Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Board outcome- conference meetings

Hello all,
The board discussion last night about what should be delegated to conference committee (i.e. behind closed doors) was vigorous. I shared the various ideas brought forward by the constituents who contacted me on this issue and tried to represent their views to the best of my ability. I quoted from several of the emails (both for and against the recommendation). In the balance, I was left with a number of questions and concerns and therefore, when Trustee Colburn put a motion on the table to defer the decision until public consultation had taken place… I voted and spoke in favour of deferral. I thought there was great wisdom in making sure that this change would be publicly supported and understood and that we actively sought out the opinion of others, including the provincial government, who is about to undertake a Ministerial review of school governance. However, my colleagues did not share my concerns and felt that, because this related to the internal workings of the board, there was no need to consult with the public. The motion was defeated 7-2.

This returned us to the original recommendation. Again, I argued that this could be perceived by the public, the province, other boards and public organizations like Public Interest Alberta as a regressive step away from transparency in the name of efficiency. I reiterated my belief that the recommendation lacked clarity and might be misinterpreted. Trustee Colburn cited other boards that are working quite well with the bulk of their work being done in public; he quoted President Obama’s views on the importance of conducting work publicly. The majority of the board however felt that this recommendation was providing clarity and increased transparency of what exactly was going on behind closed doors already. They emphasized that all decisions are made in public and there is opportunity for public input at those points. The vote was taken and the recommendation was passed 7-2. (Trustee Colburn and Huff against).

The recommendation is now board position and as per our protocols, I am bound to support and uphold the board's decision.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Board Agenda- Tuesday

Here's the items for Tuesday's Board meeting. I've provided a quick summary so you can see if it is an item of interest for you.

2. Improving Student Achievement Through Personnel Services - Staff Development

3. Response to Trustee Request for Information How will the parent voice be accounted for the District's response to the provincial review on special needs education?

H. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports

4. Report #6 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held January 20, 2009)

summary----Report from Board Evaluation Committee; Policy change re: what the board can discuss behind closed doors; proposed public engagement activity

A series of policy reviews:

5. Board Policy Review - GB.BP Authority for Personnel Decisions

6. Board Policy Review - GBC.BP Employee Relations

7. Board Policy Review - GIA.BP Pensions

8. Board Policy Review - GJ.BP Staff Leaves of Absence

9. Board Policy Review - GM.BP Acknowledgement of Deaths and Bereavements

Friday, January 23, 2009

Anti-bullying program launched

This week I accompanied Board Chair Bev Esslinger and Assistant Superintendent Ron MacNeil at Glenora School's launch for the Olweus Anti-bullying program. MLA Heather Klimchuk was also in attendance and spoke of the Provincial government's commitment to stopping bullying.

The introduction of the Olweus program was sponsored by the Evan Grykuliak Memorial Society, which was formed to provide a positive legacy to Evan's senseless murder at his 17th birthday party in 2006. The group researched many anti-bullying programs and picked this one (developed in Norway) because it is evidence-based and has an impressive success rate. Evan's friends and family raised the money necessary to train the teachers and parent volunteers in the program at Glenora. As well, the Memorial Society established a scholarship to be awarded annually to the student that most exemplifies Evan’s spirit. It is an incredible testimony to the power of people coming together to take steps to prevent violence.

You can learn more about the Olweus program at

I was honoured to be present at the ceremony and to talk to Evan's mom and family friends. Their dedication to improving the lives of children is remarkable and I hope seeing their work in action in our schools (the program is also being piloted at Delton School) will help to heal the pain of their tragic loss.

Anonymous Posts to my blog

Someone submitted a very thought-provoking anonymous post to my blog on Obama and public education. There were some interesting ideas that I would like to respond to on the role of the trustee and accountability... however, I am not comfortable posting the comment without a signature. My reasons follow the same principles as letters to the editor...without a signature, the comment is not able to be validated and therefore cannot be shared publicly. (In essence, the Editor of a newspaper could be writing letters to himself without this requirement!)

If the writer would like to continue the conversation privately, please feel free to contact me via email. If the writer wishes the comment to be shared publicly, please resubmit the comment with a name attached.

Many thanks for your understanding!

National Strategy on Literacy

National Strategy for Early Literacy- Invitation to Submit Information Briefs and participate in a National Consultation.

I attended an information session on this yesterday and encourage anyone or any organization that has thoughts on improving literacy to consider making a submission. As has been documented, low literacy levels have very detrimental effects on physical and mental health, productivity and success in life.

Here's the info:
The National Strategy for Early Literacy (NSEL) is a Canada-wide initiative to improve the literacy skills of Canadian children and youth. NSEL engages in a broad coalition of organizations and individuals to understand and describe what can be done to improve literacy outcomes for young Canadians and to put these actions into practice. The conclusion of the NSEL process will be a coherent, feasible, evidence-based national strategy for early literacy, including a clear statement of activities required and of the organizations that must take responsibility for these actions.

The NSEL initiative is being coordinated by the Canadian Language and Literacy Network (, a Canada-wide network engaging practitioners, policymakers, researchers and trainees in every province and territory with the common goal of improving literacy skills in Canada. (As a side note, Stats Canada reports that more than 9 million people- or 4 out of 10- Canadian adults struggle with literacy, language and numeracy problems every day and there has been no improvement in this situation for more than a decade.)
A series of “hearings” relating to the National Strategy initiative will be held across Canada in March 2009. (For Alberta, it will take place in Edmonton on March 9). These consultations provide an opportunity for presentations that are focused on issues relating to improving literacy skills of young Canadians. They are open to the public and observers are most welcome. It is expected that the media will be in attendance.

Parties interested in presenting are invited to submit an information brief (max 5 pages) in advance. From the submissions received, the panel will select a list of presenters that cover a variety of perspectives, with each presenter allotted 15 minutes.

Information briefs should be sent by FEBRUARY 15 to in order to allow the panel sufficient time to go through the selection process.

If you cannot make the February deadline, you are still encouraged to submit information from your organization to the above email address anytime during February or early March, as all submissions will be considered in the final report.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's speech and public education

President Obama's inaugural speech had great impact on me. The power of his message and, of course, his skill as an orator are undeniable. He seems to possess that rare gift of great leaders to shape, motivate and inspire the collective will.

I was struck by his ability to make connections- he acknowledged and honoured the past and yet was clear about the need for change, innovation and forward movement. He encompassed both the need for restraint, humility and tolerance AND the need for forceful defense of key principles and ideals. He spoke to everyone and everyone found a message that rang true for them: the soldier and the peace protestor, the environmentalists and the industrialists, the rich and the poor, every faith and possibly for the first time, the "non-believers." Everyone has a place at the table. Everyone has a part to play and an important contribution to meet the challenges and forge a brighter future for all.

President Obama used the metaphor of the quilt to describe America. He commented that this was a strength not a weakness. This appealed to me and made me think of the diversity in our schools. It is not uncommon to have over 20 nationalities represented in a classroom in an Edmonton Public School. Some may focus on the challenges that those demographics present and truly, they exist, but perhaps the answers to those challenges will emerge when we all shift our thinking and see this as our greatest strength. Every child has a place at the table with Edmonton Public. That is what the first trustees believed back in 1881 and that continues to be the guiding principle behind public education. Every child belongs. Every child has the right to belong- rich or poor, from any background, any ability, any faith, any circumstance. You are all welcome and you will be given the very best we can offer. That is our commitment.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why do we educate? Books

I'm reading a couple of good books right now....and if you are interested in education, you might also want to check them out.

Hold onto your Kids- why parents need to matter more than peers by Gordon Neufeld. Dr. Neufeld came to speak to over 400 EPSB staff recently and then did another session for parents on the importance of attachment. It's a book that emphasizes the key role parents (and other significant adults, like teachers) can and should make in children's lives and how our "power" or proper relationship has been eroded to the point that kids are looking to their peers far too much for guidance, often to disastrous consequence.

Why Do we Educate? Renewing the Conversation by David Coulter and John Wiens. I heard David and John speak at the most recent PSBAA (Public School Board Association of Alberta) conference. The book examines what education is (and is not) and how it differs from "schooling". I'm just in the beginnings of both books, so I can't draw any conclusions yet, but both provide good food for thought.

I have had a number of challenging conversations lately with parents of children with special needs- the hopes they have for their children, the at-times overwhelming frustration they experience, the sorrow of lost opportunities and the relentless determination to move forward and find solutions. These conversations are important because they open my eyes to a perspective, an experience that is not my own but for which I, as a parent, have great empathy. Every parent dreams, hopes, fears and worries. Every parent feels immense joy and immense pain- at some time or other. It comes with the turf and with parenthood comes incredible vulnerability. Someone described being a parent as "watching your heart walking around outside your body." I think that's a pretty apt description.

Why we educate, what do we hope children will master and understand by the time they leave school, how can parents and schools successfully partner in the joint work of education, how can we nurture and guide our children to their best possible future selves....

Lots to mull over in the New Year and beyond.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Next Board Meeting

Our next board meeting, on Tuesday....

Item G.3 is about advocating for extending PUF beyond kindergarten for children with special needs (PUF- program unit funding). Through PUF, the provincial government provides funding for three years, creating opportunities for aides or speech therapy for children with autism, for example. Unfortunately, the funding stops at the end of kindergarten and parents find the level of service dramatically altered in grade one.

Item G4- Requests for information
Exciting potential re: Early Screening and Early Intervention for Learning Disabilities.
Work experience
Developing an alternate certificate of achievement

A couple of motions re: environmental issues.

Some policy reviews dealing with Personnel and Staffing.

Here's the links to the reports.....

Improving Student Achievement:

2. Improving Student Achievement at Highlands Junior High School

G. Reports from the Superintendent of Schools:

3. Response to Trustee Motion Regarding Continuation of Early Education Funding for Students with Severe Disabilities

4. Responses to Trustee Requests for Information

H. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports

5. Motion re Geothermal Heating

6. Motion re Environmental Policy

7. Board Policy Review - GB.BP Authority for Personnel Decisions

8. Board Policy Review - GBC.BP Employee Relations

9. Board Policy Review - GIA.BP Pensions

10. Board Policy Review - GJ.BP Staff Leaves of Absence

11. Board Policy Review - GM.BP Acknowledgement of Deaths and Bereavements

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lieutenant- General Romeo Dallaire to speak


Learn from the consummate leader and strategist of our time.
Should our students learn compliance or be empowered to pose questions about the world they will inherit?

Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, author of Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda will deliver a powerful presentation on the urgency of kids learning to ask critical questions and have clear sense of moral purpose. The future needs strong global citizenship.

Fantasyland Hotel, WEM. Sunday, January 25 PM, 8 PM.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fiscal Oversight Policy- feedback

One of our strategic goals as a Board is to improve our fiscal accountability measures. In accordance, the following policy has been developed. As per our process, all existing policies under review (or new policies being considered) are open to public input. Feel free to add your voice!

Here's the survey:

Here's the policy:
DA.BP - Fiscal Oversight and Management

This will be open for stakeholder input from January 5, 2009 to February 2, 2009.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sustainability Review- on line survey

The letters of notification about the on-line survey went out, as planned on Monday, January 5th. 3500 people will be notified and provided with a password to allow them to access the survey. The intent is to reach every parent, community member and staff member impacted by either school closure, sustainability review to understand their perspectives on the process. The survey was generated based on the common themes heard from focus groups of parents, community members and staff. These focus groups were facilitated by an independent research company.

The survey will be on-line until January 23.

We value your input. Thank you for taking the time to answer the survey.

If, for some reason, you do not receive your letter in the mail, please contact me via email and I will assist you.