in attendance: the Mayor, most of the city councillors, MLA Laurie Blakeman and the new Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, Mr. Lindsay Blackett.