Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why no air travel? More thoughts

Here's a couple more points to consider re: the travel ban from our Superintendent:

Since people have little or no immunity to this completely new strain of virus, the virus can spread very quickly. The risk of infection is especially high in the strict confines of an airplane.

Airlines are monitoring travelers and anyone displaying flu-like symptoms is not being allowed to fly. It would present significant challenges to manage a situation in which a student or staff member became ill and was not able to return to Edmonton.

The second point resonates with me as I imagine a student getting sick (not even from Swine Flu, just a regular illness) on a trip. They come to the airport and are not permitted to board the airplane because they have a temperature, a cough or look unwell. Now, what happens? Who stays with them? Obviously, they can't be left behind alone. How would this be managed? Who pays for the additional costs? How long would they be delayed? What medical action would be required, etc.? Could they be quarantined? Each country seems to be adopting different measures and responses.

I agree that the likelihood of someone contracting Swine Flu may be very low, but the likelihood of one child within a group of 40 kids getting ill with "flu-like symptoms" on a trip is quite a bit higher. We all know that with the hectic pace of an exciting school trip, sleep is not a top priority. Immune systems are a little wonky and they don't recognize the foreign bugs. I think, as parents, we all know that our kids may come home from a field trip a little tired, maybe with the sniffles, but excited about what they've learned and full of confidence and great stories. We accept that risk- "it's just a cold and they will sleep well when they get home", we say. However, now, having the sniffles might mean your child is stranded in London. If the WHO continues to issue alerts, I'm guessing that airport security measures will continue to ramp up and things could become increasingly restrictive. All of this is beyond our control as a school board and the uncertainty is very difficult for our administrators who need to have contingency plans in place.

I don't wish to add to the panic. I don't believe in over-reactions, but this situation is not as black and white as it might appear on first blush. I have heard from many parents and will continue to have discussions with many people about this. Most people seem completely sympathetic to a ban on travel to Mexico or even the southern States. They cannot understand why trips to Spokane, Quebec and London are being affected when Health Canada has not issued travel bans there. The financial loss and disappointment is real. I've heard the anger. Principals are fielding many calls as well, but they are charged with protecting the health and safety of their children and executing the directives of the Superintendent. They have no choice in this matter.

Thank you for continuing the dialogue with me. I appreciate all your input as we move toward the debate on changing the parameters of the restrictions.

Not the only Jurisdiction to Ban Travel

I posted a comment from Mr. Sobat at Westminster, reflecting his views about the travel ban imposed by EPSB in relation to the Swine Flu. I respect Mr. Sobat's freedom of expression, however, we are not the only jurisdiction to impose a school travel ban. Edmonton Catholic Schools is also banning travel at this time and I hear that Parkland School Division has also cancelled a trip to Spokane.

Additional links- student discipline

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the way it generates new ideas. People read what I've posted, go off to investigate and then bring back additional information, which adds considerably to the conversation. The new, enriched message is then sent out for further development. Learning is not linear; it is exponential and in all directions at once. These are exciting times, when this can happen easily and through quick and direct communication. Society becomes a multi-faceted organism, acquiring information and processing it at incredible rates.

Here's an email I received, which referenced my blog and added more to my original CAPSLE summary:

"Last night at the Board meeting, Trustee Huff spoke briefly about the CAPSLE conference that she attended in Toronto. (Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law in Education.) Sue’s blog (Day One: CAPSLE and Day Two: CAPSLE) summarizes the conference and provides links to additional material. Sue references the document found at , called Shared Solutions (55 pages), which is truly a worthwhile read… very positive and demonstrates appreciation for the perspective of all stakeholders.

Another good document (six pages) can be found at ... this one speaks to proactive support of students rather than reactive punitive responses, discussing discipline as it pertains to special needs students, perhaps more specifically, students with Emotional/Behaviour Disorders:
In BC schools, for example, students with EBD have consistently outnumbered students with learning disabilities since 2001, representing the largest group of students in special education.

I am happy to pass on the collective knowledge!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Swine Flu goes to Level 5

The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert level to 5, which is meant as "a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent."

This is a good link for more information:

This one is really short and to the point:

EPSB Travel Ban

Open Letter to all Affected by the Travel Ban,

First of all, let me state that I understand your anger and disappointment. Fund-raising efforts for trips are an enormous undertaking. With all the planning, anticipation and excitement about the trip builds and to have it suddenly ripped away must be very difficult for all involved.

The decision was made by our Superintendent, who has authority over all our schools and operations. The Board of Trustees, who has authority over policy, budget, direction-setting, monitoring, etc., was not involved in the decision. The Superintendent provided his rationale to the Board at last night’s public board meeting. He summarized the key points of the outbreak and emphasized the growing seriousness of the situation with the fact that the World Health Organization has, for the first time, declared a Phase 4 outbreak. A breakdown of the WHO pandemic phase descriptions is attached. Both Edmonton Public Schools and Edmonton Catholic Schools have decided to go ahead with a travel ban. One key concern is that staff or students might be stranded in a city or foreign country, should any bans on travel be instituted.

It may be argued that this is an over-reaction and that the ban should have only applied to Mexico. However, just today European countries have confirmed cases. It seems that we don’t really have any idea where the Swine Flu will show up next. With the first death confirmed outside Mexico this morning (a 23 month old child in the USA), the stakes are raised again. As you probably know, air travel is a very contagious environment due to the re-circulated air. (Personally, it seems every time I fly, I pick up a cold.)

I, like many of you, do not want to be fear-driven. I do not believe that all of our experiences can be or should be “100 % risk-free.” Driving cars also pose great risks, but we continue to drive every day and permit our children to go in cars. What are the reasonable limits of caution? For every person, this line will be different. As an organization with the responsibility for the care of almost 80,000 students, where should that line be drawn?

I can understand the desire of the Superintendent to take all possible precautions to protect our children and to have clear guidelines to direct school activities. I can understand the point-of-view of parents and students, who feel this decision has been made unilaterally and has serious impacts on them personally. This is a complex issue. And therefore, the Board will be debating this issue at our next Board meeting on May 12. Trustee Gibeault put forward the following motion last night:

Moved: That the travel restrictions announced by the Administration, in response to international developments regarding Swine flu. be amended to apply only to Mexico, pursuant to the advisory issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and that any further travel restrictions, for health reasons, be implemented on the advice of the Public Health Agency of Canada, or other recognized health authority.

I will bring forward the opinions of my constituents to this debate and I welcome your input on this important issue. I will also be weighing the legal implications and wrestling with the notion of reasonable risk and risk management. In the end, I will vote according to the sum of all the information before me. This will not be an easy decision; however, following my principles of transparency, I will post here on May 13, my vote and rationale as well as a summary of the discussion and final outcome.

For those of you for whom, this debate is “too little, too late” and may be frustrated that a change could not be made instantly, I can only say that the wheels of policy change (again, the Board’s purview) do not move quickly and that the Board needs time to duly consider the implications of amending the Superintendent’s decision. It is not something that this Board is prepared to do lightly or in haste.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Today's lessons:

Opening Plenary- Current issues in Education Annie Kidder (People for Education) and Liz Sandals (Parl. Asst to Ont. Min of Education). Ms. Sandals spoke about the changes to the Ontario Education Act which added bullying to the list of suspenable offences and clearly articulated the adult responsibility to intervene. She spoke in particular about homophobic harassment. I was taking notes, thinking of the opening of the Alberta School Act and what lessons might be transferable.

Ms. Kidder's presentation on the work of People for Education was very exciting... a group of parent advocates who believe passionately in public education as a vehicle for public good rather than private (consumer-based) good. The group is 13 years old and now carries quite a bit of sway and has an independent operating budget of .5 million. The group conducts a yearly inventory of all the schools (counting things like how many librarians, how many art teachers, etc.) and develops an annual report. It follows trends and impacts of policy and then in turn empowers parents to see how they can influence those government policies. They translate "educational-eeze" and help parents navigate the system...and in the end, help them to see that public education is about everyone having a voice. Both presenters spoke about how Saskatchewan is leading the way in breaking down the silos and re-visioning schools as more than warehouses for kids, and education as more than test scores. Very compelling.

Next, I learned about how a Board in Montreal became the first in Canada to hire an independent ombudsman. He has just finished his first year and gave a report on the successes and challenges of the change. ( Also, very exciting. The ombudsman was set a clear mandate to improve relations between the District and anyone dealing with it, to facilitate functioning of the District, to be accessible, independent, neutral and impartial. The year involved a great deal of discussion, rapport development and explanation of his role. There were confidentiality and organizational considerations. There was publicity and media work to do... but the year one report card was pretty impressive. Stats and results were measurable and the recommendations he brought forward to improve District communication and decrease conflict were unanimously adopted by the Board. He was quite stunned to see this level of agreement.

In the afternoon, I attended a session Freedom of Expression (students) and various court cases were cited. I was very energized by this session and came away with a lot of questions. How do we encourage our students to understand their rights under the Charter and also to understand the limitations? How can we encourage responsible expression of opinion and protect minority views? How can we teach about appropriate and reasonable expression on the internet? These are critical areas of instruction for our students.

The last session was on Conflict Resolution in relation to special needs disputes. The Ontario Govt came out with A Special Education Transformation Report in 2006 recommending a number of changes, including that boards develop dispute resolution processes related to programs and services for students with special needs. The implementation of this recommendation is now being test-driven with various pilot projects. Of course, I was drawing parallels to our Alberta Setting the Direction. The Shared Solutions document on conflict resolution (available at sounds like it would be excellent reading for all our District staff. Interesting, but I was getting tired towards the end, after a full day of active listening. (Interesting stat: apparently people can only actively listen for 17 seconds. I think I can manage a bit longer than that!)

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Quick overview of what I learned/heard today:

- Brilliant opening remarks by Avis Glaze looking at significant global trends and their impact on education, the vital link between democracy and education, the moral imperative to educate all students, how Ontario has dramatically improved achievement in low-achieving schools by closing the achievement gap(See Ontario Min. of Education's publication: Schools on the Move), exciting work around forging consensus, developing a common sense of purpose and building commitment rather than using a Shame and Blame measure of accountability, empowering teachers and Principals to be the agents of positive change, collaborating with community, the importance of character education as well as academic education, how boys are falling behind in education and need to be helped and using statistical information about kids to help shape strategies. Very inspiring.

- Plenary session Bill 212- a new approach to suspensions, expulsions and student behaviour which takes an about-face from Mike Harris' Zero Tolerance policy called the Safe Schools Act. Debate about whether it encourages "lawyering up", and removes too much authority from the Principal's hands. Concerns about excessive use of appeal process and balancing that against student rights, the Human Rights Charter, Convention on the Rights of the Child. Message to be sure that integration, equity and social justice are determining board decisions and a clear move away from segregation on the grounds of human rights.

- Demonstration of the Charter Challenge. A new interesting project here in Ontario, where students prepare and present arguments on a charter case. The demonstration showed two teams presenting arguments on an expulsion case that went to the Court of Appeal re: a student posting comments about his teacher on his Facebook page. A judge from the Court of Appeal was in attendance to hear the arguments and present a decision.

-Discipline in the case of Special Needs Students- if they are incapable of understanding the discipline, changing their behaviour (Tourettes, for example) or unable to predict the foreseeable consequences of their actions, discipline is discriminatory. Other factors to consider: what impact will removing them from school have on their education, are they are threat to others present at the school, is the behaviour a direct result of their disability (if so, discipline may not be appropriate), are the appropriate accommodations in place to meet their needs, have they been properly assessed. We discussed court cases where expulsions were overturned in appeal.

Head is full... off to walk and digest.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

JP Volunteer Fair & the idea of GIVING

I dropped in on the Volunteer Fair at JP this morning, organized by the students. Great initiative. Some of the booths: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Pilgrims Hospice, City of Ed Rec, Food Bank... Students could walk around and pick up application forms to volunteer.

It made think about the importance of volunteering and much our society depends upon volunteering. If everyone who works without pay stopped tomorrow, the world would come to a grinding halt. Hospitals, schools, airports, libraries, agencies, societies, organizations would be thrown into chaos. I remember at our District Recognition Event last year, there was a student's quote about a special volunteer: "If she were ever to get sick, we would have to close the school that day."

Whenever I witness giving, it makes my heart sing. Last week, I had the honour of participating in Eastglen School's Aboriginal feast, the first for the school. Food was prepared (by volunteers), drummers and dancers came and an Elder, Trevor Gladue, hosted the event. There were teachings and, as always, I felt enriched by the opportunity to understand more about the Aboriginal culture. This time, I saw the respect manifested in a new way: because the ancestors receive the first offering of food, the cooks were not allowed to taste the food as they prepared it. A sample of everything was placed on a plate for the ancestors before anyone else was allowed to fill their plates.

After the meal, an Aboriginal woman came forward with four branches in her hand and Trevor explained that in his culture, this signifies that she is about to give away some horses. I wondered- real horses or symbolic ones? The woman, in a quiet and humble voice, then explained that a very important thing had happened in her family this week: her daughter had given birth to twin boys. The arrival of the grandchildren was a cause of great celebration and joy. To give thanks for this blessing, she was giving away four much-beloved horses. She then proceeded to give away a horse to people she barely knew, but that held a deep symbolism to her including a young girl who represented all the children and the Principal of Eastglen who took such good care of the Aboriginal children in his school. To each person, she presented a branch. The gym was still, teenagers transfixed and most of the adults had tears in their eyes. It is hard to describe how meaningful the giving was... how unexpected and profound.

I learned later that in the Aboriginal culture is it important to give and give, to give until it hurts, because the belief is it will come back to you. What a different world we would live in, if that was the underlying belief. Instead, we seem built upon the false idea of accumulating wealth for one's own benefit. We shore up our defences and insulate ourselves from others' misery with our sense of entitlement.

The theme for the Volunteer Fair was "Take Action Now." A good motto from a group of students devoted to making the world a better place. Congrats to the organizers and to JP.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are trustees politicians??

I've been in conferences for trustees where I've heard the speaker say: "You are politicians. Don't forget that." I've been in other conferences where I've heard: "Trustees are not politicians. You are a corporate board. Don't forget that."

I've been told to "act like government" and then told not to... sometimes within the same day.

What do you think?

Are trustees elected officials, like any other, with the same responsibilities to their constituents or are they a special breed, neither fish nor fowl, bound by separate rules of "one board, one voice"? Are they expected to work the room, smile for the cameras, make connections and kiss babies, like other politicians...or not? Should individual trustees talk to the media or should the Board Chair be the sole spokesperson for the Board?

Individual trustees have no authority, no power, above what any other citizen has. All decisions are made by the Board, through majority vote and any power we have is derived solely from these board decisions. But you could say the same of individual MLAs or councillors... they can't wave a magic wand and make things change. They are also reliant upon a majority vote for change to occur.

I am curious to understand what your expectations are of trustees. Do you expect to know their position in debates? To see their vote reflect their constituents' views? Do you expect trustees to be visible in the media? Does it matter? Or does the work of the Board as a whole hold more value to you? Do you only care about the outcomes, the achievements of the Board and decisions of the Board? Do you view individual trustees in the media as grand-standers or self-promoters? Are you content to have accountability as a "once-every-three-years-see-you-at-the-polls" phenomenon? Or do you expect more on-going accountability?

With the Minister of Education's Inspiring Education consultations coming up, these may be some of the questions that we will wrestle with. Do trustees and boards need a 21st Century makeover? If so, what would that "hairdo" look like? Send me an email and let me know what you think.

Monday, April 20, 2009

School Closure summary

A fantastic forward-looking overview of the School Closure research conducted by Cambridge Strategies has been posted on-line. In his blog, Ken Chapman, owner of Cambridge and lead researcher for the work, clearly articulates his findings and the values of public re: public education. Well worth reading!

(If this link doesn't work for some reason, just Google "Ken Chapman Blog". It's the most recent post.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Building the Public thru the internet

The very nature of the internet is non-hierarchical and inclusive. I think perhaps the greatest purpose of the web is developing and encouraging a true “public”. The internet is so much more than an advertising tool or broadcasting device. To me, (and many others far wiser than me from whom I constantly steal ideas!)… the web is about engagement and equal access. It is about conversations and sharing information to build a collaborative culture.

As a District, we need to be willing to encourage authentic and informed inputs. We will need to be willing to expose ourselves to real conversations/criticisms and let go of the desire to control or synthesize inputs to find the average and blend away the rough edges. This level of synthesis is seen by many as “spin” and treated with a great deal of suspicion. People want the raw data, the real inputs. As Mr. Ken Chapman said in his presentation to Board this week, the public no longer trust figures of authority. From my perspective, this is true not just for the 20-somethings. This is true for the 30-, 40- and a few 50-somethings as well.

Reputation management will need to adapt to accommodate this level of transparency and the accompanying perceived vulnerability. Fringe or radical responses will be accepted as part of the public opinion and ultimately, they will be dealt with by the public, not through censorship. (I attended a very interesting session in San Diego where racism was dealt with by the public. See my blog for entry below.) Transparency, accountability and group discussion to find solutions…. this is what I see as the future.

Ultimately, the new democracy will be on-line and it’s already started. Behaviours that used to be only observed by a select few and were therefore perpetuated behind a veil of obscurity are instantly reported on twitter and known by thousands, who have the potential to spread that information virally to countless others. Paula Simons recently twittered on all the MLAs that were behaving badly. It was quite a democratizing moment.

There are so many bright, young minds out there who are well-versed on this topic. Despite my interest, I’m already lightyears behind. I hope, as a District, we can embrace this new reality and let the leadership come from our youth.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Full research reports- school closure

The full powerpoint presentations from the two companies hired to do research for the Ad Hoc Committee on School Closure and Sustainability are now posted at the above link.

Go to ITEM G. 6. and you will see the reports.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Have you seen the orange "SCHOOL IS _______" billboards around town with an invitation to go to "" and fill in the blank? For a couple of weeks, people were wondering who was behind the campaign. Was it part of the Minister of Education's "Dialogue with Albertans"? Was it from the Fraser Institute? The ATA? PIA?


It's from EPSB. I had to keep the secret for a while, but now it's out in the open. We are trying a new type of campaign, one intended to provoke thoughts and memories. What does school mean to you? How does it make you feel? Why is it important to society? Today, I gave a "School Is ______" button to the Mayor at the City Clean Up Launch. He asked what it was all about and I filled him in. He then filled in the blank: "School is... EVERYTHING!"

I agree. But then, I'm biased.

To me, school is the foundation upon which everything else is built. School is the guiding light out of the dark alleys of poverty, racism, abuse, hopelessness and neglect. School is the path to health, happiness and well-being. School is the pillar of a democratic society. School is more than just a training ground for future employees, it is the birthplace of citizenry. School is where we create a vision of the future.

School is... essential.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Key Findings- Ad Hoc Committee on School Closure

At last night's board meeting, we concluded the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on School Closure and Sustainability Review with the final reports from two research companies. The first company, Johnston Research, conducted focus groups with parents, community members and staff to gain an understanding of their perceptions of the current sustainability review process.

These focus groups revealed a number of issues and concerns which included:
-The need for increased two-way communication. People did not feel heard, they did not see their input reflected in final reports, they did not receive feedback on their ideas.
-The need for better support post-closure. Staff need support, parents need support and we should track students post-closure to ensure that they are supported through the transition.
-Principals need support throughout the process to better understand their role.
-More time- the process feels rushed and outcomes seem pre-determined.
-Use an independent facilitator for community consultation.
-Support for a sector based approach--- schools need to be seen in the context of a larger area, not just pinpointed one at a time.
-The need to collaborate with the City of Edmonton.
-The connection between community and school-- that the impacts on the community need to be considered. Boarded up schools post-closure impacts community.

The information from the focus groups provided information for a survey which went out to more people to check for alignment. The survey results came back to showed that the people who responded felt similarly to the people in the focus groups.

The second report came from Cambridge Strategies and was a survey of the values of the greater population in Edmonton around schools and the use of school space. This was not just a survey of users of the system (parents); it was focused on the owners of the system (public). This survey pinpointed the main drivers--- or top priorities--- of most Edmontonians. What this survey showed is that people expect us to deliver high quality education and to demonstrate value for money. These are the two most important things. Next comes a commitment to extended services at schools- we need to recognize that schools are not merely seen as buildings to house children from 9-3 PM. The public expects schools to fill social, recreational and other complementary needs of the community as well. The public expects us to deliver education that stimulates creativity, adaptability and innovative thinking. The days of the "Three R's" are behind us; the public expects extensive programming to be available for students! The public doesn't care about test results (sorry, Fraser Institute!) as much as we might be led to believe. They want schools that have specialized spaces (IA shops, art/music rooms, libraries) to develop the individual talents of students. The survey was very comprehensive and the Board will continue to examine the report for implications.

Both reports will be posted on line shortly and I will provide the link. The attachments in the agenda only provide the one-page summary of recommendations. This, I felt, was inadequate to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the work, so I requested that the full PowerPoint presentations be made available. Stay tuned!

The work of the committee, confronting one of our biggest challenges and most emotional issues, has been taxing. I have felt exhausted at times by the enormity of it and I'm sure there were days when folks wished I hadn't opened up this can of worms with my motion on January 2008. However, I think this work has helped the District to gain a deeper understanding of community values. It has helped us to move forward, to recognize where we can improve and, in this year of reflection, the administration has been afforded the time and opportunity to develop the Sector Based Plan, which may not have occured otherwise. Change is difficult and uncomfortable, but I believe we are in a better place today. I see many concrete examples of how the work of the committee has been incorporated into or informed the Sector Based Plan and I hope all those who participated can see evidence of their input as well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

San Diego- Part two

Another session I attended in San Diego: "We Need to Talk: Three Years of Difficult Conversations about Race, Class and Money." Board members from Burlington, Vermont talked about their experience trying to address a problem of two low-achieving, poor, primarily black schools in the inner city.The question was posed by the Supt: "Is it okay to have two low-achieving, high poverty schools that, despite double the financial investment of other elementary schools, continue to fail?"

The solution: demographic balancing of schools to ensure better outcomes for all children (based on extensive research)
The push-back: considerable! People didn't want their children forced to "mix". Ugly racism quickly surfaced.
The ultimate outcome: After 3 years of consultation and deliberation, the two schools were transformed into magnet schools (one with arts programming, one with environmentalism/sustainability programming). Parents from other areas, backgrounds and races, chose to send their childrent to the magnet schools and the demographic balance was achieved. All members of the board were re-elected, public support is high for the District and everyone lived to tell the tale! Academic achievement scores will be monitored over the next few years, results are expected to climb.

The Lessons Learned:
1-Community engagement is difficult and requires careful consideration, especially when change is needed.
2- Start with several plans so people can't simple be "against".
3- Open microphone hearings do not encourage everyone to be heard. Instead, they encourage an "us vs. them" environment, where people vent rather than problem-solve. Sitting together around small tables, with a facilitator, in mixed groups works better. Specific questions that guide the conversation include: What questions do you have about the change? What are the benefits? The drawbacks? What do you like/dislike? What will it mean to you and your family? What might it mean to the community?
4- Be strategic about who will take the heat. (Expect angry responses from some, even with all your best efforts.)
5-Forewarn politicians, press, teachers, active parents, et. through informal meetings. Acknowledge their importance and answer their questions.
6-Appointing outsiders to help move District forward when things get stuck. Board will still decide, but a credible, balanced committe of outsiders can seek ideas/recommendations.
7- Take the message out, repeatedly, to many audiences, with a short 15-minute presentation. Use the presentation to start the conversation.
8-Blogs may only encourage venting and anonymous postings. Consider the use of inter-active blogs carefully.
9- Use multiple forms of communication- newsletters, postcards, bus-stand ads, press releases, cable TV, other agencies... to reach the broadest possible base.
10- Allowing all opinions to be expressed, even ones that are deemed unacceptable, will ultimately provoke a counter-response. (In the case of Burlington, racist attitudes provoked anti-racist sentiment to be expressed.)
11-Ask appropriate questions of the public. Don't ask questions that imply that those being consulted are the decision-makers. Questions should check for understanding of the community's values, but ultimately, it is the Board that will decide and the ethical responsibility lies with the Board.
12- Publish all responses. Full transparency gives the process credibility and creates trust. Do not tally the responses. Acknowledge that it may not be the populist vote that decides, but rather, all voices are acknowledged and considered.
13- Don't invest in economic segregation- invest to end it. There are significant social consequences of raising children in (any kind of) a bubble.

The bottom line: "If a school isn't good enough for your kids, it isn't good enough for anyone's kids. Fix it."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Accountability- San Diego Conference

So, you paid for me (through your taxes) to attend the NSBA Conference in San Diego. Was it money well spent? What did I learn and what did I bring back to help improve education at Edmonton Public?

These are questions, I believe, deserve an here's my report to you:

After studying the program, I had to focus my attention. I was interested in sessions on community engagement and student leadership in board work... but in the end, I decided on two key areas, which I felt deserve the most attention: governance and closing the achievement gap.

I attended three sessions on governance and came away with these key points:
- Policy Governance focuses the work of the Board on policy-making, policy evaluation, monitoring and accountability. Change happens through policy and trustees must have a clear understanding of their role as policymakers, to avoid being pulled into operational management (which is the jurisdiction of the Superintendent.). This may sound elementary and obvious to you, but the day-to-day application of this idea can be challenging, believe me. When a constituent, or group of constituents want change or advocate for new direction... the response of concerned and connected trustees (like me!) can be to immediately drop into "fix it" mode rather than referring back to policy and checking for alignment, accountability, etc.

- What is Accountability Anyway? What does it look like??
This is something I've been mulling over and the sessions on governance gave me some clear examples. Within clear governance structures, accountability shows up in a board calendar that is set by the Board and the Superintendent jointly, which identifies when which policies will be evaluated. The calendar is made public, so that interested citizens can see well in advance when an area of interest will be reviewed. Clear consequences are articulated showing what will happen or change if targets are not achieved. This doesn't need to be ominous or punishment-based (as in, "you're fired!")... it can be a realignment of resources, additional PD, or some other form of support. But everyone needs to know that something WILL happen if we don't hit our goal, not that it will be business as usual. Progress may be incremental, but it must occur, because truly our children only have one opportunity to go through school. The need for excellence is now, not 5 years from now.

- The Difference between OWNERS and CUSTOMERS.
This was another area that became clear to me. Owners are the public, i.e. everyone. Customers are the parents and students, those who use the system. Owners are the Board's responsibility. Customers are the Superintendent's. Of course, it's usually customers that call trustees and indeed, customers are also owners... but the clarity was helpful for me. We as trustees need to be engaging owners more, listening to owners and making sure that we are closely aligned in our policies to owners expectations and values. The work of the Discrete Choice Survey- done by Chapman Strategies- which will be discussed at the next board meeting... is very much in keeping with this idea. We polled owners for that survey. Good thinking, EPSB!!

-Policies are based on values; values change over time and with each new board these values must be re-affirmed or adjusted (FYI- any time a new board member arrives, it's a new board). This can be challenging work, because it requires consensus of nine...but if the policies are broad enough, it can be achieved. In reality, it must be achieved as this will help Boards start from common ground. Debate is still important, but the policies must be agreed upon.

-The policies should be few in number, so that the Board can actually keep track of them. The suggestion at NSBA was to have 30 or fewer policies. The Board's job is to monitor these 30 policies effectively. The rest is the Superintendent's job.

- Boards must think long term. (10, 20, 30 years out). Superintendents must deal with the day-to-day operations. Boards need to delegate authority to the Superintendent to make day-to-day decisions, without needing to come back to the Board so they he/she can get on with the business of managing the District. Boards need their agendas cleared of "operational" stuff, in order to allow them the time to properly monitor policy and keep on top of the steering of the District. I find, on a personal note, that it can be hard to keep things in the right place, because of the endless stream of operational information. The distractions are endless.

- Boards are responsible to inform the public of their role and how/why they delegate authority to the Superintendent. Without correct and clear communication, the delegation may appear to be abdication of authority. Boards cannot be rubber-stampers. They must show what they do and be transparent in their work. Without on-going communication, Boards will lose public understanding and support of their role. Their relevancy will be challenged.

- Clear governance makes a difference to student achievement. A board that is focused on end results has a better chance of getting them. A Superintendent who is free to work is more productive. Staff who know who does what and why are more confident. Boards who work strenuously to build understanding with "owners" build more public support for education and create more alliances and in turn opportunities for collaboration and partnerships for their Districts. Public support can pull Districts ahead, helping low achieving schools out of their negative cycles, ensuring that every student can create a future of hope.

I'm a bit tired... suffering from an ear I'll leave it there for now. I'll post on closing the achievement gap, race/poverty, etc. later.

FYI- The agenda for the next meeting (Tues, April 14) is up already. Click on the link to the right.

HAPPY EASTER/ PASSOVER/ CHOCOLATE HOLIDAY! The sun is shining. Enjoy your day.

Setting Direction- more participants allowed

Just heard that the Phase 3 has been opened up to 1000 participants (rather than the original 500) because it filled up so quickly. Anyone who is on the waiting list is automatically registered. It's a good sign that so many people are still keen to speak on this issue, even after two previous rounds of consultation Tells me there's a lot to say!!

Anyone else who is interested--- visit the Inspiring Education website to register. (see previous blogs for address or just google it.)

It just occured to me that a very short time ago--- about 9 years ago--- I had to ask someone how to show me to do a "google" search. We also looked at Dogpile and Ask Jeeves because at that time google wasn't yet ruler of the land. It's wild to think how much everything is just "a google away" now. I wonder if we will, in 10 years time, look back on this era and see it as we now see the pre-AIDS time. Free to go wherever, to any site, and connect with anyone via any blog or twitter, with nary a thought of the consequences and how we have compromised everyone we are connected with... but I digress....

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Inspiring Education

A series of consultations will be held all across Alberta to gather ideas, thoughts, and feedback on our education system. It's called Inspiring Education- A Dialogue with Albertans. They are looking for a broad range of citizens to attend- young/old, new Albertans/long-timers, those directly involved/those working in other fields.

Perhaps you might be interested in sharing your thoughts with the provincial government? How can we adapt our current educational system to meet the diverse needs of our students and prepare them for the future? What does "being well educated" mean to you?

The session in Edmonton will be held on June 20, from 8:30 AM to 4 PM. You need to commit to attending the whole day.
Here's the link:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Phase III- public participation

I received this from a parent in response to my post about how the public will be involved in Phase 3:

For those of you interested in participating in the Minister's Forum - Phase 3 of the Special Education review please note that they are only allowing 500 delegates to participate in the forum and is on a first registered basis which apparently began on April 1st. If you are really intent on being part of this I would suggest registering ASAP in order to ensure your spot. Follow the link to the update page and click on the button entitled "Minister's Forum"

They are also offering webcast participation for those who cannot physically attend. We are moving into the phase where things are starting to be solidified into plans of action so don't miss your opportunity to be involved!

Here's where you register:

NSBA Conference- San Diego

I, along with many members of the Edmonton Public Board, will be setting off for San Diego to attend the National School Board Association Annual Conference. (

There is a dizzying array of workshops and sessions on offer.

Here are some that have caught my eye:
- Effective Evaluation for Assuring Student Success
- Strategies of Success for Closing the Achievement Gap
- Youth in School Governace
- School Board Accountability
- Proven Interventions for boosting Achievement of Poor and Minority Students
- Seven Great Arguments against Policy Governance
- Social Websites and Cyber-bullying

And a speaker session which includes Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea author) who has built more than 61 schools in remote parts of Pakistan, educating over 25,000 children, including 14,000 girls. Truly inspirational!

I hope to come back full of ideas and possibilities...which will, no doubt, drive everyone around me crazy. I'm a bit exhuberant at the best of times for the staid chambers of our board meetings!! Back on Wednesday--- keep smiling.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Representing EPSB at Setting the Direction- Phase III

The final phase of the province's special education review (Setting the Direction- phase 3) will be happening on June 8-9. Each board has been asked to appoint a representative to attend and I have been chosen to represent EPSB. I'm not sure what the process is for public representatives, but as I hear more, I will let you know.

I have been following (and attending) numerous sessions on special education over the past year. I will bring forward the challenges we experience at Edmonton Public Schools and also our ideas for improvements. If you have anything you would like to place in my head... please feel free to email me at

I will do my best to bring forward all points of view.