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.


daveberta said...

Very interesting post, Sue. Great to see a Trustee blogging!

Thanks for posting this info. Tough decisions, but keep up the good work on the Board.



C K L Spencer said...

Thank you, Sue, for opening that can of worms. It was work worth doing. How can we support you in the effort to turn these values into actions?

Sue Huff said...

Hi CKL and Dave,
Thanks for the encouragement. In terms of supporting the work further, the monitoring of the action items will be a responsibility of the Board. But certainly, there are some ways to help: being an active participant in the consultation process, providing input/suggestions for the selection of the Advisory Committee, volunteering to sit on that committee as a community or parent representative, ensuring that the broader community is informed and engaged in the process and providing honest feedback on our progress towards our stated goals (enhanced two way communication, etc.)....these are all important ways to contribute.

CKL Spencer said...

Do you have a sense yet of when the advisory committee will be organized? Please post when the time comes to apply to be a part of it. Thanks.