Sunday, March 30, 2008

Aftermath of vote

I have chosen to publish the three emotional comments sent to me, because I feel it is important to recognise the devastating impacts of closure. (I would appreciate people signing their names as I feel it is important to put your name to comments.) I defend the right of freedom of expression and do not feel that there is anything in these comments that was not echoed in the letters to the editor. If there are any concerns about libel, they should be directed to me, as the publisher of this site.

Re: dealing with the loss
I understand that EPSB is going to provide counselling support to the families at both Woodcroft and Ritchie and I hope that parents will use that service to help their children. I encourage anyone who is experiencing grief to share it and ask for help. I'm sure the Principal has been provided with information, but if not, I am willing to assist as well. If all else fails, you can dial "211". This is an amazing service that provides information and assistance on a wide range of topics. You just explain your situation, tell them what you need and they will provide the referral.

Re: making changes to the process
The School Closure Review Committee will be creating focus groups, within the next two months, of people who have been effected by closure within the past five years. This will provide everyone with an opportunity to be heard. Questions will be open-ended and allow for full discussion. At least two trustees will be in attendance to listen at every meeting and all the comments will be captured and recorded. Although, this will be difficult for the Woodcroft and Ritchie communities, as it is all so quick on the heels of the vote, we are attempting to get some concrete recommendations by the end of May, so that next year's Sustainability Review Process will reflect these recommendations.

Finally, to the comments that it was all predetermined....I always felt there was hope. I know several other trustees thought there was hope, in particular for Woodcroft because the vote to initiate closure was so close. There is no doubt that the schools that are reviewed are chosen because they are considered "critical". There is not the manpower at EPSB to review schools that are considered "okay". So, everyone who is on the 1-3 year list should be aware of the seriousness of their situation. All elementary schools under 140 should be concerned. All junior highs under 150 should be concerned and no one should wait until the year of their review to start the hard work of boosting their school's enrolment.

It is my opinion that those communities with schools on the 3 year list should start work today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Woodcroft/ Ritchie vote

Last night was a gruelling ordeal. The meeting went until midnight.

After all the discussion, the vote came in:
6-3 to close Ritchie.
5-4 to close Woodcroft.

I don't know if I have the constitution to go through this every year (as it appears we must). The pain, loss and disappointment was incalculable and, at the end of the night, we were urged not to put other communities through this process of false hope and then crushing defeat. "If you are going to close schools, just do it."

In the book, Stumbling Upon Happiness, a case study was done on the health of senior citizens in a nursing home and how it was affected by regular visitors. In one group, the seniors had control over when the visitors showed up; in the other group, the visitors controlled when the visits happened. Over a period of time, they noticed that more seniors died in the "no control" group. The study was discontinued and then something unexpected happened: the "control" group suddenly had a dramatic and frightening spike in their death rates. They were literally dropping like flies. The study concluded that not having control adversely affects health... but having control and then losing it, is much, much worse. I wonder what we've done to these communities by giving them some sense of control through the sustainability process and then rendering them completely and utterly without control last night.

I'm going away for four days to reflect and restore. Right now, I have nothing to give and the need just grew exponentially.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

March 25 Board

Although I've been admonished that ALL Board meetings are important, I feel a palpable tension with regard to the one coming up on Tuesday. For the communities of Woodcroft and Ritchie, March 25 is, no doubt, a date of great anxiety.

You can see the agenda items here:

http://www.epsb.ca/board/March25_08/item06.pdf (Rethink Ritchie delegation report)
http://www.epsb.ca/board/March25_08/item07.pdf (Consider closure of Ritchie)
http://www.epsb.ca/board/March25_08/item08.pdf (Consider closure of Woodcroft)

If you are planning to attend, the meeting starts at 6 PM.

In an unprecedented show of community dedication, we have received an offer from Mr. Reg Appleyard of the Brentwood Homes in support of Woodcroft School. He has offered to help boost enrolment of the school and pay $5000 for every student under the September target of 110 students to a maximum of $100,000. This is truly remarkable.

I've said it before: there are amazing people out there!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Margin

I had another wonderful school visit yesterday. I'm trying to make it out to all the schools (all 32!!) in Ward C before the end of my first year. I find I can learn so much more about the culture of a school by being in the building, wandering around, talking to the Principal, meeting the custodian and support staff, popping in to various classrooms as work is underway and asking a lot of questions. We ended up talking about some of the changes this Principal made to reduce the stress level of the school. Various policies had "always" been in place and, no doubt, people felt they were important. But this Principal took a step back and noted the level of stress, hurry and anxiety they were causing. Changes were made and improvements in both test scores and how everyone FELT resulted. How children and teachers FEEL is critical to what they can achieve: rushed or ready, valued or barely tolerated, supported or marginalized....loved or not.

These feelings will undoubtedly shape the way each one of us approaches challenges, the way we interact with others and the way we see both ourselves and the world around us.

The Principal gave me a very interesting book on CD called "Margin" by Richard Swenson, M.D. It is written from a Christian point-of-view, but the message is universal: We need to make sure we have space in our lives. Despite society's 24/7 expectations, we are not built to operate at this break-neck pace. We need to rest, reflect, rejuvenate, regularly (not just on "holidays" which are often just as jammed-packed and stressful as workdays). We need to have wiggle-room to deal with life's unexpected (but perfectly predictable) curve balls. We need to take care of ourselves, so we can continue to give to others. I think the burnout experienced by many (parents, teachers, now sadly even students) is a wake-up call. And the answer, according to this book, is to put "margin" back into our lives.

With the break-neck pace I've adopted since becoming a trustee in October, this conversation and this set of CDs is particularly well-timed. I have already begun to change my daily patterns to allow more margin. I encourage you to do the same!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Allocations $$$$

I had mentioned in a previous blog that there are additional means to allocate funds out to schools, to supplement the base allocation which is determined by enrolment. Here's some more details:

Aboriginal Education Funds: For schools with a self-identified Aboriginal enrolment greater than 15% of the total school population
Adaptation Block Grant: For elementary and junior high schools, based on the number of students scoring 2 years+ behind on either Reading or Writing HLAT
Addition to Basic: Amount allocated to schools operating in more than one site and to schools experiencing low enrolment in district centre programs for students with special needs.
Consulting/In service: Amount allocated to schools for the purchase of consulting services or in-service opportunities for staff
Early Reading Incentive: For elementary schools, to support early reading initiative programs
High Socio-Economic Needs Grant: Based on enrolment, mobility (transfers in and out of school in previous year) and incidence of low family income, based on Statistics Canada info
Establishment Grant: For selected new programs or establishment of learning resources collections and supplies in schools.
Intervention Grant: For high schools, to provide school based intervention for at risk youth
Teacher Aide: For elementary schools
Transfer from Institution: For special needs students (levels 5-8), on pro-rated basis.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Asset building

I was visiting one of my Ward C schools today to attend a fairytale play put on by the grade 2's. It was very cute! I also spoke with the Principal about the challenges unique to this school: 50% of the students are special needs, 30%are aboriginal and they are 12th on the list of high needs. The depth and complexity of need could be overwhelming, but under the skilled guidance of the Principal and staff, the students are surpassing expectations. The Principal gave me some interesting research on Asset building (http://www.thrivecanada.ca). 40 assets are identified and there is an incredible correlation between the number of assets kids possess and their academic and social outcomes. It seems that possessing these assets is a better determinant than socio-economic factors, which neighbourhood you grow up in, or what your race/culture/ethnicity is. These assets can be added by a supportive environment (school, community, etc.) even if they are not immediately evident in the home environment. I wonder if a concerted focus on asset building might be the way to reach marginalized kids that are currently failing to thrive in our system. The question from the Principal was, "If this is added on, what gets taken off the plate?" A wise question. A wise man.

Monday, March 10, 2008

March 11 Board Meeting

Sorry for the poor advance notice on this one! It was a birthday weekend at my house.

Some highlights of tomorrow's meeting:

Health and Wellness Report-- the outcome of the Junk Food ban and other details about where we're going in terms of school health. www.epsb.ca/board/mar11_08/item10.pdf

Money---- Planning Base (District wide view of how money will be spent)
-----Basis of Allocation (how money is allocated out to schools)

Presentation from Woodcroft School (around 7:45 PM)

Trustee requests for information--- some good info on small schools, results, etc.

As always, the meeting starts at 6 PM and they generally run until 9:30 PM or so.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Speaking at U of A

This week I was invited back to my old stomping grounds, the Drama Department at the U of A, to participate in a panel discussion. All five speakers graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and we spoke about our career paths. The diversity was exciting and I think it gave the current B.A. students some great food for thought. (See: http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/drama/)

Here's an excerpt from my speech:
"A few years back, my husband created a label for me: a Generalist. This is what I am. I’m not wonderfully gifted at any one thing. I’m not a specialist. But I know a little bit about a lot of things. As the world evolves and changes, and new technologies bring about jobs that we haven’t even dreamed of, it is my belief that we will need more and more Generalists. People who are well-educated, capable, open and unafraid. People who have critical thinking skills, who can discern good information from bad. People who know how to communicate and who know enough to bridge gaps of understanding between specialist camps. People who can shape the way we think, who can see a better future, because they are grounded in the works of the past, but not bound by them. I think these people are you! And I hope wherever life takes you… if you continue to be a generalist or use the B.A. to hone your area of focus and become a specialist…that you will always value what you’re learning in your B.A. As I have."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Linkages Committee

This past week, I attended a meeting of the Linkages Committee. This cross-agency, multi-jurisdictional committee meets four times a year to work jointly on issues that affect children. I find this kind of collaborative work very promising. I learned a lot listening to the people around the table, who are all very dedicated to improving outcomes for children.

I would love to see the same kind of work happening on a community level- groups of concerned citizens coming together to identify the particular issues in their neighbourhood and setting out ways to address those issues on a local level. It's only when we start to look at challenges as "ours", that we'll move forward as a society. I firmly believe that the solutions lie within us...not with-out us.

Imagine a city where every child is the concern of everyone.

This thought could transform our way of seeing. Before our eyes, prostitutes could transform from "those girls wrecking our neighbourhood" to "young girls who need help to stay in school". Youth with spray paint cans in their hands would change from "hooligans who need to be locked up" to "kids who need a place to belong."

I'm not naive. I know that social problems are bigger than any quick answer. But I believe that how we perceive issues has a dramatic impact on what course of action we choose and that where we start in our thinking has a profound impact on where we end up.

Check out www.lesslawmoreorder.com for more insight on this idea.