Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sad & angry about the tragedy

Like many of you, I was shocked to learn the circumstances surrounding the death of an 11-year old autistic child in Edmonton, killed by his father, who then in turn killed himself. The heart-rending interviews with social workers and others who outlined the details leading up this tragedy made me feel sick. How could, we as a society, have failed so miserably to provide the supports and services this family desperately needed? Given the unbearable circumstances, would any of us fared any better? Can we imagine what it would feel like to experience that level of despair, that utter lack of hope?

Before we begin pointing fingers and assigning blame, I think we need to pause and reflect. Collectively, we need to own our part in this tragedy and begin to actively engage in dialogue about the gap of inequity that is growing daily in Alberta. The "Alberta Advantage" is a cruel joke to many Albertans. Some members of our society are being pushed to extreme measures because we don't invest sufficiently in the resources, the health care beds, the supports in schools and reasonable workloads for our social workers. Our most vulnerable citizens are being repeatedly victimized by our choices and priorities. Choosing to invest in things like horse-racing or golf courses or perks for the wealthy and connected sends a cruel message to those who are already living on the fringes. Whenever we remove supports and services, children and families invariably pay the price.

I want to know when Alberta will go back to "women and children first" philosophy that my grandparents believed and lived. Alberta was pioneered by people like my grandparents who worked hard and helped others whenever they needed help. We need to return to our true nature.

My deepest condolences to the family and those affected. I only hope we can learn something from this.

Policy input- public talking to the board

Some changes have been proposed to a policy on how/when the public can address the board.

First, increasing the time allowed for the presenter to speak (from 2 minutes to 3 minutes)
Second, moving the "open mic" time (on any educational topic) from the latter part of the meeting to up near the front of the meeting.
Third, keeping presentations that relate to the Superintendent's purview in the Supt's "kitchen" and confusing matters by moving it into the Board's "kitchen".

Give us your feedback...

Click on the following link to go directly to the survey:

Board Policy JAB.BP will be open for stakeholder input from September 30, 2009 to October 28, 2009.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

School Act Revision- EPSB submission

As you may be aware, the Minister of Education is intent upon opening up the School Act in the spring. The School Act lays out all the legislation around education- in essence, what school boards can and cannot do. It runs the gamut from expectations for student conduct to how a Superintendent is selected, from limitations on how a school board can assess an additional school levy (tax) or conduct its business to the process for teacher dismissal, etc. etc. etc. It also includes some rather obscure bits and bobs, like recognizing World Farmer's Day (no doubt a worthy day, but odd in that it is singled out for legislative attention!).

The Inspiring Education consultations that have been held on across the province for the past six months will conclude on Oct. 20 with sessions entitled: "New Governance Framework", "New Policy Framework" and "Preparing for Change". Although it may not have been abundantly clear to the participants of the Inspiring Education dialogues how their feedback was going to be used to inform decisions regarding changes to the School Act, it should be known by all members of the public that how schools are governed is being evaluated at this time.

Provincial educational associations like PSBAA (Public School Board Association of Alberta) are being asked to make submissions to the government outlining the changes they would like to see considered. (You can read their submission on their website....just google "PSBAA, Alberta" or check my twitter post last week for the link.) As well, individual school boards have been invited to prepare submissions. At EPSB, we trustees are just putting the finishing touches on our first draft, which we would like to share with you, the public, prior to sending it on to the Minister. Our draft will posted on our website very soon. We welcome your input on this important discussion as we believe the future of our education system will undoubtedly be shaped by this piece of legislation. I apologize that the time lines are tight (approx. 2 week turnaround), but ask that you consider setting aside some time to read our submission, share it with others and provide your feedback.

Questions to consider: What is essential to you? What would you like to see changed? What should be preserved?

I will post again once the link is up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Special Education Consultation- Oct 24

Special Education Consultation Session for Parents and Community Members

In our response to Phase 2 of Alberta Education’s Setting the Direction for Special Education initiative, Edmonton Public Schools stated that “parents are an important source of information and insight about their child” and “are a critical member of the learning team.” Within this context and to assist the District in refining its plan for Special Education, we are inviting parents and community members with an interest in special education to attend a consultation session.

When: Saturday, October 24, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Where: Centre for Education, One Kingsway
(Located on Kingsway Avenue west of 101 Street – blue building across the avenue from the Royal Alex Hospital)
Parking: Underground parking is available. Entrance to the parkade is via Kingsway Avenue. Please use visitor elevator to take you to the main floor.

The session is scheduled as follows:

8:30 – 9:00 a.m. Coffee and registration in the Atrium
9:00 – 9:30 a.m. Opening remarks – McCauley Chambers, 2nd Floor
9:45 – 11:00 a.m. Facilitated breakout sessions – Conference Centre, Main Floor
11:15 – 11:45 a.m. Concluding remarks – McCauley Chambers, 2nd Floor
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Light lunch and time to network – Cafeteria

The breakout sessions will focus on three key questions:
What is working well for you as a parent or support group member?
What challenges are you still experiencing?
What are your suggestions for improving parent involvement?

To enable the District to plan the breakout sessions and arrange the light lunch, we ask that you register your participation by October 13, 2009 to Judy Abernethy at or 780-429-8110.

Participants are encouraged to review these documents prior to coming to the session:

District response to Phase 1 and 2 of Setting the Direction

Phase 1 Response
Phase 2 Response

Public board report Plan for Special Education 2009-2010

Friday, September 18, 2009

Board Agenda- Sept. 22

Here's the main meat of next Tuesday's meeting-- to read any of the reports, click here:

Please note, we've moved "Comments from the Public and Staff Groups" up toward the front of the meeting, following "Improving Student Achievement"- so anyone can come forward at that point and address the Board on any educational topic for 2 minutes, without needing to pre-register. (Meeting starts at 6 PM. "Comments" would probably happen around 6:30 PM.)

O Canada, Minutes, Comments from the Board Chair& Superintendent.
Improving Student Achievement

3. Health and Wellness: REAL Kids and APPLE Schools Update

G. NOTE: Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives

H. Reports

4. Report #1 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held September 15, 2009)

5. Funds for 2010-2011 Professional Improvement Program

6. Motion re Breakdown of Board's Budget (This is my motion- it will be withdrawn because the information was provided over the summer to all trustees.)

7. Motion re Leadership Recognition Program (This is Trustee Rice's motion.)

8. 2008-2009 Board Evaluation Summary Report (As Chair of this committee, I will be delivering this report.)

Trustee Requests for Information, Notices of Motion.

My prediction: This meeting will be completed on time- finishing by 9 PM. Hope to see you there.

REACH report- thoughts

On Wednesday, September 16, I attended the release of the REACH report at City Hall. ( Drafted by the Edmonton Taskforce on Community Safety, it represents a year's worth of hard work and dedicated energy to find solutions to building a safer Edmonton for all. It puts forward nine recommendations, inspired by the work of Dr. Irvin Waller (Less Law, More Order- a great read, BTW) and in-depth consultation with many agencies, groups and citizens of Edmonton. I won't go into all of the recommendations, but instead I'd like to focus on the ones that particularly relate to my area of interest: education.

It's not hard to find the connections!

(page 11) Recommendation 1: A new model of family and community safety focusing on schools as hubs.
"Build on and nuture an integrated community-wide partnership that positions schools as key access points, or hubs, for high-needs families, children and youth. Develop and implement a coordinated drop-in program during the critical after school hours for at-risk school aged children and youth in Edmonton."

Fantastic! I campaigned on this very issue and would love nothing more than to see schools serve the needs of the whole child and provide a 'one-stop shopping' point for families in need. For schools to realize their full potential as the "grand equalizers" in a democracy, we must find ways to work together and meet the needs. We can't do it alone and I delight in the idea of partnering with the city and others to make it happen.

p. 21: 88% of respondents to the Taskforce Survey said they agree with investing in child education and development. 91% of respondents agree with addresssing drug and alcohol addictions. 83% agree with investing in parenting skills. 85% agree with addressing mental health issues.

All of these issues are, in my opinion, tied to schools. Mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions first manifest in school-aged children. Parenting skills could be taught after-hours in schools and of course, education and child development is our mandate.

The story of Mike (p.27) spoke to the work we need to do to reach out to kids who feel marginalized. Lost in a large high school, he fell in with a rough crowd: "I needed to belong to something." Mike was expelled from school, ended up staying at the Youth Emergency Shelter and was eventually charged with a crime and sent to the Edmonton Young Offenders Centre. His story shows what can happen when youth feel they have no options. Luckily, he found his way to a more constructive life and shares what might have made the difference: "If my mom had known there was someone she could talk to, besides the cops. But she didn't know how to deal with me, where to go or what to do."

Schools are a logical place to provide parenting support. When kids are struggling, parents need support to help them find the path again. Being expelled removes both the student and the family from the circle of help. How can we ensure that kids like Mike don't fall through the cracks?

Recommendation 1 (schools as hubs) provides possible answers on p. 42 of the report:
"The hub will act as a navigator to connect with families and provide a spectrum of services in their community before a crisis point is reached."

I love the last six words of this sentence: before a crisis point is reached. YES! Why do we wait until there is a crisis to intervene? In schools in Edmonton, there are children at risk- teachers know who they are, interested community members know who they are, the custodian knows who they are, the lunch supervisors know who they are... but everyone feels powerless to intervene. We need to dare to care, to intervene, to offer assistance before the "incident." To do that, we need to equip people with the knowledge, the connections with community support services and the TIME to feel capable of helping. A coordinator is needed to connect the dots and empower a network of caring. I would love to see a web of support around each school, so finely woven that no child could slip through.

Recommendation 3- Community Coordination on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
p. 48- "Facilitate the delivery of life skills programs for young females (ages 11-15) at risk of pregnancy and FASD. ..It is estimated that $1.5 million is spent on each FASD child in his or her lifetime. Over 60% of these children will not complete school."

Clearly, education is critical to prevent the next wave of children born with this tragic and preventable disorder.

I applaud the work of the Taskforce and heartily endorse the initiatives outlined. By focusing on prevention rather than punishment, we can move our society to a more compassionate, thoughtful and financially-sustainable place. We can move Edmonton to the forefront of crime-prevention innovation and community cohesion. Now, let's get to work on implementation!!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Your input- where do we need schools?

Would like to give input on Edmonton Public School's Sector Planning Approach (regarding school space and school closure)? An independent firm is collecting input via telephone surveys until Sept. 25. See the full info below.

Edmonton Public Schools is in the process of implementing a Sector Planning Approach to manage student space. This project has a goal of building new schools in growth areas, renewing existing schools that are sustainable and transforming school space so that all students can access a quality facility.

This sector planning approach is being implemented in the Greater Hardisty and City Centre Areas first, and then in the Central, South Central and West 1 Sectors in 2010. The project will engage the community in a range of ways on several specific topics:
· Raising awareness and sharing information on how space is used
· Engaging the community in discussions on space requirements and configurations
· Involving the community in discussions on using closed space so that schools continue to serve as centres of the community

(Note: You can find more information about the Greater Hardisty and City Centre areas and the nine geographic sectors of Edmonton Public Schools on the website at

As part of this process, Dialogue Partners Inc., an external consulting firm, has been hired to develop a public engagement program to engage the community to identify strategies and approaches to address space needs and requirements.

In order to develop a comprehensive public engagement plan that will guide upcoming community discussions, the consultant will be undertaking a series of interviews. These interviews will help to provide information about issues and values of importance, and ensure the development of a responsive and meaningful public engagement program.

Interviews will be conducted until September 25, 2009, and will include a range of people from different communities, perspectives and viewpoints. A member of the Dialogue Partners team will be contacting you in the next few days to determine your availability to participate in a telephone interview. We anticipate the telephone interview will take approximately 20 minutes.

If you would like to participate, please contact the Dialogue Partners team directly at or by phone at 1-866-269-1276. The contact person is Lynn Arif and her email is Her direct line is 613-724- 2450

A report will be prepared from the interviews and email submissions, while maintaining confidentiality of respondents.

We recognize that the timelines for the interview process are short; however, the interviews are a preliminary step in the development of the public engagement program. Many further opportunities for discussion and input will be provided once a final public engagement program has been developed.

If you have questions for Edmonton Public Schools about the sector planning project, please contact Michael Ediger at 780-429-8430 or by email at

We look forward to working with you to understand the issues and develop a comprehensive public engagement plan for this project. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration of this important project.

New Link- EPSB contact list


One of the things I've been striving to do as a trustee is to make it easier for people to find the information they need, when they need it, without having to jump through seven hoops to find the right person.

EPSB is a huge organization- did you know we were ranked Alberta's tenth largest employer by Alberta Venture magazine? And the 7th largest in the not-for-profit category of employers?

The point is, sometimes, it can be a little frustrating to know where to go and who to ask. So, I've added another link under my HELPFUL LINKS sidebar called "EPSB Contact List."

You can find a complete listing of all the departments, with contact information.

I hope this helps you to navigate the system a little easier.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Inspiring Education- wrap up sessions

I've registered to attend the final session for the Minister of Education's Inspiring Education- a Dialogue with Albertans. (October 18-20, 2009). I attended one of the many sessions held around the province. People came together to brainstorm and discuss their hopes and aspirations for education in Alberta. It wasn't clear to me where all this was going or how it was going to be used to change policy or governance. In fact, governance wasn't even mentioned in the session I attended, which I thought was a bit odd. It looks like these final sessions in October will provide some clarity in that regard. (see end of this blog for details).

You can register to attend this final session as well by visiting the Inspiring Education website. If you have any questions, contact the project office at

Sunday evening's line up includes registration, opening greetings and some distinguished speakers. (5- 8:30 PM)

Monday starts at 7 am with breakfast and is packed until 4:15 PM:
Minister of Education-Welcome and Setting Context
What We Heard: Report from Spring Conversations
Distinguished Speaker Session
Towards a Vision for Education
· Presentation
· Discussion
Distinguished Speaker Session
4:00-4:15 PM

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 is, in my humble opinion, THE BIG DAY:

Towards a Governance Framework
· Presentation
· Discussion

Towards a Policy Framework
· Presentation
· Discussion

Preparing for Change
· Presentation
· Discussion
3:30-4:00 PM
Closing: Minister of Education

School boards across the province will be very interested in the outcomes of Tuesday, October 20; by all indications we are in for some level of change ("Preparing for Change" is a good clue, I think!). I hope you will be remain aware and informed in the upcoming months. An engaged citizenry is in everyone's best interests.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Facebook Group for Parent Councils

Calling all Edmonton parent councils & supporters of public education- a new grassroots Facebook page has just started up. I encourage you to consider joining.

Parents can discuss issues, share ideas and help each other to be more effective and have a greater impact on the direction of education in Edmonton.

Check it out!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Board Chair/Vice Chair/ Organizational Board

Last night at the Organizational Board meeting, Trustee Don Fleming was elected by his fellow trustees to serve as Board Chair for the upcoming year. I was elected Vice Chair and Trustee George Rice was re-elected as Conference Chair. I will serve on the Planning and Policy Committee and continue on the Government Relations Committee. I will also step out of the "Alternate" role and move into the Board Representative for the Linkages Committee (an inter-agency, inter-government committee, with a shared focus on children). Trustee Gibson has served as co-chair of that committee for several years and has kindly offered to carry on as alternate, to show me the ropes.

These are the "outcomes", to use education-speak, but they don't really tell the story of transformation and personal growth that has occured over the past few weeks. The real story, for me, started with my decision to enter the race for Board Chair about three weeks ago. I distributed a position paper to my fellow trustees, outlining my ideas for the role and encouraged them to articulate the traits and attributes of their ideal Chair. I also asked them to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses and line them up against their "ideal". It was a little unnerving, to be honest, to lay myself open for criticism in this way, but like the book says: Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. The insights of these 8 trustees are essential to my growth and development. They have seen me, heard me and watched me as I've struggled to understand the complexities of this role. And so, with a deep breath in, it began... many conversations...and each time, I was humbled by what I heard.

People told me they thought the year ahead would be challenging and therefore the Board (and District) needed someone with experience at the helm. They were clear and kind in their evaluation of my weaknesses, but they were also supportive and encouraging regarding my strengths. In the end, it was clear that I did not have the votes for Board Chair. When Trustee Fleming announced his decision to seek the Board Chair seat, I saw that we had two strong candidates, both with experience: Trustee Esslinger and Trustee Fleming. It made sense at that time to focus my efforts on the Vice Chair race... a place where my strengths could shine and my weaknesses be addressed. Trustee Ripley was also interested in continuing in the role of Vice Chair and, so again, the Board was spoiled with the choice of two strong candidates.

In the end, the process of honest reflection and communication was so rewarding, that I would have been happy with any outcome. If you've ever opened yourself up in this way, you know what a bridge-building exercise it is. Our friends will love us despite our flaws, but if we want to grow, we need to listen carefully and openly to our critics. They possess the knowledge we need to attain our best selves. This is a gift that only they can give.

Turning things around, in my own mind, has been transformative. I believe Einstein said (forgive the paraphrasing): "You cannot fix a problem by thinking in the same way that created the problem." We must be open to other ways of thinking- and believe that others hold an integral part of OUR puzzle. As soon as we think we've got all the pieces in our two hands, we stop building and imagining.

I am truly honoured to have this opportunity to continue to grow and learn in the role of Vice Chair. I look forward to working with Trustee Fleming and reaping the benefit of his hard-won knowledge. I hope all of this will enable me to be ready to lead the Board, when and if the time is right in the future. (and yes, I intend to run again.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Outstanding Principals

Is your Principal outstanding? Nominate your Principal for Canada's Outstanding Principals Awards. Nomination deadline: October 30, 2009. Visit for more info or download a nomination form at

Info for Parents of Children with Special Needs

If you have a child with special needs there are a number of conferences, workshops, etc. coming up that may be of interest.

Gateway Association ( ph: 780-474-0701, ext 228

A number of fall/winter workshops on Transition Planning for Adulthood. "Planning Positive Futures". These are geared towards helping vision a future for your teen who is moving into adulthood. They start Oct. 27 and run until January 19.

An IPP Workshop, "What every parent should know." Oct. 5, 7-9 PM, at AACL Boardroom.

Families Forward- an informal gathering, a way to connect with other families and empower/support one another. Thurs. Oct. 29 is the next meeting, 7 PM.

Annual Women's Retreat- Sept 18- Sept 20. Camp Encounter,

Children's Autism Services of Canada (;, 780495-9235
3rd Annual Conference- Jan 21- 23, 2010, Edmonton Marriott River Cree Resort.

Edmonton Down Syndrome Society 780-464-4577, contact: Linda Addorisio.
Effective Teaching Strategies for Successful Inclusion- Oct. 2, 2009, Ramada Inn, Edmonton

Thursday, September 3, 2009

2009/10 Year- running for Board Chair

Here we go!! The new school year has started with a bang and it promises to be a very interesting year. The Board of Trustees has held a series of meetings this week to plan for the upcoming year. It's been intense work, but, I believe, some of our most productive. There is a tremendous consensus on the Board regarding our focus, our mission and our commitment to the very best educational outcomes. It is often during points of crisis or challenge that a group (be it a family or a community or a board) has the opportunity to see what unites it. At these moments, we learn about our strengths in new ways and there is a strong impetus to let go of all the unnecessary distractions. I think our Board will demonstrate this sharp focus and commitment in the upcoming year.

On September 8 at 7:30 PM, we will have our first Public Board Meeting of 2009-10. This meeting is called the Organizational Board meeting and it deals primarily with electing trustees to the executive positions (Board Chair/Vice Chair/Conference Chair) and deciding the committees trustees will serve on (Planning and Policy/Government Relations/Community Relations/Board Evaluation/Superintendent Evaluation, etc.).

I have decided to let my name stand for Board Chair this year. The Board Chair position is challenging balancing act. The list of attributes for a Board Chair may be impossible for one mere mortal to achieve, but I think it's worth articulating the ideal to inspire and motivate.

In my humble opinion, the Chair should:
encourage the best from her fellow trustees,
facilitate board meetings and keep the board focused on board work,
represent the board to the community, government and the media,
be able to synthesize many points of view,
be a skilled communicator (both internally and externally),
facilitate the development of leadership qualities in others,
protect the rights of all trustees and ensure that all are heard equally,
form a strong, open, trust-based relationship with the Superintendent,
provide leadership, inspiration, hope and vision for the Board,
seek to build consensus on the board (a unity of purpose) through dialogue,
uphold democratic ideals at all times (including welcoming dissenting points of view),
act with integrity.

I have been speaking with my colleagues about these ideas and regardless of the outcome, I think the conversations have been fruitful and thought-provoking for all. I do not think we would have had these conversations had the Board Chair position been uncontested and so, for that reason alone, I am pleased.

The public is welcome to attend all Public Board meetings. Hope to see you there.
(p.s. it's a short meeting!)