Friday, November 20, 2009

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.

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