Thursday, February 25, 2010

What difference does it make which capacity is used (ACU or ACOL)?

I have mentioned in previous blogs that I do not feel the provincially-calculated ACU capacity is a fair or accurate capacity measure when it comes to Sector Reviews or school closures. Why? What difference does it make? (Scott from 630 CHED asked me this question today.)

The best way to illustrate my point is to look at a specific school. I will pick Delton School because it has been designated as the receiving school should Eastwood and Parkdale close. Having a fair and accurate understanding of what is reasonable capacity for a receiving school is critical. With a faulty capacity measure, you can easily over-estimate the excess space at a school and this may lead to overcrowding or diminished educational opportunities for kids.

Delton's ACU capacity, as rated by the province is 650.
Delton's ACOL Capacity, as determined by EPSB and as appears on their school profile, is 480.

There are 22 existing classrooms in Delton. There are also 2 large rooms that are currently identified as "not used for instruction" that our administration feels could be converted into 4 classrooms. There is also a large library and a small art room/lunch room.  So if you convert every single room in the school into full-time instructional space, you would have a grand total of 28 rooms. To get to the ACU capacity of 650, you would need about 23 kids in each classroom. Well, that's not a big deal really, is it? What is Sue going on about?

However, let's take a closer look at these rooms and decide whether they should all be converted into full-time classrooms. At Delton, there is a computer lab, a music room, a math/science lab and library- these are all used 1/2 time. Should they be removed and turned into full-time classrooms? I would argue no and I think many parents feel that these spaces provide essential educational opportunities that enhance teaching and learning. In fact, a survey EPSB commissioned with Cambridge Strategies, indicated that the public places a high value on schools having designated, specialized rooms for enriched educational opportunities for kids.

At Delton, there is also an early-learning classroom (a specialized, enriched preschool) and 3 rooms leased to child care. Are we going to revoke these critical leases? For that matter, if every room is converted into classrooms, what will happen to the countless supportive partnerships that we have developed to "wrap around" some of the city's most socially vulnerable children? At Delton, we currently have a Family Therapist (supplied through Family Centre), a school nurse (through Alberta Health Services), a nutritionist (through Alberta Health Services), a Partners for Kids Worker (Big Brothers Big Sisters), an In school Mentor (BBBS), an Aboriginal Liaison Worker, an Enhanced Snack program, and a Child and Family Services Liaison. These wonderful partners need some space to operate in the school. How will the Snack Program, as sponsored by E4C, be possible without the small lunchroom used to prepare the snacks? I believe these partners are currently housed in the two large rooms in the basement which are listed as "not currently being used for instruction" and this is the space intended to be converted into 4 classrooms. Where will they go if this space is converted?

So, let's go back to the classrooms again.
At Delton, we have 9 existing regular classrooms, add 3 of the 4 new ones in the basement (keep one for the partners), add the one unused classroom upstairs, perhaps consolidate the library and the computer room (thereby adding one more classroom)--- we come to 9+3+1+1= 14 useable classrooms.
With 20 students in each classroom, we arrive at 280 students.
In the three special needs classrooms, which hold 10 students each, we will add another 30 students.
We are now at a total of  310 students. 
With the two full-time kindergartens, add another 40 students, bringing us to 350.
The preschool doesn't "count".
The childcare doesn't "count".
The library/computer room & music room don't "count".
Perhaps you decide that the math/science lab isn't essential, so you convert it into a classroom and add another 20 kids to arrive at 370. 
370 seems pretty full to me.  I would guess if the Principal and teachers at Delton were asked, they would also feel that 370 is full, especially when you consider the needs of the students they serve.

I am having a hard time arriving at the ACOL capacity (480) without removing some of the supportive services or adding more kids to every classroom. I see no way to get even close to the province's ACU capacity of 650 without very overcrowded classrooms AND removing the daycare lease AND removing the preschool AND removing all the supportive wrap-around services (not to mention things like music rooms!). To me, the ACU capacity is completely devoid of any educational rationale. It is not an "on-the-ground," common sense approach to capacity and I will continue to argue against it being used in the Sector Reviews because I believe it presents a distorted view.

I will say it again: measuring a school's capacity based on a square footage calculation does not work for kids or teachers or parents. It does not make any sense once you apply it to a real live school with real live kids.

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is my school in the next Sector Review?

I realize that, of course, many people do not know which Sector their school is in, so the information that West One, Central and South Central Sectors are to be reviewed would be largely meaningless.

Here is the report that shows, on pages 4, 5, and 6 maps for the three sectors with all the schools identified.

http://www.epsb.ca/board/feb23_10/item07.pdf

You can see that the three sectors more or less cover all of the most established neighbourhoods in Edmonton.

GOING WEST TO EAST across the city the sectors roughly cover:

FROM: 170 Street in the West (north of the river) or 124 Street (south of the river)
TO: 50 Street in the East (northeast) or 82 Street (central East) and 45 Street (south east)

GOING NORTH TO SOUTH across the city, the sectors roughly cover:
FROM:  137 Avenue in the North
TO:  Sherwood Park Freeway (southeast) and Whitemud Freeway (southwest)

Here is a list of all the schools that will be part of the next round of Sector Reviews:

In the South Central Sector:
Forest Heights
Argyll Home Education Centre
Clara Tyner
Ottewell
Holyrood
Waverley
Kenilworth
Rutherford
King Edward
King Edward Academy
Mill Creek
Donnan
Avonmore
Queen Alexandra
Hazeldean
Garneau
Windsor Park
McKernan
Belgravia
Parkallen
Allendale
ALberta School for the Deaf
Mount Pleasant
Grandview Heights
Avalon
Lendrum
McKee
Grandview Heights
Lansdowne
Malmo

In the Central Sector:
McCarthur
Athlone
Kensington
Rosslyn
Calder
Scott Robertson
Lauderdale
Glengarry
Killarney
Mee-Yah-Noh
Delwood
Balwin
Princeton
Belvedere
Prince Charles
Inglewood
Westmount
Westglen
Oliver
Riverdale

In West One Sector:
Dovercourt
Edmonton Christian West
Coronation
Westminster
Grovenor
Glenora
Mayfield
Brightview
Britannia
Youngstown
Meadowlark Christian
Crestwood
Sherwood
Glendale
Westlawn
Parkview
Meadowlark
Afton
James Gibbons
Stratford
Elmwood
Lynnwood
Laurier Heights
Hillcrest
Patricia Heights
Rio Terrace

To All Ward C re: Sector Reviews

Hi,


Last night, the Board of Trustees approved the recommendation to apply Sector Reviews to West 1, Central and South Central Sectors. All the elementary and junior high schools in Ward C fall within these sectors. (Please note:  These upcoming Sector Reviews will not apply to high schools in these sectors, as all high schools across the District form a separate sector.)
There is a lot of information in this email. Please read it carefully.

To: All constituents of Ward C, particularly parents of elementary and junior high students
From: Sue Huff, Ward C Trustee

RE: Sector Reviews coming to Ward C and why this matters to you

There is some important information that I need to share with you. I hope you will pass it on to your parent and community population. Starting in the early spring 2010 (March or April), EPSB will be conducting Sector Reviews in Ward C. Every elementary and junior high school in Ward C will be reviewed with the primary aim of reducing excess space. During the same time period, Sector Reviews will also be taking place in the central and south-central parts of the city, covering 82 schools in the most mature neighbourhoods of Edmonton. The long term plan is to continue with this process until every sector of the District has been reviewed in order to address our problem of 37,000 excess student spaces.

Right now, we are piloting this process with small-scale sector reviews of schools in the inner city and a cluster of schools in the Hardisty/Capilano/Gold Bar/Fulton area. You may have read about the potential school closures in the newspaper. I have learned a few things from this initial pilot that I wish to pass on to you.

First of all, many people in those communities did not know what “Sector Review” meant and therefore did not participate in the consultation process. This may have been due to language barriers or simply a lack of comprehension regarding the seriousness of the issue. In plain language, “Sector Reviews” are about possible school closures, reconfigurations and consolidations. Please ensure that your community is clear about the importance of these reviews and encourage people to participate in the public consultations when they occur in your area.

Secondly, some important measures have been changed. The capacity of a school is now being measured by the provincially-calculated measure called ACU (Area, Capacity and Utilization). It is not ACOL capacity which appears on your school profile. If you are not familiar with your school profile, please visit http://districtsite.epsb.ca/root/SchoolViability.cfm  The ACOL Capacity was based on a count of classrooms multiplied by the student count derived from the recommendations of the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACOL). In an elementary school, the ACOL recommended student count averaged out at 20 students per classroom. Therefore, an elementary school with 10 classrooms would have an ACOL capacity of 200 (20 students X 10 classrooms). ACOL Capacity was developed by EPSB, but it is not recognized by the Province as a method of determining capacity and is therefore not being used in Sector Reviews.

By contrast, the provincially-calculated ACU capacity looks at the square footage of your building and deducts certain things like: Career and Technology (CTS) space in junior highs, space used by decentralized administration, space leased to not-for-profit groups and other levels of government. All other space in your school, including libraries, gymnasiums, hallways and any leases to “For Profit” organizations counts as empty space in the provincially calculated ACU. ACU is based on safety codes for the maximum number of people a building can hold. Over the next few months, I will be arguing strenuously that ACU is not a fair or accurate capacity measure for educational purposes and should not be used in Sector Reviews, however until further notice, you should plan on ACU being the capacity measure used.

In plain language, this means that your school’s capacity for Sector Reviews will be larger than you might imagine. Your Principal will be able to inform you of the provincially-calculated ACU capacity for your school.

‪Thirdly, the viability indicators or benchmarks, as seen on your school profile, are not the only criteria being considered and therefore are not as significant as before. These benchmarks, as seen in brackets ( ) for each viability indicator of your school profile are now being considered along with a number of other issues, like equitable distribution of programming within a sector, transportation implications, the equitable placement of district sites for children with special needs, proximity to other schools and effective grade configurations. This makes for a much more complex and strategic look at schools and school space.

It might be helpful for you to look over the current recommendations for the city centre (CCEP) and Hardisty area to understand how different the Sector Reviews are the previous Sustainability Review process. Under the old process, schools often felt “safe” as long as there was someone with a smaller enrolment than them. This is no longer the case and no one should make the mistake of feeling this doesn’t involve them. Although it is highly unlikely that a school with a very high enrolment would be closed, it could be reconfigured. In this current round of reviews, we have a school with an enrolment of 218 recommended to close (Fulton) to consolidate into a reconfigured K-9 at nearby Hardisty. We have two schools (Eastwood and Parkdale) recommended to close and consolidate with Delton Elementary, even though this fails to meet the 1.6 KM walk limit benchmark. We have a recommendation to reconfigure a K-9 school (Spruce Avenue) with an enrolment of 303, moving the 153 elementary students to another location, in order to turn the school into a junior high.

Unlike the Sustainability Review which looked at schools in isolation and one at a time, Sector Reviews can create significant change to many schools at once. The aim is to create a viable long-term solution for all the schools in the sector.

I recognize that you may be hearing this information for the first time and it may cause some anxiety for you and your school community. I don’t want to cause panic, but I DO want you to be well-informed and fully aware of the situation. It would be unconscionable for me to allow you to operate under false assumptions and thereby miss your critical opportunity to be meaningfully engaged in the consultation process this spring. Every school should have good representation at the public consultations. If your parent population has language barriers, we can provide translators. If childcare is a barrier to participation, please let me know and I will work to ensure that this is understood and accommodated. I wish to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

I have written several blogs about my thoughts on the current round of reviews, including my comments during the debate, how I voted on each recommendation and why. I will continue to post information as this process unfolds. If you wish to read these posts, scroll back until you find the relevant blogs; the first debate was held on February 9.

Over the coming weeks, your Principal will be supplied with additional information on the Sector Review process and the dates of the public consultations, which will, of course, be shared with you. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further questions.


Best regards,
Sue

Sue Huff, Vice-Chair & Trustee Ward C,
Email: Sue.Huff@epsb.ca

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Board meeting- Tuesday, Feb. 23

Below is a summary of the agenda, with comments from me in red.

If you want to read any of the reports, please go here:
http://www.epsb.ca/board/agenda.shtml and click on Board Meeting #11, February 23.


Board Meeting #11. Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
McCauley Chambers (2nd floor)
Centre for Education (AKA Blue building across from Royal Alex Hospital)
One Kingsway Avenue. Free parking underground.

If you wish to address the board regarding an agenda item, you need to register with Anne Sherwood, Board Secretary by noon on Tuesday. (Anne.Sherwood@epsb.ca). You will have 3 minutes to speak. Alternately, you can speak without registering at ITEM G- Comments from Public and Staff Groups.


Agenda
A. O Canada
B. Roll Call
C. Communications from the Board Chair
D. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools
E. Minutes:
    1. Board Meeting #10 - February 9, 2010
    - These minutes will be posted February 24, 2010.
F. Improving Student Achievement
    2. Improving Student Achievement by Supporting Successful Transitions from High School
G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives 
     (Anyone can speak here, no need to register, you will have 3 minutes.)
H. Reports
     3. Report #2 from the Audit Committee (From the Meeting Held February 16, 2010)
     (KPMG recommended to continue contract with EPSB)
     4. Report #8 from the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held February 16, 2010)
     (Includes focus for Edmonton Foundation on early intervention)
     5. Motion re Long-Term Space Rationalization
      (Trustee Colburn's detailed motion on the long term plan for school closures- worth reading)     6. Removal of Coronation School and Grovenor Schools from Continuation Review
      (Recommendation to include these schools in West 1 Sector Review instead)
     7. Annual Implementation Plan: 2010-2011
     (Recommendation for Sector Reviews for West 1, Central and South Central to start in Spring 2010)
    8. Reviewed Board Policies Recommended for Affirmation, Minor Wording Changes or Rescission
    9. Presentation from Staff Group Representatives re 2010-2011 Budget:
     - Edmonton Public Teachers (NO ENCLOSURE) (7:30 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.)
     10. Responses to Board Requests for Information
     (Good info on energy conservation efforts in the District)
     11. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)

I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information

J. Notices of Motion

K. Meeting Dates

L. Adjournment

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Public Meetings to Consider School Closure

PUBLIC MEETINGS TO CONSIDER SCHOOL CLOSURES:

Following the February 9, 2010 board meeting,  the schedule below has been created for the public meetings, in accordance with Board Policy FL.BP School Closure and the School Act Alberta Regulation 238/97 - Closure of Schools Regulation.


The meetings have been scheduled at the schools listed below on the dates indicated.  All meetings are scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Thursday March 4 Eastwood School 12023 – 81 Street

Monday March 8 McCauley School 9538 – 107 Avenue

Wednesday March 10 Parkdale School 11648 – 85 Street

Thursday March 11 Spruce Avenue School 11424 – 102 Street

Monday March 15 Capilano School 10720 – 54 Street

Wednesday March 17 Fulton Place School 10310 – 56 Street


As outlined by the Closure of Schools Regulation, the following will have occurred prior to each meeting:

• Parents/guardians of students at schools where the school closure process has been initiated will receive a letter informing them of the public meeting along with an information package.

• Notice of the meetings will appear in the Edmonton Journal, Edmonton Sun, and Edmonton Examiner.

• Public meeting notices will be posted in 5 or more conspicuous places in the area or areas of the school or schools affected by the closure.

• Posters advertising the public meetings will be e-mailed to Principals and Administrative Assistants of schools identified for closure and receiving schools. Any other schools affected by closure will be asked to place advertisement on all doors of the school until the final public meeting date. School staff will ensure signage is re-posted if removed.

• A letter will be sent to the City of Edmonton providing notice of the public meetings and requesting that the municipality provide a statement to the Board of the impact the closure may have on the community.

• Presidents of the community league(s) will receive notification of the meeting and an invitation to attend.

The administration will schedule staff meetings with all schools that have been considered for closure. These meetings will be attended by union presidents or a designate from each staff group, and staff from Planning and Human Resources to provide information and answer questions and concerns related to a possible school closure.

Outcomes of the school closure process and recommendations will be presented at the Tuesday, April 13, 2010 public board meeting.

In accordance with the Closure of Schools Regulation, at least two trustees of the Board are required to attend the public meeting.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Power to Create

Yesterday, I, along with MLA Heather Klimchuk, attended a performance at Glenora Elementary School. Every student in the school was involved in a theatrical performance, under the guidance of Trickster. If you aren't familiar with Trickster, they are a professional company who have worked with 430 schools in Alberta over the past 20 years. Three professsional actors arrive at the school on Monday with many boxes of props, costumes and technical equipment.  Over the next few days, the actors work with each class to create original scripts which have high levels of physicality, fun and imagination. Parent volunteers work tirelessly creating additional costumes, painting props or doing whatever is needed to bring the scenes to life. By Friday, there is, miraculously, a show. I've seen many Trickster performances and they are all inventive, funny and remarkably polished given the tight time constraints. Their work is supported by grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The other half of their fee is supplied (most often) by the Parent Council of the school. It is money well spent.

What do kids learn from their interaction with these skilled artists? They are taught how to work as a team, to think outside the box and enthusiastically say "WHY NOT?", to have fun, to innovate, to problem-solve, to express themselves, to empathize and put themselves in someone else's shoes for a moment. They are opened up to a whole new vocabulary of possibilities. Most importantly, perhaps, they are reminded of their pwn power to create.

Creativity is, I believe, a natural gift we all possess. Somehow though as we grow older most of us lose touch with it or begin to doubt it. We start to look outside ourselves and imagine that creativity is only afforded to the chosen few.  I couldn't disagree more.

How can we encourage creativity in schools? Creativity is messy, loud and unclear. It cannot be scored like a PAT or put into provincial graphs. It is full of multiple failures.  It is personal, subjective and emotional. It is irreverent and rule-breaking. It wanders into controversial topics and explores what it means to be a human. And, despite all these challenges, creativity is an absolutely essential.

We need to tap into the creative potential of every student, not to make a generation of wall-to-wall singers, poets and actors (although I do believe every society needs artists)... but because we need help encourage a generation of creative businesspeople to innovate the next economy, creative scientists to solve the problems of climate change and sustainable living, creative doctors to find cures for our most challenging health problems, creative lawyers to examine ethical issues, creative parents to help their children navigate an increasingly complex world and creative politicians to wrestle with global citizenry.  We need creative thinking in every job, in every home, in every town square to help us survive as a race. We need to be creative communicators to help us overcome the issues that divide us and creative thinkers to shine a light on the possibilities not just the obstacles.

We will need every ounce of our collective creativity to build a better world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How I voted and why

Eastwood- I supported the recommendation to consider closure of Eastwood, with the caveat that I thought it was unwise to close both Eastwood and Parkdale, leaving the north east quadrant of the city centre project without an elementary school. Eastwood has an enrolment of 106 and is the smallest elementary in the city centre. Of those, 76 are regular students and 30 are special needs students, some of whom are bussed in from other areas. 27% of the space is utilized. Enrolment has been steadily declining for the past 4 years.
Vote: 7 for, 1 against.

McCauley- I voted against the recommendation. We heard many parents talk about the importance of McCauley and the strong connection to the community. 50% of the students come from refugee and immigrant families and poverty is a pressing issue. A new daycare just opened (1 week ago) on site, which caters specifically to multicultural families. It has 26 children enrolled without even putting up a sign, a clear indication of the need in the area. It was suggested that many of these children will become McCauley students and I believe this would be true (in part due to the transportation barriers many families face in the area but also due to the strong feeling of belonging generated at McCauley).  McCauley has 173 students (K-9) and an early learning site. It is also a recently renovated historic building ($4.5 million) and with the City's revitalization plans for the area, I feel the school has a future, if it is right-sized.
Vote: 6 for, 3 against.

Parkdale- I introduced an amendment to close only the junior high programming at Parkdale and leave it as a functioning elementary to serve both Eastwood and Parkdale communities. My rationale is that in combining the elementary students from Eastwood (110) and those in Parkdale (95), you would have a viable elementary school of 211. Our viability indicators, previously developed, suggest 140 is a viable elementary school. However, our Planning Department said last night that those numbers are no longer relevant in Sector Reviews. My amendment was defeated 7-2.

We then reverted to the original motion to consider closure of Parkdale. I voted against this. I feel this creates too large a catchment area for Delton (the proposed receiving school for both Eastwood and Parkdale). The children in Eastwood and Parkdale would be a long way from their school (over 2 KM) and by my calculation the school would be over capacity. Eastwood 110 + Parkdale 95 + Delton 239 = 439. When you factor in that some of these students have special needs and therefore require lower class sizes... it puts the "weighted capacity" around 518. Delton is rated as having an ACOL capacity (based on Alberta Commission on Learning recommended class sizes) of 480. I disagreed with the planners that there would still be sufficient space to accomodate partners in this school, a vital component for city centre schools.
Vote: 7 for, 2 against.

Closure of Elementary program at Spruce Avenue- I voted against this, although I was torn. On the one hand, I see the benefit of a congregated junior high site at Spruce Avenue. However, Spruce Avenue is a functioning K-9 (303 enrolment), with a very healthy elementary population (153) and a healthy junior high population (150),  meeting both viability indicators for enrolment. It seems unfair to displace elementary students and break apart a functioning school to reconfigure it in this way.
Vote: 7 for, 2 against

Capilano- I voted to support the recommendation. Again, Capilano is a small school (110) and the projected enrolment for next year is 86. This year, there was no grade five class, so that means next year there will be no grade six class. They have few children at the entry level (11 in K. 15 in grade 1) so the future growth did not appear to be there. As well, they have few children in their attendance area (152) and other school options are relatively close by. This was the only unanimous decision by the board.

Fulton Place- I voted against this recommendation. Fulton is a good-sized elementary (218) with an extremely vibrant daycare attached. The parents indicated that they do not wish to have the Logos program offered only at the new K-9 Hardisty School, as proposed. I felt that dismantling a functioning school in order to fill space at the large plant at Hardisty was not a good decision. With the enrolment from Capilano, Hardisty would have sufficient numbers to open up the additional K-4 grades as proposed (397 Hardisty + 110 Capilano = 507). I feel the problem of Haristy's excess space should be dealt with by right-sizing the building.  It is huge!
Vote: 7 for, 2 against.

Board outcomes- school closure

The board passed all the recommendations to consider closure for Eastwood, Parkdale, McCauley and the elementary program at Spruce Avenue in the city centre. In the Hardisty area, the board passed the recommendations to consider closure of Capilano and Fulton.

Here is a copy of the remarks I made early in the meeting:


Facts are facts even if they aren’t what we want to hear. We have excess space in schools- this is a fact. Some schools have such low enrolment that they are no longer financially or educationally sustainable. This, I would say, is also a fact. Within the next two years, nine new large schools will open along the outer edges of our city and when they do thousands of students who live closer to those schools than the schools they are currently attending, will migrate back to their neighbourhoods and leave our existing schools depleted. When these students leave, millions of dollars will exit our existing schools and hundreds of teachers will also shift places. There will be no additional dollars to offset these losses and our current problem of low enrolment schools will be much, much worse and more widespread. Almost every school in the District will be affected. The public is largely unaware of the enormity of this impending challenge.

Today we are looking at 11 schools and the recommendation is to close 5- almost half. This is a clear indication of how serious our administration feels the problem is and how strongly they are communicating the message: We have too many schools. We can’t keep operating them all.

I see two issues. First, and most important: what is the number of kids that need to be in a school in order to provide a high quality education, with appropriate grade groupings for learning, appropriate staff-student ratios, appropriate and varied programming to meet the needs of all kids, specialized rooms for options, libraries, somewhere to eat lunch, good support services and space for community partners like daycares or early learning sites.

The second issue is the size of our buildings and the cost to heat, light, and maintain them.

Because we receive our funding on a per pupil basis, we have quite logically assumed that the answer to both issues is related to student placement. Where the student goes, so goes the money. Where the student isn’t, the money isn’t.

But what if we separate these two ideas for a moment: educational decisions that are student-driven and building decisions that are operationally-driven.

If there is a small but educationally functional number of students in a big building, perhaps we need to right-size the building not right-size the kids. Wings or entire floors could be closed. For a relatively small cost, walls could be erected to hive the school off from the unused portion. This portion could be declared surplus to be leased, sold or turned over to other boards or the City of Edmonton as per our Joint Use Agreement. The school could continue to function in a smaller, more manageable footprint, and the community would benefit from the excess space being used in a sustainable and long-term manner.

Our problem is that we have persisted in believing that declining enrolment and space utilization in schools is entirely our problem to solve and as a single entity, with only one funder, we have allowed ourselves to be backed into a corner until it appears that only one option remains: school closure.

If we could rearrange our thinking and see this as a complex and multi-faceted issue that will require a complex and multi-faceted approach…what other options might appear?

EPSB is currently leasing space, from other providers, to meet some of our District needs. Have we examined how many of these leases could be cancelled and relocated into our excess space in schools, especially if entire wings of schools were closed and separated?

Have we approached potential partners like the provincial government, the City of Edmonton, other school boards, agencies, businesses and community leagues to discuss alternate solutions through joint ownership models?
Have we explored alternate revenue streams with communities- like special levies or donations- to help offset the increased costs of small schools?

Have we gone way outside the box to consider moving the adults instead of moving the kids? For instance, have we considered closing down the Blue Building, renting out this prime downtown real estate and moving central and board operations into schools?

Have we helped community schools retain more of the student population in their catchment (and thereby reduce our transportation costs and environmental footprint), by providing equal promotion and public validation to the local community school as a great choice for parents? Have we examined how excessively promoting schools that offer programs of choice and providing subsidized transportation to those schools may marginalize community schools and contribute to their demise?

The answer to these questions is, in my opinion: “No, not really.”

I have come to see that in some cases, with very small schools, closure may indeed be necessary, but I maintain that closures are not a wholesale solution to the problem of excess space.

Ahead of us, if we continue on this path, I see many, many school closures. Although no one will provide an estimate of how many schools must close, I can do some simple math to arrive at a guess. Each new K-9 ASAP schools has a capacity of 650 to 850, so we would need to close two medium-sized schools to offset each new school. That makes 18 medium sized schools. If you factor in that some of our small elementary schools have capacities in the 250 range, you might guess 20 schools need to close just to get us back to where we sit today. If we want to tackle the 30,000 excess spaces we have TODAY, before these new schools open…more schools will need to close. So add another 10? Or 15? But even after closing 35 schools (and all the heartache that would entail), we would hardly have put a dent in 30,000 excess spaces.

I do not believe it is in the best interests of students, of families, of communities and the reputation and long-term viability of Edmonton Public Schools to proceed with this drastic clear-cut of schools, without giving committed energy to exploring other options like right-sizing buildings and joint ownership models.

I will post how I voted on each recommendation and why in the next post.

Friday, February 5, 2010

School Closure recommendations

On Tuesday, Feb. 9 the Board of Trustees will be debating and voting on two very key administrative recommendations. Both are to "consider closure". If these recommendations pass, the school closure process, as mandated by the School Act will be initiated. This involves holding public meetings over the next couple of months. After those requirements are met, the Board typically sees a final recommendation to actually close schools. This will happen in March, before the passport process is started so that parents do not register for schools that may not exist in September.

The step to consider closure is a critical decision and should not be underestimated. To the best of my knowledge, once this step is taken, closure is almost always the final result.

Here is the link for the City Centre report, which recommends closing three schools:

http://www.epsb.ca/board/feb09_10/item06.pdf

Here is the link for the Hardisty area report, which recommends closing two schools:

http://www.epsb.ca/board/feb09_10/item07.pdf

I will post my comments here to let you know what I said in the debate. I will also post here how I voted and why. Although these schools are not in my ward, I feel an enormous weight as I consider this issue.