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)

1 comment:

Clare said...

While I was expecting the outcome that you report I am still frustrated by the implied will of the administration.

I see the reason that the motion for publishing student acheivment pre and post closure is defeated because:

"The main arguments against it were: insufficient time for the admin to prepare the report"

and then I see the issue of:

"The report itself underlined the CCEP community's concern with the accelerated timelines"

The administration has proved they can deliver on accelerated time lines.

Why don't they want to this time??!? And why does the board not have the will to say "make it happen or else..."