Friday, December 11, 2009

Parent Council Luncheon- feedback

Last week, I hosted a luncheon for the Parent Council Chairs in my ward. It was a great chance to meet, listen and connect. Being a Parent Council Chair can be a lonely experience and one of the aims of the luncheon was to connect them with each other and create a web of support for these committed parents. Truly, the work they do on behalf of all the students at their school is remarkable. I call them unsung heroes!

I was able to deliver a bit of information about what is happening at the District level, the provincial level and the global level and how all of that relates to what is happening (or may happen) at the school level. I also went around the room and gathered input, questions, thoughts from each of the Chairs.

I sat down today with some members of our administration to bring these ideas/questions forward and want to update those who attended about the steps I've taken.


Michaela's Question: Do you track post-secondary completion as a way to measure our success in K-12 education? This is more meaningful than simply looking at high school completion rates.
Answer: We see high school completion as an important step to creating a wide variety of options for students, but we certainly don't see it as the "end". We do track the 6 year transition rate to post-secondary and that number is going up. The idea of tracking successful COMPLETION of post-secondary is not something we do, however, it is an interesting idea. Currently, completion rates at post-secondary would be tracked by Advanced Education and we're not sure if they can disaggregate the data to see where the students attended high school. If Education (both K-12 and Advanced Ed) fell under one Ministry, a continuous approach to tracking student success might be one outcome. It would entirely depend on the manner in which these two streams were integrated and as far as we know, there is no talk of joining the Ministries again under one umbrella as they were in the past

Christine's Question: Will EPSB take an advocacy stance regarding the written portion of exams being removed?
Answer: At this point, we have not taken an official position.

Lije's Question (echoed by others): How can we engage more parents to become involved in parent council work?
Answer: I've passed this topic on to our Parents As Partners team in the Communications Department. This is a common issue and we will think about developing some tools to assist Chairs.

Penny's Question: What is available to support Principals in working well with parents and parent councils?
Answer: EPSB is the first District to institute Principal Quality Standard Practice which outlines seven dimensions of the Principal's work. Assistant Superintendents use these seven practices to help Principals identify strengths and weaknesses and set goals. One element is "working with stakeholders", which would certainly include parents and parent councils. It is certainly our District's expectation that all Principals will work with parents in a cooperative and collaborative manner. (That's why we have a program called "Parents as Partners"!) These Principal Quality Standard Practices are available, if anyone would care to look at them.

Penny's Challenge: Rather than focusing on trying to get parents to meet the needs of the Parent Council (ie. fundraising, casinos, events, etc.)... parent councils should be actively exploring what their parents NEED and focus on trying to meet those needs. 
Action: I passed this on to the Parents as Partners team as a possible thought for future elaboration or discussion. Certainly, as our population becomes more impacted by poverty, this level of social awareness in Parent Councils will be very important.

Scott's Concern: Lack of clarity around the Sector Review process and the steps parent councils can take to ensure the viability of their school. 
Action: I passed this on to our Superintendent, who will discuss this with the Planning Department. We appreciate the honest feedback. It is certainly not our aim to disempower parents in these processes. In fact, with more collaboration and consultation points than ever before, it is our hope that the Sector Review process will empower more participation and engagement, not less.

Jennifer and others expressed: Appreciation for the opportunity to connect with other council chairs and share ideas.
Action: I've created an email list for all interested, so they can connect without waiting for the next trustee luncheon. Any other Ward C Council Chairs who would like to join, please send me an email: Sue.Huff@epsb.ca  As well, I've passed on to Parents as Partners that there is a strong desire to connect with other Chairs and perhaps Ward breakout sessions would be one idea.

Christine's Concern: Town Hall survey data did not take into account that high school Chairs who represent thousands of students had the same single vote as elementary chairs who were speaking on behalf of much smaller populations. In essence, a handful of high school votes, were lost in the middle of an overwhelming number of elementary votes and the priorities might be very different.
Action: This was relayed to the Superintendent who took note of this issue. He pointed out that the data will be disaggregated by age of children attending school, so we will be able to see how "high school parents" viewed issues, separate from elementary parents. He agreed that we should be cautious in our interpretation of the data, as it was not statistically representative. This was our first attempt and we will learn from comments like Christine's. I would be happy to share the disaggregated data, when it is available.

Doug's Idea: It is vital for schools to develop strong connections with their community (community league, businesses in the area, neighbours, etc.)
Action: I passed this on to Parents as Partners as a possible idea.  I would encourage anyone interested in this idea, to connect with Doug at Westglen to learn more about creating strong connections. As well, the District has many, many partners. The Report to the Community 2009,which was just released this week, outlines some of the many successes we've experienced through effective partnerships. If you would like a copy, please contact  Cathy MacDonald in the Communications Department at 780-429-8435.

PHEW!

Thanks for the great conversation and the great questions!
Stay warm.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Poverty and Taxes

I received this from PIA (Public Interest Alberta) and I think it is provocative and worth reading. Poverty is affects thousands of children in Edmonton Public Schools and indicators suggest that the problem is getting worse. Teachers are facing the realities of children who are hungry and without sufficient clothing every day in our schools. I am concerned, as I'm sure you are, about the fate of families who were vulnerable BEFORE the economic meltdown and now find themselves in increasingly challenging circumstances.



Last week, John Kolkman (Edmonton Social Planning Council) and Bill

Moore-Kilgannon (PIA) spoke to the federal parliamentary committee that is

developing a national poverty reduction strategy when they were in Edmonton.

The executive assistant for MP Tony Martin approached them afterward and

said he really liked the exchange they had about tax cuts. He has taken an

excerpt from the transcripts of the hearing and sent it out across the

country today. We thought you might be interested in reading it.


From: Tony Martin, MP



Last week, the HUMA committee nearing the end of its two-year study on the

federal role on poverty reduction traveled in western and northern Canada.

Here is a remarkable exchange between Tony and two Alberta witnesses

suggesting a way to reframe the political and public debate on cutting

taxes. (For the entire testimony, visit the HUMA Committee website.)



Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP): Mr. Savage mentioned yesterday in the

hearings that at some point, the discussion has to happen in this country

about taxation and fair taxation and progressive taxation-taxation that

actually works in the interest of those who need it to work on their behalf

so they can participate in society and live with some dignity. Why not start

today?



Out there, for the most part, middle-class Canada wants to pay less

taxes. What they want to see in every budget that comes down, whether it's

provincial or federal or municipal, is a tax reduction. They don't seem to

understand-or maybe they do, but turn a blind eye to it-that with every tax

reduction, there is less money in government coffers to pay for the programs

we need to help those who are in need.



Government doesn't do stuff that the general public, for the most part,

isn't willing to support. Ultimately, in four years, or a year and a half,

we all have to go back to our constituents and we have to make a case: Elect

us because this is what we stand for. If we're willing to stand up and say

that we're going to give you tax cuts, chances are, we'll get re-elected. If

we stand up and say no, we're going to raise your taxes, our horizon is

limited. That's the reality.



How do we get to a place in Canada today, given what we're hearing as we

travel the country on the issue of poverty and on groups, like the disabled,

who are really struggling just to get the basics, where we can get the

discussion going in a constructive, positive way so that people will be

willing to support the kinds of investments we need in order to make Canada

the country that we all here believe it has the potential to become?



I'll leave it at that.



Mr. Bill Moore-Kilgannon (Executive Director, Public Interest Alberta):

I think your question is incredibly important. It's certainly a discussion

here in Alberta where the provincial government likes to say that it has the

lowest tax system in the country. We are the only province that has a flat

tax. When you look at the actual numbers what you'll actually find is that

low-income people pay the fourth highest taxes in Canada in Alberta because

of the flat tax. So it's erroneous to say the provincial government in

Alberta can be cutting taxes because of our oil and natural gas wealth. But

the distribution of the taxes is obviously not shared equally.



You used the word investment and I think that's exactly the way we need

to talk about a commitment to a poverty elimination strategy. I would urge

us as well to talk about poverty prevention. When we do so I think they can

easily make the case that these are important investments that benefit the

quality of life for absolutely everybody.



The return on investment approach, whether you look at investments as

I've been talking about in early childhood education and care, greater

access to post-secondary education and the diversification of our economy

absolutely need to be crucial parts of how we talk about poverty elimination

and support for people with disabilities, who have an incredible amount to

offer. I've been hearing that the provincial government is now out of money

through the EI fund to support people with disabilities in colleges and

technical institutes. Many of those people who are in mid-program are going

to be young people with disabilities and are being cut off from the money.

So as of January they will not be returning to school.



Those are the stories that we need to tell so that people understand

that these are real investments. When we've done polling we don't do like

the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation and just do a poll on "would you like a

tax cut"? That sounds good but "would you like a tax cut" if it would mean

that your mother in the long-term care system is going to have to pay

significantly more? "Would you like a tax cut" if it's going to mean less

access to post-secondary education? "Would you like a tax cut" if we're not

going to have childcare so that your granddaughter is able to get into

quality child care so that your daughter is able to go back to school and

training?



If you frame it that way then every time we've done polling, even in

Alberta, the numbers are completely different. When the provincial

government asks "what are your priorities?" tax cuts were number 8 or 9 on

the list of where they want to see government spending. So we have to talk

about priorities and what matters to Canadians in their lives and make sure

those investments are being put in place so that at the end of the day we're

building a system where people truly have choices that allow them to move

forward and benefit from the wealth that we all share.



If I were a politician, which I'm not, that is how I would approach it

with my constituents telling them their dollars are well spent here.



Mr. John Kolkman (Research and Policy Analysis Coordinator, Edmonton

Social Planning Council): I just wanted to respond very directly to Mr.

Martin's question.



Ed Broadbent, someone I think you know, wrote a very interesting opinion

article in the Globe and Mail on November 24, the 20th anniversary of the

Eliminating Child Poverty Resolution. One of the things he suggested was

that the federal government increase the marginal tax rate on people with

individual taxable incomes above $250,000 per year by to 35%, which is

exactly what people in the United States pay making that level of income.

That's a six percentage point increase. From 20% to 35%, the federal

government could generate an additional $4 billion a year in revenue.



What if the federal government were to decide with that $4 billion that

they were going to put that into some key priorities? For example, the

Caledon Institute has calculated that child tax benefits could be increased

by about 50% above current levels with an additional $4 billion investment.

Perhaps some could be applied to enhancing the disability tax credit that

Bev talked about.



I think there is some room to look at raising the marginal tax rates on

very wealthy Canadians. In a sense we're non-competitive with the United

States, which has a 35% tax rate above $250,000 in individual taxable

income. I think if it was framed in that way, and if those dollars were

dedicated to fighting poverty, you might be surprised. There might be more

support for that kind of proposal than we think at the current time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Board Agenda- Tuesday, Dec.8

Here's the link to the agenda with all the reports attached: http://www.epsb.ca/board/december0809_agenda.shtml

Meeting starts at 6 PM. Free parking underground. Centre for Education, 1 Kingsway.
Hope to see you there. Last public board meeting before the Christmas break.


ITEMS OF INTEREST:


F 2. Improving Student Achievement by Embracing Multiculturalism (if you are interested in learning what we are doing to support our ever-increasing English Language Learning population, you may want to check this item and #8 out.)

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives (if you want to speak to the board on any educational matter, you may do so at this point. Usually lands around 7 PM. You will have 3 minutes.)

H. Reports

3.
Report #5 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held December 1, 2009) (Holds info on the dates for the official openings of the 6 new ASAP schools, ATA Memorandum of Agreement changes)

4.
Motion re Motion to Extend a Board Meeting Past 9:00 p.m.

5.
Motion re Establishment of Working Committee re School Closures and School Viability (Motion to create tri-level governmental committee to explore alternatives to closure.)

6.
Trustee Electoral Ward Boundaries (Changes for Ward F and Ward H. Affecting Brander Gardens, Brookside, Bulyea Heights area in south Edmonton.)

7.
Policy Review - GAA.BP Personnel Policies Priority Objectives

8.
Multicultural Policy and Regulation: First Year Implementation Plan

9.
Response to Board Request for Information (info on full-day kindergarten)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Policies needing your input

The following six Board policies have been posted online for stakeholder input. All are open for input December 2- January 6, 2010, so if you have a minute in the midst of all your Christmas preparation, please check them out at:
http://www.epsb.ca/policy/policyReviewListings.shtml

The policies are:

1. CCE.BP - Definition of a School
2. HHHA.BP - Tutoring
3.
HK.BP - Student Achievement and Growth
4.
IH.BP - Supervision of Elementary and Junior High Students During Lunch
5.
JBB.BP - School Sponsored Educational Displays
6.
KA.BP - District Technology

What kind of party would I run for?

At EPSB, we are conducting an intensive staff engagement survey. It will help us to gain valuable insight into our employees' perspectives around things like: recognition, wellness, confidence, relations with supervisors, etc. We are striving to be an employer of choice, where all our employees feel good about the work they do and are proud to be a part of our organization.

Which made me think about Don's comments at Reboot about wanting to be proud to be an Albertan again.

Which made me think of how proud I am to be associated with the remarkable reboot-ers.

Which made me wonder: What kind of political party would fill me with pride and inspire me to run provincially?

Here's my thinking to date.

I would be proud to run for a party that was based on TRUST, OPTIMISM,
CAREFUL THOUGHT, HUMILITY, BALANCE, INCLUSION and HUMOUR.

TRUST-
Trust in the party members and in their ability to represent their constituency, even if that means occasionally voting against the "party line". Trust to allow party members to speak openly about issues, to engage in dialogue through a variety of means. Trust that party members could even openly attend an event like Reboot Alberta!

Trust in the public- that they deserve to know what is happening, can understand the complexities of issues and should not be "shielded from the truth." An empowered, engaged citizenry is the goal and we should trust that when well-informed, the public will make the best decisions (which may or may not align with our own thinking!).

Trust in other levels of government and the elected officials who have jobs to do.

OPTIMISM-
Optimism for the future, a belief that we can tackle the significant global and local challenges ahead; we will find a good way to move forward together. This is the opposite of a fear-based, protectionist, batten-down-the-hatches attitude that sees others as the enemy. It is a philosophy built on possibilities, creativity and courage. It is not, as some cynics might suggest, a naive attitude.

CAREFUL THOUGHT-
Decisions are made after careful reflection, considering all points of view, including most importantly those who are opposed. People on the other side of issues have important information to share that supporters don't. Careful thought means open listening and being willing to reconsider what was previously held to be true. Reflection must be built into all decisions and significant change must be well-charted and communicated clearly.

HUMILITY-
This is tied to trust, but means that politicians always remember that they serve at the pleasure of the public. I've been told that in the Aboriginal community, leaders do not run, they are chosen by the people. It is both a great honour and a great responsibility to be selected; you do not refuse when your community calls upon you to be a leader. This appeals to me and I think it is a needed element in servant leadership/ethical leadership models to counteract the seductive lure of power and entitlement. Humility recognizes that none of us have all the answers and we need one another's wisdom to achieve our best potential.

BALANCE-
Too often, I see politicians who are out of balance: over-full agendas, stressed out and never really "present" in the conversation. Is this the right frame of mind to be in to make critical decisions on behalf of the community? Any party that I would be interested in running for would need to understand that my family and sense of balance are critically important. In short, I need breaks; I need time off. A party that sees this as shirking my duty, doesn't understand the bigger picture.

INCLUSION-
Who is more important? The CEO or the artist? The party supporter or the plumber? The businessman or the environmentalist? So often, people are ranked and parties decide whose voice is more important. I think everyone's voice is important and we need to establish mechanisms for the quieter voices to be heard. All Albertans need to be equal members in the circle. Preferential treatment based on income, race, advantage, affiliation has no place in "my" party.

HUMOUR-
We are all too darn serious. I like to laugh. If there is no joy, there's no point.

And another thing....
Question Period is counter-productive, if not directly responsible for the public's current distaste/apathy regarding politics. I wouldn't want to participate in that level of "gotcha" politics. Real questions, real answers- maybe. The current form of "yell across the floor, thump on your desk" silliness- no thanks. It's juvenile and embarrassing and I think we can do a lot better.

So maybe this "wish list" is not realistic. That's okay. I don't need to run for any party. I feel that this list is almost possible with municipal politics and maybe that's where I belong. But maybe, if parties want to attract potential candidates like me they should consider what's keeping people like me out of provincial politics in the first place. And maybe, the key to increasing their margin in the polls lies in re-examining their current M.O.

Cheers!

Sue