Friday, December 11, 2009

Parent Council Luncheon- feedback

Last week, I hosted a luncheon for the Parent Council Chairs in my ward. It was a great chance to meet, listen and connect. Being a Parent Council Chair can be a lonely experience and one of the aims of the luncheon was to connect them with each other and create a web of support for these committed parents. Truly, the work they do on behalf of all the students at their school is remarkable. I call them unsung heroes!

I was able to deliver a bit of information about what is happening at the District level, the provincial level and the global level and how all of that relates to what is happening (or may happen) at the school level. I also went around the room and gathered input, questions, thoughts from each of the Chairs.

I sat down today with some members of our administration to bring these ideas/questions forward and want to update those who attended about the steps I've taken.

Michaela's Question: Do you track post-secondary completion as a way to measure our success in K-12 education? This is more meaningful than simply looking at high school completion rates.
Answer: We see high school completion as an important step to creating a wide variety of options for students, but we certainly don't see it as the "end". We do track the 6 year transition rate to post-secondary and that number is going up. The idea of tracking successful COMPLETION of post-secondary is not something we do, however, it is an interesting idea. Currently, completion rates at post-secondary would be tracked by Advanced Education and we're not sure if they can disaggregate the data to see where the students attended high school. If Education (both K-12 and Advanced Ed) fell under one Ministry, a continuous approach to tracking student success might be one outcome. It would entirely depend on the manner in which these two streams were integrated and as far as we know, there is no talk of joining the Ministries again under one umbrella as they were in the past

Christine's Question: Will EPSB take an advocacy stance regarding the written portion of exams being removed?
Answer: At this point, we have not taken an official position.

Lije's Question (echoed by others): How can we engage more parents to become involved in parent council work?
Answer: I've passed this topic on to our Parents As Partners team in the Communications Department. This is a common issue and we will think about developing some tools to assist Chairs.

Penny's Question: What is available to support Principals in working well with parents and parent councils?
Answer: EPSB is the first District to institute Principal Quality Standard Practice which outlines seven dimensions of the Principal's work. Assistant Superintendents use these seven practices to help Principals identify strengths and weaknesses and set goals. One element is "working with stakeholders", which would certainly include parents and parent councils. It is certainly our District's expectation that all Principals will work with parents in a cooperative and collaborative manner. (That's why we have a program called "Parents as Partners"!) These Principal Quality Standard Practices are available, if anyone would care to look at them.

Penny's Challenge: Rather than focusing on trying to get parents to meet the needs of the Parent Council (ie. fundraising, casinos, events, etc.)... parent councils should be actively exploring what their parents NEED and focus on trying to meet those needs. 
Action: I passed this on to the Parents as Partners team as a possible thought for future elaboration or discussion. Certainly, as our population becomes more impacted by poverty, this level of social awareness in Parent Councils will be very important.

Scott's Concern: Lack of clarity around the Sector Review process and the steps parent councils can take to ensure the viability of their school. 
Action: I passed this on to our Superintendent, who will discuss this with the Planning Department. We appreciate the honest feedback. It is certainly not our aim to disempower parents in these processes. In fact, with more collaboration and consultation points than ever before, it is our hope that the Sector Review process will empower more participation and engagement, not less.

Jennifer and others expressed: Appreciation for the opportunity to connect with other council chairs and share ideas.
Action: I've created an email list for all interested, so they can connect without waiting for the next trustee luncheon. Any other Ward C Council Chairs who would like to join, please send me an email:  As well, I've passed on to Parents as Partners that there is a strong desire to connect with other Chairs and perhaps Ward breakout sessions would be one idea.

Christine's Concern: Town Hall survey data did not take into account that high school Chairs who represent thousands of students had the same single vote as elementary chairs who were speaking on behalf of much smaller populations. In essence, a handful of high school votes, were lost in the middle of an overwhelming number of elementary votes and the priorities might be very different.
Action: This was relayed to the Superintendent who took note of this issue. He pointed out that the data will be disaggregated by age of children attending school, so we will be able to see how "high school parents" viewed issues, separate from elementary parents. He agreed that we should be cautious in our interpretation of the data, as it was not statistically representative. This was our first attempt and we will learn from comments like Christine's. I would be happy to share the disaggregated data, when it is available.

Doug's Idea: It is vital for schools to develop strong connections with their community (community league, businesses in the area, neighbours, etc.)
Action: I passed this on to Parents as Partners as a possible idea.  I would encourage anyone interested in this idea, to connect with Doug at Westglen to learn more about creating strong connections. As well, the District has many, many partners. The Report to the Community 2009,which was just released this week, outlines some of the many successes we've experienced through effective partnerships. If you would like a copy, please contact  Cathy MacDonald in the Communications Department at 780-429-8435.


Thanks for the great conversation and the great questions!
Stay warm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poverty and Taxes

I received this from PIA (Public Interest Alberta) and I think it is provocative and worth reading. Poverty is affects thousands of children in Edmonton Public Schools and indicators suggest that the problem is getting worse. Teachers are facing the realities of children who are hungry and without sufficient clothing every day in our schools. I am concerned, as I'm sure you are, about the fate of families who were vulnerable BEFORE the economic meltdown and now find themselves in increasingly challenging circumstances.

Last week, John Kolkman (Edmonton Social Planning Council) and Bill

Moore-Kilgannon (PIA) spoke to the federal parliamentary committee that is

developing a national poverty reduction strategy when they were in Edmonton.

The executive assistant for MP Tony Martin approached them afterward and

said he really liked the exchange they had about tax cuts. He has taken an

excerpt from the transcripts of the hearing and sent it out across the

country today. We thought you might be interested in reading it.

From: Tony Martin, MP

Last week, the HUMA committee nearing the end of its two-year study on the

federal role on poverty reduction traveled in western and northern Canada.

Here is a remarkable exchange between Tony and two Alberta witnesses

suggesting a way to reframe the political and public debate on cutting

taxes. (For the entire testimony, visit the HUMA Committee website.)

Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP): Mr. Savage mentioned yesterday in the

hearings that at some point, the discussion has to happen in this country

about taxation and fair taxation and progressive taxation-taxation that

actually works in the interest of those who need it to work on their behalf

so they can participate in society and live with some dignity. Why not start


Out there, for the most part, middle-class Canada wants to pay less

taxes. What they want to see in every budget that comes down, whether it's

provincial or federal or municipal, is a tax reduction. They don't seem to

understand-or maybe they do, but turn a blind eye to it-that with every tax

reduction, there is less money in government coffers to pay for the programs

we need to help those who are in need.

Government doesn't do stuff that the general public, for the most part,

isn't willing to support. Ultimately, in four years, or a year and a half,

we all have to go back to our constituents and we have to make a case: Elect

us because this is what we stand for. If we're willing to stand up and say

that we're going to give you tax cuts, chances are, we'll get re-elected. If

we stand up and say no, we're going to raise your taxes, our horizon is

limited. That's the reality.

How do we get to a place in Canada today, given what we're hearing as we

travel the country on the issue of poverty and on groups, like the disabled,

who are really struggling just to get the basics, where we can get the

discussion going in a constructive, positive way so that people will be

willing to support the kinds of investments we need in order to make Canada

the country that we all here believe it has the potential to become?

I'll leave it at that.

Mr. Bill Moore-Kilgannon (Executive Director, Public Interest Alberta):

I think your question is incredibly important. It's certainly a discussion

here in Alberta where the provincial government likes to say that it has the

lowest tax system in the country. We are the only province that has a flat

tax. When you look at the actual numbers what you'll actually find is that

low-income people pay the fourth highest taxes in Canada in Alberta because

of the flat tax. So it's erroneous to say the provincial government in

Alberta can be cutting taxes because of our oil and natural gas wealth. But

the distribution of the taxes is obviously not shared equally.

You used the word investment and I think that's exactly the way we need

to talk about a commitment to a poverty elimination strategy. I would urge

us as well to talk about poverty prevention. When we do so I think they can

easily make the case that these are important investments that benefit the

quality of life for absolutely everybody.

The return on investment approach, whether you look at investments as

I've been talking about in early childhood education and care, greater

access to post-secondary education and the diversification of our economy

absolutely need to be crucial parts of how we talk about poverty elimination

and support for people with disabilities, who have an incredible amount to

offer. I've been hearing that the provincial government is now out of money

through the EI fund to support people with disabilities in colleges and

technical institutes. Many of those people who are in mid-program are going

to be young people with disabilities and are being cut off from the money.

So as of January they will not be returning to school.

Those are the stories that we need to tell so that people understand

that these are real investments. When we've done polling we don't do like

the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation and just do a poll on "would you like a

tax cut"? That sounds good but "would you like a tax cut" if it would mean

that your mother in the long-term care system is going to have to pay

significantly more? "Would you like a tax cut" if it's going to mean less

access to post-secondary education? "Would you like a tax cut" if we're not

going to have childcare so that your granddaughter is able to get into

quality child care so that your daughter is able to go back to school and


If you frame it that way then every time we've done polling, even in

Alberta, the numbers are completely different. When the provincial

government asks "what are your priorities?" tax cuts were number 8 or 9 on

the list of where they want to see government spending. So we have to talk

about priorities and what matters to Canadians in their lives and make sure

those investments are being put in place so that at the end of the day we're

building a system where people truly have choices that allow them to move

forward and benefit from the wealth that we all share.

If I were a politician, which I'm not, that is how I would approach it

with my constituents telling them their dollars are well spent here.

Mr. John Kolkman (Research and Policy Analysis Coordinator, Edmonton

Social Planning Council): I just wanted to respond very directly to Mr.

Martin's question.

Ed Broadbent, someone I think you know, wrote a very interesting opinion

article in the Globe and Mail on November 24, the 20th anniversary of the

Eliminating Child Poverty Resolution. One of the things he suggested was

that the federal government increase the marginal tax rate on people with

individual taxable incomes above $250,000 per year by to 35%, which is

exactly what people in the United States pay making that level of income.

That's a six percentage point increase. From 20% to 35%, the federal

government could generate an additional $4 billion a year in revenue.

What if the federal government were to decide with that $4 billion that

they were going to put that into some key priorities? For example, the

Caledon Institute has calculated that child tax benefits could be increased

by about 50% above current levels with an additional $4 billion investment.

Perhaps some could be applied to enhancing the disability tax credit that

Bev talked about.

I think there is some room to look at raising the marginal tax rates on

very wealthy Canadians. In a sense we're non-competitive with the United

States, which has a 35% tax rate above $250,000 in individual taxable

income. I think if it was framed in that way, and if those dollars were

dedicated to fighting poverty, you might be surprised. There might be more

support for that kind of proposal than we think at the current time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Board Agenda- Tuesday, Dec.8

Here's the link to the agenda with all the reports attached:

Meeting starts at 6 PM. Free parking underground. Centre for Education, 1 Kingsway.
Hope to see you there. Last public board meeting before the Christmas break.


F 2. Improving Student Achievement by Embracing Multiculturalism (if you are interested in learning what we are doing to support our ever-increasing English Language Learning population, you may want to check this item and #8 out.)

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives (if you want to speak to the board on any educational matter, you may do so at this point. Usually lands around 7 PM. You will have 3 minutes.)

H. Reports

Report #5 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held December 1, 2009) (Holds info on the dates for the official openings of the 6 new ASAP schools, ATA Memorandum of Agreement changes)

Motion re Motion to Extend a Board Meeting Past 9:00 p.m.

Motion re Establishment of Working Committee re School Closures and School Viability (Motion to create tri-level governmental committee to explore alternatives to closure.)

Trustee Electoral Ward Boundaries (Changes for Ward F and Ward H. Affecting Brander Gardens, Brookside, Bulyea Heights area in south Edmonton.)

Policy Review - GAA.BP Personnel Policies Priority Objectives

Multicultural Policy and Regulation: First Year Implementation Plan

Response to Board Request for Information (info on full-day kindergarten)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Policies needing your input

The following six Board policies have been posted online for stakeholder input. All are open for input December 2- January 6, 2010, so if you have a minute in the midst of all your Christmas preparation, please check them out at:

The policies are:

1. CCE.BP - Definition of a School
2. HHHA.BP - Tutoring
HK.BP - Student Achievement and Growth
IH.BP - Supervision of Elementary and Junior High Students During Lunch
JBB.BP - School Sponsored Educational Displays
KA.BP - District Technology

What kind of party would I run for?

At EPSB, we are conducting an intensive staff engagement survey. It will help us to gain valuable insight into our employees' perspectives around things like: recognition, wellness, confidence, relations with supervisors, etc. We are striving to be an employer of choice, where all our employees feel good about the work they do and are proud to be a part of our organization.

Which made me think about Don's comments at Reboot about wanting to be proud to be an Albertan again.

Which made me think of how proud I am to be associated with the remarkable reboot-ers.

Which made me wonder: What kind of political party would fill me with pride and inspire me to run provincially?

Here's my thinking to date.

I would be proud to run for a party that was based on TRUST, OPTIMISM,

Trust in the party members and in their ability to represent their constituency, even if that means occasionally voting against the "party line". Trust to allow party members to speak openly about issues, to engage in dialogue through a variety of means. Trust that party members could even openly attend an event like Reboot Alberta!

Trust in the public- that they deserve to know what is happening, can understand the complexities of issues and should not be "shielded from the truth." An empowered, engaged citizenry is the goal and we should trust that when well-informed, the public will make the best decisions (which may or may not align with our own thinking!).

Trust in other levels of government and the elected officials who have jobs to do.

Optimism for the future, a belief that we can tackle the significant global and local challenges ahead; we will find a good way to move forward together. This is the opposite of a fear-based, protectionist, batten-down-the-hatches attitude that sees others as the enemy. It is a philosophy built on possibilities, creativity and courage. It is not, as some cynics might suggest, a naive attitude.

Decisions are made after careful reflection, considering all points of view, including most importantly those who are opposed. People on the other side of issues have important information to share that supporters don't. Careful thought means open listening and being willing to reconsider what was previously held to be true. Reflection must be built into all decisions and significant change must be well-charted and communicated clearly.

This is tied to trust, but means that politicians always remember that they serve at the pleasure of the public. I've been told that in the Aboriginal community, leaders do not run, they are chosen by the people. It is both a great honour and a great responsibility to be selected; you do not refuse when your community calls upon you to be a leader. This appeals to me and I think it is a needed element in servant leadership/ethical leadership models to counteract the seductive lure of power and entitlement. Humility recognizes that none of us have all the answers and we need one another's wisdom to achieve our best potential.

Too often, I see politicians who are out of balance: over-full agendas, stressed out and never really "present" in the conversation. Is this the right frame of mind to be in to make critical decisions on behalf of the community? Any party that I would be interested in running for would need to understand that my family and sense of balance are critically important. In short, I need breaks; I need time off. A party that sees this as shirking my duty, doesn't understand the bigger picture.

Who is more important? The CEO or the artist? The party supporter or the plumber? The businessman or the environmentalist? So often, people are ranked and parties decide whose voice is more important. I think everyone's voice is important and we need to establish mechanisms for the quieter voices to be heard. All Albertans need to be equal members in the circle. Preferential treatment based on income, race, advantage, affiliation has no place in "my" party.

We are all too darn serious. I like to laugh. If there is no joy, there's no point.

And another thing....
Question Period is counter-productive, if not directly responsible for the public's current distaste/apathy regarding politics. I wouldn't want to participate in that level of "gotcha" politics. Real questions, real answers- maybe. The current form of "yell across the floor, thump on your desk" silliness- no thanks. It's juvenile and embarrassing and I think we can do a lot better.

So maybe this "wish list" is not realistic. That's okay. I don't need to run for any party. I feel that this list is almost possible with municipal politics and maybe that's where I belong. But maybe, if parties want to attract potential candidates like me they should consider what's keeping people like me out of provincial politics in the first place. And maybe, the key to increasing their margin in the polls lies in re-examining their current M.O.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reboot Alberta conference

I'm just back from Reboot Alberta ( or find more on by using the tag #rebootab). For two days, 85 people from all across Alberta met to discuss the ways and means to create a better Alberta.

Here are some things that stood out for me:

-The incredibly rich, thoughtful, respectful conversations. In every group, there was an honest dialogue that made ample room for disagreement and a deep commitment to keep the conversation going. This is, in my experience, extremely rare. There were no winners or losers in these conversations, every point of view was valid.

- By the end, we had developed four different approaches to creating progressive change: start a new party, grow a social movement to influence and create change from outside the party system, Next Alberta Project (transformation to future think tank), and developing a means of keeping everything linked, to track our progress. The fact that all four approaches were encouraged to co-exist and continue was a great sign to me. A multiplicity of approaches is an incredible strength when you are faced with complex challenges like revitalizing democracy or changing paradigms. It may, in fact, be the only hope of being successful.

- One very wise man stood up and talked about wanting to feel proud of being an Albertan again and how he did not that currently. This pride was not a boastful or arrogant pride but simply the pride of feeling good about doing the right things and doing them well. He noted that the conversations that had taken place at Reboot were about possibility, not just about problems. He urged us to accept responsibility for what is and resist the urge to blame the government. We are the government. We must not feel victimized, fatalistic, hopeless or unable to act. Instead by accepting our responsibility, our culpability for the current state of affairs, we take the first step towards making the change. He marvelled at the increased sense of ownership in the room and the powerful authentic connections.

I participated in the conversations about the development of a new party. I think there was a lot of great ideas in the room and a strong desire to create a party that more people can "call home".

Here are a few comments:

- Servant leadership; MLAs serve the public, not the party. Policies, principles, etc. developed through consultation with public not "announced" to the public. The leaders demonstrate a deep trust the public and commitment to listening.

-Ethical Leadership: MLAs are credible, act with integrity, are open and honest. They do what they say they will. Transparency of decision-making (Not done in caucus). Open and accountable to public. MLAs encouraged to vote their conscience, including voting against party if necessary.

- Principled Leadership: Based on a shared vision of sustainability, fiscal responsibility, prosperity, democracy and quality of life. (This is a starting list... more to be added, I'm sure.)

-Positive rather than negative: Most of us thought that the current political parties are focused on negativity, fear, rivalry, "winners and losers" model. We felt looking ahead and being solution-focused, collaborative and positive was important.

-Using new methods, new approaches: If we adopt the same attitudes/methods, we will end up re-creating what we already have. A number of concrete "Game-changers" will need to be in place. The potential is enormous to reach and activate the 60% of Albertans who did not vote in the last election. The dissaffected and disengaged are thus for real reasons, not just due to some ill-defined "apathy". Apathy is the symptom. What is the root of it? That's the work I'm interested in digging into and will probably connect with to start a conversation on this.

-The website: this is a great means to continue these connections and start new ones. I encourage you (yes, I mean you!) to check it out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Musings on the future of Trustees

It's been in the wind for a while- ever since the health boards were removed and replaced with a regional health authority- that the future for school boards was uncertain. Despite the fact that the Minister of Education has stated repeatedly that it is not his intent to do away with trustees, still the uneasiness persists, like a lingering odour.

What is the genesis of this dis-ease?

Well, there is the rewrite of the School Act next spring...and it has been said that "everything" is on the table for consideration, including governance. The province-wide consultation called Inspiring Education, a Dialogue with Albertans concluded with a section entitled, "Towards a New Governance Model" which asked how stakeholders like parents, teachers and students could be given more power. There was a leaked paper which outlined a possible charter school model, where governance rested in the hands of individual school councils, chaired by Principals. Under this model, trustees were eliminated entirely. The word was that this was only one model being considered, but to date, no other models have been forthcoming. We hear whispers that some members of government wish they'd consolidated school boards first, rather than starting with the health boards, because there "would have been less fuss". Some trustees point to the many examples of how boards have been stepped over or marginalized recently, with the provincial government taking over issues that used to fall under board direction, while boards were informed after the fact or involved in some secondary nature.

I've also heard that in the future, our primary job will be "connecting with the community." I'm all for connecting with community, in fact, I think it's critical, but I thought our primary job was governing. Good governance to me includes strong community connection. However, community connection does not necessarily include governance. Wwe could conceivably be devoted to connecting with community without one iota of governance. The Community Spirit facilitators do this- they connect, but they don't govern. Is this the future for trustees? Information gatherers? To be funneled to some other body for decision-making? Is this the change we are about to see, because everyone seems to agree that change is definitely coming.

A number of people (interestingly from all three parties) have asked me to consider running provincially in the next election. I am committed to running again for a second term as a trustee, because I feel there is more work to do. However, half-joking, I said, "But if there aren't any boards after the spring, I may have to reconsider that decision." And the response was ominous: "Or if the role is so drastically altered that it no longer holds any relevance for you."

Sometimes rumours are just rumours, some fears are unfounded, but sometimes people know what's coming and are trying to give you hints. Like the girlfriend who tries to let you know that your boyfriend is planning to break up with you on the weekend, without actually coming out and saying it. I'm not sure if that's the case here, but I can smell the unease that hangs around trustees' shoulders and my guess is the smell won't leave until someone opens up all the windows and lets the light shine in.

Possibilities- School Closure? Hardisty/ City Centre

There are two clusters of Edmonton Public schools currently being reviewed regarding excess school space and the possibility of consolidation/ amalgamation/ school closure. Here's an invitation to join the conversation:

Come to the Conversation -
Exploring the possibilities and challenges of school space as important part of a complete and
vibrant community

On November 30 and December 1 parents and residents from Greater Hardisty or the City Centre Education Partnership area are invited to DROP IN and participate at a workshop:

Learn more information on the facts of enrolment and budgets and what has been suggested by the community so far.

Knowing what you know about your school, family, community and area, offer us what OPTION(S) you would suggest to the Edmonton Public School Board - that considers both the facts and suggestions

You can use the information provided at the workshop to help you to develop your suggestions.

We need your knowledge and experience for this activity, but we don't expect you to be technical experts - there will be resource people in the room to answer your questions or provide you with clarification

Workshops will take place as follows:
November 30, 2009 December 1, 2009
4:00 - 9:30 pm 4:00-9:30 PM
With a focus on GREATER With a focus on CITY CENTRE
McNally School John A. McDougall School
8440-105 Ave. 10930-107 Street

*Please drop in at any time OR come for a scheduled small group discussion at 7:00 - 8:00pm

*On November 30, childcare will be offered at Gold Bar Daycare & After School Care Ltd. , 4630 105A Avenue NW

*On December 1, childcare is held at the Parkdale After School Care Centre Society, 11648 85 Street NW

Thanks to everyone who has returned a workbook, or who have participated in a discussion and sent in the workbook results.

We'll continue to accept completed workbooks up until December 4, 2009.
You can submit your completed workbook by:
Dropping it off at one of the area schools or the EPSB Office at One Kingsway
Emailing the online version to
Faxing it to us at 613-724-2450

'What Was Said" Reports from the Community Forums on November 12th and November 14th have been posted to the website at
Throughout the project, EPSB staff, teachers and principals have also had an opportunity to provide input, suggestions and ideas on how, when, where and by whom school space is used. The results of the staff forum on November 14th will be posted to the website soon.


As always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please contact us.
Toll free at 1-866-269-1276 ext. 102

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Anonymous Spammers

Hi all,
I've had to change my settings on my blog because I've been spammed relentlessly by "anonymous" posters. From now on, you'll need to register your name. If you have something sensitive to say and don't want to post your name publicly, please send me a confidential email:

Thanks for your understanding!


Succession Plan Motion- speech

Here is a copy of comments I made this past Tuesday at our public board meeting, regarding my motion to create a succession plan. The motion was passed, 8-1.

On CBC, they are charting the Olympic flame’s careful progress across Canada, each runner proud to carry it for a leg of the journey and dedicated to ensuring it makes it into the next person’s hands, burning brightly. Just like our board. We are in a line that stretches back 128 years and forward into the future. In Oct. 2010, the passing of our torch to the next board should be smooth, thoughtful and seamless, because that board will be faced with some significant challenges. They will not have the luxury of time: they will need to be high-performing and ready to make key decisions almost immediately, decisions that will have a profound impact on the District.

Hence this motion, which asks us to prepare a thoughtful plan to prepare the next board and leave the District in capable, confident hands. My three areas of thought, which- as I indicated in my motion are only for consideration at this point- are:

1- raising awareness and interest in the position of trustee
2- capturing the wisdom of out-going trustees
3- mentoring new trustees in their first year.

Raising awareness: I believe the Board has a critical role to play in creating a vibrant election, with strong candidates, healthy debate and increased awareness and public engagement. Being acclaimed might be easier for us, but is not in the best interests of the Board or public education. I believe increasing the diversity of candidates would be a great way to improve democratic representation of all people, demonstrate our commitment to social justice and the principle of equality. We cannot ensure increased diversity on the board, because of course, the people decide who gets elected, but extending a welcoming invitation, encouragement and support to people of diverse backgrounds is an important step.

Capturing the Wisdom. Three of our more experienced trustees have indicated that they may not be seeking re-election and with their departure, a significant body of knowledge and wisdom walks out the door. I think we should recognize this impending “brain drain” and find ways to capture their knowledge for the betterment of the next board. Perhaps they might be willing to serve as transitional mentors to the incoming trustees- passing on information about their schools in their wards, for instance?

Which brings me to perhaps the most critical part of the plan: Mentoring new trustees. As a new trustee, I found the first year incredibly challenging. The orientation provided by the administration was helpful, but only provided, as might be expected, an ADMINISTRATOR’s view of the trustee’s job. What is required, I believe, is a trustee’s view and here, the board can take on an active role. First year Principal’s are supported with one-on-one’s. First year teachers have the New Teacher Induction program, but new trustees are expected to figure it out on their own. They are thrown in the deep end and asked to swim… in my case, I felt like I had 20 lb. weights on each arm and I was not entirely sure which way was up. Every time a trustee is to face an experience for the first time: First public board meeting, first Parent Council meeting, first Results or Budget Review, first parental complaint, first time giving a speech, first time meeting with the Minister, etc… the possibility for mentorship should exist. Each new trustee will be experienced in some areas, and not in others… so the mentoring needs to be flexible and individual.

But again, these are only my ideas and the exact nature of the succession plan would be determined by the Board. Today, I’m asking for the board to support the motion:

“To develop a succession plan to ensure a smooth transition for the next Board”
I hope everyone will agree to this broad concept.

Speed Zones around Schools/Playgrounds

Do you think there should be reduced speed zones around schools or not? Mark next Wednesday on your calendar. Dec. 2 , 7 PM, Polish Hall, 10960- 104 Street. Come out and voice your opinion. Can't make the meeting? You can give feedback on line. (see letter for details) Hope to see you there!

Dear Stakeholder:

Subject: Stakeholder Consultations on School and Playground Zone Signage and Time Changes

Alberta Transportation is proposing to initiate changes to the Use of the Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation regarding School and Playground Zones. The proposed changes would standardize the start and end times for school and playground zones and increase safety across the province by providing consistency for motorists, parents and children.

As part of this work, Alberta Transportation will begin stakeholder consultations in November and December with parent school councils, school boards, municipalities and police forces. Attached is a schedule of the stakeholder consultation locations and dates.

The consultations will present the following proposed changes:
§ School zones on school days would be 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation. Currently school zones have three start and end times on school days (8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
§ Playground zones on all days would be 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation. Playground zones are currently in effect daily from 8:30 a.m. to one hour after sunset.
§ Road authorities, including Alberta Transportation and municipalities, would adopt the national standards for signage of school and playground zones and areas in Alberta.
§ There are no proposed changes to the speed limit in school and playground zones. The speed limit will remain at 30 kilometres per hour.

Alberta Transportation has retained Opus International Consultants (Canada) Limited to coordinate the stakeholder consultation, providing a transparent, objective and independent analysis of the feedback received. The consultation session will begin with a formal presentation that will provide background information, including the goals of the proposed changes. Following the presentations, the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

For those who cannot attend the presentation, or for those who wish to provide additional input, they are invited to provide feedback at Deadline for submissions will be December 11, 2009.

A copy of the final report detailing the results of the consultation feedback collected from the sessions and from submissions will be forwarded to you (or the parent body if that was the initiating source of our contact).


Vince Paniak
Director, Driver Programs and Licensing Standards

December 2
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Polish Hall
10960 – 104 Street

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bill 206- anti-bullying Bill

On Monday, at the Fall Annual General Meeting of the Alberta School Board Association (62 school boards across the province), 97% of boards agreed that Bill 206 should not be supported.


The Bill, introduced by MLA Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek) is intended to "make all schools safer and give our education system the tools it needs to stop bullying, including that which is disseminated by electronic media on and off the school grounds. Additionally, it would prohibit the possession of weapons and/or drug paraphenalia." (Hansard, April 14, 2009.)

Aren't we all united against bullying? Don't school boards recognize the problem of cyber bullying and drug/weapon possession? What's the problem?

The intent is great; the devil is in the details.

Bill 206 includes amendments to the School Act. It establishes that a contravention of the legislatuion by a student "is guilty of an offence" and provides no discretion to the Peace Officer or courts in the application of the section.

Here are the issues, as summarized by Calgary Board of Education, who put forward the resolution:

"The mandatory protocols provided by these amendments:
- do not provide principals with the discretion to progressively discipline students or taken into consideration mitigating factors, especially for special needs or disabled students (I attended a law/education conference in Toronto last spring, called CAPSLE, which talked about this very thing. Check my blog history. Kids who cannot understand & learn from punishment, due to cognitive impairments, deserve different treatment.)
- remove the principal's current authority to issue student suspensions, especially to immediately remove a student who threatens the safety of staff and students
-impact students' rights to procedural fairness if the student fails to participate in the mandated educational measures program
- create onerous, potentially unworkable tracking and reporting requirements to determine when "bullying" as defined occurs
- fail to require parental notification and involvement
- do not provide any guidance or meaning as to what an educational measure program consists of or is meant to do.

Given the above concerns and the short timeline for the passage of Bill 206, the ASBA should communicate immediately with the Premier, the Minister of Education and all MLAs regarding the lack of support for the passage of Bill 206."

As I said, 97% of boards, representing approximately 97% of the students of Alberta, agreed with this resolution. The bill is flawed. It has not been built collaboratively with school boards, teachers, principals, students, parents and community members. We all want to stop bullying- but Bill 206 won't get us there.

What will?
In my opinion, a concerted effort by us all. Parents need to be educated on prevention, cyber-awareness and how to talk to your kids about bullying. All adults need to take a hard look at themselves and be sure that their parenting/teaching/coaching style isn't fostering or modelling bullying. Conflict resolution skills need to be taught. Restorative justice models need to be embraced by every school. Students need to be listened to and involved in creating the solution. Drug addiction counselling and prevention needs to be readily available for all students, starting early. Dr. Martin Brokenleg's Circle of Courage needs to be known, implemented and realized so every child feels a sense of belonging, competence, independence and generosity. Poverty needs to be addressed (See: PIAs call for a Provincial Poverty Reduction Plan: Racism needs to be openly addressed. Exploitation and abuse of children need to be openly addressed.

We need to know what makes a bully. I don't believe it is any child's dream or ultimate goal in life to be a bully, to use drugs, to assault another child. What went wrong? How did we get here? Are we brave enough to look for the answer? Hearing the truth will make us feel uncomfortable...but if we REALLY want to address bullying and not just feel like we are "doing something about bullying".... we are going to have to unpack some of this mess. We are going to have to stop blaming and start assuming responsibility- a collective responsibility- for all our children, including the bullies.

That's my two cents worth!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dr. Martin Brokenleg

I've been meaning to write about Dr. Martin Brokenleg ever since I heard him address a packed house on October 30. He is an expert in the area of resiliency and has worked with staff from our District on several occasions. He teaches by telling stories- stories that illustrate, resonate, and move. He is a powerful man because of his honesty and his depth of caring. My notes will not do him justice, but they will give you a taste of what he believes. You can also check out his book, "Reclaiming Our Youth."

Here are some highlights from the three pages of notes I took:

- He believes that all youth are at risk.
- Between 3 and 6 PM, 90% of juvenile delinquency happens (as do most unplanned pregnancies!)
- The teenage brain works best between noon and 7 PM. One high school moved their start time to 10 AM and absenteeism dropped by 60%.

Four THEMES that are creating challenges for youth:
1- The belief that children and youth are not important. He gave many "living" examples of how we devalue children.
2- Devaluing of Human Presence. Families spend less time together today than they did 20 years ago. Technology reduces face time and we spend less time talking to our children. When you take out 'giving orders', one study found that mothers, on average, talk to their children for 3 minutes a day. Fathers spend 49 seconds/day!
3- The myth that the nuclear family (mom, dad, kids) is a sustainable unit. We are built to operate in groups of 250, not 4. The nuclear family unit cannot meet all the emotional, psychological, financial needs of the family members.
4- Fear of talking about spirituality. As Canadians, we shy away from it. We need to strengthen the spirit of youth and children- to teach the heart as much as the head.

Not through words, but through actions.

Four areas (the Circle of Courage):
1- BELONGING: Every human being, every child needs to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel significant.
2- MASTERY. Everyone needs to feel competent.
3-INDEPENDENCE. Everyone needs to have a sense of self-responsibility.
4- GENEROSITY- Everyone needs to know their own goodness and virtue.

Dr. Brokenleg asserts that nothing happens until belonging happens. When a crisis happens, the first priority is to stabilize the youth with support, create a connection. When this is in place, then you can look at correction, next steps, reparation, etc. Instead, many adults resort to shaming or exclusion or un-belonging.

If there are problems with belonging, you see these behaviours: distrust, exclusion, detachment, rejection, antagonism.

Kids need to know that if there is a problem, they can fix it. They need to be able to demonstrate their success, often through the "Back Door". (Dr. Brokenleg told the story of a dyslexic child who was finally able to demonstrate his learning via Braille.) Setting goals, self-reflection, dealing with failure, coping with change... these are all mastery skills. Adults need to provide opportunities for mastery to flourish.

There is a problem with mastery, if you see: disinterest, confusion, not wanting to learn, feeling incompetent, learned helplessness.

Majority rule actually disempowers people. Consensus models empower, because one person can stop something from happening. How do kids show independence? By resisting peer pressure, solving problems, identifying feelings, laughing at oneself. Discipline is empowering; punishment is disempowering.

Problem signs: Feeling coerced, unable to affect change, unassured, misled, expressions of futility.

We should be able to give away anything. Dr. Brokenleg talked about the Lakota tradition of regular deep generosity (giving until the family is completely broke, feeding thousands of people at parents' anniversary). The first thing that happens in a crisis is you lose your sense of your own goodness. We must give children opportunities to be generous, otherwise they won't believe their own goodness.

Problem signs: emptiness, rancour, exploiting, vengeance, disrespect.

The last thing I wrote down was a quote from the Dalai Lama:
Compassion is the common ground for all. There is not enough kindness in the world.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nov. 24 Board meeting Agenda

To see any of these reports, please follow this link:

The meeting starts at 6 PM. Hope to see you there! (Note: #5 re: board succession plan, is a motion I have put forward.)

A. O Canada

B. Roll Call

C. Communications from the Board Chair

D. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools

E. Minutes:

1. Board Meeting #5 - November 10, 2009- These minutes will be posted November 25, 2009.

F. Improving Student Achievement

Improving Student Achievement: Engaging Students through Volunteerism

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives

H. Reports

Report #1 of the Audit Committee (From the Meeting Held November 17, 2009)

Report #4 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held November 17, 2009)

Motion re Board Succession Plan

Motion re District Priorities Committee

Proposed Early Years Policy

Policy Review JAB.BP - Formal Delegations, Presentations and Comments to the Board

Policy Review - GAA.BP Personnel Policies Priority Objectives

Approval of 2009-2010 Expenditures Budget

Trustee Subcommittee Review of 2008-2009 School and Central Department Results

Edmonton Public Schools' Annual Education Results Report 2008-2009

Responses to Board Requests for Information

14. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)

I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information

J. Notices of Motion

K. Meeting Dates

L. Adjournment

Clear message: keep class sizes small!

Last night, around 200 parents overwhelmingly pressed button #6, sending a clear message to the board of trustees: keep class sizes small.

At the board's first-ever town hall forum using clickApad technology, parents from almost every EPSB school voted on lists of priorities, providing valuable input as we look ahead to potential financial challenges. Round tables filled the gym at Jasper Place High School, each one facilitated by an EPSB employee. Trustees moved from table to table, listening to the conversation. At the end of the evening, parents were asked to vote on whether they found the evening worthwhile and would they do it again. Another clear message to the board: YES.

Here's how the evening went:
Introduction from Board Chair Fleming, explaining the uncertain climate (financially) and why we are seeking their input. He affirmed that we, as their representatives, are committed to making decisions that reflect the views and values of the public.

Demonstration on how to use the voting technology. (Everything worked well- phew!)

At the tables, a quick overview of District Priorities, Mission Statement and Board of Trustees' Strategic Plan to set the stage for the rest of the discussions.

First chance to vote: List of Educational Values.
A list of 10 values was presented to each parent. Recognizing that all the values were important, we asked people to struggle with picking out THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE. First, people voted on their top pick, independent of any discussion at their table, providing their "Gut reaction". Most people found it difficult to choose- as did I looking at the list!

Results were then projected for all to see, here are the ones with the highest votes:
All Students should be successful in their studies- 26%;
Schools should be respectful, inclusive, and responsive to diverse needs of students- 21%,
All students must complete high school- 21%
Then the tables discussed why they voted as they did and after 15 minutes, another vote was taken and reported. The percentages changed slightly as people were convinced by the persuasive arguments of their table-mates.

Next Topic: List of Educational Outcomes.
Same format- gut reaction vote, discussion, second vote.
Here's a snapshot of the top picks:
Literacy- 26%
Critical thinking- 20%
Lifelong learning- 18%
Creativity- 8%
After discussion, critical thinking went up, lifelong learning went up and I think so did adaptability to 13%. *

(*Complete results will be made available to the board and the public. Please accept my "snapshot" reporting at this stage.)

Finally, we had the vote on Educational Services for Students. This topic was perhaps most easily connected to financial decisions and it was here that the clearest message was delivered: 59% chose "keeping class sizes small (retaining staff to maintain a good ratios of teachers to students)". This was so far ahead of any of the other nine options that it actually drew a vocal reaction from the crowd. In fact, some options turned in a 1% or 0% vote. The second choice was "Offering a variety of courses beyond the core courses" at 11%.

Very interesting... and challenging, as we know that with any large reduction of funding, class sizes will almost inevitably be affected, due to the high percentage of our budget that is dedicated to teacher salaries. We are a people business, after all, and most of our expenditures are salaries.

The evening has given us some great food for thought, as we look ahead.

Thanks to all who took the time to attend. I think it was a great success and we will certainly learn from this first attempt to refine and improve the process even further.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tues, Nov. 10 board meeting

Tuesday's board meeting, with all the attached reports can be found here:

There is a lot of policy work in this meeting- early years, records, public delegations to board- as well as updates on work in the early years and Aboriginal education.

Item #11 contains two items that may be of interest to the parents and community members: how widespread is the use of restorative justice in our schools and an update on community use of gyms. (Joint Use Agreement)

The meeting starts at 6 PM. I'm guessing this one will finish on time (9PM). Hope to see you there! Feel free to identify yourself to me.

The items for the meeting are:

Roll Call

B. O Canada - L'Académie Vimy Ridge Academy

C. Remembrance Ceremony

L'Académie Vimy Ridge Academy Remembrance Ceremony

D. Communications from the Board Chair

E. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools

F. Minutes:

2. Board Meeting #4 - October 27, 2009- These minutes will be posted November 13, 2009.

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives

H. Reports

Report #3 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held November 3, 2009)

Motion re Public Engagement

Reaffirmation of District Priorities

Policy Review - JBG.BP - Retention of Records and Objects Moved to CN.BP - Managing District Information

The Early Years: An Overview and Update

Proposed Early Years Policy

Policy Review JAB.BP - Formal Delegations, Presentations and Comments to the Board

Aboriginal Education Policy and Regulation Implementation Plan Update: Year Two

Responses to Board Requests for Information

12. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)

I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information

J. Notices of Motion

K. Meeting Dates

L. Adjournment

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Charting growth vs. standardized testing

I am in the middle of reviewing schools- it's an annual encounter(every fall) with school principals from across the District, where subcommittees of two trustees review last year's results and discuss with principals what the implications are for the upcoming school year. In essence, it's a chance to reflect, deepen our understanding of how our students are doing, what challenges schools are facing, and how everyone is planning to improve.

The biggest benefit to me, as a trustee, is not so much reviewing the data, but being able to understand the story behind the data.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog- "charting growth vs. standardized testing."

The Province mandates standardized testing as a means to ensure accountability. We all want to be assured that the public dollars invested in education is being wisely used, that students are learning and that teachers are doing a good job. I have no problem with those goals. In fact, I think they are critically important.

However, the testing doesn't reveal the true story. Currently in Edmonton, we have a growing population of students arriving at our schools with serious language deficits... schools I reviewed today had 40-55% English Language learning students. How can you understand the history of the Aboriginal people of Canada or the concept of local government, when you can't speak the language? Imagine yourself trying to take a course in Urdu or Swahili, how well would you score? As well, many of our students have special needs (cognitive, behavioural, emotional) and some are very severe. Others are experiencing extreme poverty (1 in 6 children in Edmonton live in poverty. Roughly translated, that means 12,000 children within Edmonton Public Schools.) Others have experienced trauma in refugee camps and never been to a school.

In short- all children do not start at the same place. Some come to Kindergarten knowing how to read, some have never seen a book and don't know how it "works". To ask them all to arrive at the same finish line on the same day (in grades 3, 6, 9 and 12) doesn't make sense. It is demoralizing to the hard work of many staff members who are playing a desperate game of 'catch up' with some of their students. These students may, in fact, show heroic personal growth, but they still fall short of the standardized expectations and are recorded as "fails to achieve the acceptable standard."

It reminds me of my son's physical growth chart as a baby. At birth, he was tiny (5 lbs. 12 oz) and ended up on the doctor's chart at the 25th percentile: "Below average". How I wanted him to get to the 50th percentile... but every month he steadfastly remained at the 25th percentile. I felt like a failure and this was unkindly reinforced every time the nurse plotted his weight on the chart with a disapproving sigh: "Still in the 25th percentile". Until finally, the doctor pointed out the obvious- his growth was a perfect curve; he was keeping perfect pace with himself. He was growing. He was proportionate and in the end, as the doctor said, "Someone has to be in the 25th percentile". I threw away the chart and looked for other indicators of health and well-being.

It's not a failure for a child to enter our system in grade 3 with no English (essentially below kindergarten or 4 years behind), no idea what school is about and within a year, he has friends, can communicate, enjoys being at school and is demonstrating progress academically. In grade 5, he is gaining ground and is now only 2-3 years behind. By grade 8, he is at grade level. This is a remarkable achievement which points to incredible dedication on the part of both the teachers and the student. In fact, his GROWTH (gaining 10 years growth in 5 years) far outstrips the other students in his cohort... and yet, this will not be known by looking at standardized testing.

Similar stories can be applied to students with special needs or children who have come from deprived backgrounds.

I suggest, with all respect, that we are measuring the wrong thing.

I heard today from one principal that it is possible to account for growth, we have the measures and it could be put into nice charts and graphs for those who like that sort of thing... so let's focus on GROWTH and leave PERFORMANCE where it belongs: on the stage!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Children & Youth Services seeks public input

"Albertans asked for input on the child intervention system"

Albertans are invited to provide their say as part of a review of the province’s child intervention system.

A review panel was established this past summer by Children and Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk to study the system and suggest ways it can be strengthened to support at-risk children, youth and families in the province. As part of this review, the panel has launched a website with a discussion guide where Albertans can offer their thoughts and ideas.

According to the terms of reference for the review, the panel will make recommendations that focus on the following key questions:

Are the necessary checks, balances and processes in place to ensure accountability and transparency in the child intervention system?
Does the system have the capacity to effectively respond to emerging societal trends, service demands, and evolving workforce and practice issues?
Is the system organized and aligned with leading practices and evidence-based research?
The discussion guide provides information on the history of child intervention and how the system currently operates in our province. Albertans are encouraged to review the discussion guide and provide their input by completing a survey or commenting online at Feedback is requested before November 30.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thomas Frey- Futurist

At the Alberta Congress Board conference this past weekend, one of the keynote speakers was Thomas Frey from the DaVinci Institute. (He writes two blogs, by the way: The Impact Lab and Futurist Speaker).

He is a "senior futurist" and very much in demand. He held two talks and I attended both. Mr. Frey suggests that the future is created through the vision of leaders and images of the future determine actions of today. That is, he asserts: "The future creates the present."

Mr. Frey identified 8 trends:
1- Hyper-individualization.
More and more things will be custom-fit to the individual, and broad categories will be seen as too imprecise. He predicts personal health interface which will tell you what minerals, vitamins, etc. you are lacking and tell you what to eat to fix that. Products will be predictive and personal and they will come to you.

2- Battle between the atoms and the electrons.
Atoms (physical world) are losing ground to electrons (digital world) because the latter is quicker and more responsive.

3-Search Technology will expand-
Search technology now is largely linked to text, with some limited searches of images. It will grow to include many more values- taste, reflectivity, texture, smell, etc. There already exists technology (smart goggles) which can record everything the wearer sees and with search technology, it can create a searchable world.

4-Diminishing value of Proximity-
Telepresence (more than teleconferencing, the people appear three dimensional) and creating communities by design. Soon, living "near" something will relative.

5- Empire of One-
More and more businesses are a business of one person. Everything is outsourced, often all around the world, through on-line networking. People have the freedom to work from wherever they wish, as long as the internet connection is good.

6- Social Reform-
For the first time, 50% of people are living alone. More parents are living with their adult children. Life expectancy is rising and there has been a 1000% increase in blended families over the past 30 years.

7-Moving from product based to Experience-based economy-
Extreme ironing? Combo of hang-gliding and snowboarding? People are searching for the Ultimate Experience.

8-Prize Competitions-
They have been used in the past to develop an alternative to ivory billiard balls, and to motivate Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic. Now, it is one the big drivers to innovation. (See: youtube videos on DARPA- vehicles that operate without human presence.) Prize competitions will be used more and more to circumvent a lack of political will and go directly to the entrepreneur to create the next break-throughs.

On Education
(note: he did not differentiate between post-secondary and K-12 in his comments):

-Education will need to change to keep in step with all these trends. In particular, Mr. Frey feels education will need to focus more on developing student's 3D thinking, as we are stuck in a two dimensional thinking right now. (Paper, flat screens, smart boards, etc.)
- We need to examine our structures and ask if they are preventing our kids from thinking in the way they need to be able to think to solve the problems of the world. He cited the fact that there were no Roman mathematicians of note, because of the Roman numeral system. It was not conducive to complicated mathematical problems. What systems are our equivalent of Roman Numerals?
- Teaching will become syndicated. Courses will be offered by master and/or famous teachers and their lessons will be syndicated throughout the world. Teachers in classrooms will be guides, coaches or facilitators for the on-line lesson.
- Courses will be a la carte and people will get education similar to how people now buy music through iTunes- by selecting their own personal "hits" and creating their own library or degree. (already is happening with "itunesU" and in Alberta with eCampus).
-Personal coaching will be more popular. The coach would literally be in your ear and able to see what you are doing (through special goggles which the student wears.)
-Increasing importance of oral skills versus written skills.
- Bookless libraries.
- Life long learning and going beyond PhDs. (PhD and Masters will be seen as the beginning.)
-Educational institutions will hook up with businesses to solve problems. Students will work on 'real-time' problems and research will expand.

In summary: Mr. Frey says we are "preparing humanity for worlds unknown, preparing minds for thinking thoughts unthinkable, and preparing hearts for struggles unimaginable."

Having this content come so quick on the heels of the Inspiring Education forum is fortuitous. My brain hurts a bit, but it's a good thing!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sector Review Process

We will be discussing this report tomorrow. I want to share some of my thoughts with you. As always, please feel free to tell me if you disagree, but keep your comments at the "non-personal" level... that is, don't single out or criticize individuals, rather focus on the issues.

We all know that school closure is emotional. Our process, in the past, has been criticized. One of the chief complaints has centered around meaningful public engagement and transparency of of decision-making. I honestly believe that this document shows how seriously we have taken those comments and how committed we are to improving our process. Please take a look:

In particular, I am pleased to see the multiple strategies to reach people- which shows that we understand some of the barriers to communication (language, time, place, etc.) and have brought forward strategies to address those issues. I like the clear pathway, which follows the IAP2's Public Participation Spectrum (Inform, Consult, Involve, Collaborate, Empower). I think this is a solid process. I like the constant evaluation built in to the process and the emphasis on "engage stakeholders to gather input and feedback on the transparency, openness and accountability of the process" (Page 6)

I have said all along that HOW we arrive at the decision is critical to HOW people feel about it. Closing a school will never be a popular choice, but if the process is fair, transparent and considers all input, people will at least understand the choice.

"EPSB recognizes that a robust public engagement process accompanying the sector review will contribute significantly to the sustainability of the resulting decisions. A meaningful public engagement process provides an opportunity to build trust, create ownership, improve relations and yield better understanding of the complexity of the issues related to the review and ultimately the decisions to be made." (Page 2)

I have been working so hard on this issue for many years; it's become clear to me that I can't stop all school closures but I have confidence now that the process to those painful decisions will be just, fair and transparent. I hope you feel the same... but if not, please, let me know.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Board Agenda- Tuesday

That's the link and all the reports should be accessible.

I'm at the Alberta Congress Board conference in Jasper- must run back to my small group discussion.

Will post more later.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poverty Reduction Forum

Today, I'm attending the PIA (Public Interest Alberta) Poverty Reduction Forum.

Here's the paper we will be discussing:

Of course, the sections on early learning (and the importance of supporting children birth- five), as well as the parts on education, literacy, and high school completion are of particular interest to me.

We know that 1 in 6 children in Edmonton live in poverty. In Calgary it's 1 in 8. In Alberta it's 1 in 10. Children are the ones who pay the most, they are the most vulnerable. Poverty reduction strategies and policies are being implemented across Canada. It's time for Alberta to step up too.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Final Day- Inspiring Education Forum

This day's highlights: U of A President Indira Samareskera's address and the discussion at my table. Low point of whole conference: discussion on governance.

But, let's start with the good news-- highlights from Dr. Sam's speech:
  • Reaffirmation of the importance of creativity. We need to be open to "weirdness, eccentricity and difference" (love it!). Difference must be celebrated rather than homogeneity.
  • Creative thinking is regarded by some to be inefficient, a waste of time, risky, a sign of laziness, but this is just wrong.
  • Everyone has the capacity to be creative in their field (it's not limited to arts).
  • Intellectual freedom is essential. Schools must support the fermentation of new ideas.
  • Teachers must model creativity and life-long learning in the very act of teaching through a willingness to learn from students and by being open to changes worldwide.
  • We should encourage students to ask us questions we cannot answer- encourage them to find answers themselves by drawing on expertise of many people.
  • 20-30% of intellectual growth of university students happens outside classes. This is a heavy shift to experiential learning.
  • Key skills for students to develop: the creative application of information, inventiveness, empathy and meaning-making.
  • We must ignite the passions of students.
  • My question for Dr. Sam that was not posted (due to time constraints): "We need to change the way we teach the teachers. How quickly can the U of A adapt its B'ED program to meet the new needs?"

Ideas from my table (discussion):

  • Difference between "power with" and "power over"... we need to recognize the limitations of "power over", which closes opportunities and meaning whereas "power with" with opens up possibilities for all.
  • Narrative identity development (from Phd student at my table, an expert on change!).... we develop a different way of seeing self, through our connection with others. ("One Self as An Other" recommended reading.) We self-regulate through our participation in a group. Focusing on personal achievement through a competitive model undermines levels of trust and social community. It reduces the potential of the group and actually makes us less competitive globally. As a summary: cooperation at a local level increases potential to "compete" on the global scale.
  • We added some suggestions to the "Bold and Courageous Ideas" section including: creating the time and environment for reflection & narrative inquiry to deepen understanding of the knowledge of change, personal growth & creative thought. We also thought we should create measures for the new priorities of education like creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, social adeptness, etc. etc.
  • Under POLICY THEMES there were three identified by the Inspiring Ed folks: Learner-centered system, Equitable and Inclusive Learning Opportunities and Coordinated/Integrated Supports.

The LOW POINT--- the discussion on governance. For many of the 180 trustees in the room, this was THE topic of most interest on the agenda. They wanted to know Where are we going? Will the government unveil their plan? Is the Education Superboard coming? Or will we now learn about some other model of distributed governance that involves giving parents more authority over their individual school (the "Every School is a Charter School" model). There was an expectation in the room that this would be a clarifying moment. Sadly, it was not.

The governance conversation started with a reading entitled "What is my unique contribution to the whole?" Interesting choice, I thought, to get us all in the right mindset. There were passages that said things like: "If we're going to reweave the world rather than have it disintegrate, we need new ways to understand diversity and differentness". It emphasized the importance of seeing our interconnectedness and listening quietly to other people's stories in order to find common ground.

Okay, I'm ready. I'm open. I'm listening quietly. Lay it on me- where are we going? But then I started to feel a little anxious, for some reason. For the first time in two days, doubt crept in.

Then out comes the wordle... it shows the answers that most people gave in response to a question something along the lines of: who is a contributor, with a shared responsibility for education? The words Parents, Teachers, Community were in huge letters of course. In small, insignificant letters was "school boards". I'm okay with that, but to take this information and tape under the heading: GOVERNANCE seemed disingenuous. The people being consulted last year never heard the word "governance"during these least it wasn't mentioned at the session I attended. So to assume that having a shared responsibility is the SAME as governance doesn't jibe for me. And it didn't jibe for the trustees I met during the break. They were ticked off, in fact!

The sheets we filled in during our group discussion were entitled "A Shared Governance Model" and we were encouraged to think about how these contributors' roles could be increased. So people spent time examining how parents, teachers, students, etc. could have a more meaningful roles in governance. Because school boards had been presented as insignificant (visually and metaphorically by the wordle), I doubt they appeared on many sheets.

Then the photographs came out. I got a spider on a web and I was asked to tell the group how my photograph illustrated the governance themes of "Community Involvement", "Accountability and Shared Responsibility" and "Parental Engagement and Choice". I felt frustrated and, to be frank, manipulated.

To be clear, I support shared leadership. I support strong community ownership of education. I support meaningful involvement of students, parents and teachers in education. I believe we all own education, but I was looking for a discussion about "governance"... as I understand it...not more discussion of what photographs of swimmers, mountain bikers and compasses mean. I don't think the governance themes were genuinely generated in the first place (because the questions were never framed accurately), so I felt the whole conversation started in the wrong place. Ultimately, I want to hear where trustees and boards fit into all this.

I brought these concerns to the attention of the Minister of Education following the session today. He said I was confusing "governance" with "government". What I was looking for fell under "government" which would be developed based on the desired principles of "governance". He said everyone is involved in governance, only the elected officials are involved in government. I told him I thought most trustees labelled their work as governance and so it was logical they might be some confusion around this. He said he would clarify meaning through a communication, possibly on his blog. I thanked him for listening to my concerns and agreed that clarifying meaning was a good idea. He reiterated that he had no intention to create a superboard. "Why would I do all this and then create a superboard?" he asked. I also mentioned that not recognizing the 180 trustees in the room might have been interpreted as a lack of recognition for them and their work. I concluded by telling him how positive I thought the whole conference had been and thanked him for creating the opportunity for this important discussion. Change, I feel, is inevitable; the synergy of 800 people focused intently on one shared purpose will make it so.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day One, Part 2, Inspiring Ed

The second speaker was Mark Milliron. ( and on twitter as well.)

His speech was jam-packed with info, book recommendations, humour and insight.
Here's my scrambled, organic notes:

  • We don't have a clue what's coming. Book by George Friedman "The Next Hundred Years". Conventional analysis shows a profound failure of imagination and common sense will be wrong.
  • We will need deeply strategic thinking to address challenges ahead (Thomas Friedman, "Hot, Flat and Crowded")
  • Learning is not a linear pipeline, but a swirl that people will enter and re-enter many times in their lives. Some districts have developed integrated K-20 education policy that shows a high level of coordination between schools, colleges, and universities. Kids graduate gr. 12 with many credits for post-secondary.
  • We have a lot to learn from gaming- kids will work very hard to get to the next level. If we incorporated this into learning- how would they soar? One school is doing this- with a game to test all the curricular outcomes. Kids need to master the level to move on, when they complete the game, they've covered all the course material. Results: better achievement, more intrinsic motivation and they finish the work in half the time!
  • Using technology (holographs, simulated worlds, etc.) to expand the possibilities for engaged teaching.
  • Deep data model (analytics) can show trends, give triggers and tailor-make learning. (i.e. warnings when an at-risk kid is about to drop out, based on data of actions or inactions.)
  • Four ingredients for transcendent learning: critical learning, creative learning, social learning, courageous learning.
  • Critical learning is based on scientific theory, active reflection, introspection, using solid metrics to pursue new methods.
  • Creative learning creates divergent thinkers. (See: "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell or "The flight of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida).
  • Social learning is learning how to get alone (most important skill for retaining a job!). See: "Social Intelligence", "The Hard Truth about Soft Skills" or "Crazy Busy".
  • Courageous learning involves the ability to let go, unlearn, relearn... to have rookie courage. See: "The Art of Changing the Brain", "Five Minds of the Future", "Life Entrepreneurs."
  • Mark posed a tough question to all of us in the education field- are we willing to be critical, creative, social and courageous in the face of change?

What struck me in Mark's speech (besides the fact that I have a lot of books to read!) is that this all feels strangely familiar. For me, it's linked to the drama classes, the general arts background, the collective theatre/Fringe experience, the constant need to re-invent myself over the past twenty years as a freelance artist. I've probably had more jobs than most people my age; I've been the "rookie" so many times, it actually seems odd to me to consider that, if I'm elected again, I will be in the same job for 6 years. My previous record is 2.5 years. It turns out, I'm the new normal.

HA. Now, that's amusing!

Inspiring Education- reflections

Today was the first full day of sessions for Inspiring Education. We listened to provocative speakers talk about both the need for change and the resistance to change.

We also had time throughout the day to work at small tables, discussing the papers presented as a result of the province-wide community conversations.

I started tweeting, live, but soon ran into technical difficulties and couldn't access any internet for most of the day, which was frustrating to say the least!

My thoughts, in point form, highlighting what resonated with me:

Dr. Jennifer James- speaker
  • We are experiencing broad, rapid, unprecendented change. During periods of great change, people will experience a high level of free floating anxiety, which some will interpret as a moral void. ("World going to hell in a handbasket.")
  • We are becoming increasingly culturally assimilated- France and Germany have written joint history books. The ability to talk to people all over the world, via the internet, brings about a different understanding of events, "truths", history, economics, ideas in general.
  • Most people cannot imagine the change that is needed to prepare kids for the future.
  • Everything changes when technology changes- personality, belief systems, economic systems, who is a citizen (democracy). It changes who is in the room and who has a voice.
  • Cultural mythologies are difficult to change- our tapestry of beliefs need to unravel slightly before they can be rewoven.
  • We need leadership to create stories to transition the change, so people can "see where we are going." The people telling the story need to be BELIEVABLE and the story has to resonate with deeply held values.
  • We should be open to considering competency testing for teachers (esp. in technology), recongnizing master teachers, eliminating tenure for teachers.
  • Kids need to learn to be researchers, collaborators, systems analysts, with cultural intelligence, negotiation/mediation skills.
  • What does your school value? (Check the trophy case for clues!)
  • Can we move up Maslow's ladder from security to self knowledge, to self actualization to transformation?
  • There will be increased demands for justice, quality of life and meaning.
  • Multiple choice exams teach the student to suspend judgement. They don't teach them to think.
  • Other trends: Access to information, inclusivity, alternatives to violence. We must learn to be kind and how to channel our fear when we perceive a threat.