Saturday, January 30, 2010

Outcomes- Jan 26 & Metrics for School Closure Decision-Making

I've been a little tardy posting the outcomes and a couple of you have sent emails/comments saying: "So?!!"

The motion re: tracking achievement pre-and post-closure was defeated 7-2.

The main arguments against it were: insufficient time for the admin to prepare the report and can we be sure the data is clear and useable? On the time front, it is true- I had worded the motion in such a way to have the completed BEFORE the recommendations came forward on possible school closure in Hardisty and CCEP, because I felt it was an important consideration in decision-making. Two weeks is an abbreviated timeframe. In hindsight, I could have amended the motion because even if the recommendation comes forward for closure, there is still a number of weeks before a final decision can be rendered (as laid out in the School Act). This expanded timeframe might have converted a few more votes. However, on a more positive note, it was revealed that the administration does intend to track achievement in the event that there are closures in this next round.

My other motion on ACTS' restorative practices in EPSB schools was referred to administration, as they have a simpler process to deal with groups who wish to make presentations to the board.

The big item for the agenda, in my opinion, was the Dialogue Partners report. Several members of the Capilano and Norwood community addressed the board about the report with concerns about how the information was gathered and if it accurately represented the views of the community. The report itself underlined the CCEP community's concern with the accelerated timelines, something which I asked about. I found both communities' list of values/principles very helpful and will be using them to help me make a decision on the upcoming administrative recommendation.

It's a difficult thing we are about to do as a board. Each of us will have to weigh the information provided in the recommendation and screen it against the Planning Principles, the community feedback and our own metrics. This is very complex. I hope people will understand that it was not a decision taken lightly or without careful thought. I have been developing a set of metrics/values to help me decide how to make this decision.

I would like to outline these metrics here and if you have any thoughts, or feel I've forgotten something critical, please feel free to contact me. They are not ranked in order, although the first one is probably the most important.

Educational Excellence for all students- This means that I want to make decisions that support kids getting the best possible education. This might mean: better resources, better use of teacher time, better configurations for learning that reduce mobility/transiency and promote stronger teacher-student relationships, better facilities, better ratios of support staff/EAs, flexible programming, better connections with partners/agencies that provide on-site support. Options that demonstrate a better educational outcome for kids will be key to me.

Community Cohesion and Social Capital- I believe communities are important and that children and families need to feel connected in order to prosper. Preserving supportive relationships and connections are important and if populations are disadvantaged, this is even more critical. "Schools as community hubs" is a city-approved strategy for building healthy, vibrant, safe communities and stronger families. I would favour options that recognize the importance of community cohesion.

Environmental Stewardship- Considering the environmental impacts of options is important. We cannot continue to ignore the implications of excessive bussing/driving and energy inefficient buildings. I would favour options that show environmental sustainability.

Long-range coordinated Planning-  I think it is important to coordinate our planning as much as possible with the City of Edmonton and avoid working at cross purposes. A strong vision of the future demonstrated through a clearly-articulated long-range plan will help. Decisions on the viability of schools should be made according to clear metrics that consider a complete view of the school's current status and predict, as best we can, what the future will hold. Planning should include information on how everything intersects: student needs, transportation, programming offerings/choice, building upgrades/costs to maintain, exisiting partnerships and community use. I would favour options that fit into a long-range plan that is coordinated with other authorities.

Community Input- We have invested a great deal in community consultation. I will need to see clearly how that input is reflected in the recommendation.

Equity- This is a complex idea and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly the same. In order to create equal opportunities for all, we must recognize that we do not all start equally in life. I will favour the disadvantaged and most vulnerable because I feel this is the only way to create social equity which will benefit us all in the end.

Economic sustainability- With a finite budget and new challenges on the horizon, including staffing and equipping 6 new large schools (and 3 more ASAP schools in 2 years' time)... how can we best use our resources? Our maintenance deficit is $50 million, I believe, and growing. Our funding to heat, light and clean our buildings (called P O & M funding) is based on student enrolment and is simply insufficient in low enrolment schools. What is the economic viability of our schools when many students trade chairs and move back to their neighbourhoods to attend the new ASAP schools in September 2010?  Each student represents just over $5000 in funding. The capacity of the six schools is 5000 and it is predicted that they will reach capacity in a couple of years. So  potentially $25,000,000 is going to shift away from existing schools. With the second round of ASAP schools opening in 2012, another huge chunk of funding will shift again as students migrate to those schools. Low enrolment schools are forced to collapse classes into split grades and scrimp along with limited maintenance money. Principals at these schools need to be very creative in their budgeting, with very little room for adjustments (an extended round of staff illnesses or an unexpected student with special needs who requires an aide can suddenly send these schools into deficit.) I don't like to focus on dollars because I prefer to focus on students, but there are some hard realities that need to be considered.

In conclusion, this will be a challenging decision and I won't be sleeping much over the next few weeks.
The administrative recommendation comes to board on February 9th and will be posted on our website on Friday, February 5. (see link on the right here: Board Agendas)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Message from President of ASBA

This was sent out to the participants of the "Putting the Public Back into Public Education" sessions hosted by the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA). I thought you too might be interested.

I hope this finds you well. It has been ten months since we met in Edmonton at the Alberta School Boards Association’s Putting the Public Back in Public Education Summit. I wanted to reconnect with you to share news; to flag some upcoming opportunities for further engagement in public education and to invite you to get in touch with me. I am convinced involving citizens in our public education system is essential to maintaining a viable and vital system. Let us keep the dialogue going.

Heather Welwood, President, ASBA

Jamie Vollmer speaks to trustees to rave reviews

Your response to Jamie Vollmer, who spoke at the summit, was so positive we invited him back to speak to all school trustees at our June 2009 meeting. He brought the same powerful messages about the importance of connecting with the community to trustees – and they loved him.

Speaking out for education funding

In late August, 2009 officials with the department of education warned funding for public education could be cut by as much as $300 million in the 2010 provincial budget. Cuts of this scope would hurt teaching and learning in Alberta’s classroom. Deeply concerned, we joined forces with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta School Councils’ Association to encourage Albertans to e-mail their MLA in support of funding for public education. Citizens sent 11,200 e-mails. We achieved our goal of raising the profile of this issue before government finished its budget deliberations.

Now we await the February 9 budget announcement.

A year of review and reflection for public education

Two government initiatives Inspiring Education and Setting the Direction for Special Education have been the focus of broad ranging dialogue and discussion. The goal of Inspiring Education is to reach a clear understanding of what it will mean to be an educated Albertan 20 years from now. These important conversations will inform the writing of a new School Act – which is currently underway.

The Setting the Direction for Special Education initiative will see the creation of a new framework for special education that includes vision, principles, policy, accountability and funding.

I have to say that in my 18 years in trusteeship, I have never seen projects of such scope undertaken concurrently or within such a compressed timeframe. These are very significant. Contact your local board for more information; watch the newspapers for more information and see these links for updates about these initiatives:

Inspiring Education :

Setting the Direction:

The School Act Review:

The ASBA has participated in these conversations. See our website for information including our paper: Alberta’s School Act: Creating our Future (PDF–283K).

School board elections coming up

As citizens who have demonstrated interest and commitment to being involved with their local schools and school boards, I encourage you to think about the October 18, 2010 school board elections. Vote. And if you want to channel your energies in a new direction – think about running for the office of school trustee. It is a challenging – and sometimes thankless job – but it is the most rewarding thing I have done. Please think about it. Watch our website for more information about the upcoming elections – and other education news. We update it daily and it is focused exclusively on what we hold most dear and most important – Alberta’s public education system.

I’d love to hear from you.

Heather Welwood, President

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sue's motion on tracking achievement post- school closure

At the last board meeting- I requested information on student academic achievement after a school closure. The request did not have majority board approval to proceed, so it automatically became a motion to be debated tomorrow evening. I have included my speech here, for you to read. Any thoughts or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.

In two weeks’ time, the Board will be making important decisions about the future of schools in the Hardisty area and the City Centre Project. I am not sure if closures will be a part of the administration’s recommendation because I haven’t seen it yet, but I think it is safe to assume that the likelihood of closure is high. Closures are, as we all know, emotional and difficult decisions. I know we all want to make the best possible decision: a decision that is fair and understandable- if not agreeable to all parties. And ultimately, we want a decision that reflects what is in the best interests of children.

I truly believe that everyone at this board table wants the very best for students. We are a group of people committed to children- to providing them with the best educational opportunities we can with the resources that we have at our disposal. We all want kids to succeed, to embrace learning, to thrive and to feel excited and optimistic about their bright futures after completing grade 12. As part of our on-going work, we actively consider how to make their experience the best it can be with EPSB.

During the review of the Sustainability Process last year, the Ad Hoc committee heard from several community members and parents that they wanted us to track student achievement following a closure. In essence, they wanted us to keep an eye on how the kids were doing. On page 26 of the Dialogue Partners’ report this desire for transition monitoring is reiterated: “Need to consider how to support the community, kids post closure.” I think this is a reasonable request and a responsible part of successful transitioning following a change as significant as a school closure. If there are patterns in student achievement, we should be willing to examine them and learn from them. If we don’t look at this- we simple won’t know- we will be making our best guess. We must be willing to look at the data to make informed choices. Otherwise, we are making hollow promises to parents saying that their child will ultimately benefit from a closure.

When I put this forward as a request for information two weeks ago, there were concerns that our administration would not be able to provide conclusive data and that the results could be muddied by other factors, like if the child had suffered a divorce at the same time. I would say that the challenge of conflicting influences is true for all data collection. Can we really be certain that a program is the cause of the high achievement or is the economic capabilities of the parents and the summer trip to Europe that is responsible? Do we know for sure that’s the school size, the class size or the excellent teaching that makes great grades- or is it all three? And yet, we still try to determine patterns and possible connections to strengthen our evidence-based decision-making. The only thing this particular group of kids will have in common is the experience of going through a school closure. Presumably, the likelihood of divorce or some other loss is the same in this population, as any other student population we might want to disaggregate. I don’t think the "muddying argument" is anymore relevant here than with any other form of data collection.

To be clear, I have absolutely no idea what the outcomes of this report will be. I have heard stories of children’s grades dropping sharply following a closure. I’ve also heard from one parent that their child is flourishing in the new school, but these are anecdotal reports and I cannot draw any conclusions from them. As I see it, there are three possible outcomes: children on average do better following a closure, children on average do worse, or on average, it’s inconclusive: some children do better, some do worse, some do the same. If there is a clear indication that they do better- I think parents facing a closure would want to know that. To me, that would be very reassuring news. If there is a clear indication they do worse- parents will need to be aware of that problem and we as a board will need to weigh this information very carefully. If the result is inconclusive, then we can honestly tell parents that it is inconclusive and recommend some strategies to help their child successfully transition. "Inconclusive" is still better news, to me,  that a notable drop in achievement.

As a board, if we see better academic outcomes following a closure, we can feel assured that our decisions are in the best educational interests of children. If the results are inconclusive, we will need to be clear about the drivers for our decisions- we can’t honestly say we are closing schools because we feel the education at the receiving school will be better and the children themselves will do better when the evidence is not clear and does not actually support this idea. If the report indicates a negative impact on educational outcomes, we must be willing to include this information in our deliberations and to consider, if closure is ultimately still deemed necessary due to other factors, how those negative educational impacts might be mitigated with additional resources or supports.

In short, I believe this information is important to consider when we reviewing administrative recommendations in two weeks’ time and I hope the board will approve this motion.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Board agenda- Jan 26, 2010

Sorry for the last minute post... minor hockey week!

Lots of important stuff in this week's board meeting, most notably- the report from Dialogue Partners on the consultation in the Hardisty and City Centre areas regarding school closure. (Report 9. 61 pages long). This will be presented at 7 PM (time specific).

Two items of interest in the Requests for Information (report 11):  Strategic work for joint action to help children and summary of AB ED report on high school completion rates.

Conference report (#3) is all about protocols for trustee conduct.

Here's the agenda.... for complete reports, please use link above.

Board Meeting #9

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 6:00 p.m. McCauley Chambers Centre for Education One Kingsway

The disposition of the items from the January 26, 2010 board meeting will be posted January 27, 2010.

O Canada
Roll Call
Communications from the Board Chair
Communications from the Superintendent of Schools
Minutes: Board Meeting #8 - January 12, 2010
- These minutes will be posted January 27, 2010.
Improving Student Achievement-  Engaging Students in Second Language Learning
Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives
Report #6 from the Conference Committee (From the Meeting held September 15, 2009)
Motion re Comparison of Student Achievement Outcomes Pre- and Post-School Closure
Motion re Presentation by Alberta Conflict Transformation Society (ACTS)
School Year Calendar 2011-2012
Locally Developed Courses - Renewals
Board Position on Public School Boards' Association of Alberta Work Plan and Initiatives
Dialogue Partners Presentation: Greater Hardisty Area and City Centre Education Partnership Reviews (7:00 p.m.)
Joint Edmonton Public Teachers Local and Edmonton Public Schools Professional Development Framework (8:00 p.m.)
Responses to Board Requests for Information
Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)
Trustee and Board Requests for Information
Notices of Motion
Meeting Dates

Next Board Meeting: Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 6:00 p.m.
McCauley Chambers, Centre for Education, One Kingsway

For further information, contact the Board Office @ 780-429-8021 780-429-8021 .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tuesday board meeting- outcomes

The bylaw to amend the boundaries of Ward F and G was passed, with three readings. It will now move on for Ministerial approval.

The report on Reading Recovery generated quite a bit of conversation as trustees dug deeper to understand its efficacy and cost. It was revealed that approximately 20% of children in grade one need literacy intervention, like reading recovery. This represents approximately 5000 children who are struggling with reading. Last year, Reading Recovery was offered to 446 students. We are faced with some difficult choices: this program, which data shows has a high rate of success, is extremely expensive due to the intensive teacher training and the one-on-one help the students need.

The recommendation on election costs was passed. We will continue to operate under the same agreement with the city and the Edmonton Catholic Board as in past years.

I put forward two requests for information:
1- A report on comparing the achievement results (pre and post closure) of students who had experienced a recent school closure. I asked for the sample of children to be substantive but not necessarily exhaustive and for the report to brought to board before the consideration of the recommendations on Hardisty/Capilano area and the city centre project schools.

This request did not receive the majority of trustees approval to go forward and so it will turn into a motion to be debated at our next board meeting.

2- An analysis of the recently released Alberta Education longtitudinal study on factors influencing high school completion- looking at the implications for EPSB, and our Sector Reviews.

This passed (5-4) as a request for information

I also moved that:
"To raise awareness about the restorative justice practices going on in EPSB schools, that the ACTS (Alberta Conflict Transformation Society) be invited to give a presentation at public board and that the topic of restorative justice practice be considered as a possible Parents as Partners topic for the 2010/2011 school year."

This will also be debated at the next public board meeting.

As well, on an emotional note, the mother of Alex Wedman, spoke to the board about her concerns about bullying and asked what the board is doing to prevent this happening in our schools. She submitted a number of questions to the board. A response will be prepared by our administration. Nothing can ever bring her son back, who tragically died by suicide as a result of bullying, but I can certainly understand her desire to make something positive come from this enormous loss. I personally feel that restorative justice holds the most promise to address the issue of bullying (for reasons I've articulated in a previous post.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Restorative Justice workshop

For the past three days, I've attended a Restorative Justice Facilitator Workshop put on by the Alberta Conflict Tranformation Society. I've had the opportunity to hear about this practice from a few sources, including Dr. Martin Brokenleg and some EPSB staff who believe that it is a more effective teaching tool than traditional punitive measures like suspensions or expulsions. This workshop was a chance to delve a little more deeply into the process.

If you aren't familiar with the process at all, you may want to start by visiting the Alberta Conflict Transformation Society website. There is also a number of books on this process or you can simply google it.

In a nutshell, this approach demands that the one who has caused the harm (or "offender" if it is a legal case) take responsibility for their actions, admit what they have done and come face-to-face with everyone who has been harmed (or "victims".)  The facilitated conversation that takes place is raw, emotional and honest. Everyone talks about how they have been affected by the incident. Victims have the opporunity to have burning questions answered. In the end, the circle decides what steps need to be taken to move towards repairing the harm and rebuilding relationships/lives/community/hope. In most cases, conflict is transformed into cooperation. Hatred is transformed into understanding, empathy or forgiveness.  Of course, it doesn't work 100% of the time, but in most circumstances, people on both sides leave feeling satisfied with the outcomes. (Contrast that satisfaction with how most people feel after a court case.)

This process is used in some of our Edmonton Public Schools as a way to address the root causes of distuptive behaviour, teach responsibility to those involved and unite a group of people to hold those involved accountable. The Principal is often one of the participants in the circle, but not the sole authority on deciding the resolution. For more information on how this can be effective in schools, you may want to check out this book: "The little book of Restorative Discipline for Schools. Teaching responsibility; creating caring climates." By Lorainne Stutzman Amstutz and Judy H. Mullet.

At the workshop, we heard from one EPSB Principal who had completely changed the culture of a high-needs school in Edmonton through adopting a restorative practice, first for herself and then by bringing other staff literally into the circle as incidents occured. After two years of consistently using this approach, suspensions and expulsions were dramatically reduced, feelings of safety from both staff and students had increased, referrals to the office were dramatically reduced, student achievement was dramatically improved, parent involvement at the school increased and collaborative work with community partners was successfully embraced. Behaviours that had been chronic suddenly stopped after using restorative circles. The Principal feels that this happened because the root of the problems were revealed, understood and dealt with. Empathy was created, connections were built and people were united in resolving the problem, rather than being locked into a pattern or camp. In Australia, where they have been using restorative justice for a while, studies show that in reduces recidivism by 40%.

It's hard to argue with the positive impacts of this approach and it makes me wonder why it isn't universally adopted. What traps us in the desire for punishment and vengeance? Why do many people see it as necessary to inflict more harm, in order to fix harm?  There is a notion, mostly from people who have little understanding of restorative justice practices, or who have never experienced it themselves, that this is the "easy way out" for offenders and that we're letting them "get away with something." The fear is that if they get off easily, they won't have learned their lesson and they will just do it again.

Watching videos and hearing stories about this process for three days and experiencing it myself in a couple of role plays (once I played the offender, once I played the angry victim)... I can tell you, this is anything BUT easy.  Even in a simple roleplay, I felt my heart racing. The pressure in the circle is incredible and you cannot squirm out of it. As much as you might try to put up a brave front, you cannot help but be affected. I felt remorse, I cried, I felt compassion. (and this was just "pretend" !!)

One lawyer describes the restorative practice as "naked accountability" and much harsher than jail time, because the offender has no one to hide behind. In a typical court scenario, the offender has a lawyer to speak for them and shield them from questions that are considered out of order or not relevant to the facts. There is no one referring in the circle- the facilitator has an established script of questions to prompt the conversation, but does not control the conversation. In fact, people are encouraged to say exactly what they need to say, how they need to say it. Nothing is ruled out of order and the offender has to hear it all, every angry, sorrow-filled, anguished reality of the damage they have caused. In the court, the offender is larger mute while everyone else speaks. In the circle, the offender has to speak at length and answer direct questions. They are definitely in the hot seat. In the court, the judge decides what will happen and everyone else has to live with it; in the circle, the victims and the offender decide what is fair. The offender has to make offers and see if those are accepted or not. The victims are empowered to state what they need to happen.

One real-life case involved a dangerous driving case that resulted in death. The family decided to pursue conferencing instead of harsh sentencing. In this video , the offender talks about how difficult it was to face the family and in this follow up , the family talks about how this processed empowered them to find answers they needed to heal.

The things that I took away from this:
- Healing is possible. Forgiveness is possible. Even in the most horrific circumstances (google Oprah to find a case about restorative practice used in a rape/murder. It is incredible.)
- Change is possible. Offenders can learn, can be affected, can become productive members of society.
- Kids can change and heal easier than adults and this process holds the most hope, for me, with children and youth. What are we teaching? What are they learning? We must continually ask ourselves these hard questions when we discipline children. When we say we are teaching them "a lesson"... we should check to make sure it's the right one.  Kids who are repeatedly told they are "not worthy" or "not wanted" will start to do some pretty horrific things. If we can't find a way to repair the damage---both the damage they have inflicted and the damage they have experienced in their own lives--- behaviours will escalate and we will continue to suffer as a society.
- "I can't hate you if I know your story." As long as victims and offenders are anonymous and faceless, they will be separated by a wall of hatred. When you sit together and share your story, suddenly everyone is "humanized". This doesn't excuse the behaviour, but it changes our perception of it and the person who did it. It transforms and restores everyone in the circle.

And one final thought:

If families like the Stanleys and the Balsers can find forgiveness for the death of a loved one...surely we can find it for lesser offences in our schoolyards, communities, homes and offices. A move towards restorative practices would, in my opinion, build a better world.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Tuesday's agenda

Agenda for Tuesday- report on reading recovery, changes to Ward boundaries (F and G), agreement with city re: upcoming election and rather surprising (to me) results for Request for Information re: class sizes.