Sunday, November 7, 2010


I've started up a new blog- which will cover a wide variety of topics that interest me- like education, politics, family, theatre and anything else that is banging around in my head trying to get out.

I hope you will come by for a visit:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What an election- ARTES a gamechanger

Last night, I watched the election results come in at Trustee Dave Colburn's gathering at the Highlands Golf Club. Dave was acclaimed, so it was, from the outset, a different kind of celebration- it was about other people. Dale Hudjik was there, from ARTES, the Association for Responsive Trustees in Edmonton Schools, a grass-roots, volunteer organization that formed to encourage and support progressive candidates in this election for school board. ARTES had specific qualities it wanted to see in trustees: forward-thinking, progressive, responsive to the community, transparent and independent in thought. They held monthly meetings, discussed good governance and provided mentorship and support to candidates. ARTES was instrumental in the community-led forums for candidates that sprang up when EPSB cancelled their forums and provided a constant source of information to interested citizens through twitter (@yegtrustee, @stolenfire) and their website. They even supplied a report card for each candidates, with the majority of their top picks being successful last night.

There were some very noteworthy results last night: Sarah Hoffman had over 14,000 votes in Ward G, to knock off incumbent and retired principal George Rice. Sarah was second only to the mayoral candidates in terms of number of votes- she had more votes than any councillor and I would guess more votes than any trustee EVER.   Heather MacKenzie was in a three-way race in Ward E (west end), but in the end was victorious. She is one of four trustees under the age of 35 on this new board...another record. Michael Janz did very well- proving that in Ward F (University, downtown) people are more interested in electing someone with board/political/community experience than an experienced principal/adminstrator.  To me, the results last night represent a fundamental shift in how the public perceives the trustee role and how seriously they take the job. It is clearly seen as a political role, requiring political skills, rather than the logical next step for retired administrators.  In fact, other than Ken Shipka, not one of the educators who ran, was successful.

Last night, I texted Christopher Spencer (Ward C) some words of congratulations before he had been officially declared a winner, but when it was obvious that he would be successful. He texted back his thanks and added, "but I'm most excited for Heather, if she can just hang in there."

Heather will not walk into that first meeting, as I did...a lone individual. She will be walking into a group that knows her and values her already. This is perhaps the most valuable things ARTES did- it provided a meeting ground for the board-mates before they were thrown into the pressure-cooker of board life. Almost all of the candidates elected last night know each other already through ARTES meetings. They will walk into their first meeting as a team, with respect and trust already established. What a gift. I think this board will do great things.  And I thank the volunteers of ARTES, most notaably Dale Hudjik, for the support and encouragement they have given these new trustees.

The Board of 2010-2013
Ward A- Cheryl Johner
Ward B- Ken Shipka
Ward C- Christopher Spencer
Ward D- Dave Colburn
Ward E- Heather MacKenzie
Ward F- Michael Janz
Ward G- Sarah Hoffman
Ward H- Catherine Ripley
Ward I- Leslie Cleary

And, now I sign off- my blogging as a trustee ends here. I am returning to my first love: acting. I start rehearsals today for "The Fourth Graders Present the Un-named Love/Suicide" for Northern Light Theatre. It is a very dark script about bullying and will be performed Nov 2-14 at the Arts Barns. Tickets available through Northern Light Theatre.

After that, I will be performing in "True Grid" a hilarious comedy about four rabid Edmonton Eskimo Fans, Nov 24, 25, 26 at the Stanley Milner Library Theatre downtown. This show is part of the official Grey Cup celebrations and tickets are available now through TIX on the Square.

Thanks for reading. It's been fun!

I'll post the address for my next blog on politics, life and whatever else strikes my fancy....sometime in early November.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Oct. 16 Sector Review Think Tank Cancelled

Here is a message from Dialogue Partners: October 16th Think Tank workshop cancelled

The public engagement process for sector planning was to have included an event on October 16th, to bring together a variety of participants from different organizations to discuss creative ways to work together going forward.

We've heard from many participants that they have concerns about the timing of this meeting, which was to have been two days before the civic election. We have also received complaints from participants about Trustee Candidates and an existing Trustee campaigning and/or attempting to influence discussion at workshops.

Based on this input, we have decided to cancel this session. After the election, we will ask the new Board of Trustees for their input on how they would like to proceed.

Sue's comments:
I have repeatedly raised concerns about the timing of this event. It seemed strange to try bring councillors and trustees together for an "out of the box" think tank two days prior to an election. Even if something productive were to come of the discussion, many of the participants would not be around three days later to follow through with the ideas. I was also concerned that it would turn into a last-minute campaigning session for candidates and quickly de-generate into sound bytes and accusations. Thinking outside the box takes courage, creativity, trust, openness, playfulness and hope. I am not convinced that those qualities will be in strong evidence two days prior to an election. So, I support the decision to cancel it. The timing of the decision, however, is poor. This event should have rescheduled long ago. To cancel it on such short notice feels disrespectful to those who were planning to attend and to leave its future status vague is unsettling.

I hope, in the flurry of activity post-election, the new EPSB board can find time to discuss this matter and confirm a date. The community has been asking for a conversation around alternatives to closure and cross-jurisdicational cooperation for a long time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

EPSB Information Night for Parents from African communities

What are parent teacher interviews? Where do I go for information?
What is my role as a parent in the school?
What is an IPP and why does my child need one?
How do report cards work? What do students think?
What are assessments and why are they needed? What is CTS? What is RAP?

Do you have questions about Edmonton Public Schools?

Come to an information session for immigrant and refugee families of African background.

WHEN: Saturday, October 30 at 3:30 p.m.

A simple meal will be provided at the end of the session.

WHERE: Africa Centre 13160 – 127 Street

WHY: Make connections and have your questions answered.

RSVP: To register call Chem Chinoda at 780-616-5732,
or email by October 22, 2010.

Organized by Partners in Education Program, Edmonton Public Schools and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Hosted by Africa Centre.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Optimal Enrolment Limits for schools

Last year,  I argued that we needed to use accurate, reliable and realistic capacity numbers for schools.  I argued that the provincially calculated ACU was woefully inaccurate and presented a false picture of underutilized space in the District because it included non-teaching space like hallways in its calculations. I argued that it was physically impossible and educationally irresponsible to even CONSIDER filling schools to the ACU number. Although our funding is tied to this calculation,  I argued that we should not be using it to make critical decisions about combining school populations in closure scenarios.

I argued that the ACOL capacity was more realistic, as it was calculated by multiplying the number of actual classrooms in a school by the Alberta Commission on Learning recommended class size for those grades. (12 classrooms X 20 students in a class = school capacity of 240)

I also argued that the even-finer calculation called Optimal Enrolment Limit (OEL) was ideal. The OEL  is a number devised by the Principal and the Planning Department, looking at the on-the-ground realities schools are facing. It allows for adjustments, for instance, for special needs students in designated sites, who are not expected to operate in a classroom of 20. For their educational needs, smaller class sizes are essential. It also takes into consideration multiple programs offered at a school and ensures that if a child starts in Kindergarten in an alternative program that there will be room for them all the way until grade 6.  OEL is a practical, real number for individual schools to prevent over-crowding. And surely, that is what we all want.

Just to give some concrete examples, so you can understand how wildy varying these three capacity measures are, here are three examples in my ward:

Westminster (ACU: 837, ACOL: 650, OEL: 535)
Westglen Elementary (ACU: 452, ACOL: 300, OEL: 240)
Parkview (ACU: 957, ACOL: 855, OEL: 725)

I pushed the issue and the Board agreed to use all three numbers in school closure discussions. Therefore, I was disappointed to see when I attended a sector review meeting last week,  that only ACU and ACOL numbers were listed on the map on each table. I searched through the sheets available on the table, found OEL numbers and wrote them onto the map at the table I was sitting at. However, I am guessing that most tables were continuing to explore options using the ACU and ACOL, without the benefit of realizing that some of the schools in Ward C are already over-capacity according to their OEL. To add more students to these schools would be unthinkable. When you need to ensure space for children not only for this year, but every year, it is not simply a matter of adding X and Y together to get Z.  As you can see below, some schools have enrolment limits set for the entire school with no caveats, some have notes about limits for specific programs or even specific grades.  The capacity of the school is far more complex than many might think!

As well, it's worth noting that several schools are "small by design". Their optimal enrolment is under or around 200. So, again, a school's enrolment that may look small on paper (and seem empty according to the ACU) but it is actually full. You could not increase enrolment without risking over-crowding.

I hope the next board will take the important step of discontinuing the use of the ACU in any school closure considerations and only use ACOL and OEL. Encouraging the province to complete its review of ACU, improve this measure and adjust funding accordingly is worthy advocacy. But in the meantime, the next board should not feel obligated to measure water with a funnel instead of a measuring cup. 

Here is a list of OEL numbers for EPSB schools as of February 2010. 
Please note:  not all schools within the District have been assigned an OEL.


A. Blair McPherson 850 3 classes per grade

Abbott 250  Kindergarten - 40 Students (1 Cree extended, 1 regular class),Grade 1 - 6-60 students,  Cree extended, 2 regular classes)

Aldergrove 300 Not grade or program specific

Allendale 500 Cogito - 2 classes per grade, German Bilingual - 2 classes per grade

Argyll Not Applicable Traditional Program - 300

Athlone 180 Kindergarten to Gr. 6 - 1 class per grade

Avalon 600 Not grade or program specific

Balwin 475 Not grade or program specific

Baturyn 360 Not grade or program specific

Beacon Heights 150  Kindergarten - 2 classes Early Education - 4 classes Grades 1 to 6 - 1 class per grade

Belgravia 135 Kindergarten - 1 class – 25 Students Grades1 to 3 - 67 Students,Grades 4 to 6 - 51 Students

Belmead 240 Kindergarten- 2 classes – 40 students Grade 1- 1 class

Belmont 310 Logos - 1 class per grade, Regular - 1 class per grade

Bisset 325 Kindergarten - 3 classes, Grades 1 to 6 - 2 classes per grade

Brander Gardens 375 Not grade or program specific

Brookside 330 Not grade or program specific

Caernarvon 420 Mandarin Bilingual - 1 class per grade

Callingwood 275 Not grade or program specific

Centennial 310 Kindergarten - 2 classes

Clara Tyner 175 Not grade or program specific

Crawford Plains 350 Not grade or program specific

Crestwood 415 Elementary - 7 classes, Junior High - 9 classes

D.S MacKenzie 560 200 Students per grade

Daly Grove 375 Not grade or program specific

Dan Knott 500 Not grade or program specific

Delwood 500 French Immersion Program - 2 classes per grade

Dickinsfield 410 Not grade or program specific

Dr. Donald Massey 850 3 classes per grade

Donnan 470 Not grade or program specific

Dovercourt 300 Mandarin Bilingual - 1 class per grade

Dunluce 425 Kindergarten - 1 regular class

Earl Buxton 460 Not grade or program specific

Eastglen 1045 Grade 10 - 350 Students, Grade 11- 350 Students

Edmonton Christian School Senior High Campus 450 Grade 10 - 150 Students

Edmonton Christian School Northeast Campus 581 Not grade or program specific

Edmonton Christian School West Campus 633 Not grade or program specific

Elizabeth Finch 850 3 classes per grade

Elmwood Not Applicable Kindergarten - 30 Students, Grade 1 - 30 Students

Ellerslie Campus 560 Kindergarten - 4 classes, Grade 7 - 2 classes

Esther Starkman 850 3 classes per grade

Evansdale 430 Kindergarten – 55 Students, Grade 1 - 50 Students 2 classes per grade

Florence Hallock School 850 3 classes per grade,

Fraser 300 Not grade or program specific

Garneau 290, Child Study: Kindergarten – 40 students, Grade 1 – 40 students, Grades K to 6 – 10 classes

                       Regular Program: K & 1 – one class per grade

George H. Luck 400 Not grade or program specific

George P. Nicholson 450 Closed Boundaries

Glendale 165 Not grade or program specific

Glengarry 560 Kindergarten - 4 classes

Glenora 190 Not grade or program specific

Grandview Heights 300 Grades 1 - 6, 1 class per grade, Junior High - 2 classes per grade

Greenfield 540 Regular Program - 12 classes, French Immersion Program - 13 classes

Greenview 475 Regular Program - 1 Kindergarten class

French Immersion Program - 2 Kindergarten classes

Harry Ainlay 2185 Grade 10 - 700 Students, Grade 11- 700 Students

Hazeldean Not Applicable Kindergarten - 28 Students, Grade 1 - 22 Students

Hillcrest 500 Not grade or program specific

Hillview 200 Kindergarten - 21 Students, Grade 1 - 25 Students

Holyrood 500, French Immersion Kindergarten - 3 classes, French Immersion Division I - 3 classes per grade, French Immersion Division II - 2 classes per grade, Ukrainian and Regular Programs - 7 classes total

Homesteader 242 Early Education - 50 Students, Elementary 1 class per grade - 182 Students

J.A. Fife 450 French Immersion Program - 1 class per grade

J. Percy Page 1130 Grade 10 - 385 Students, Grade 11- 375 Students

Jackson Heights 310 2 Classes per grade

Jasper Place 2200 Grade 10 - 725 Students, Grade 11- 700 Students

John D. Bracco 600 Not grade or program specific

Johnny Bright 850 3 classes per grade

Julia Kiniski 390 Not grade or program specific

Kate Chegwin 560 Grades 7 to 9 Regular, 6 classes per grade

Keheewin 400 Kindergarten - 2 classes

Kenilworth 450 Not grade or program specific

Kensington 470 Not grade or program specific

Kildare 550 Mandarin Bilingual Kindergarten to 4 - 3 classes per grade, Mandarin Bilingual Grade 5 to 6 - 2 classes per grade

Kirkness 340 Not grade or program specific

Lago Lindo 370 Not grade or program specific

Lansdowne 200 Not grade or program specific

Laurier Heights 500, French Immersion - K to Grade 1 - 2 classes per grade, French Immersion- Grade 7- 1 class, Late French Immersion- Grade 7- 1 class, Regular K to Grade 1 and Grade 7 – 1 class per grade

Lillian Osborne 680 Grade 10 - 340 Students, Grade 11- 340 Students

Londonderry 570 Grade 7 - 190 Students, Mandarin Bilingual - 2 classes per grade

Lorelei 390 Not grade or program specific

Lymburn 425 Not grade or program specific

M.E. LaZerte 1965 Grade 10 - 640 Students, Grade 11- 640 Students

Mary Butterworth 600 Not grade or program specific

Mayfield 300, Early Education 100 Students, Kindergarten - 20 Students, Grades 1 to 6 - 200 Students

McKernan 600 Not grade or program specific

McLeod 360 Not grade or program specific

McNally 1030 Grade 10 - 385 Students, Grade 11- 375 Students

Meyokumin 490 Closed Boundaries Cogito - Kindergarten to Grade 6 – 2 classes, Regular Kindergarten - 1 class, Regular Grade 1- 2 classes, Regular Grades 2 to 6 - 1 class

Meyonohk 440 Not grade or program specific

Michael A. Kostek 460 Kindergarten Division I - 3 classes per grade

Millwoods Christian 710, Division I & II - 350 Students, Division III – 175 Students, Division IV - 185 Students

Minchau 346 Not grade or program specific

Montrose 175 Kindergarten- 1 class

Mount Pleasant 375 Cogito Kindergarten to Grade 6 - 2 classes per grade

Old Scona 360 Grade 10 - 120 Students

Ottewell 732 Grades 7 and 8 classes (240 Students)

Overlanders 270 Not grade or program specific

Parkview 725 Kindergarten Division I, II - 1 class per grade, Grade 7 - 7 classes

Patricia Heights 295 Not grade or program specific

Pollard Meadows 425 Cogito - Kindergarten to Grade 6 - 2 classes per grade, Regular Kindergarten to Grade 6 – 1 class per grade

Prince Charles 295 Not grade or program specific

Queen Elizabeth 1320 Grade 10 - 450 Students, Grade 11- 450 Students

R.J. Scott 140 Regular - 1 class per Kindergarten to Grade 6

Richard Secord 510, Cogito - Kindergarten to Grade 4 - 2 classes per grade, Cogito - Grade 6 - 1 class per grade, French Immersion - 1 class per grade

Rideau Park 245 German Bilingual - 1 class per grade

Rio Terrace 375 Not grade or program specific

Riverbend 630 Challenge - 2 classes per grade (60 Students per grade)

Rosslyn 590 Challenge - 2 classes per grade (60 Students per grade)

Ross Sheppard 1965 Grade 10 - 640 Students, Grade 11- 640 Students,

S. Bruce Smith 645 215 Students per grade

Satoo 300 Kindergarten - 2 classes

Scott Robertson 300 Grade 1 - 25 Students

Sifton 300 Not grade or program specific

Spruce Avenue 325 Kindergarten to Grade 6 - 7 classes, Grade 7 to 9 - 6 classes (Note: THis will be changes as Spruce Avenue is now a 7-9 school only)

Steinhauer 375 Kindergarten to Grade 3 - 3 classes per grade

Stratford 530 3 classes per grade, Kindergarten to Grade 4, 2 classes per grade; Grades 5 to 9

Strathcona 1425 Grade 10 - 450 Students, Grade 11- 450 Students

T.D. Baker 690 Not grade or program specific

Velma E. Baker 340 Kindergarten - 2 classes

Vernon Barford 765 Grade 7 - 240 Students, Challenge - 2 classes per grade (60 Students per grade)

Victoria School of Performing & Visual Arts 900 (High School) Grade 10 - 310 Students, Grade 11- 300 Students

Vimy Ridge 950 Grade 7 to 9- 550 students, Grade 10 to 12- 400 students

Virginia Park 210 Not grade or program specific

W.P Wagner 1460 Grade 10 - 470 Students, Grade 11- 455 Students

Weinlos 375 Not grade or program specific

Westbrook 450 Kindergarten - 2 classes

Westglen 240 Kindergarten- 2 classes

Westminster 535 Grade 7 - 175 Students

Windsor Park 174 Regular - 1 class per grade Kindergarten to 6,

Winterburn 450 Regular Elementary - 1 class per grade, Logos Elementary - 1 class per grade

York 335 Regular - 1 class per grade, Challenge - 1 class per grade

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creating the necessary dialogue

A fellow out-going trustee, Gerry Gibeault, has started up a blog, called Secrets of a School Board. Every day leading up to the election, he is posting one tip or piece of advice for candidates seeking a spot on the board. I think it's a great idea to capture the wisdom of out-going trustees, especially those, like Gerry, who have served for a long time (15 years!) and have great insights to share. This was the reason I put forward a motion to create a succession plan for the next board.

I chatted with Gerry the other day and commented on his blog, saying: "There are some good ideas in there- why didn't you fight for them while you were a trustee?"  He said that, as a trustee, you need to take the temperature of the board and determine whether or not things will fly. He didn't see much point in putting motions on the table that would go down in flames.

I value Gerry's perspective and certainly he was able to stay in the game five times longer than really, what do I know?  But I have to disagree. From where I sit, it's important to stimulate conversation, even if it doesn't result in immediate change or tangible success. It's important to put forward ideas, to discuss them, to explore why people oppose them, to understand what is still missing for your idea in order for it to be successful. If you never bring those ideas to the table, for public discussion--- how can we generate new ideas and challenge ourselves to grow, progress and develop?

To the new trustees, or anyone sitting at a table that is setting direction--- I would say: Take a chance. Innovate. Present your ideas. And never confuse short term failure with the long term merit of an idea. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and explored ideas that most thought were "wrong," "impossible" or "idealistic."

It's amazing for me to see how many people are talking about alternatives to school closure in this election. Even councillor candidates and the Mayor seems to be on board with this idea. This was something that I included in my first motion on the board, within months of being elected. In a round of amendments, the wording "and most importantly, seek alternatives to closure" was removed by the board. Three years ago, this idea was considered a dud, now it feels almost inevitable. With Trustee Dave Colburn's motion to create tri-level discussions around school closure and space utilization, there is a clear and obvious lever to move this idea forward by involving the city, the province and the school board in finding real solutions.

So, it's important to share your ideas, todiscuss them in the public arena and see where they go. If you keep them to yourself, because you fear they will not "pass" rob yourself and future colleagues of an important tool for change.

So- to the new trustees who will be elected on Oct. 18, I say: Be courageous! Be kind! Be bold!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Public lectures on inclusive education- Oct. 13


James McLeskey is a professor, School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies in the College of Education, University of Florida.

Dr. McLeskey has worked extensively with administrators and teachers on school improvement efforts,
seeking to provide educational services for students with disabilities that are more effective and inclusive. He has written about these activities in several articles and books, including Inclusive School in Action: Making Differences Ordinary (ASCD, 2000), and Inclusion: Effective Practices for All Students (Pearson Education, 2010).


“Qualities of effective, inclusive schools”
October 13 3:30 – 4:30
Room ED N 2-115
This presentation explores qualities of a highly effective and inclusive school.

“Reflections on developing effective, inclusive schools”
October 13 7 – 9 pm
Room TL 12 (Tory Lecture Theatre)
This session addresses potential problems that arise, and how these problems may be addressed in developing effective, inclusive schools. An emphasis is placed on making differences ordinary as students with disabilities are included in local schools. The qualities of effective, inclusive schools will be briefly discussed.

Questions and comments from the audience will be encouraged.

Contact Wendy Suave at ERC (Edmonton Regional Coalition for Inclusive Education) for more info.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meet the Candidates- WARD C FORUM- Oct. 5th

Please note: 
The EPSB-hosted candidate forums are not going to be held this year (instead video clips from all candidates will be posted on the website by October 4th). Therefore, this may be your only opportunity to meet the candidates face-to-face and ask questions. 

Edmonton Municipal Election 2010
All Candidates Forum in North Glenora

 City Council WARD 6
Edmonton Public School Board – WARD C
 Edmonton Catholic School Board – WARD 75

               13535 – 109A Avenue


Time: 7:00 TO 10:00 PM


Sponsored by North Glenora Community League, with support from ARTES (Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Edmonton Schools).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sector Review at Jasper Place

This morning I popped into the West 1 Sector Review consultation this morning at Jasper Place. I was seated at a table with some people from Crestwood, Parkview, Coronation/Grovenor. The room was sparsely populated (maybe 30 people?) and I was immediately struck by the enormous challenge facing this handful of people. On the table was a map of the West 1 sector (most of Ward C and some of Ward E, a huge area) complete with ACU/ACOL capacity numbers, current school enrolment numbers, location of leases, daycares, special programs, etc. The participants were given a handbook and asked to develop suggestions of how to move forward. In other words, they were being asked to suggest which schools should close.

The conversation was strained, as people struggled to understand what they were looking at and what it all meant. Of course, when faced with something this complex, people inevitably try to reduce it to something manageable. So they scanned for the smallest schools and looked nearby for schools that might be able to absorb their numbers. They looked for duplication in programming. They tried to evaluate how much the community valued the school based on the number of community use hours. In all cases, I encouraged people to look wider beyond this preliminary level of analysis. For instance, the number of community hours is not a direct and clear way to measure the value a community places on a school because some small schools cannot afford the evening custodian required to allow for community use. The Principal ultimately makes the decision  regarding how many hours are to be made available under the Joint Use Agreement. So the number of hours available and the number of hours used may have more to say about Principal preferences and budget constraints than true community value for a school.

As well, I noted immediately that people were quick to start making suggestions about combinations (and closures) for schools they were not connected to. Invariably, when I asked if anyone had been inside the schools they were suggesting, or if they knew anything about the particular needs of those students, the answer was "no". 

I left (early, in order to drive my son to hockey) questioning the value of this input for the next board of trustees. If the results come back that a majority of participants favoured closing school X and Y- is that because there was no one participating from school X and Y? Was that suggestion based on a deep understanding of the impacts of that recommendation or a preliminary scan of a map on a rushed Saturday morning? During the last round of closures, people asked us to think beyond numbers. But this is exactly what the conversation is being reduced to again. Don't get me wrong: I believe in public participation and public engagement, but I really wonder if we are setting people up to make suggestions based on a narrow view, driven in large part by self-interest.

What is the perfect process for this difficult challenge? I don't know. We came up with the sector review idea based on feedback that the sustainability review process was flawed and didn't allow for meaningful input. We were, believe it or not, trying to improve things. Likewise, the sustainability process was developed based on feedback that the previous process was flawed. Perhaps Trustee Gibeault is right when he writes in his blog, Secrets of a School Board, that there is NO process which people will like, if the final outcome is school closures. Have we set ourselves an impossible task even thinking that we could develop such a process?

Perhaps the Edmonton Federation for Community Leagues is quite right when it suggests that we've started this entire process with the wrong question. Instead of saying, in essence, "Help us decide which schools should close", we would be better to start the process with, "Help us imagine ways to keep schools open."

At the end of the day, though, the facts remain that many schools have small enrolments. When we are funded on a per pupil basis, can we afford to run schools with enrolments of 96, 110 or 150? What is the optimal number for strong educational outcomes? What are the real fiscal realities?  How many programs can we afford to offer and where should they be placed to create a workable bussing system?

The opening of 6 new schools, without any additional per pupil funding, is clearly taxing the system. Some schools have seen a drop in enrolment of 100-200 students from this time last year. Students are choosing to walk to their brand new, state-of-the-art neighbourhood school, rather than be bussed for 40 minutes. Who can blame them? I enjoyed walking my kids to school; I'm sure the parents in the north and south end communities of the city will also enjoy it. They will enjoy getting to know their neighbours and building a strong sense of community cohesion.

Despite all the confusion and ambiguity, I can see a few things clearly:
1- people are not engaging in this process in sufficient numbers, many populations are not included and many are questioning the validity of this consultation
2- people are frustrated and overwhelmed with the complexity of the issue
3- people fall back to self-interest and territorialism, in the face of the complexity and perceived threat to their school
4- the planners who have spent years working on this issue have expertise which needs to be well used
5- the community has input it wants to give on values, issues, concerns, things it wants to see in the decision-making
6- trustees ultimately need to make a decision and be prepared to show how and why they did so.

My suggestion:

That public consultation be used to clearly identify what people value, what they want to see trustees consider in their discussion and decision, what they see as reasonable trade-offs and what they need to see in order to feel confident that the process was fair, open, transparent and ultimately that wise, long-term solutions are implemented. This may include criteria for when it is appropriate to consider school closure and when it is appropriate to consider alternatives to school closure. The EFCL could help work with communities to consider and develop alternatives. The City needs to be involved in creating a way forward.

Based on this community input, the Planning Department develop a plan for each sector, drawing on their expertise and deep professional understanding of the multiple considerations. These plans should be taken out to communities for discussion (similar to the proposed LRT routes) to explain the plan, how it was devised and what the clear benefits are. As well, planners would use this opportunity to solicit feedback from the community. Planners should ask: What have we missed? What haven't we considered? What additional information do you need to feel confident in this plan?

This feedback should be taken back and considered carefully by the planners. Revisions should be incorporated.

The revised plan should be taken back to the community for explanation and to give the public time to digest this information, prior to a board vote. If there are additional tweaks to be made, they could be made following this second round of discussions.

The revised plan should be then taken to the Board for a vote.

The decision is made and we focus all our energies on supporting those affected and ensuring a smooth transition.

This would be a two year process, I'm guessing, in order to allow people to feel it was not rushed through.

Again, maybe I'm just a perpetual optimist to think that there is ANY process that will satisfy people. But more and more, I'm hearing people say: just tell us what you want to do and then we can respond to that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sue's thoughts on Wildrose Education plan

To be clear: These are my thoughts entirely and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton Public School Board, its administration, staff or the Board of Trustees.

I read through the following link and watched the video narrated by Danielle Smith. My first response was- "Hmm... this hits some interesting notes". Some of what is being said is very appealing and I'm guessing it will resonate with many people. Parents who are facing over-crowded classrooms and didn't not receive one of the 18 new ASAP schools may nod their heads in agreement. Parents who wonder why their child, who clearly needs a full-time aid, is instead sharing an aid with other children. The education system is not perfect and it is easy to stand on the outside of it and criticize.

But let's dig a little deeper, beyond a quick emotional response and examine the content (and implications) of the Wildrose education plan.

First of all, I agree with the importance of education, both to children and society at large. This cannot be over-stated. I agree with the notion of returning key decisions (such as, where new schools are needed) back to locally elected school boards, who are closest to the issues, understand the particular needs of their community and are accountable to their electorate. I agree that "one size does not fit all" and that schools need to be flexible in order to adapt to the individualized needs of children. However, some of what is mentioned in this document is already being done (by EPSB anyway) and some of the ideas will create new problems and challenges.

What's already being done?
- Individualized, self-paced learning- We have several options for this within our system. Teachers regularly use methods to differentiate instruction in our classrooms. It's not unusual to have a grade 5 class with  kids who span multiple grades and abilities, ranging from new immigrant children who are reading at a grade 1 level to gifted children who are reading at a grade 8 level. Differentiation is de rigeur for the vast majority of our teachers. We also have specialized sites, called Learning Stores, where students can learn entirely at their own pace, with the support of a teacher. Ironically, though, one of our strongest growing alternative programs (Cogito) goes entirely in a different direction: it provides only whole-class instruction. It is, in fact, "one size fits all" and parents are lined up to enter into this program.

- Competition and choice- EPSB, of course, has this already and it is my opinion that it is has its pluses and minuses. Competition is a word that doesn't really belong in education, as far as I'm concerned. It implies winner and losers and I am not comfortable with any of our children being placed in the losing category. As well, choice can breed inequity between schools. Education should not follow a business model- where the strong triumphing over the weak is "okay" or even desired. At EPSB, we are recognizing some of the inequities caused by choice and working to level the playing field. Our pendulum is swinging back a bit, with parents in the new ASAP schools thrilled to have, at long last, a community school for their children to attend instead of sending their children to 19 different schools with 19 different choices.  It is clear, as well,  that choice is not equally available to all, due to financial obstacles or other barriers. Before any political party wholly embraces choice and competition in their education plan, they should be fully aware of these challenges and develop strategies to ensure equitable access and treatment for all children.

-Flexibility to offer specialized track in trades, arts, music- EPSB does this already. We have schools dedicated to arts/music and the RAP program, CTS courses and the Skill Centre offers trades.

Which Wildrose ideas create new problems or challenges for me?

Funding directly to schools for Operations and Maintenance: Most of our operations funding does go out to schools and it is largely based on a per pupil allocation, however, we realized that this was contributing to the inequity in our system. Small schools, with low enrolment are not only stretched to provide adequate staffing for instruction due to per pupil allocations, they are stretched to provide adequate maintenance. We cannot afford to let the roof go unrepaired, the hallway go unswept or the classroom go unlit, simply because the student population is insufficient to generate enough per pupil operations money. Ensuring the safety of students and providing a healthy, clean environment is not an option- it is a given at every school. In addition, small schools find it very difficult to staff an evening custodian, making the school inaccessible to the community as a resource. So we have developed a more comprehensive formula which addresses some of these challenges.

Continued per pupil funding for private schools: I fundamentally disagree with this. I think public schools, which are publicly funded by all taxpayers, are for all students, regardless of economic status.  Private schools are not accessible to all; they are, by definition, exclusive. They are a choice for parents, it is true, but just like my choice to enrol my daughter in piano lessons is valid and real- I do not expect my neighbours to help pay for that choice. I do not believe private schools should be funded (now, at a rate of 70%!) by the taxpayer. The public system provides excellent opportunities for all children. It is, in fact, one of the best in the world. Diverting public funds to private schools contributes to funding challenges for public education.

Reporting Graduation Rates of high schools-This could have also gone in the "already being done" category, as our graduation rates are available, by school, to the public through our fall Trustee results review process. However, I want to talk about the concerns I have with the "public reporting" mentioned in the document. I am assuming this would be akin to the Fraser Institute's public reporting (and ranking) of schools. What may seem like accountability and good information for parents to make "informed decisions" creates a real problem- one that further exacerbates inequities and segregation. High school completion starts well before high school- it starts in kindergarten. It is influenced by every teacher, every class, every school the child attends before they arrive at grade 10. It is influenced by the economic status, stability, health, number of moves and resources of their family through those years. In fact, many would argue it starts well before they even enter school, in the early years 0-5 when most of the brain pathways are laid down. To hold High School X accountable for its results when there are so many factors completely beyond their control which contribute to their overall graduation rate is, I feel, unfair. Rather, let's measure where the kids are when they enter grade 10 and see how they do for the three years they are actually attending High School X. Measuring entry points, as well as exit points, seems more balanced. For parents, this would be a better measure too- how do the high school teachers work with the students who show up at their door? Otherwise, I fear we are measuring which high school has the highest achieving kids showing up and that, I fear, will lead us away from the foundational belief behind public education: educating all students, regardless of economic status, race, beliefs or any other factor.

Replacing PAT with new standardized test- I'm not convinced that a new PAT would be any better than the old PAT. As for measuring "actual improvement and comprehension"...isn't that what teachers do?

Funding to follow special needs students: It does actually... the problem lies with the fact that it's not enough. Currently, the highest special needs allocation does not cover the actual cost of meeting that child's needs. The cost of an aid for a child with severe needs far exceeds the current special needs funding. So the problem has been incorrectly framed: the money is not being held up in some bureaucracy, the schools are not hiding the money in some slush fund or wantonly disregarding the parents' wishes--- the money is simply not there.

Inclusion- The Wildrose suggests that special needs students are being "forced" into regular classrooms and that this is a cost-cutting measure. Inclusion is a journey. As a society, we are growing in our understanding that it is a human right to be included; that it is morally wrong to segregate groups of people who are different or have different needs. We are slowly understanding that it is not legally justifiable to exclude people because they make us feel uncomfortable. All people must be treated equally.

Of all the statements in this document, the following is the one that gave me most cause for alarm:

"High needs students generally need personalized care and attention and it is unhelpful for all involved to have a handful of high needs students dominating the time and attention of teachers and other students."

I have heard many stories of how inclusion has benefited both the child with exceptional learning needs and the "regular" students. I have seen families overcome with relief and gratitude when their child was finally included successfully and accepted as a valued member of the class.  It seems children are often much better at this than adults. In welcoming a child with special needs to their class, children learn about accepting and embracing difference. They learn and practice compassion, empathy and understanding. They learn from the child with special needs valuable lessons about tenacity, courage and gratitude. Yes, children with special needs require additional support and this costs money. Yes, sometimes their behaviours can be disruptive. And yes, inclusion does not work for every child. But it is a Canadian right to be offered the same education as other students and to be included (there have in fact been court cases on this very issue).

Where is this coming from? I don't know of any parents who are worried about being forced to be included. They may be (rightly) concerned about UNSUPPORTED inclusion or 'dumping' and I have heard concerns from parents of 'regular' students about the impact on their children, again,  if inclusion is unsupported. But, these concerns are far outweighed, by parents of children wanting inclusion: heartbreaking stories of being excluded, marginalized and made to feel unwelcome. We, as an education system and a society, need to be working harder to find ways to support inclusion and to overcome our basest fears that somehow inclusion is going to hurt us and our children.  These were the same fears used to condone segregation in the States, not so long ago. Have we learned so little?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts- last board meeting

Despite the very long agenda, we managed to complete all our work last night. So, that's it- no more board meetings for me, sitting in the chair of trustee. It felt (and continues to feel) a little odd. I am guessing this is the way everyone feels when they are facing a big transition, especially when the next steps aren't clear. (Leaping into thin air!)

The meeting was, I believe, a fine way to finish our term. We approved allocating additional funds out to schools, following naturally from our commitment to maintain staff. A number of policies, which had been diligently worked on by the Policy Committee and represented a great deal of input and consideration, all passed first and second readings. The request to have the third and final reading at the same meeting required unanimous approval and I opposed this for every policy. I don't believe doing three readings in one sitting is good governance (even if it is your last meeting) and I also feel the next board deserves the opportunity to make the final decision on these policies, as they are the ones who will have to live with them.

The proudest moment of the evening was the thoughtful and well-considered debate around granting the ASBA authorization to represent us at the tripartite deliberations on workforce stability and education transformation. My colleagues presented many valid points and concerns, both for and against. We considered our responsibilities to all our staff groups (not just teachers), the children we serve and our communities. We considered the fact that the ASBA's policies on several key issues (for example, province-wide bargaining for salaries, taxation for boards and full day kindergarten) are in direct opposition to our own EPSB values, beliefs and policies- leading us to ask whether we felt that the ASBA could, in fact, represent our views, values and needs effectively. We talked about the future of boards and the need for local autonomy rather than centralized or provincial decision-making. We had concerns about the tight timelines (deadine for completion: November 30) in the middle of considerable transition and upheaval due to the trustee elections and orientation for new board members. We talked about the challenges to meaningful and consistent board input given these timelines and change-over. We talked about events of the past and tried to predict where this process might lead us and future boards. It was challenging work and I was so very proud that our board made the decision to conduct this debate in public chambers. (All boards across the province have discussed this issue and come to a conclusion, but all, I believe, have done so behind closed doors.) In the end, the recommendation was defeated 7 to 2, with the majority feeling that it was not wise to authorize the ASBA to represent our board, given the variety of concerns expressed. Trustee Colburn and Trustee Gibeault were the two trustees who were in the minority.

At the end of the meeting, the five trustees who have decided not to seek re-election (Don Fleming, Bev Esslinger, Gerry Gibeault, Ken Gibson and myself) had an opportunity to say a few words of farewell. Trustees spoke about their gratitude for the opportunity to serve, thanks to staff for their diligent efforts and highlighted some of their proudest moments. I, uncharacteristically, had not prepared a speech.  I didn't really believe we'd get through the entire agenda and was expecting another meeting to be called to finish up (or perhaps I didn't want to acknowledge the "end"). I spoke, off the cuff, about how I have benefitted from having my views challenged. I thanked my colleagues for disagreeing with me and pushing me to consider alternate points of view and to think ideas through more clearly. I said that, as you move through life, you tend to attract people to you who agree with you, who are like-minded, and while it's great to be surrounded by people who think you are wonderful, these people cannot tell you what you most need to hear.  I thanked my colleagues and staff for helping me to grow as a person.

It has been, as my blog perhaps indicates, a challenging journey for me. I have, at times, struggled with this job. I have wondered why I was there and what difference I made. I railed against processes that were uncomfortable and cumbersome for me. I asked a lot of questions and felt a good deal of frustration about things I couldn't get done.

I entered the job, three years ago, with a burning desire to change things... and in the end, what changed most of all was me.

A few years ago, that sentence would have seemed like an admission of defeat or failure, but now I see it as the greatest gift.  The change I have been able to effect is limited, it's true, but it is not insignificant and most importantly it didn't happen the way I thought it would. It didn't happen through force of will- it happened through persistent demonstration that I was open to new information and open to growth. I started out wanting to articulate the answer and convince people to agree with me. If they didn't agree, they were "wrong". By the end of my term, I was moving towards seeking the truth and trying to coax the answer out for all to see, including me. I don't have the answers (none of us, not even those who pretend to know!), but I believe that I can ask good questions, bring different perspectives into the conversation and help to generate a richer, more complete discussion. (By the way, I am not unique in this- everyone can do this, I just happend tohave the opportunity and I was willing to consistently put my ideas on the table.) Over the three years, I began to recognize that we are all "right" and we are all "wrong", because we all only have parts of the puzzle. I became increasingly comfortable with ambiguity and stopped relying on a "black hat/white hat" mentality to evaluate conditions and decisions.

At this point, these are the shifts I can identify. I am expecting that, with a bit of time and distance, I will be able to see more of the picture and fully appreciate the impact of this experience. As I said last night, "It's going to take me a while to figure out what it all means." 

Having said that, I would not be surprised at all if the next 20 years of my life are filled with events, experiences and paths that can easily trace their genesis to my trusteeship with the Edmonton Public School Board. Something has begun- I'm just not sure what it is yet.

Friday, September 10, 2010


It's hard to believe, but (all things being equal*) Tuesday, September 14 will be my last public board meeting.

* if necessary, we may call another board meeting for Sept. 28, 2010.

As you can see from the long list of reports below, it's a very long agenda. To be blunt, I've not had a chance to read it in full yet (as per our process, agendas are delivered to trustees on Friday evening and mine just showed up.)

However, I would like to draw your attention a report in the middle of the pack (with notes in RED) called "Tripartite Discussions on Sustaining Workforce". Although the agenda contains a lot of important items, it is my personal opinion that this report contains a critical decision for our board. It is a decision which may have profoud impacts on future boards.

We are being asked to vote on whether to authorize the ASBA (Alberta School Board Association) to represent school boards in a tripartite discussion with the Alberta Government and the ATA (Alberta Teachers' Association) about workforce stability and transformation of the K-12 education system. (The full details of this transformation will be unveiled when the new School Act is tabled in Legislature in the Spring.)

While it may seem a no-brainer that school boards should be included in these conversations and that the ASBA, as our provincial body and entity recognized as having the authority to represent school boards, is the logical choice to sit at the table (rather than having reps from 62 separate boards, for instance), there are several important considerations for our board. ASBA policy states support for provincial bargaining on issues of renumeration (salary, benefits, etc.). However, EPSB did not vote in favour of this policy. In fact, EPSB has long been a strong advocate for local bargaining. EPSB feels that local interests are better addressed locally and that moving to a provincial bargaining mechanism would involve losses in autonomy and responsiveness to local needs and circumstances. We have enjoyed great success under local bargaining and would very much like to continue in this manner. However, other boards (a majority) across the province feel differently; they feel the economies of scale with provincial bargaining would work in their favour. With smaller budgets, fewer staff, spread out over greater geography and no professional negotiators or labour experts on staff, they may indeed benefit from a pooling of resources and energies.  However, that is not the situation that EPSB faces.

As I mull over this decision, questions bounce around in my head: If we vote "yes", does EPSB now, in fact, endorse province-wide bargaining? Is this the end of meaningful local bargaining? I say "meaningful" because with the big ticket items removed from the table (and dealt with by the province), how effectively will local boards be able to negotiate the other details? If you take away all the big bargaining chips- are you at a disadvantage when it comes time to work on the subsidiary items?   What types of things will be brought to the table regarding "transformation" and will EPSB agree to these topics and positions or will we find ourselves a dissenting voice forced to abide by the position of the majority? On several issues, EPSB has a different view from the ASBA policy. ASBA policy, for instance, does not support full day Kindergarten and the funding for such programming. EPSB has a very strong view in opposition to this and in fact, we offer full day kindergarten to certain high needs schools, although we don't receive funding to do so. Our needs are simply different and how can we be sure that those needs will be well served in this format?

If we vote "no"- What will the impact be? How will our concerns and issues be heard if we have no representation? Will the negotiations proceed, regardless? Are we tilting at windmills to say that we wish to continue with local bargaining if the government has decided this is no longer in our purview? The Supreme Court of Canada decided that the Government is the deciding authority, not school boards, when the issue of authority was last questioned.

It will be an interesting debate on Tuesday night- one that strikes at the very core of the purpose and value of boards. If cannot tax and cannot negotiate contracts with our biggest employee group, I have to wonder: what will the primary function of boards be in the future?

I sense a desire to redefine the role of boards and trustees and I have been quite forthright that I believe change is inevitable and, indeed, necessary but I'm not sure if this is the change I want to see.  I'm never a fan of (what appears to be) moving decision-making into the hands of smaller groups of people.

But, it has been pointed out before- I am an idealist. And perhaps politics in no place for idealists!

Here are the full list of reports that are going to be discussed:
Delegation of Authority - Superintendent of Schools - 2010 Summer Recess
Report #15 of the Conference Committee (From the Meetings Held June 22 and September 7, 2010)
Board Evaluation 2009-2010 Summary Report
Motion re Florence Hallock School Attendance Boundaries
Process and Timeline of the 2009-2010 Results Review
Funds for 2011-2012 Professional Improvement Program
Budget Update (decision on how the additional 2.9% funding received will be allocated)
Foundation Report - Full-Day Kindergarten (good news on successful fundraising by Foundation)
Tripartite Discussions on Sustaining Workforce Stability (this is the report I referenced above)
Board Policy Review - AA.BP Stakeholder Engagement
Policy Review - HGDD.BP - Performance and Exhibit Opportunities in the Fine Arts
Policy Review - IF.BP - Safe, Caring and Respectful Learning Environments (deals, in part, with bullying)
Review of Board Policy AGA.BP - Recognition of Students, Staff, Parents and Community
Review of Board Policy JBD.BP - Protocol for Trustee Recognition at School or Public Events
Review of Board Policy JJ.BP - Assisting Community Organizations
Policy Review - EBC.BP - Emergency Plans
Policy Review - ECA.BP - Security and Vandalism
Sector Reviews: Update
Response to Board Request for Information (on transportation for children in care)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Trustee Panel Discussion on Sun, Sept. 12


School Board Trustee Panel Discussion—Sunday Sept. 12, 2010
Panelists: Hon. Janice Sarich, Dr. Morag Pansegrau, Sue Huff
Media Scrum: 12pm; Panel Discussion 9am

Event Summary:
Sunday, September 12th, 2010,  9am–12pm
Woodcroft Community League Hall
13915 - 115th Avenue

The Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Edmonton Schools (ARTES) has organized a School Board Trustee Panel Discussion for Edmonton region school board trustee candidates, their associates and members of the public.

The panelists will be:

Janice Sarich former Ward 2 - Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee, and currently MLA, Edmonton - Decore and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education.

Dr. Morag Pansegrau Chair of St. Albert Protestant Schools; Past Chair ASBA Zone 2/3; Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies, University of Alberta

Sue Huff former Vice Chair of the Edmonton Public School Board

The discussion will be moderated by David Beckman of ARTES.

The focus will be on raising awareness of importance of school boards and consideration of topics important to school board trustees.

9AM Introduction
9:15AM Trustee Legal and Ethical Requirements (Janice Sarich to lead)
10AM Generative Governance (Sue Huff to lead)
11AM On Leadership and Advice to Trustees (Morag Pansegrau to lead)
12PM Media Scrum

Media contact:
Dale Hudjik
c. 1.780.904.6081

ARTES (ar-tes) represents people committed to the welfare of children and public education in Edmonton. It seeks to encourage high quality candidates for school boards.

Mission: To encourage and support school trustee candidates who are independent, transparent in their views and values, accountable, forward-looking, and responsive to the community.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sector Reviews- September/October 2010

This is from Dialogue Partners, the consulting firm that has been hired by EPSB to conduct the Sector Reviews this fall in all the mature neighbourhoods of Edmonton.


We hope you have had a wonderful summer. We are writing with an update and some important information on the Edmonton Public Schools Sector Planning Reviews in Central, South Central and West 1 Sectors.

It's been a long summer. What is sector planning again?

Just in case you weren't involved in the public engagement process in the spring, or the information is new to you, you may be wondering what we mean when we say sector planning.

Sector planning is about making the best possible use of available resources so that all students have access to vibrant schools and a range of quality programs in their sectors.

Sector review might mean change. Possible results include combining schools together, reorganization or relocation of programs or closure of some schools. Sectors are geographic areas of the City.

2. Update on participant input
Between April and June, public engagement for sector planning discussion focused on values based issues, seeking to understand what is most important to people. Edmonton Public Schools administration has made a commitment that the issues, concerns and values of participants will be considered and understood, and reflected in the recommendations from EPSB administration to Trustees.

We have posted the following materials to the sector review website at

· What Was Said reports from the workbooks - With over 600 workbooks submitted, the report is broken into 5 volumes of over 100 pages each.

· Questions and Answers - Three volumes of questions and answers have been posted to the website, with lots of additional facts and information.

· Summary of participant input from April to June - This report will be posted shortly, summarizing the input received from April to June.

3. You are invited to participate in a workshop
There are a series of "hands-on" workshops planned for each sector, where you will review the input to date, along with the facts and data and propose options on how to move forward in ways that address these issues. You can work through the details in a group or on your own, and Edmonton Public School representatives will be on hand as an additional resource.

When and where are the workshops?
The workshops are "drop in" format - you attend at the best time for you and stay as long as you can.

Central Sector

Tuesday, September 21
4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Queen Elizabeth School Cafeteria

9425 - 132 Avenue

Monday, October 4

7:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Victoria School of the Arts  North Gym
10210 - 108 Avenue
Please note: Due to construction, there is a shortage of parking at Victoria School.

South Central Sector
Thursday, September 23
4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
McNally School Library

8440 - 105 Avenue

Tuesday, October 5
4:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Vimy Ridge Academy Gym
8205 - 90 Avenue

West 1 Sector
Saturday, September 25
9:00 am - 1:30 pm
Jasper Place School East Gym

8950 - 163 Street

Saturday, October 9
9:00 am - 1:30 pm
Ross Sheppard School Small Gym (South)
13546 - 111 Avenue

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First day back, Aristotle, standardized tests

Yesterday, as we all know, was the first day back to school for most of Edmonton's kids. My own two headed off to new schools- one to junior high and one to high school. These are big steps and, for the first time in ten years, I was not walking someone to school. It's not just parents of kindergarten kids that find the first day back a little wrenching!

When they returned home at the end of the day, I wanted to hear every detail. My daughter's full and complete account of the day included how, in her FSG class (Family Study Group- a cross-grade homeroom class), the teacher had told them this class was like a family and he was like their dad. He said that, sometimes in junior high, kids can feel like no one likes them...but that he would always like them, just like a dad, and they could always come to talk to him if they needed help. At my son's high school, another story: following the all-school assembly, the Principal came up to my niece (a grade 12 student) and pointed out a girl, one face in the veritable sea of teen aged faces. He told her that this girl was new, had just moved here and didn't know anyone at Ross Shep. Would my niece go over and introduce herself and show her around? Of course, she did and gave the newcomer her cell phone number so that if she was ever lost or needed help at Ross Shep, she could simply call and my niece would come and help her.

Both stories told me something very important- good teachers show and, in turn, teach empathy. They guide, not just the academic learning, but the emotional growth of students. Fostering a caring environment is not measured on any standardized testing, but it is absolutely essential to learning. Without relationship, without empathy, we have nothing.

The Wildrose Party has recently released details of their unequivocal support for standardized testing and  push for higher levels of accountability for teachers. While I agree that education is vital and needs to be held to a high standard, I am concerned that we do not have accurate mechanisms for measuring the full spectrum of what I consider to be a great education. In my humble opinion, teachers should model life-long learning, foster critical thinking, engage students, know their subject matter very well but still allow for new discovery through the interaction with students.  They should model and teach empathy, encourage active citizenship, nurture the individual talents of students and set high expectations for all students .... this list moves far beyond standardized test scores.  You could teach to the test, have brilliant scores without most (any?) of these things. You could be, in my mother's words, "a right so and so" and still have a class with top marks, especially if it is a self-selecting academic class to begin with. So, who is the real author of this success? And if, in the process of reaching for the top of the Fraser Institutes's list, your students have been turned off learning, stressed out, consumed by a win-at-all-cost attitude, placed on sleeping medication in elementary school and developed considerable skills in plagiarism ---is it success at all? (Sadly, I'm not making this up. Every single idea here is from an actual child.)

In my opinion, I think Aristotle got it right:

"To educate the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all."

So, to Mr. A at Westmount and Mr. B at Ross Shep:  Thank you for the lessons of the heart yesterday. I know they won't show up on any standardized test, but trust me-- they were the most important things you taught yesterday.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ward F (McKernan area) trustee debate

Community League Notice

August 30, 2010

McKernan and Queen Alexandra community leagues invite residents, parents, students and media

to participate in a Ward F Trustee Candidates Forum. The forum is an opportunity to hear the views

of potential candidates running for Edmonton Public School Board Trustee in Ward F. The question and-

answer format will cover topics such as the value of schools to community, the Edmonton

Public Schools Sector Planning Review process,and decision making criteria used by Trustees

when evaluating potential school closures and program changes.

Date: September 29, 2010

Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:45)

Location: McKernan Community Hall, 11341 - 78 Ave, Edmonton

Parking is limited. Please consider taking the LRT to McKernan-Belgravia Station and walk

one block north to the community hall.

Audience: Ward F residents, parents, teachers, and students

Please encourage your league members to come and hear the views of Trustee candidates running

in Ward F. Remember: Election Day is October 18. Please advertise the forum in your league's

newsletter and website, forward the invitation to you membership, and put up posters around your


For further information, contact:

Steve Wallace

McKernan Community League


Sheila Campbell

Queen Alexandra Community League


Thursday, August 26, 2010

EPSB Trustee Candidates

This summer has whizzed by and I've been enjoying following all the new trustee candidates. There is such energy and enthusiasm in this new batch. Five candidates are under the age of 30, I believe... a phenomenon in itself!! They are using all the tools at their disposal to reach the electorate: twitter, blogs, webpages, uploading videos, connecting with each other through informal meetings, and of course, using tried and true strategies like doorknocking. One candidate has already knocked on 3000 doors and distributed 15,000 pamphlets in the first round, is about to release the second edition with more detailed information and is even talking about a THIRD!  180 lawn signs are going up on private homeowners' lawns next week for one candidate- just a starting point, he says. In the "Go Big or Go Home" vein- they are all going big.

I have to say, I'm impressed.

It suggests to me an awakening, an awareness of the importance of education. These young people are stirred up, passionate and engaged.  They do not see board life as "bored life"... and, if elected, they will bring a vitality and a level of inquiry that will, undoubtedly, shake things up a bit.

And that, I think, would be a good thing.

Boards have operated more or less in the same manner for 128 years. In my opinion, if they are to have a future that is vital and relevant, they will need to change. They will need to become more generative and creative. They will need to become more diverse, in thought, experience, race, age and culture. Boards will need to engage the public in new ways and understand the public's growing expectation for collaboration and shared authority. Policies will need to be drafted in a different way- harnessing the power of technology to crowd source and create better ideas out of multiple perspectives and mulitple understandings. Boards will need to adopt a servant leadership model that truly embraces openness and transparency. To build trust and accountability, board work will need to be done almost exclusively in public. Data will need to open, easily searched, understood and applied. Most importantly, trustees will need to connect deeply and respectfully with the communities they serve.

Public education is public work for the public good. It is owned by everyone and suddenly, with this election, young people are starting to understand that everyone includes them! When I ran, at the age of 40, I was the "young thing". Now, at 43, I'm the old veteran. This makes me smile.

If you want to know more about EPSB trustee candidates, you can visit this grass-roots, community website.

EPSB's home page also has a page with election info. Links to official candidates will be posted, after nomination day (September 20, I believe).

To find out the ward you are in, visit this map

Oh, and I will be part of a panel discussing trusteeship on September 12. MLA Janice Sarich is also on the panel. You can find more info here

Thursday, June 17, 2010

YOUCAN Graduation- transforming lives

Today, I had the privilege of attending the graduation ceremony at YOUCAN for the two programs they offer. YOUCAN is set up for youth, aged 16-21, who have fallen through the cracks for a variety of reasons. Over the past year, I have developed a growing appreciation for the incredible work that is happening there (it operates out of Westmount School). They run two programs, one called Peacebuilders, which trains youth in conflict resolution. Once trained, the youth go out into schools to share their knowledge. The other program is called Verto and helps youth who have been involved in the Justice system learn the necessary skills to enter the workforce or continue their education. In both programs, the youth are paid to participate in the 16 week program.

At the graduation ceremony, each youth delivered a short speech outlining what the program had meant to their lives. Their stories were very powerful.

Here's some of what I heard about their lives before YOUCAN:

Before I came to YOUCAN, I was homeless, living out of my car... and it was winter. Really cold. 
I was fighting with my Mom all the time and I didn't like that.
I got kicked out of my group home and then I got kicked out of school.
I was a drug addict and drinking every day. I was going nowhere. And I had no motivation. 
I was stealing, breaking into people's homes and selling drugs. I never thought I would be anyone.

Here's what they said about how YOUCAN had changed their lives:

This program taught me so much. I learned how to respond instead of react.
I learned about how to resolve conflicts without using violence.
I love the circles. Everyone should use circles.
I learned how to write a good cover letter and a resume and now I'm ready to apply for some jobs.
I got my first aid.
I am going back to school and I've got a job.
I will succeed and I want to be a good father to my son, a good person and a taxpayer.
I have been sober for three months and I feel good about myself.
I haven't had any problems with the law.
The people here have treated me like a friend and they have helped me so much.
(One of the YOUCAN staff) here helped me through some really bad times, because he knows what it feels like. He was a gang-involved youth, too, like me.  He doesn't need to look in a book about it... he knows. 

One graduate said:
Before I came to YOUCAN, I couldn't read much. Maybe a paragraph. Yesterday, I finished my first book.

It was completely remarkable to me.. that so much growth can happen in only 16 short weeks. How does it work? How can they transform lives in such a short timeframe, when so many others have failed?  Part of the credit goes to the youth, who are truly ready to make changes in their lives. But clearly, a good part of the success comes from the incredibly dedicated and skilled staff who work at YOUCAN. In their words, they are engaged in "relentless youthwork": they just refuse to give up on these kids. They treat them with respect and engage in egalitarian problem-solving, active listening  and open dialogue through the use of circles. They spend the time to understand, to listen, to be honest with the youth and with each other. What I felt in the room was genuine warmth and caring, between the staff and the youth and amongst the youth themselves. It was like family. It was love.

I think the work at YOUCAN is truly outstanding.  I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more to contact the director Kyle Dube. I also encourage you to find out when the next graduation will happen. Do yourself a huge favour and plan to attend. It will open your eyes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bee in my bonnet re: suits, hair & leadership

It's funny how one thing builds on another and you start to see connections everywhere. This morning, I had coffee with two trustee candidates, both women. I mentioned the upcoming "Equal Voice" workshop on supporting women in the election (see previous blog). Conversation naturally flowed to the ASBA Trustee Candidate School recently in Red Deer and what had been shared and learned. I was, I admit it, appalled to hear about the session on how to dress. Granted, I didn't hear the entire lecture, so I may be taking things out of context and this is all second-hand information--- so feel free to contradict or correct me-- but here's what was relayed to me:

Advice on how to dress- with jackets being the preferred dresscode down to cardigans as being "acceptable".
How to do you hair- someone asked if they should cut their long hair and the advice was to close your eyes and picture someone who is in power, "What does their hair look like?"  The answer: "Short, just like yours."

A young woman asked if conforming strictly to business clothing and appearances can sometimes alienate people and make politicians feel less approachable or "real". The answer: "Well, I'm not trying to change the world." In other words, play by the existing rules and you will fare better. It's important to look the part and fit the mold, not to question it.

What a sad, sad message. Should we be perpetuating the exisiting power structures or working to improve them (revolutionize them if necessary), in order to make them more accessible and open to all? Are we that shallow in our thinking that we can't imagine a different dress/hair length/style/cultural clothing being equally as valid and acceptable in an elected official?

Perhaps the question is wrong: rather than think of people in power, we should reflect on inspirational, courageous leaders. With this question, I think of a man in a loin cloth, a mother with a special needs child, an Aboriginal man with a beautiful long braids, a folksinger with a guitar, a child raising money to build wells. There is no "one image" that comes to mind because of course, these are internal qualities: character, courage, generosity, conviction--- and they have nothing to do with hair length or business apparel.

I certainly don't want to see women feel they need to become men in order to assume political positions. I don't want Aboriginal men or women feel the need to become white to join the table.

If I had been at that session, I would have been vibrating out of my seat. This is the wrong message entirely to send to new trustee candidates who are considering assuming a leadership role in their community. Leadership is not how to you look; leadership is being courageous and authentically YOU.  If that means a suit, great. If not, please don't lose who you are to try and fit someone else's mold.

"To thine ownself be true."

And, as a public, we must look beyond the suit and deep into the hearts of our leaders and elect those who are authentic and genuine, not just the ones playing the part well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Support for Women Seeking Election


On June 23, I will be one of the panelists for the Equal Voice BE HER OR SUPPORT HER workshop- an evening "covering campaign fundamentals for women considering running for municipal council or school board trustee (or anyone interested in volunteering on a woman's campaign."  Check in 6:30, Program 7-9:30 PM. U of A Faculty of Extension, Enterprise Square, 10230 Jasper Ave. Room 2-167.

Other panelists include a representative from the Office of the City Clerk, former Edmonton Councillor Janice Melnychuk, former Ward 4 campaign manager Sarah Crummy.  Moderator is Dr. Jane Arscott co-author of Still Counting: Women in Politics Across Canada,  a lively and accessible examination of women's involvement in Canadian politics. Practical tips, support and advice.

A national public opinion poll conducted in 2008 showed that 85% of Canadians support "efforts to increase the number of women elected in this country."  In addition to this workshop, Equal Voice also has an on-line campaign school for women called "Getting to the Gate."

Register for this free event:
Volunteer by contacting: Ashley Casovan
Learn more about Equal Voice;

Media contact: Janet Buckmaster- 780-472-9052

Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Multicultural resources & connections

Yesterday, at the Centre for Education (aka The Blue Building), tables were set up to diplay many multi-cultural organizations and services.  I enjoyed looking through the displays and chatting with the community leaders. Supporting and celebrating diversity in our community is a core belief of mine. I encourage you to play an active role in ensuring that everyone feels welcome, included and supported.  Diversity in nature is a source of strength and sustainability-- it is the same in our schools, communities and our province.

Here are some of the resources I picked up. Feel free to contact the organizations for more information.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters: "One hour each week" Kids need positive role models. It's just that simple. Nearly 1000 children and youth in the Edmonton area are waiting for a mentor. or call: 780-424-8181.

ASSIST Community Services Centre: offering children and family programs for Chinese families, especially targetting children aged 0-5. Programs available in both Cantonese and Mandarin (parents group, raising children through songs & stories, moms' chatroom, family-based group activities.)  location: 9649-105A Ave., Edmonton 780424-7837.  Glen Wong, Senior Manager.

SMART CHOICES (Recognizing Problem Gambling); supported by ASSIST and Alberta Health Services Addictions and Mental Health.  Educates children grades K-12 to recognize problem gambling and teaches them how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. Drama presentation, Workshops, Picture & Poetry contest.
For more info contact: Dereje Berenda (DJ) 780-429-3111 ext 306,
If someone you care about is suffering from a gambling problem call: 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta Health)

Centre for Race and Culture. "Eliminate racial discrimination, Increase cultural understanding."
Resources, workshops, research, challenges and programs for teachers, youth, employers, parents, schools and others.  Programming for all grades. Documentary and user-manuals available.
Programming includes:
    Keshoutu Leadership Academy (leadership training for African-Canadian youth, 14-18 yrs,  using the performing arts. Junetta Jamerson coordinator.
    Bamboo Shield (skills for Adolescence with Aboriginal, Immigrant and Refugee youth and parents)
    Aboriginal Attendance Circle (Traditional Aboriginal processes to help youth stay in school)
Centre location: #4- 10865- 96 Street, Edmonton, Email: Phone: 780-425-4644.
website:     Richardo Carlos, Program Manager:

The Family Centre: "Everyone can succeed. For over 65 years, the Family Centre has been helping Alberta families, communities and workplaces make positive choices that lead to successful outcomes. Our mission is to foster healthy individuals, healthy homes, schools & workplaces, healthy communities and neighbourhoods." Services include: counselling, play therapy, anger management for children and teens, postpartum depression support group, in home parenting support, parenting education courses, specialized homes,  couselling for couples, marriage preparation, groups for working through divorce/separation, courses for step-parenting, mediation, worksite team building, in home senior support, language interpretation and translation, employee assistance programs, support for parents of sexually abused children, support for children who have witnessed violence, critical incident stress debriefing. 
Office: #20, 9912-106 St, Edmonton. 780-423-2831. website: 
All inquiries and client discussions are held in strict confidence.

Islamic Family and Social Services Association
#85, 4003 98 Street. 780-462-9770
Jordanna Aboughoche, Fostering Health Families Program Coordinator,
"Established in 1992, Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), is a non-profit registered charity dedicated to providing services in response to the social needs of the Edmonton community within an Islamic context."
Services include:
Fostering Healthy Families Program

Counselling Services
Resources for Newcomers
Foodbank, Clothing and Household Items
Youth Development and Parent Education Program

Welcome Centre for Immigrants
#335, Tower II, Millbourne Market Mall
7609 38 Ave, Edmonton

Multi-cultural Health Brokers
Multicultural Health Brokers Co-operative Ltd.

Phone: (780) 423-1973 Fax: (780) 428-2748 Email:
10867 – 97 Street, Edmonton, AB T5H 2M6
"Connecting families and communities to resources for health and well being. Our Mandate:
To support immigrant and refugee individuals and families in attaining optimum health through relevant health education, community development and advocacy."
The MCHB Co-op is committed to:
Direct Responsiveness and Accountability: We are responsible and accountable to the families and communities we serve.
Equity and Social Justice: We strive to work for equitable access for those who are marginalized from resources and opportunities in society.
Democratic Governance We participate fully in the operations and decision-making of the organization.

Who is a Multicultural Health Broker?

A bilingual and bicultural member of the community who:
-Provides linguistic interpretation and cultural clarification
-Helps families access services and resources within the health and social service system
-Connects families to cultural community groups and resources
-Supports community development

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bravo! Generative Governance! Encore!

I'm sure you've felt this before: you are listening to a keynote speaker and practically every sentence makes you smile with recognition and wonder.  Finally, you think, someone is speaking my truth. It's a remarkable thing to hear your jumbled, disconnected thoughts drawn together in an eloquent and clear manner. You find yourself wanting to yell out or clap or run up and kiss the speaker. (Well, maybe that's just me!) At long last, your soul cries out, at long last: "Validation!"

This is how I felt listening to Keith Seel from Mount Royal College, speaking in Red Deer today to a room full of public school board trustees from all across Alberta about generative governance. (As noted in my previous blog, "generative governance" is one of the new catch phrases in the Inspiring Education report).

Here's a couple of pithy quotes from the session to wet your appetite:
"We are not travelling the same road, in the same vehicle and merely switching out drivers." (re: governance)
"Accountability is rooted in the community which it is historically committed to serve."
If you see your duty as governors strictly in financial or fiduciary terms, "accountability to community may be compromised."
"Silence, I would suggest, is not a leadership quality."

There are 35 different definitions of governance, so it's no wonder that trustees come together on new boards and find that they are operating under different definitions. This "difference" can be seen as an opportunity to create something new or it can be seen as a huge problem to be "fixed." It can, in some cases, rip boards apart, says Mr. Seel.

The three types of governance (fiduciary, strategic and generative) work together in concert. How much time to boards typically allocate to each type?  80-85% fiduciary, 5% strategic (usually once a year at a retreat), 0% generative. Creating appropriate time allocations for each type is an important first step. We won't be much good at generative governance at first, so we'll need to allow time to learn how to do it well.

Generative Governance moves trustees from a management role clearly into a leadership role.
What's the difference?

Here are words to describe leadership:
Authenticity, inspirational, risk-taking, visionary, caring/feeling, bold, intuitive, unbounded

Here are words to describe management:
Process-oriented, systematic, definitions/rules, protective, corrective, contol, orderly, bounded

I would respectfully suggest that most school boards are stuck in a management approach/role.

Mr. Seel went on to elaborate that generative governance is about "bringing something new into being". It is means accepting that the future is uncertain and that issues may be ambiguous and often contested.  Meaning matters, with generative governance, and things are decided based on evidence not personal desire.  It requires trustees (or "governors", as we were repeatedly called today) to be reflective learners, able to discern problems, engage in sense making, frame problems and ask the key questions.

Mr. Seel said, "It requires character." I would agree. This is not for the weak-of-heart.  This is meaty, visceral, challenging, brain-taxing work which is also energizing, revitalizing, meaningful and exciting.

The types of activities that you would engage in:
Looking for deeper meaning. (Asking 'what does this mean' or what is the real issue behind all the "static" or white noise?)
Being willing to wrestle with complexity, not simply firing off quick and decisive answers.
Being willing to focus or frame the important issues- you can't focus on everything, so what is the most important thing to look at?
Allowing your full experience to come into the discussion- not denying or disregarding your community experience or other roles/hats you may wear. (I would add not cutting off the many aspects of your being, including emotional, etc.)
Allocating real time to invest in this type of thoughtful work. (It can't be item 34 on a packed agenda!)
Willingness to embrace the opportunities, challenges and messiness of this approach.

One final thing I heard:
"You must have chaos inside you to give birth to a dancing star."   Wow, a quote from Nietsche in a talk on governance. I didn't see THAT coming!

So, all signs indicate that this willl be a key component of the future role for boards. Time will tell how easily and readily it is adopted. It is certainly a mind-shift.

Link to Mr. Seel's slide show here:

My musing: Will generative governance also find its way into the Legislature? Will MLAs and Cabinet Ministers embrace complexity, uncertainty, risk-taking, inspirational leadership and bold creativity? How comfortable would they be with "the chaos inside"? For that matter, how comfortable would they be with giving birth to a dancing star??    :)  It makes me smile to consider the possibilities.