Monday, March 30, 2009

Outcomes- board meeting

All recommendations passed.

The presentation on the Sector Planning is well worth a read. I am pleased to see the frequent references to community consultation and the increased clarity identifying the stages of public engagement. (Informing, consulting, collaborating, etc.) I also like the Advisory Committte which will have someone from the City of Edmonton (among others) on it. It has been articulated by many people that the City and EPSB need to plan together and in cooperation with one another. All and all, the Sector based plan seems to be a step forward and it has the Board's unanimous support. Of course, school closures will always be contentious and emotional, but I feel this new approach will allow more input from more people over more time. A better process should yield better transitions for all.

I put forward a notice of motion for the next Board meeting:
A report on the pros and cons of having an external member with financial expertise sit on the audit committee.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sue on Twitter

Twitter- an on-line networking device where people answer the question: "what are you doing?"

Brevity is necessary on twitter- you are only allowed a maximum of 140 characters. Each post is called a tweet. So, if you want to know what I'm up to, but don't have time to read an entire blog post, or send an email...

check it out.

You can register to follow me.
search: suehuff

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Have I been Up to lately?

The past little while has been a blur of conferences....

March 9- Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week Launch. I was inspired by the Working Group's dedication to addressing all areas of sexual exploitation including child pornography, child luring on the internet, and prostitution. I joined the committee.

March 12- I continue to work with the Challenge Program students at Meadowlark School once a week on their documentary film projects. The Asst. Principal has taken on a very ambitious project with me and is bravely tackling the technical and logistical challenges of this project.

March 13- 14- ASBA Summit on Public Engagement at the Shaw Conference Centre. Amazing, inspiring. How can we build this future, where people are excited about the importance of education and feel personally engaged in the outcomes? Shared decision-making. Putting the public back in public education. I felt like I had arrived "home."

March 15- West Edmonton Community Leagues Council meeting- Community League Presidents of the west end Community Leagues working together to create better communities. I was pleased to attend and hear how they wish to work more closely and cooperatively with schools.

March 16- Symposium on Healthy Schools, jointly presented by ESPB and the Edmonton Catholic Board. Great speakers, great idea-sharing. I attended the session on The Way In- a tri-school initiative in Millwoods to provide wrap-around mental health services to students in grade 7. Inspired and necessary...How can we duplicate this across the District??

March 17- Volunteer! Conference organized by Jasper Place student, Malikka. High school students from across the city sat down with trustees and talked about their "top issues." In the afternoon, they worked on increasing student volunteerism and engagement. Congratulations to all the student organizers and supportive staff at JP!!!

March 20- 21- Alberta Association for Community Living Conference.
Two days of parents, teachers and professionals (and one trustee!)... learning about inclusive education. The hopes, dreams, challenges and successes of having children with special needs accepted and included in schools and in society. I heard powerful messages about embracing difference. For me, this cut to the core of what it means to be human in a just society. How do we welcome everyone? How can we face our own prejudices and wrestle with the desire to be separate from those that appear different? I heard more than one parent talk about the pain, the frustration and the utter exhaustion of trying to find acceptance for their child. I heard one parent ask for us (in government) to have the "tough conversation" about the fundamental right to inclusion.

My head hurts from all the information that has been crammed in over the past 10 days. I'm looking for common threads and take-away actions. What does it all mean?? I think one idea is bubbling up to the surface: Human Disconnect. People feel disempowered. They feel their voices aren't being heard. They have something to contribute....they want to make things better, but they perceive that those in the decision-making seats aren't willing to share their "power." (I put the word power in quotes, because as one of those sitting in one of those seats, I can assure you, I feel just as powerless.)

How do we create a true "public"-- a body that decides, based on the needs of all? How do we ensure that those who are closest to the impacts of the decisions are keenly involved in those decisions? What needs to change to increase human connections, to empower those who feel marginalized and forgotten? Education is about building lives.

Board meeting- Sector planning, etc.

For full agenda, with all reports attached, go to:

Information re: school closure processes found in Reports 8 & 9.

Overview of items on the agenda:

2. Improving Student Achievement through the work of Facilities Services

3. District Response to Phase 2 of the Provincial Review of Special Education - Setting the Direction: Towards a System Re-design (EPSB response to the Phase II of the Government's review of Special Education)

4. Process and Timeline for 2009-2010 Planning (Altered BUDGET Review timelines)

5. Transportation Discussion Paper (To be submitted to ASBA)

6. Update on the Employability Skills Achievement Certificate (ESAC) Pilot (L.Y. CAIRNS)

7. Bereavements

8. Report #9 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held March 17, 2009) (Contains recommendations from Ad Hoc Committee on School Closure)

9. Sector Reviews: Update (Very interesting information here)

Board Policy Review - DA.BP Fiscal Oversight and Management

Board Policy Review - DJ.BP Purchasing

Board Policy Review - GDB.BP Terms and Conditions of Employment

Board Policy GBD.BP Vacations and Holidays

Board Policy Review - GFA.BP Reduction of Staff

Board Policy Review - GGB.BP Evaluation of Superintendent of Schools

Board Policy Review - GGC.BP Staff Performance

17. Multi-cultural Task Force: Interim Report (Good summary of MCTF work to date)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Setting the Direction- Register for this Weekend

That's the link to register for the Setting the Direction, Phase 2, consultation happening in Edmonton THIS FRIDAY and SATURDAY.

There's still room and if you have an opinion to express to the provincial government on improving educational outcomes for special needs students, please consider attending one of the sessions. Your feedback will help shape the direction for all Alberta.

The first round has been completed and the discussion has been refined based on the feedback. The topic is centered now around defining an inclusive education model that would allow all students to succeed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Board- outcomes

The Board meeting this Tuesday was jam-packed....

The Superintendent advised that McArthur and Ecole Richard Secord
Schools will be receiving an award from the Alberta Association for Community Living
(AACL) for the work of staff in implementing and supporting quality inclusive
education to students with developmental disabilities. CONGRATS!

Edwin Parr Nominee finalists- all were congratulated for their outstanding work and dedication. The District selected one finalist to represent us at Zone 2/3.... and the winner is... drum roll, please.... Clare Cumberland from J. Percy Page School. Congratulations!

District Enrolment Outlook and Impact of ASAP schools Report
This report generated quite a bit of discussion. There was talk about if the schools could accomodate alternative programs (like French Immersion) and what opportunities this might present the district in terms of creative use of additional space. 70 schools are listed in the report and although the exact numbers of decline will be ultimately determined by parental choice... the challenge is certainly real. The admin is attempting to get some advance information from parents to see if they plan to attend the new school in their area once it opens.

Reports from Staff Groups... Both the Teachers Union and the CUPE 474 (Custodial staff) made presentations to Board. They both outlined areas they wish the Board to address in our upcoming budget deliberations.

Requests for Information-
1- Paperless format for Board businesss. Trustee Colburn thanked the admin for the information and announced his intention to go paperless for the remainder of the year as a pilot project.
2- Suspensions- Madeline Rainey, a parent, spoke about her concerns re: suspensions, in particular for children with diagnosed behavioural issues.
I asked a number of questions related to this issue and encouraged the District to continue its work on alternatives, included restorative justice techniques and community conferencing. I expressed concern about students who were suspended and unsupervised due to parents who were working, etc. I also suggested reviewing the terms for suspension as outlined in Policy IG. BP, which lists "loitering" and "use or display of profane language" as possible grounds for suspension.
3- Reducing Ride Times- The transportation review is expected to be completed by June (for special needs students) and August (for regular students). At that time, we will have more information on the costs and implications. At the same time, the Planning Department is reviewing the placement of programs, to try and put them as close to the student's homes as possible. I asked for clarification re: our intent to reduce cross-boundary bussing for alternative programming and it was confirmed that we would be providing bussing only for an alternative program within a set area. So, parents could choose a french immersion program within a certain boundary... and receive bussing. But if they wanted to attend a different french immersion program all the way across town, we would not feel obligated to provide bussing in that circumstance.

-KPMG was approved as the auditor for EPSB for Sept. 1, 2008- August 31, 2009.
-Bonnie Zack was approved as Director.
-Infrastructure Survey response was confirmed. I asked for an update on the internal audit of our buildings.

-All policies passed first and second reading (Fiscal Oversight, Purchasing, Terms of Employment for Exempt Staff, Vacations and Holidays, Reduction of Staff, Evaluation of Superintendent, Staff Performance.)

There was some discussion on the Purchasing Policy-a definition of "recognized certifications and standards" for environmental and ethical considerations. Admin has done research and provided details. The final vote was 8-1.
There was also discussion around Reduction of Staff. I was concerned about striking out "The superintendent of schools shall recommend to the board the termination of employment of staff who are surplus to district needs." I felt the Board needed to retain its authority in this area, as it will surely be held accountable for these decisions by the public. The vote was 7-2 in favour.

Reports from Trustees:
I reported a number of events I had attended, accompanied by many of my colleagues. I also mentioned that I have decided to join safedmonton's Working Group on Sexual Exploitation. This committee is comprised of members from the City of Edmonton, Neighbourhood and Community Development, PAAFE, Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, Changing Together, Edmonton Public Libraries, Edmonton Police Services and Edmonton Child Services. I felt the addition of a representative from the Education sphere would be helpful.

A group of parents from the Somali community spoke to the Board about their concerns.

No notices of motion. No requests for information.

Tha-tha-that's all folks!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Photo- Aboriginal Gift

Last June, the Board celebrated National Aboriginal Day with a special dinner with representatives from the Aboriginal community prior to our board meeting. During the board meeting, the significance of the day was recognized and each trustee received a gift from Aboriginal children in their ward. I received this beautiful wall hanging made by the students at Inglewood School. Given the confines of my house, I don't have a wall big enough to display it properly. Instead, I use it as a quilt on my bed, so that I can enjoy it every day. It's taken me a while to finally get this photo posted....but better late than never!

Thank you again to the students, Aboriginal leaders, volunteers and staff at Inglewood for this beautiful gift. I treasure it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Winter Walk Day

On February 11, 2009, I celebrated Winter Walk Day at Westglen School.
Also walking with pride were:
Edmonton-Glenora MLA and Minster of Service, Heather Klimchuk (in green coat) ;
Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation, Cindy Ady (between Bev and Heather, back row);
EPSB Board Chair and Provincial Manager of S.H.A.P.E., Bev Esslinger (in red hat);
Constable Tricia Gagne from EPS (left of me);
Olympic racewalker and Westglen track coach, Tim Berrett (left of Tricia)
and of course U of A mascots Guba and Patches.
It was a great sunny day and the perfect day for a walk!

ADHD Support Group

A number of parents have asked me for information on ADHD... in particular, if there was a support group. I made a few inquiries, but couldn't find anything, so I referred them to the Learning Disability Association. This week I discovered that there is actually a support group.

Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CH.A.D.D Canada Inc.)
The Edmonton Satellite Group had a meeting this past Saturday at the Misericordia Hospital.
If you want to know when their next meeting is planned, the email address is

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Board mtg- March 10

Click on the link to the left ("Helpful Links"---"Board agendas") and go to "Meeting #12- March 10" for full details. You can read all the reports on line.

Here's a few things that have caught my eye:
- Edwin Parr Teacher Award nominee finalists will be announced (agenda item 3)

- District Enrolment Impact of ASAP Schools (agenda item 4). This report shows how the 6 new schools, with 5000 student spaces, will impact neighbouring schools.

- Trustee requests for info (agenda item 6). Topics: feasibility of paperless board meetings, rates of recidivism for suspensions, trying to reduce bus ride-times.

- ASBA Infrastructure survey submission (agenda item 8) which urges "provincial utilization calculations recognize private and not-for-profit tenants and partners." (page 3)

- Policy revisions to:
Fiscal Oversight and Management (agenda item 9),
Purchasing--- includes environmental and ethical considerations (item 11),
Staff Reduction (agenda item13)

There may be other things that catch your attention, but on first glance, these are the items that I was eager to discuss. Please let me know if you have any thoughts to share.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bill to remove Grade 3 PATs

The Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs) are standardized tests, designed by Alberta Education, given to Alberta students in grade 3, 6 and 9. In grade 12, the diploma exams are also written by the Alberta government. The tests provide data to see how students all across the province are doing in core subjects. They provide one measure of accountability for school districts. Comparing data from standardized tests provides an indication of areas of strength and areas that need further emphasis- both for individual school districts and education at the provincial level.

Some other context and considerations:
Like any test, the PATs have limitations on what they test (some subjects are not tested, some skills are not tested) and how they test (pencil and paper). Some students are exempted from writing the test, either by parental choice or because the student has cognitive delays or disabilities. If a child does not take the test, they are recorded as a "0" in the school's achievement data. Critics point out that this can negatively skew a school's results, for, in essence, being inclusive of all children. The Fraser Institute uses the data every year to rank schools on their achievement. Critics complain that this is an unfair and incomplete assessment tool for ranking schools and that the data should not be used in this manner.

An MLA is introducing a private member's bill to consider removing the Grade 3 PATs. This will be debated in the Legislature this month. What do you think? I would be interested to hear from you.

Here's an article from the Calgary Herald with more info: