Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reboot Alberta conference

I'm just back from Reboot Alberta ( or find more on by using the tag #rebootab). For two days, 85 people from all across Alberta met to discuss the ways and means to create a better Alberta.

Here are some things that stood out for me:

-The incredibly rich, thoughtful, respectful conversations. In every group, there was an honest dialogue that made ample room for disagreement and a deep commitment to keep the conversation going. This is, in my experience, extremely rare. There were no winners or losers in these conversations, every point of view was valid.

- By the end, we had developed four different approaches to creating progressive change: start a new party, grow a social movement to influence and create change from outside the party system, Next Alberta Project (transformation to future think tank), and developing a means of keeping everything linked, to track our progress. The fact that all four approaches were encouraged to co-exist and continue was a great sign to me. A multiplicity of approaches is an incredible strength when you are faced with complex challenges like revitalizing democracy or changing paradigms. It may, in fact, be the only hope of being successful.

- One very wise man stood up and talked about wanting to feel proud of being an Albertan again and how he did not that currently. This pride was not a boastful or arrogant pride but simply the pride of feeling good about doing the right things and doing them well. He noted that the conversations that had taken place at Reboot were about possibility, not just about problems. He urged us to accept responsibility for what is and resist the urge to blame the government. We are the government. We must not feel victimized, fatalistic, hopeless or unable to act. Instead by accepting our responsibility, our culpability for the current state of affairs, we take the first step towards making the change. He marvelled at the increased sense of ownership in the room and the powerful authentic connections.

I participated in the conversations about the development of a new party. I think there was a lot of great ideas in the room and a strong desire to create a party that more people can "call home".

Here are a few comments:

- Servant leadership; MLAs serve the public, not the party. Policies, principles, etc. developed through consultation with public not "announced" to the public. The leaders demonstrate a deep trust the public and commitment to listening.

-Ethical Leadership: MLAs are credible, act with integrity, are open and honest. They do what they say they will. Transparency of decision-making (Not done in caucus). Open and accountable to public. MLAs encouraged to vote their conscience, including voting against party if necessary.

- Principled Leadership: Based on a shared vision of sustainability, fiscal responsibility, prosperity, democracy and quality of life. (This is a starting list... more to be added, I'm sure.)

-Positive rather than negative: Most of us thought that the current political parties are focused on negativity, fear, rivalry, "winners and losers" model. We felt looking ahead and being solution-focused, collaborative and positive was important.

-Using new methods, new approaches: If we adopt the same attitudes/methods, we will end up re-creating what we already have. A number of concrete "Game-changers" will need to be in place. The potential is enormous to reach and activate the 60% of Albertans who did not vote in the last election. The dissaffected and disengaged are thus for real reasons, not just due to some ill-defined "apathy". Apathy is the symptom. What is the root of it? That's the work I'm interested in digging into and will probably connect with to start a conversation on this.

-The website: this is a great means to continue these connections and start new ones. I encourage you (yes, I mean you!) to check it out.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Musings on the future of Trustees

It's been in the wind for a while- ever since the health boards were removed and replaced with a regional health authority- that the future for school boards was uncertain. Despite the fact that the Minister of Education has stated repeatedly that it is not his intent to do away with trustees, still the uneasiness persists, like a lingering odour.

What is the genesis of this dis-ease?

Well, there is the rewrite of the School Act next spring...and it has been said that "everything" is on the table for consideration, including governance. The province-wide consultation called Inspiring Education, a Dialogue with Albertans concluded with a section entitled, "Towards a New Governance Model" which asked how stakeholders like parents, teachers and students could be given more power. There was a leaked paper which outlined a possible charter school model, where governance rested in the hands of individual school councils, chaired by Principals. Under this model, trustees were eliminated entirely. The word was that this was only one model being considered, but to date, no other models have been forthcoming. We hear whispers that some members of government wish they'd consolidated school boards first, rather than starting with the health boards, because there "would have been less fuss". Some trustees point to the many examples of how boards have been stepped over or marginalized recently, with the provincial government taking over issues that used to fall under board direction, while boards were informed after the fact or involved in some secondary nature.

I've also heard that in the future, our primary job will be "connecting with the community." I'm all for connecting with community, in fact, I think it's critical, but I thought our primary job was governing. Good governance to me includes strong community connection. However, community connection does not necessarily include governance. Wwe could conceivably be devoted to connecting with community without one iota of governance. The Community Spirit facilitators do this- they connect, but they don't govern. Is this the future for trustees? Information gatherers? To be funneled to some other body for decision-making? Is this the change we are about to see, because everyone seems to agree that change is definitely coming.

A number of people (interestingly from all three parties) have asked me to consider running provincially in the next election. I am committed to running again for a second term as a trustee, because I feel there is more work to do. However, half-joking, I said, "But if there aren't any boards after the spring, I may have to reconsider that decision." And the response was ominous: "Or if the role is so drastically altered that it no longer holds any relevance for you."

Sometimes rumours are just rumours, some fears are unfounded, but sometimes people know what's coming and are trying to give you hints. Like the girlfriend who tries to let you know that your boyfriend is planning to break up with you on the weekend, without actually coming out and saying it. I'm not sure if that's the case here, but I can smell the unease that hangs around trustees' shoulders and my guess is the smell won't leave until someone opens up all the windows and lets the light shine in.

Possibilities- School Closure? Hardisty/ City Centre

There are two clusters of Edmonton Public schools currently being reviewed regarding excess school space and the possibility of consolidation/ amalgamation/ school closure. Here's an invitation to join the conversation:

Come to the Conversation -
Exploring the possibilities and challenges of school space as important part of a complete and
vibrant community

On November 30 and December 1 parents and residents from Greater Hardisty or the City Centre Education Partnership area are invited to DROP IN and participate at a workshop:

Learn more information on the facts of enrolment and budgets and what has been suggested by the community so far.

Knowing what you know about your school, family, community and area, offer us what OPTION(S) you would suggest to the Edmonton Public School Board - that considers both the facts and suggestions

You can use the information provided at the workshop to help you to develop your suggestions.

We need your knowledge and experience for this activity, but we don't expect you to be technical experts - there will be resource people in the room to answer your questions or provide you with clarification

Workshops will take place as follows:
November 30, 2009 December 1, 2009
4:00 - 9:30 pm 4:00-9:30 PM
With a focus on GREATER With a focus on CITY CENTRE
McNally School John A. McDougall School
8440-105 Ave. 10930-107 Street

*Please drop in at any time OR come for a scheduled small group discussion at 7:00 - 8:00pm

*On November 30, childcare will be offered at Gold Bar Daycare & After School Care Ltd. , 4630 105A Avenue NW

*On December 1, childcare is held at the Parkdale After School Care Centre Society, 11648 85 Street NW

Thanks to everyone who has returned a workbook, or who have participated in a discussion and sent in the workbook results.

We'll continue to accept completed workbooks up until December 4, 2009.
You can submit your completed workbook by:
Dropping it off at one of the area schools or the EPSB Office at One Kingsway
Emailing the online version to
Faxing it to us at 613-724-2450

'What Was Said" Reports from the Community Forums on November 12th and November 14th have been posted to the website at
Throughout the project, EPSB staff, teachers and principals have also had an opportunity to provide input, suggestions and ideas on how, when, where and by whom school space is used. The results of the staff forum on November 14th will be posted to the website soon.


As always, if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please contact us.
Toll free at 1-866-269-1276 ext. 102

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Anonymous Spammers

Hi all,
I've had to change my settings on my blog because I've been spammed relentlessly by "anonymous" posters. From now on, you'll need to register your name. If you have something sensitive to say and don't want to post your name publicly, please send me a confidential email:

Thanks for your understanding!


Succession Plan Motion- speech

Here is a copy of comments I made this past Tuesday at our public board meeting, regarding my motion to create a succession plan. The motion was passed, 8-1.

On CBC, they are charting the Olympic flame’s careful progress across Canada, each runner proud to carry it for a leg of the journey and dedicated to ensuring it makes it into the next person’s hands, burning brightly. Just like our board. We are in a line that stretches back 128 years and forward into the future. In Oct. 2010, the passing of our torch to the next board should be smooth, thoughtful and seamless, because that board will be faced with some significant challenges. They will not have the luxury of time: they will need to be high-performing and ready to make key decisions almost immediately, decisions that will have a profound impact on the District.

Hence this motion, which asks us to prepare a thoughtful plan to prepare the next board and leave the District in capable, confident hands. My three areas of thought, which- as I indicated in my motion are only for consideration at this point- are:

1- raising awareness and interest in the position of trustee
2- capturing the wisdom of out-going trustees
3- mentoring new trustees in their first year.

Raising awareness: I believe the Board has a critical role to play in creating a vibrant election, with strong candidates, healthy debate and increased awareness and public engagement. Being acclaimed might be easier for us, but is not in the best interests of the Board or public education. I believe increasing the diversity of candidates would be a great way to improve democratic representation of all people, demonstrate our commitment to social justice and the principle of equality. We cannot ensure increased diversity on the board, because of course, the people decide who gets elected, but extending a welcoming invitation, encouragement and support to people of diverse backgrounds is an important step.

Capturing the Wisdom. Three of our more experienced trustees have indicated that they may not be seeking re-election and with their departure, a significant body of knowledge and wisdom walks out the door. I think we should recognize this impending “brain drain” and find ways to capture their knowledge for the betterment of the next board. Perhaps they might be willing to serve as transitional mentors to the incoming trustees- passing on information about their schools in their wards, for instance?

Which brings me to perhaps the most critical part of the plan: Mentoring new trustees. As a new trustee, I found the first year incredibly challenging. The orientation provided by the administration was helpful, but only provided, as might be expected, an ADMINISTRATOR’s view of the trustee’s job. What is required, I believe, is a trustee’s view and here, the board can take on an active role. First year Principal’s are supported with one-on-one’s. First year teachers have the New Teacher Induction program, but new trustees are expected to figure it out on their own. They are thrown in the deep end and asked to swim… in my case, I felt like I had 20 lb. weights on each arm and I was not entirely sure which way was up. Every time a trustee is to face an experience for the first time: First public board meeting, first Parent Council meeting, first Results or Budget Review, first parental complaint, first time giving a speech, first time meeting with the Minister, etc… the possibility for mentorship should exist. Each new trustee will be experienced in some areas, and not in others… so the mentoring needs to be flexible and individual.

But again, these are only my ideas and the exact nature of the succession plan would be determined by the Board. Today, I’m asking for the board to support the motion:

“To develop a succession plan to ensure a smooth transition for the next Board”
I hope everyone will agree to this broad concept.

Speed Zones around Schools/Playgrounds

Do you think there should be reduced speed zones around schools or not? Mark next Wednesday on your calendar. Dec. 2 , 7 PM, Polish Hall, 10960- 104 Street. Come out and voice your opinion. Can't make the meeting? You can give feedback on line. (see letter for details) Hope to see you there!

Dear Stakeholder:

Subject: Stakeholder Consultations on School and Playground Zone Signage and Time Changes

Alberta Transportation is proposing to initiate changes to the Use of the Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation regarding School and Playground Zones. The proposed changes would standardize the start and end times for school and playground zones and increase safety across the province by providing consistency for motorists, parents and children.

As part of this work, Alberta Transportation will begin stakeholder consultations in November and December with parent school councils, school boards, municipalities and police forces. Attached is a schedule of the stakeholder consultation locations and dates.

The consultations will present the following proposed changes:
§ School zones on school days would be 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation. Currently school zones have three start and end times on school days (8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.).
§ Playground zones on all days would be 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation. Playground zones are currently in effect daily from 8:30 a.m. to one hour after sunset.
§ Road authorities, including Alberta Transportation and municipalities, would adopt the national standards for signage of school and playground zones and areas in Alberta.
§ There are no proposed changes to the speed limit in school and playground zones. The speed limit will remain at 30 kilometres per hour.

Alberta Transportation has retained Opus International Consultants (Canada) Limited to coordinate the stakeholder consultation, providing a transparent, objective and independent analysis of the feedback received. The consultation session will begin with a formal presentation that will provide background information, including the goals of the proposed changes. Following the presentations, the audience will have the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

For those who cannot attend the presentation, or for those who wish to provide additional input, they are invited to provide feedback at Deadline for submissions will be December 11, 2009.

A copy of the final report detailing the results of the consultation feedback collected from the sessions and from submissions will be forwarded to you (or the parent body if that was the initiating source of our contact).


Vince Paniak
Director, Driver Programs and Licensing Standards

December 2
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Polish Hall
10960 – 104 Street

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bill 206- anti-bullying Bill

On Monday, at the Fall Annual General Meeting of the Alberta School Board Association (62 school boards across the province), 97% of boards agreed that Bill 206 should not be supported.


The Bill, introduced by MLA Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek) is intended to "make all schools safer and give our education system the tools it needs to stop bullying, including that which is disseminated by electronic media on and off the school grounds. Additionally, it would prohibit the possession of weapons and/or drug paraphenalia." (Hansard, April 14, 2009.)

Aren't we all united against bullying? Don't school boards recognize the problem of cyber bullying and drug/weapon possession? What's the problem?

The intent is great; the devil is in the details.

Bill 206 includes amendments to the School Act. It establishes that a contravention of the legislatuion by a student "is guilty of an offence" and provides no discretion to the Peace Officer or courts in the application of the section.

Here are the issues, as summarized by Calgary Board of Education, who put forward the resolution:

"The mandatory protocols provided by these amendments:
- do not provide principals with the discretion to progressively discipline students or taken into consideration mitigating factors, especially for special needs or disabled students (I attended a law/education conference in Toronto last spring, called CAPSLE, which talked about this very thing. Check my blog history. Kids who cannot understand & learn from punishment, due to cognitive impairments, deserve different treatment.)
- remove the principal's current authority to issue student suspensions, especially to immediately remove a student who threatens the safety of staff and students
-impact students' rights to procedural fairness if the student fails to participate in the mandated educational measures program
- create onerous, potentially unworkable tracking and reporting requirements to determine when "bullying" as defined occurs
- fail to require parental notification and involvement
- do not provide any guidance or meaning as to what an educational measure program consists of or is meant to do.

Given the above concerns and the short timeline for the passage of Bill 206, the ASBA should communicate immediately with the Premier, the Minister of Education and all MLAs regarding the lack of support for the passage of Bill 206."

As I said, 97% of boards, representing approximately 97% of the students of Alberta, agreed with this resolution. The bill is flawed. It has not been built collaboratively with school boards, teachers, principals, students, parents and community members. We all want to stop bullying- but Bill 206 won't get us there.

What will?
In my opinion, a concerted effort by us all. Parents need to be educated on prevention, cyber-awareness and how to talk to your kids about bullying. All adults need to take a hard look at themselves and be sure that their parenting/teaching/coaching style isn't fostering or modelling bullying. Conflict resolution skills need to be taught. Restorative justice models need to be embraced by every school. Students need to be listened to and involved in creating the solution. Drug addiction counselling and prevention needs to be readily available for all students, starting early. Dr. Martin Brokenleg's Circle of Courage needs to be known, implemented and realized so every child feels a sense of belonging, competence, independence and generosity. Poverty needs to be addressed (See: PIAs call for a Provincial Poverty Reduction Plan: Racism needs to be openly addressed. Exploitation and abuse of children need to be openly addressed.

We need to know what makes a bully. I don't believe it is any child's dream or ultimate goal in life to be a bully, to use drugs, to assault another child. What went wrong? How did we get here? Are we brave enough to look for the answer? Hearing the truth will make us feel uncomfortable...but if we REALLY want to address bullying and not just feel like we are "doing something about bullying".... we are going to have to unpack some of this mess. We are going to have to stop blaming and start assuming responsibility- a collective responsibility- for all our children, including the bullies.

That's my two cents worth!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dr. Martin Brokenleg

I've been meaning to write about Dr. Martin Brokenleg ever since I heard him address a packed house on October 30. He is an expert in the area of resiliency and has worked with staff from our District on several occasions. He teaches by telling stories- stories that illustrate, resonate, and move. He is a powerful man because of his honesty and his depth of caring. My notes will not do him justice, but they will give you a taste of what he believes. You can also check out his book, "Reclaiming Our Youth."

Here are some highlights from the three pages of notes I took:

- He believes that all youth are at risk.
- Between 3 and 6 PM, 90% of juvenile delinquency happens (as do most unplanned pregnancies!)
- The teenage brain works best between noon and 7 PM. One high school moved their start time to 10 AM and absenteeism dropped by 60%.

Four THEMES that are creating challenges for youth:
1- The belief that children and youth are not important. He gave many "living" examples of how we devalue children.
2- Devaluing of Human Presence. Families spend less time together today than they did 20 years ago. Technology reduces face time and we spend less time talking to our children. When you take out 'giving orders', one study found that mothers, on average, talk to their children for 3 minutes a day. Fathers spend 49 seconds/day!
3- The myth that the nuclear family (mom, dad, kids) is a sustainable unit. We are built to operate in groups of 250, not 4. The nuclear family unit cannot meet all the emotional, psychological, financial needs of the family members.
4- Fear of talking about spirituality. As Canadians, we shy away from it. We need to strengthen the spirit of youth and children- to teach the heart as much as the head.

Not through words, but through actions.

Four areas (the Circle of Courage):
1- BELONGING: Every human being, every child needs to feel a sense of belonging. They need to feel significant.
2- MASTERY. Everyone needs to feel competent.
3-INDEPENDENCE. Everyone needs to have a sense of self-responsibility.
4- GENEROSITY- Everyone needs to know their own goodness and virtue.

Dr. Brokenleg asserts that nothing happens until belonging happens. When a crisis happens, the first priority is to stabilize the youth with support, create a connection. When this is in place, then you can look at correction, next steps, reparation, etc. Instead, many adults resort to shaming or exclusion or un-belonging.

If there are problems with belonging, you see these behaviours: distrust, exclusion, detachment, rejection, antagonism.

Kids need to know that if there is a problem, they can fix it. They need to be able to demonstrate their success, often through the "Back Door". (Dr. Brokenleg told the story of a dyslexic child who was finally able to demonstrate his learning via Braille.) Setting goals, self-reflection, dealing with failure, coping with change... these are all mastery skills. Adults need to provide opportunities for mastery to flourish.

There is a problem with mastery, if you see: disinterest, confusion, not wanting to learn, feeling incompetent, learned helplessness.

Majority rule actually disempowers people. Consensus models empower, because one person can stop something from happening. How do kids show independence? By resisting peer pressure, solving problems, identifying feelings, laughing at oneself. Discipline is empowering; punishment is disempowering.

Problem signs: Feeling coerced, unable to affect change, unassured, misled, expressions of futility.

We should be able to give away anything. Dr. Brokenleg talked about the Lakota tradition of regular deep generosity (giving until the family is completely broke, feeding thousands of people at parents' anniversary). The first thing that happens in a crisis is you lose your sense of your own goodness. We must give children opportunities to be generous, otherwise they won't believe their own goodness.

Problem signs: emptiness, rancour, exploiting, vengeance, disrespect.

The last thing I wrote down was a quote from the Dalai Lama:
Compassion is the common ground for all. There is not enough kindness in the world.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nov. 24 Board meeting Agenda

To see any of these reports, please follow this link:

The meeting starts at 6 PM. Hope to see you there! (Note: #5 re: board succession plan, is a motion I have put forward.)

A. O Canada

B. Roll Call

C. Communications from the Board Chair

D. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools

E. Minutes:

1. Board Meeting #5 - November 10, 2009- These minutes will be posted November 25, 2009.

F. Improving Student Achievement

Improving Student Achievement: Engaging Students through Volunteerism

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives

H. Reports

Report #1 of the Audit Committee (From the Meeting Held November 17, 2009)

Report #4 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held November 17, 2009)

Motion re Board Succession Plan

Motion re District Priorities Committee

Proposed Early Years Policy

Policy Review JAB.BP - Formal Delegations, Presentations and Comments to the Board

Policy Review - GAA.BP Personnel Policies Priority Objectives

Approval of 2009-2010 Expenditures Budget

Trustee Subcommittee Review of 2008-2009 School and Central Department Results

Edmonton Public Schools' Annual Education Results Report 2008-2009

Responses to Board Requests for Information

14. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)

I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information

J. Notices of Motion

K. Meeting Dates

L. Adjournment

Clear message: keep class sizes small!

Last night, around 200 parents overwhelmingly pressed button #6, sending a clear message to the board of trustees: keep class sizes small.

At the board's first-ever town hall forum using clickApad technology, parents from almost every EPSB school voted on lists of priorities, providing valuable input as we look ahead to potential financial challenges. Round tables filled the gym at Jasper Place High School, each one facilitated by an EPSB employee. Trustees moved from table to table, listening to the conversation. At the end of the evening, parents were asked to vote on whether they found the evening worthwhile and would they do it again. Another clear message to the board: YES.

Here's how the evening went:
Introduction from Board Chair Fleming, explaining the uncertain climate (financially) and why we are seeking their input. He affirmed that we, as their representatives, are committed to making decisions that reflect the views and values of the public.

Demonstration on how to use the voting technology. (Everything worked well- phew!)

At the tables, a quick overview of District Priorities, Mission Statement and Board of Trustees' Strategic Plan to set the stage for the rest of the discussions.

First chance to vote: List of Educational Values.
A list of 10 values was presented to each parent. Recognizing that all the values were important, we asked people to struggle with picking out THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE. First, people voted on their top pick, independent of any discussion at their table, providing their "Gut reaction". Most people found it difficult to choose- as did I looking at the list!

Results were then projected for all to see, here are the ones with the highest votes:
All Students should be successful in their studies- 26%;
Schools should be respectful, inclusive, and responsive to diverse needs of students- 21%,
All students must complete high school- 21%
Then the tables discussed why they voted as they did and after 15 minutes, another vote was taken and reported. The percentages changed slightly as people were convinced by the persuasive arguments of their table-mates.

Next Topic: List of Educational Outcomes.
Same format- gut reaction vote, discussion, second vote.
Here's a snapshot of the top picks:
Literacy- 26%
Critical thinking- 20%
Lifelong learning- 18%
Creativity- 8%
After discussion, critical thinking went up, lifelong learning went up and I think so did adaptability to 13%. *

(*Complete results will be made available to the board and the public. Please accept my "snapshot" reporting at this stage.)

Finally, we had the vote on Educational Services for Students. This topic was perhaps most easily connected to financial decisions and it was here that the clearest message was delivered: 59% chose "keeping class sizes small (retaining staff to maintain a good ratios of teachers to students)". This was so far ahead of any of the other nine options that it actually drew a vocal reaction from the crowd. In fact, some options turned in a 1% or 0% vote. The second choice was "Offering a variety of courses beyond the core courses" at 11%.

Very interesting... and challenging, as we know that with any large reduction of funding, class sizes will almost inevitably be affected, due to the high percentage of our budget that is dedicated to teacher salaries. We are a people business, after all, and most of our expenditures are salaries.

The evening has given us some great food for thought, as we look ahead.

Thanks to all who took the time to attend. I think it was a great success and we will certainly learn from this first attempt to refine and improve the process even further.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tues, Nov. 10 board meeting

Tuesday's board meeting, with all the attached reports can be found here:

There is a lot of policy work in this meeting- early years, records, public delegations to board- as well as updates on work in the early years and Aboriginal education.

Item #11 contains two items that may be of interest to the parents and community members: how widespread is the use of restorative justice in our schools and an update on community use of gyms. (Joint Use Agreement)

The meeting starts at 6 PM. I'm guessing this one will finish on time (9PM). Hope to see you there! Feel free to identify yourself to me.

The items for the meeting are:

Roll Call

B. O Canada - L'Académie Vimy Ridge Academy

C. Remembrance Ceremony

L'Académie Vimy Ridge Academy Remembrance Ceremony

D. Communications from the Board Chair

E. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools

F. Minutes:

2. Board Meeting #4 - October 27, 2009- These minutes will be posted November 13, 2009.

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives

H. Reports

Report #3 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held November 3, 2009)

Motion re Public Engagement

Reaffirmation of District Priorities

Policy Review - JBG.BP - Retention of Records and Objects Moved to CN.BP - Managing District Information

The Early Years: An Overview and Update

Proposed Early Years Policy

Policy Review JAB.BP - Formal Delegations, Presentations and Comments to the Board

Aboriginal Education Policy and Regulation Implementation Plan Update: Year Two

Responses to Board Requests for Information

12. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)

I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information

J. Notices of Motion

K. Meeting Dates

L. Adjournment

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Charting growth vs. standardized testing

I am in the middle of reviewing schools- it's an annual encounter(every fall) with school principals from across the District, where subcommittees of two trustees review last year's results and discuss with principals what the implications are for the upcoming school year. In essence, it's a chance to reflect, deepen our understanding of how our students are doing, what challenges schools are facing, and how everyone is planning to improve.

The biggest benefit to me, as a trustee, is not so much reviewing the data, but being able to understand the story behind the data.

Which brings me to the topic of this blog- "charting growth vs. standardized testing."

The Province mandates standardized testing as a means to ensure accountability. We all want to be assured that the public dollars invested in education is being wisely used, that students are learning and that teachers are doing a good job. I have no problem with those goals. In fact, I think they are critically important.

However, the testing doesn't reveal the true story. Currently in Edmonton, we have a growing population of students arriving at our schools with serious language deficits... schools I reviewed today had 40-55% English Language learning students. How can you understand the history of the Aboriginal people of Canada or the concept of local government, when you can't speak the language? Imagine yourself trying to take a course in Urdu or Swahili, how well would you score? As well, many of our students have special needs (cognitive, behavioural, emotional) and some are very severe. Others are experiencing extreme poverty (1 in 6 children in Edmonton live in poverty. Roughly translated, that means 12,000 children within Edmonton Public Schools.) Others have experienced trauma in refugee camps and never been to a school.

In short- all children do not start at the same place. Some come to Kindergarten knowing how to read, some have never seen a book and don't know how it "works". To ask them all to arrive at the same finish line on the same day (in grades 3, 6, 9 and 12) doesn't make sense. It is demoralizing to the hard work of many staff members who are playing a desperate game of 'catch up' with some of their students. These students may, in fact, show heroic personal growth, but they still fall short of the standardized expectations and are recorded as "fails to achieve the acceptable standard."

It reminds me of my son's physical growth chart as a baby. At birth, he was tiny (5 lbs. 12 oz) and ended up on the doctor's chart at the 25th percentile: "Below average". How I wanted him to get to the 50th percentile... but every month he steadfastly remained at the 25th percentile. I felt like a failure and this was unkindly reinforced every time the nurse plotted his weight on the chart with a disapproving sigh: "Still in the 25th percentile". Until finally, the doctor pointed out the obvious- his growth was a perfect curve; he was keeping perfect pace with himself. He was growing. He was proportionate and in the end, as the doctor said, "Someone has to be in the 25th percentile". I threw away the chart and looked for other indicators of health and well-being.

It's not a failure for a child to enter our system in grade 3 with no English (essentially below kindergarten or 4 years behind), no idea what school is about and within a year, he has friends, can communicate, enjoys being at school and is demonstrating progress academically. In grade 5, he is gaining ground and is now only 2-3 years behind. By grade 8, he is at grade level. This is a remarkable achievement which points to incredible dedication on the part of both the teachers and the student. In fact, his GROWTH (gaining 10 years growth in 5 years) far outstrips the other students in his cohort... and yet, this will not be known by looking at standardized testing.

Similar stories can be applied to students with special needs or children who have come from deprived backgrounds.

I suggest, with all respect, that we are measuring the wrong thing.

I heard today from one principal that it is possible to account for growth, we have the measures and it could be put into nice charts and graphs for those who like that sort of thing... so let's focus on GROWTH and leave PERFORMANCE where it belongs: on the stage!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Children & Youth Services seeks public input

"Albertans asked for input on the child intervention system"

Albertans are invited to provide their say as part of a review of the province’s child intervention system.

A review panel was established this past summer by Children and Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk to study the system and suggest ways it can be strengthened to support at-risk children, youth and families in the province. As part of this review, the panel has launched a website with a discussion guide where Albertans can offer their thoughts and ideas.

According to the terms of reference for the review, the panel will make recommendations that focus on the following key questions:

Are the necessary checks, balances and processes in place to ensure accountability and transparency in the child intervention system?
Does the system have the capacity to effectively respond to emerging societal trends, service demands, and evolving workforce and practice issues?
Is the system organized and aligned with leading practices and evidence-based research?
The discussion guide provides information on the history of child intervention and how the system currently operates in our province. Albertans are encouraged to review the discussion guide and provide their input by completing a survey or commenting online at Feedback is requested before November 30.