Saturday, May 10, 2008

Budget reviews

I've spent the last week visiting attending budget subcommittee reviews of the various schools in my Ward. It has been very interesting to hear the exciting new plans schools have for 2008-2009 to address the District Priorities and in particular how they are aligning their resources in new and innovative ways to meet the needs of their students.

Some common themes I heard were:
Increased collaboration between teachers. Gone are the days of teachers closing their doors and working in isolation. All schools are partnered with others in cohort groups to share best practices and find solutions to common problems. Collaboration also exists within the school. Some schools have teachers planning units together and then following up by evaluating the effectiveness of the lesson and continually looking for ways to improve it. Peer coaching and support seems to be the norm now, rather than the exception.
Increased collaboration with outside agencies. As the needs of our students grow increasingly complex, schools realize they can't do it alone. Many strong and mutually beneficial partnerships are in place in our schools to help with nutritional, emotional, educational, physical and social needs. Schools are able to offer tutoring, mentoring, hot breakfasts, coaches, and professional services due to these partnerships.
Infrastructure gaps. Some schools are experiencing frustration around the deterioration of their buildings. Others are happily newly renovated and enjoying the benefits. We need to find a way to make sure that boilers are replaced, windows upgraded and roofs are fixed in a timely way. We shouldn't have to operate on a crisis basis, with many needs being ignored year after year.
Focus on the whole child. Students are not simply empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. They are human beings who need to feel connected, to feel valued, to feel recognized and supported. They bring their own knowledge and schools are there to guide them and help them to achieve their potential. I was excited to hear how schools are rearranging their systems to better fit the needs of the students, rather than the reverse (which was, I think, the way I was schooled: "Here's the system, now you conform to it.").
Staff health and wellness. Schools are looking at ways to reduce stress, increase capacity, share ideas to support staff wellness. One Principal talked about simple measures he has taken to increase the control teachers have over their professional lives. The teachers have a say in their timetabling and they direct their own professional development. This shared model of leadership allows teachers to feel ownership and increases buy-in. Everyone wants to feel they are steering their own ship and a sense of control is certainly tied to mental health. I applaud this initiative. It may take a little longer to plan when everyone has a say, but the benefits are long-standing and obvious.
Connections with parents. Schools are looking at new ways to engage parents. In particular, there is a move towards on-line communication (school zone, some teachers have blogs, etc.). Schools recognize that parents have incredible demands on their time and that assembling people for a meeting is increasingly difficult. Flexibility and ingenuity are being shown to ensure that parents are "in the know" and able to support their child's learning.

Next week, I will be accompanying Trustee Gibeault to some of his schools in Millwoods. It will be interesting to see if the same themes arise in his ward.

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