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.