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

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

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:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How to Vote- Ethical purchasing/School Zone

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

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:

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:

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.

Under Conference Report---Board evaluation report

And a couple of policy reviews...

one on a whistleblower policy

and another on auditor/finances/purchasing

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:

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 ( 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.

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: