Monday, March 29, 2010

Muttart Foundation's presentation re: McCauley

On March 23, the Board heard from the Muttart Foundation regarding their concerns about the potential closure of McCauley School. The text is provided in the link below. It provides some important food-for-thought about the educational needs of immigrant and refugee families and the impact of schools on the wider community within the inner city. I appreciate the research-based evidence provided.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Response to letter from CCEP staff

From your comments, I can tell you read my blog, so I wanted to let you know that I received and read your three-page letter. Thank you for taking the time to put your concerns on paper. It will be shared with all trustees, as the aim was to allow staff to have an opportunity to share their concerns with the entire board not just me personally. (Yours is the only letter that the trustees have received thus far from staff, to my knowledge.)

There were many misconceptions about me in the letter, which I would be happy to discuss in detail, should you care to contact me personally (, but as several points you raised have also been articulated by others over the past couple of years, I thought this might be a good opportunity to bring some of the myths to light.

You suggested that I ran on a "no closure" platform. Although I stated a desire to preserve community schools as an option for parents, open communication, increased collaboration, respect for teachers, restoring the relevance of trustees, as well as a number of other issues were also important to me. You can read my forum speech here:

You also expressed concerns about my motivation in using a blog and twitter. I can only reply that this form of communication has created many new connections and I would expect it to be a more common communication vehicle for trustees in the future. I have received comments in appreciation of the effort I've made to provide quick and easy access to relevant information. Despite your advice, I will not stop posting, but you, of course, are free to stop reading. (FYI- the one-line communications on twitter are called "tweets" not "twits", but perhaps you knew this already and were making a clever play on words!)

I would like to assure that I am indeed trying to "do my job" and have absolutely no desire to make yours harder. I have been carefully considering all input and will add your rationale in support of closure to my deliberations.

Finally, thank you for the important work you are doing with some of our city's most vulnerable children. I know the entire board greatly appreciates it.  How ever we vote on the school closure recommendations on April 13th, I know that each and every trustee is focused on trying to do the very best for children. My slogan during the campaign was "Putting Kids First" and I will be sure to remember this when I cast my vote.

Why I voted against the new Islamic program

On Tuesday, I was the only trustee to vote against the new Islamic program, called the Sakinah Circle Alternative Program. Because our board minutes only record the outcome and do not include any of the rationale (unlike the Hansard which records every word spoken), I want to explain a bit of the thinking behind my vote.

First of all, I completely understand the desire for an education that reflects parental views and beliefs. In particular, I am sympathetic to the need for minority groups to feel strength in numbers and to find a safe haven for their children in what can be, at times, a hostile world. Twice I have lived in countries where I was a minority and being so clearly "the outsider" is something I will never forget.  In both cases, not being able to communicate affected me deeply: I felt smaller, weaker and less capable.  I lost my voice and, with it, my personality and my self-confidence. Not understanding how things worked meant that I encountered constant frustrations and obstacles. My "rights" as I knew them to be in Canada, evaporated. I did not belong and everyday this was reinforced as I was stared at everywhere I went and my actions were frequently misinterpreted. As hard as it was for me, it was even worse for my young son and I worried about his ability to cope with all the changes. In short, being a minority is tough-sledding and I have great admiration for immigrant and refugee families who find the strength to build lives in Canada.

As well, I realize that precedents have been set in terms of faith-based schooling under Edmonton Public's umbrella with distinct programming available for Christian children, Jewish children and Aboriginal children. So, it would naturally follow that Muslim children deserve the same opportunity.  With a large contingent from the Muslim community showing up at the board meeting and many indicating they would enrol their children in this program, it is clear that there is strong support and I have no doubt that it will be successful.

So- why did I vote against it?

At the board meeting, I expressed keen interest in the elements that had been developed for the program- for example, weaving in historical contributions made by the Muslim community to world knowledge as well as nation and province-building. I said I felt these were key things for ALL children to know, not just Muslim children. I expressed concern about us moving into smaller and smaller groups and that my ideal version of public education is one where we all come together to learn from one another, to build understanding and to help us move towards a more peaceful future.  I believe that is only through positive intercultural interactions between children, before they can become tainted by racism and hate, that peace has a chance.

I believe that by increasing segregation, we reduce the possibilities for these positive intercultural connections. I believe we are all lessened by segregation- even if it is segregation of choice.

I spoke with a member of the Aboriginal community about educational segregation a while ago. She said that her hope would be that eventually we would not need it, but she felt is was necessary at this point to create safety, trust and self-confidence within the Aboriginal children and community. Perhaps it is the same within the Muslim community. Certainly, I recognize that this must be a difficult time in history to be a member of the Muslim community living within the western world.  Racism exits and I'm not blind to that.  However, my hope is that someday we won't have any programs of choice... that everyone will instead choose to be together, to integrate fully, to build intercultural understanding and to grow together.  The world is growing increasingly complex and intercultural- what better place than our schools to learn these necessary skills.

I recognize that my views are not those held by Edmonton Public, as an advocate of choice. I realize that, as well, they are not held by the board, which overwhelmingly continues to support choice. However,  there are costs of choice that should be considered. Every new program requires new curriculum development,  specialized teacher training (or hiring of teachers with specific skills), transportation and  District financial support ($319 per student for the first year). At some point, we will need to grapple with how much choice we can afford to support. As well, every program of choice attracts students away from other exisiting schools. In some cases, these students come from community schools that are already struggling with low enrolment. As we split the enrolment pie into smaller and smaller slices, I wonder where this will eventually lead us. Will we arrive at a day when every school in EPSB is a specialty school and community schools are a thing of the past? Will we effectively change the definition of public schools to mean a collection of charter schools under the public banner?

Questioning "Choice"- which many feel is the defining aspect of EPSB- is  a bit like walking on thin ice for a trustee... but I think its important to continue to reflect and examine the full implications of our decisions, not just for today but well into the future.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sector Review website launched

If you are interested in learning more about the upcoming sector reviews in the mature neighbourhoods of Edmonton, put this website into your "favourites".  This has just been launched by Dialogue Partners, the independent company hired by EPSB to do the reviews. You can also subscribe to the RSS feeds or updates (underneath the first block of text) to be sure that you are always in the loop. (I've done both.)

In particular, I would like to point out the "Library" tab on the right-hand side which contains all the documents you may wish to review. The "Interview" document is particularly helpful and can be filled out by anyone. The deadline for submissions is APRIL 20, 2010. So, do it now before you get busy and forget!

Also under the Library tab, you will find the Sector Review presentation (powerpoint) that trustees viewed on March 24, 2009. It outlines the rationale and process quite well.  As well, you will find maps showing where the three sectors (West 1, Central, Southcentral) are located.

As the public consultations take place, more documents will be added to the Library.

Check in, get involved, speak up.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Link to report on Provincial Utilization

Some people have asked to read the administrative report that I quoted from heavily during the debate on  the provincial utilization formula (ACU) this Tuesday evening.

Here it is:

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Information Re: Sector Reviews

Last night, I held an information meeting for parent council chairs in Ward C regarding the upcoming sector review of their schools. I shared information from our District website on the process and answered their questions. Many of the questions I could answer, but there were quite a few that I have brought back to our administration for clarification. The answers to these questions will be posted here on my blog as soon as they become available. The conversation was very open, direct and, I hope, provided useful information for parents to share with their school community.  Thank you to all who showed up!

I will be holding a second information night on April 6th. If you in Ward C and would like to attend, please send me an email and I will provide the location, time, etc. (

EPSB will be sending information packages to schools following Spring Break, but in the meantime, here are some helpful website links:

Overview of the process

Schools involved and timelines

Frequently Asked Questions about Sector Reviews

Your school's profile and viability indicators

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My motion re: capacity measures- script/outcome

Last night, we had some fabulous presentations from:
- CRUD/NET Team re: partnerships at Parkdale to enhance youth engagement
- The Multicultural Health Brokers re: developing an intercultural excellence program at McCauley
- Muttart Foundation regarding the particular needs at McCauley and the damage closure would inflict.
I was inspired by these presentations and the innovative alternatives to closure presented. BRAVO!

Here is the script for my motion last night "to, effective immediately, discontinue using the provincially calculated ACU as a capacity measure for sector reviews and have the administration provide a rationale to use either ACOl or OEL in its place until the new provincial capacity formula is approved."

First of all, perhaps it would be beneficial to start with some definitions for all the acronyms in my motion:

ACU- “Area Capacity Utilization” is the current mechanism used by the province to calculate the capacity of schools. It is primarily based on the square footage of a building.

ACOL- is a capacity measure developed by EPSB that multiplies the number of classrooms in the school by the number of children who should be in those classrooms, as recommended by the Alberta Commission on Learning class size guidelines.

OEL- “Optimal Enrolment Limit”, also developed by EPSB, is primarily being used to prevent overcrowding. This calculation further refines the ACOL capacity by taking into consideration the unique characteristics of a particular school and is developed through consultation with the school’s Principal.

In my opinion, ACU looks at school capacity through a province-wide lens. It is the 30,000 ft. view.
ACOL is capacity as seen through the District-wide lens. It is perhaps it’s at 5,000 ft.
OEL looks at capacity through the lens of the individual school. This is the ground-level view.

In my blog, dated Feb. 25, 2010, I articulated why I felt ACU was an inaccurate measure of capacity for sector reviews and possible school closures, by using the example of Delton School. Delton’s ACU is 650 students. When we take a closer look at the specific classrooms and configurations in Delton, 650 becomes an extremely unfeasible number. The ACOL capacity, by contrast is 480, a notable difference of 170 students. My guess is that the OEL for Delton would be lower still because of the particular needs of the students as well as the valued partnerships provided at Delton, all of which require space.

However, it has been noted that trustees are not experts in planning and certainly I would not expect my rationale alone to be sufficient reason to convince my colleagues.

So instead, I turn to the experts- our own administration. On June 17, 2003, an administrative report came before the board regarding the Provincial Utilization Rate and the District’s position on its limitations. I supplied copies of this report to my colleagues last week, but I also have additional copies here for anyone who would like one.

On page 1, third paragraph it states that “it is essential that school utilization rates are an accurate and realistic measure of how much capacity is available and how effectively it is being used at the individual school level.” At the bottom of page 1, it states while ACU “works well for setting standards for construction of new schools, there is room for improvement when calculating the capacity of existing individual schools.”

The report then goes on to articulate many shortcomings of ACU, including the fact that schools built before 1950 are, in essence, penalized for wider hallways, smaller classrooms and even thicker walls. This is certainly a relevant concern when we look at the CCEP schools, which all pre-1950, I believe. The suggestion from our administration, to correct this problem, is to count only instructional areas to “measure the true capacity of a school to accommodate students.”

Page 3 talks about lease exemptions, another relevant point to our upcoming school closure decisions. ACU does exempt non-profit leases however “the exemption is granted only for instructional space in the lease, not for the non-instructional support spaces required by the lease holders. It would be highly unusual for the district to lease part of a hallway or a portion of the school’s washroom even though the space is also required for lease holders.” The report gives a specific example of a daycare and after-school lease at a school which only yielded an exemption of 60 student spaces, when in fact, a more accurate exemption would have been 150 spaces. By adjusting the exemption to account for non-instructional space used by lease holders, the administration estimates the district utilization would increase by 2%. This is, I believe, relevant, as we look to calculate our excess space in sectors.

On the bottom of page 3, the report talks about special needs students and the fact that mild and moderate students are only deemed to require additional space when they congregated in entire wings of schools, as is the case in some rural jurisdictions. Our administration objected to this and recommended that “District sites with separate classrooms for mild and moderate special needs students be recognized for enrolment adjustment” This space exemption would also increase the District’s utilization by 2%, according to the report.

Further down the page, the report mentions kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs and recommends counting these students on the numerator of the ACU. It states that “There is no reason the use of schools should be limited to K to 12 only. This approach is also consistent with Alberta Learning’s philosophy regarding life-long learning.” I would add that although each kindergarten child counts as .5 FTE (based on being in the school half of the day), most of our CCEP schools offer full-day kindergarten, so these students should clearly count as 1 not .5

Community use is also suggested to be a critical component of capacity and I couldn’t agree more. The proposed solution: that “Alberta Infrastructure recognize that schools are accessed by the entire community and that they are well utilized not only by K to 12 students, but by many citizens of Edmonton. Recognition by Alberta Infrastructure of community use of schools would give a more realistic picture of how schools are actually used by the community throughout the day.”

So, clearly our administration feels there are some significant flaws in ACU and that it does not accurately reflect the true capacity of a school. They are not alone in their concerns. The Alberta School Councils Association has also been advocating for “Alberta Education and Alberta Infrastructure to re-evaluate the formula for utilization based on the actual opportunity for use of functional teaching space.” The response, from Minister Hancock, on July 24, 2009 stated: “the government will be reviewing the current utilization rate formula. Recommendations will be developed on several aspects of this formula, including instructional space and exemptions.”

Minister Hancock further elaborated on this utilization review in the Edmonton Journal article, dated March 18, 2010. “You cannot put a classroom in a wide hallway, just because you’ve got a wide hallway.” The article went on to say that “ in addition to neglecting the need for features such as music rooms or art classes, Minister Hancock said the current formula also fails to consider Alberta’s Class size initiative, which strives to limit the number of children to 17 for junior kindergarten to grade 3 and 23 between grades 4 and 6.”

The article quoted Minister Hancock directly on this point: He said: “If you’ve got a class-size policy that says you should only have 17 in the class, it doesn’t make sense to have a classroom where you calculate the capacity for 30.”

As well, Minister Hancock said they are looking at including the concept of housing additional services inside a school building. “We’re talking about daycare and after-school care.”

So, the Minister of Education also seems to agree that this formula is not adequate and needs revision.

So I ask my colleagues:

When our administration clearly feels that ACU is flawed…
When it gives trustees a distorted view of the actual capacity of a school…
When our Minister of Education agrees that needs to be changed and it will be changed….

I have to ask my colleagues- why on earth would we want to continue to use it?

On April 13th, we will be faced with some critical decisions regarding possible school closures. Having the clearest and most accurate information about the true capacities of schools, both those facing closure and those recommended to be receiving schools, will be essential to sound decision-making.

I urge my colleagues to support this motion.

In the context of the debate, Trustee Ripley introduced a substitute motion that "Until the new provincial utilization formula is approved that ACOL, ACU and OEL figures for schools be provided as information for the board in sector reviews." 

I argued against this substitute motion as I see no compelling evidence to continue using the notably flawed and soon-to-be revised ACU formula. The argument to continue with ACU was that it provides a picture of how large the physical plant is. I argued that using three capacity numbers will confuse the public and that it will not be clear how trustees are using the three numbers in the school closure discussion. Despite my arguments, the substitute motion passed and my motion was removed from the table.

Monday, March 22, 2010

EPSB staff encouraged to give feedback on recommended closures

As anyone who attended the public meetings on possible school closure would know- staff from the schools were present. However, most were seated along the walls in the gymnasiums, not at tables with the parents and community members.

Prior to these public meetings, staff were consulted as one of the valued stakeholders, through our independent contractor, Dialogue Partners. Their feedback was compiled in a report under the "Reports" section of the Bang The Table website. I have reviewed the report.

As you can imagine, staff are in a delicate spot- if have concerns about the closure, they may be worried about "speaking against their employer, even thought our Superintendent of Schools, Edgar Schmidt has stated on several occasions that "Disagreement does not equal disloyalty."  On the other hand, if staff feel closure is the right choice, they may feel concerned about how parents and the community would react to this opinion. Either way, it is tricky.  That is why their feedback is collected anonymously and separately from the public consultations.

At this point in the process, staff have been invited to submit anonymous letters directly to trustees or to fill out the feedback forms provided by Dialogue Partners at all the public meetings and tick off the "staff" box. Normally, the board does not consider anonymous letters or submissions, however, we are prepared to make an exception in this case.

Staff are valued members of our school community and essential to our work in the District. I encourage all staff who work in the schools being considered for closure, or being proposed as potential receiving schools, to voice their opinions prior to April 6th. I, for one, will be very interested to hear their perspective.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Letter from parent (Fulton Place)

I have received many letters and emails over the past few weeks with regards to the possible school closures in the inner city and Hardisty areas.  This one  raised several good points so I asked the writer's permission to reprint it in my blog and he gave his consent.  

With recent news from the Minister of Education (click here:
about how the district calculates occupancy using the school utilization formula, it seems to be too quick a decision to close an already viable school, in order to save on longer term renovation costs. When schools are required to meet class size initiatives of 17 students for K-3 and 24 in 4-6, this contradicts the numbers that the district is using to calculate occupancy rates. The provincial formula assumes a classroom to have 30 students, which we all know is unacceptable in today’s elementary classrooms.

To me this remains a Hardisty school issue. Hardisty is clearly too big for this day and age. Sacrificing neighbouring schools to fill Hardisty’s hallways does not consider the health of the surrounding communities.

The school board and province need to think more creatively to keep schools in mature neighbourhoods open. The province also needs to recognize that schools serve students in much greater ways than in the past. They are homes to day-care centres, senior drop-in centres, and other community organizations. The province needs to recognize this and give credit to schools that are using their empty instructional space for the good of the community.

The province, city and school board are continuing to function with out-dated and traditional thinking about schools and their value in society. When will the school board, province, and city work together instead of passing the responsibility from one to another about mature neighbourhood schools? There are so many seniors in our area that would benefit from using the school, nevermind the overflowing Fulton Child Care Centre next door. The planning department with the Edmonton Public School Board is not thinking in an innovative way, by closing Fulton Place School. Making a K-9 at Hardisty is the easiest answer to the problem. It is also the most damaging to students and the community. Closure should be the last option. What other options have been tried first?

Urban sprawl is killing this city. We continue to grow sideways without considering the impact on the core of our city.

I respectfully ask for you to vote against closing Fulton Place School.

My mom used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Fulton Place School is alive, well, and an essential part of my community.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Board Agenda- March 23

For complete Board Agenda and attached reports, visit website:
and click on March 23. Red below may be of interest.


A. O Canada
B. Roll Call
C. Communications from the Board Chair
D. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools
E. Minutes:
  1. Board Meeting #12 - March 9, 2010
- These minutes will be posted March 24, 2010.
F. Recognition
   2. Edwin Parr Teacher Award

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives  (This is your opportunity to address the board, for 3 minutes. No need to register in advance.)

H. Reports
   3. Motion re Capacity Measures for Sector Reviews  (My motion re: rescinding the use of the provincially calculated formula based on square footage. see previous blogs.)
    4. Motion re Creating a District Health and Wellness Committee  (Trustee Colburn's motion.)
    5. Sakinah Circle Alternative Program (7:00 p.m.)  (re: possible new Islamic program)
    6. Child Study Centre Alternative Program: Addition of Kindergarten (7:30 p.m.) (re; Garneau School)
    7. Financial Reporting Profile
    8. Delegations re Possible School Closures (8:00 p.m.)
- Delegation from Community Response to Urban Disorder (CRUD) re Parkdale School
- Delegation from Multicultural Health Brokers Coop re McCauley School
- Delegation from the Muttart Foundation re McCauley School
    9. Responses to Board Requests for Information  (worth reading- interesting info on Fulton day care annex, special levy, funding, etc.)
   10. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports
         - Upcoming Topics of Discussion for April 8-10 PSBC Meeting

How to Run for Trustee- ASBA tips/talks

ASBA is working hard to raise awareness about the upcoming elections for school boards (Oct. 18, 2010)

The 2010 school board election package was mailed to EPSB offices March 16. The package included a handbook outlining strategies to promote the election; copies of the "Become a School Ttrustee" brochure and a flyer advertising the campaign school and candidate information sessions. All resources are also avaiable online.

Great information available on ASBA’s site:

Register today for the ASBA’s Running to Win Campaign school (see link above for registration and agenda)

The June 9 Running to win: Campaign school in Red Deer will feature political consultant Ken Chapman talking about how to run an effective local campaign; image consultant Joanne Blake talking about making a great first impression and communications consultant Hank Goertzen on how to write and give an effective speech. The day will close with a panel of trustees telling stories from their personal campaign trail. This workshop is open to anyone thinking about running for the office of school trustee.

The $99 registration fee includes lunch, hand-outs and the GST.  The workshop takes place at the Capri Hotel in Red Deer – on the day after the ASBA’s annual spring meeting.

ASBA offers Free candidate information sessions in six communities (see link above for more info)

The ASBA is offering six free candidate information sessions featuring retiring trustees talking about what it’s like to serve on school board. See the ASBA website for dates, times and registration.

In Edmonton:   7:00 pm, May 27,  Royal Glenora Club,  Strathcona Room,  11160 River Valley Rd

Thursday, March 18, 2010

FAQ re: Sector Reviews

The Administration has developed an FAQ regarding the sector planning process, which has been posted to the district website on a new Sector Review web page located at:

Parents and community members can also access the document from the home page of the district website at by taking the following steps:

• Go to the home page of the district website.

• Under the heading School Closure Information, click on the link "Read more about these sector reviews"

• Once on the Sector Review web page, click on the link "Frequently Asked Questions on Sector Reviews", which is located on the right side of the screen.

Fulton Place - meeting re: possible closure

Last night was packed. It may have been the largest turn-out. In attendance: MLA and Leader of the Liberal party, David Swann.  MLA for Edmonton-Goldbar, Hugh MacDonald.  Councillor Amarjeet Sohi.

I heard:
- concern about the lack of playground at Hardisty
- concern about parking, safety for younger children and how they would "mix" with older kids
- Why isn't the current enrolment of Fulton (220) considered viable? Fulton has the most students of the three elementary schools in the area.
- Proposal: move Fulton Place school (teachers, students, daycare, everything) as a school unit into Hardisty. Keep it separate but under the same roof. Similar to arrangement for King Edward/Victoria and Nellie McClung/Oliver.
- concern about staff placement following closure. It is late in the year. Where will they end up?
- Great value and loyalty to the daycare (2 yr wait list, 200 kids on the list).  What will happen to it?
- One parent had a three-page document answering many questions about how the younger kids will be accomodated at Hardisty. He had done a walk-through with Principal Al Lowrie and had all his questions answered. His advice: Go meet Al. He's amazing and talking to the Principal put his mind at ease about the K-9 concept.
- Suggestion: why not designate Capilano to Fulton? Bring the 5/6 Logos back to Fulton and use the money proposed to convert Hardisty into a K-9 to instead tear down a wing or two at Hardisty to right-size it. 
- Suggestion: create a community concept for schools to help them through the generational changes that happen (and will happen) in all neighbourhoods.  Instead of closing schools, we need to think differently about them. Otherwise, this is a never-ending pattern of closures.
- Concern: will the renos at Hardisty be ready in time? Why not build it and then move the kids over. Allow the parents to see how their concerns are being addressed. Work with parents to create buy-in. Get the playground, drop off loop, lights on 106 Ave, etc. installed FIRST, so that it is a safe and inviting place for younger children.
- What about K-4 at Fulton and 5-9 at Hardisty?  That keeps the daycare and afterschool care in place at Fulton for the youngest students and allows more teacher collaboration for grade 5/6 teachers at Hardisty.
- Voices of the children- what do they want and have we asked them?
- Concern that retrofit would not happen. Examples of other promised renos not being done due to lack of funds.
- Fulton is a stable, cohesive community. Quality of life and social capital is of  great value. Fulton Place is situated in a quadrant of amenities and supports.  School brings so much joy to the community.
- Why are we doing this again?  This review process happened 4 years ago. Will we be back at these tables in another five years?
- K-9 works well. It has been successful in other schools and does have the benefit of creating a family feel and moderating the older kids' behaviour.
- Will EPSB work with the city to jointly plan for strong communities?
- What happens to the building if it is closed?
- Questions about which data we use-  is it the most up-to-date?
- The problem is Hardisty is too big.  Fill Hardisty with something other than children from Fulton. (Use space for other District or community needs).
- Suggestion: Explore other options, in particular services for seniors. If these were co-located at the school, Fulton Place could offer a continuum of care and learning from infancy to old age.
- Please take our comments seriously, trustees, and remember that you are elected officials.

The meeting went on for an hour past the original time because there were so many questions. Although, there was some frustration at points, people were generally very patient and respectful. In Board Chair Don Fleming's closing remarks,  he asked the audience to give the facilitators a round of applause for their hard work over the past three weeks. The crowd did. Don then pointed out that Lorne Parker has been taking all the questions at each meeting, not an easy job to do, and that he felt he also deserved a round of applause. The crowd graciously agreed.

It was a great display of kindness and humanity. It reminded me that even though it may feel at times like we are adversaries and on opposite sides of the fence, we are all merely human beings trying to do the very best we can.

Environmental Policy seeks input

A while back, I started raising the idea of an environmental policy for EPSB. I felt that this was a critical part of being a good steward of our resources, "walking the talk" for our students who study environmentalism in the curriculum, and being good corporate citizens. I argued that even Walmart had an environmental policy, so shouldn't EPSB?

When our Purchasing Policy came up for review, I noted that is was only focused on getting competitive pricing and favouring local vendors when possible. I asked if environmental considerations should be included in our purchasing policy. I argued that people today expect more than just the "cheapest price", they want to know we've acted ethically and envrionmentally as well. The board reviewed the matter and an amendment was made to give clear direction on the matter, adding environmental and ethical components.

I requested a report on the status of environmental activity in the district. I knew there were environmetnal actions being taken at individual schools, but I wasn't sure of the scope. The report came to board and it was clear that many people in our district felt it was important to be "green". Our custodial workers were strong advocates for green products, for instance. But what was clear from the report is that we lacked cohesion and consistency across the District.  This could only come about through clear board direction, through a policy.

Finally, all the pieces came together and a draft of an over-arching environmental policy was crafted. It was a great day when I could see the concrete expression of all the talking!  Now, it's your turn. Please give your feedback on the draft policy before April 14th.  Click on the following link to read the policy and fill in the survey. I look forward to seeing what you say. (I am on the Policy Committee that reviews all the feedback.)

Feel free to pass this link on to anyone who has an interest in environmental issues.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Capilano School Closure meeting

Last night, the meeting was at Capilano. Also in attendance: MLA Hugh MacDonald, MLA Harry Chase, and Councillor Amarjeet Sohi.

What I heard:
-Questions about which census data was used (Dr. Parker from Planning explained that 2006 Federal Data was used for the 2009-2018 Ten Year Facility Plan because the 2009 data was not available at the time of writing the plan. However 2009 City Data is used for sector reviews and has been given to the trustees.)
- Concerns about accessibility of Gold Bar playground and lack of playground at Hardisty (two potential receiving schools)
- Love of the closeknit, protected, walkable, inclusive, community-focused atmosphere at Capilano. Fears about moving children from this small setting (approx 100 students) to large K-9 (approx 700 students)
-Concerns about safety- crossing 106 Ave and lack of parking at Hardisty.
-Concerns about timing- some felt we had been dragging this decision out over many years, while others said they felt rushed.
-What about bringing leases into school to offset costs?  Suggestions: partner with seniors
-What about technology we've recently installed? (Answer: technology will follow students to receiving school)
-What about our casino dollars? (Answer: Receiving school would have casino, Capilano School would lose theirs.)
- Desire for different levels of govt to work together. One taxpayer, one constituent. (We agree and are working on setting up a tri-level meeting.)
- Preference for K-6 elementary vs. K-9.
- Capilano is close to amenities that enhance education. Quality of education is high. Teachers well-loved.
- A lot of questions about the fate of the school, should it close.
- Questions about "meaningfulness" of this meeting. Is the decision already made?
- Benefits of Hardisty mentioned in Notice of Meeting package may not all be relevant to elementary students.

As has happened over the past couple of meetings, there was some frustration expressed at the meeting. I know this is very difficult for everyone and I appreciate the respect demonstrated by the great majority of people attending. Following the meeting, I had a chat with a woman and  I said, "I know it's not easy being in your chair and, believe me, it's not easy in my chair either."  I thanked her for coming and she thanked me for being there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness

Today, I was the MC of the Proclamation Event for the Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness. If you are interested in learning more, dial 311.

Here is the speech I delivered:

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. My name is Sue Huff. I am a trustee and current Vice Chair for the Edmonton Public School Board and I will be acting as your MC for this event.

I also want to welcome a number of dignitaries who are with us today:

Councillor Linda Sloan

Police Chief Mike Boyd

Danielle Boudreau

For the past year, it has been my distinct pleasure to sit on the Sexual Exploitation Working Group. This volunteer group is led by the City of Edmonton and REACH Edmonton. REACH Edmonton connects Edmontonians with tips, tools and resources for building a safe and caring community. The positive momentum and proactive, community-minded focus of REACH Edmonton has been instrumental in our work over the past year.

The Sexual Exploitation Working Group has representatives from government, health, education, law enforcement, business, social services, as well as volunteer and community organizations. Our shared aim is to create awareness about sexual exploitation, the conditions that cause it and to mobilize all Edmontonians to take an active role in preventing it. We believe no one deserves a life of sexual exploitation and that we all have a role to play in protecting children, youth, women and men from the devastating consequences of sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation is not about sex, it is about power over vulnerable people. It can take many forms: prostitution, child pornography, internet luring, human trafficking, or trading sex for lodging, food, drugs or protection. It is an ugly fact that, in all forms, sexual exploitation happens here in Edmonton. Facing that reality is the first step to changing it.

Luckily we have a city council and Mayor who are willing to tackle difficult issues head-on. Councillor Amarjeet Sohi has been a strong supporter of the Working Group and we have greatly appreciated the energy and commitment of his dynamic EA, Kristin. Unfortunately, Councillor Sohi is unable to join us today due to another commitment, however, we are very lucky to have, in his place, Councillor Linda Sloan to bring greetings on behalf of the city. Please help me welcome Councillor Sloan to the podium.


Thank you, Councillor Sloan. We certainly appreciate the support of the city.

There is no doubt that we all suffer when sexual exploitation thrives in our communities. The social cost, measured in damage to community cohesion and safety, is obvious. We also pay through increased costs in both the health and criminal justice system. You may wonder how widespread the problem is. The statistics are troubling:
The police estimate there are in Edmonton 600 children, youth and adults in visible sexual exploitation- no one knows how many are being secretly exploited through the internet, chat lines, illegal massage parlours and other venues. The average age of entering a life of sexual exploitation on the street is 15 years old. In the past 27 years, there have been 31 verified murders of sexually exploited women in the Edmonton area and 5 listed as officially missing. Only five of these 31 murders have been solved. And, in the last decade, over 980 children in the province of Alberta have needed help through the Protection of Sexually Exploited Children Act (or PSECA).

We are lucky to have Edmonton Police Chief Mike Boyd with us today, to bring the law enforcement perspective to this issue. Please welcome Chief Mike Boyd.


Thank you, Chief Boyd. The cooperation between the Edmonton Police Force and the community is critical to addressing this issue.
As you listen to the grim facts about sexual exploitation, you may feel a little overwhelmed. The challenge seems so big, how can one person make a difference? This Week is not only about creating awareness is also about empowering you to act, to reach out, to know who to call when something doesn’t look right and to care enough to get involved. In short, we want you to DARE 2 CARE. Through the events planned and the resources we’ve compiled- we want you to join us in taking proactive steps to reduce the number of future victims of sexual exploitation. We Dare You to Act. We Dare you to speak out. We Dare you to Care.

Our next speaker is a woman who has definitely dared to care and dared to act. She has brought focus and attention to one of the most devastating costs of sexual exploitation. I am pleased to introduce Danielle Boudreau, the founder of the March for Missing and Murdered Women in Edmonton. Please welcome Danielle to the podium.


Thank you, Danielle. (Danielle’s speech was very poignant. She spoke on behalf of all the nameless, faceless women. She spoke from the heart and demonstrated incredible courage.)

I would like to encourage everyone to find a way to get involved. You might choose to raise the issue of sexual exploitation with your friends, family and co-workers. On Tuesday, MLA Kevin Taft will deliver a message of awareness in the Legislature. A number of us will be in the Gallery during Question Period, wearing orange- the colour of this week- and you are welcome to join us to show your support. If you are a parent, you may want to take in the free presentation by Craig Krieger (Kreeger) from Alberta Justice about keeping children safe from online sexual predators. That presentation will take place right here at the Stanley Milner Library on Wed. March 17th at 7 p.m. This week, high school students at Ross Sheppard High school will be given the unique opportunity to hear from a woman who worked as an escort. Her first-hand account of life as a sexually exploited person is in stark contrast to Hollywood’s “Pretty Woman” version. As well, there a number of closed door events for elected officials and community leaders to ensure that our decision-makers are well-versed on this issue. On Friday, we conclude the week at City Hall with the Mayor and other dignitaries, where we will announce the winners of the Dare 2 Care Youth Challenge. We encourage you to wish to visit our Facebook page and connect with other people who taking a stand against sexual exploitation.

We have a lot of things planned, but in truth, we hope the week is just the beginning for your involvement on this critical issue. It was at last year’s Proclamation that I decided to join the Sexual Exploitation Working Group & I have never regretted it. I know, whatever level of involvement you choose, you won’t regret it either.

I would encourage you to visit our information tables in the lobby, which supply a wealth of information. Being aware of the services available may help you to reach out with confidence. In particular, I highly recommend the Community Resources Pamphlet put out by REACH Edmonton. This lists all the phone numbers for the agencies and support services that can protect and assist those who are being sexually exploited.

Before I wrap things up, there are a number of people we need to thank:

- our sponsors: the City of Edmonton, Sonic …. and Global Television

-the staff here at Stanley Milner Library for providing this venue and for their ongoing support of the community

-Andrew Fiebiger, who has graciously donated his time for the entire week to photograph all the events. Andrew also donated the graphic design for the certificates we are giving to our speakers and key supporters.

- and thank you to all the members of the Sexual Exploitation Working Group. It has been a privilege to work with such a committed, cooperative and supportive group.

Thank you also to Councillor Sloan, Chief Boyd, Danielle Boudreau, the media …..and everyone in the audience for attending today. Together we can make a difference when we take that first step---- when we DARE 2 CARE.

Thank you and good afternoon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Eastwood notes up on website

The Eastwood School meeting summary information is now up on EPSB website:

(Here's a shorter link if you are posting on twitter: )

Now posted:
- transcripts of everything said by Board Chair Fleming, the Planning Department and the lead facilitator at the Eastwood School Meeting.
- copy of powerpoint presentation shown
- complete list of comments/questions captured at each table (table numbers identified at top of each page)

This will be done for each school closure meeting.
I feel this is a very good step towards our goal of transparency.
I am guessing that answers to questions will also be posted at this website, so bookmark it for future reference.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spruce Avenue- mtg re: closing elementary program

Third school closure meeting in four days. Last night, I felt like I was part of some strange endurance test and, at points, I was just trying to hold on. Exhaustion is setting in. It is affecting my ability to stay focused, to listen openly and to assimilate information. Last night, I found myself drifting away both mentally and emotionally. I had to fight to give the meeting and the two scheduled for next week (Capilano-Monday, Fulton-Wednesday) the same dedicated energy I had for the first meetings. Clearly, holding these meetings back-to-back is a great challenge.

The turn-out last night was noticeably smaller than the other public meetings and the tone in the room was much less animated. Perhaps this was due to the fact that this is not a proposed school closure, rather it is a proposed reconfiguration of the school. (The recommendation is for Spruce Avenue to be a junior high, the only one for the CCEP area.).

Here's what I heard:

- Concerns about being designated to Norwood. Many parents feel concerned about safety, etc. as Norwood is located on the intersection of two busy streets. Spruce Avenue feels more protected.
- Concerns about revitalization, childcare, transportation, the loss of sibling connections. (as expressed at other CCEP meetings)
- Concerns about congregating all the junior high students together in close proximity to Kingsway Mall, where poor influences may hang out.
- Concerns about the smartboard technology that the parents have raised money for-- will this follow the students to the new school, or will they need to fund-raise again?
- Concerns over the loss of the K-9 format, where teenagers serve as role models for younger children. (This is an interesting contrast to the concerns of some Fulton parents who do not want to move into a K-9 grouping because they fear the influence of teenagers on younger children) The opinion was the teenagers will behave worse in a junior high, grade 7-9 grouping, without the moderating influence of the younger children. As well, because the students will be bussed in from all over the inner city, will they respect the building as much, without having the immediate connection to the Spruce Avenue community?
- Suggestion that ETS (bussing) is more convenient and regular for Norwood than Spruce Avenue, so if junior high students are going to be taking ETS to one central junior high, wouldn't Norwood be a better choice? 95 Street and 111 Avenue have frequent buses. The bussing service to Spruce Avenue is not as good. (route 151)
- If Spruce Avenue has been chosen as the centralized junior high site due to the existence of CTS (shop/home economics) classes, is this really the most economical choice? Spruce Avenue needs upgrades ($8.9 million). By contrast, how much would it cost to build CTS spaces in the other K-9 schools?
- Concerns about Norwood amenities. They may have enough classroom space in the building for 400 students, but will their playground and gymnasium be able to accomodate that many kids? Spruce Avenue has better outdoor fields, etc. As well, Norwood does not provide after-school childcare.
- Spruce Avenue is a functioning, well-attended K-9 (303 students), why does it need to be broken up?

From the tables I sat with:
- One mother expressed a certain amount of fatalism and acceptance of the decision to close her child's elementary program. She indicated that she would be more upset if the Board decided to close McCauley. (I was surprised by this. Others at the table quickly agreed.)
- Frustration about some of the barriers to open dialogue between CCEP schools. They were not able to contact parents from other CCEP schools due to FOIPP (privacy legislation).  They felt frustrated by the high-level language on the documents and that many parents and community members were not able to participate due to these barriers. Their attempts to provide "coles notes" or summary statements to accompany the documents was not allowed, as the school had been directed that no additions or modifications were permitted.
- Quote: "The most viable cities in North America, have the highest density closest to the core." What are we doing to the long-term viability of Edmonton?
- Caring raises achievement of kids, programming comes second.

Have a good weekend. I hope to see some of you at the Sexual Exploitation Week of Awareness, next week. (March 15-19). I am the MC for the Proclamation Event at the Stanley Milner Library on Monday at 1:30 PM. The event is open to all. The City of Edmonton website has information on the events for the entire week. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Parkdale Meeting re; possible closure

Last night, we were at Parkdale School (11648 85 Street).

Here are some of the comments I took away from the meeting:

- Frustration that the Notice of Meeting was not sent to community members. It was only sent to parents of children currently attending the school, although many more people consider the school "theirs" and feel they should have also received the package.

-A lot of comments about the contradictory nature of the city investing in revitalizing the 118 Avenue area and the school board considering closing the school.

- Suggestions to merge Eastwood and Parkdale as they both offer the year-round modified calendar and have community connections and similarities.

-Transportation concerns, including the challenge for children in after-school care, who will not be able to catch the afternoon bus. How will these children get home? (This was something I had not considered before.)

-Suggestion to turn Parkdale into a multi-use facility, so the school is housed in one portion of the school and the rest is used for community events, purposes, money-generating leases, etc.

-Request to advocate to the province to change its utilization/capacity rate (ACU) as it unfairly penalizes older schools with wide hallways and full-sized gyms.

-Why won't EPSB start the conversation on the positive note: "How can we keep the school open?" rather than starting the conversation with the possibility of closure. All documents, slides, etc. seem biased towards closure. (Much of this material is mandated by the School Act.)

-This area has no community league. The school is an essential focal point and heart of the community; without the school, what will happen to the community?

-The school is one year shy of its 100th birthday and is in pretty good shape. How do we preserve and value our history?

There was frustration expressed towards the end of the meeting. People wanted to speak, not through the facilitator, but directly to the board and the administration. The removal of the open mic format is a point of contention for some. Others prefer the non-confrontational style of the small table format.

Another meeting tonight- Spruce Avenue. This is an exhausting schedule. I wonder where the breaking point is...for me, for the communities, for our staff, for the parents, for our administrators.

Three more to go.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Westglen/ ME Lazerte-- EPSB Enviro champs

The Emerald Awards are Alberta's Oscars for outstanding environmentalism.

In the category of "Education: School Or Classroom" two EPSB schools have been nominated for Emerald Awards: Westglen Elementary and M.E. Lazerte. The winner will be announced in April. Way to go!!

The nominees are:

Think Green... Live Clean
Westglen Elementary School, Edmonton

The Ecosys Mathematical Model Of Natural And Managed Ecosystems
Professor Robert Grant, Edmonton

Water Conservation Project, How Low Can You Flow
Partnership Of ConocoPhillips Canada And Lord Beaverbrook High School, Calgary

Energy Conservation Project
Hunting Hills High School Environment Club, Red Deer

Green Team
M.E. LaZerte School, Edmonton

Board meeting outcome- Feb. 9

Last night all the motions on the floor passed ($2000 transfer to Board Chair's PD account and adding strategic plan item to all conference meeting agendas from the Conference meeting and my motion regarding reviewing Space Utilization admin reg and creating board policy).

I put forward the following request for information:

- That the most recent City of Edmonton data regarding number of preschool-aged children be provided for the communities of Fulton, Capilano, McCauley, Parkdale, Eastwood, Delton and Spruce Avenue.

I also put forward the following motion, which will be debated on March 23:
- That the provincially calculated ACU be discontinued as a capacity measure for Sector Reviews and that the administration provide rationale for either ACOL or OEL to be used in its place.

translation of the acronyms:
ACU- is a capacity measure developed by the province (and the only one they currently recognize) based on square footage of the building and includes space like hallways and gymnasiums.

ACOL- is a capacity measure developed by EPSB that multiplies the number of classrooms by the recommended class size (as set out by the Alberta Commission on Learning or ACOL). It does not include hallways or gymnasiums.

OEL-or Optimal Enrolment Limit is a capacity measure calculated by EPSB Planning Dept. in consultation with the Principal. It takes into consideration the particular students and their needs. 60% of our schools currently have OEL and these are used primarily to set a "cap" to prevent over-crowding.

It is my opinion that these measures present an increasingly detailed or specific view of capacity. They go from a 30,000 ft. view (ACU) right down to the ground-level view (OEL).

You can read my previous blog post   which talks about my rationale for not supporting ACU as a capacity measure for sector reviews, using Delton School as a concrete example.

As always, I'm open to people telling me why I'm wrong.... I welcome comments from all viewpoints.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

McCauley meeting re: school closure

Last night was a very well-attended meeting. It was an amazing array of families from all around the globe and I'm glad that translation was provided in so many languages. Also in attendance were: Councillor Tony Caterina and MLA Hugh MacDonald, representatives from the Multicultural Health Brokers, Success by Six and Public Interest Alberta.  (I'm sure there were other reps in the audience that I've missed- my apologies).

Today, we received a proposal via email regarding turning McCauley into a community school, similar to a school in Calgary that has been very successful. Under this model, the school is truly a hub for the community- providing support to families as well as children. I fully support this idea. It is my belief that we need to think differently about McCauley and explore innovative ideas like this one. Another idea suggested last night at one table was locating the new ELL Transition School at McCauley, since the immigrant/refugee population is so high. There are options other than closure to reduce the excess space in the school and we should be open to those ideas.

Hearing the struggles of the parents last night, I was so very aware of my "middle class bias" that sees things through my lived experience... this bias is based on having a car and having enough money to buy a bus pass, having a stable income, having adequate supports in place to help with childcare, having an education, having never experienced trauma/war/oppression/displacement, being fluent in English, having everything available to me and knowing how to access services if I need them. Through this lens, I might regard high quality programming as the optimal educational experience, the absolute preferred option for all children. What I heard last night loud and clear is programming is not as important as safety and a sense of belonging. Staying connected with family is more important than a shop class. It reminded me of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: until safety and other basic needs are covered, other needs are just not as important. I hope we can be respectful of the values and needs of the McCauley community in our decision-making. These families want us to make a decision that preserves social cohesion, safety and family ties. There are unique features at McCauley (like the 6 AM-6 PM daycare) that cannot be found at John A. McDougall or anywhere else.
I'm sorry this is such a short post- I have a board meeting tonight and I've been behind all day. Suffice to say, I heard the voice of McCauley loud and clear last night. I have a deeper understanding of their particular challenges and a deeper respect for their tenacity and courage in the face of challenges. I came away humbled.  Thank you to all that attended last night.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Board meeting- Tues, March 9

To read the reports for any of these agenda items, please visit: and click on "Meeting 12, March 9".  My comments/summaries below are in red.


The disposition of the items from the March 9, 2010 board meeting will be posted March 10, 2010.

A. O Canada
B. Roll Call
C. Communications from the Board Chair
D. Communications from the Superintendent of Schools
E. Minutes:
1. Board Meeting #11 - February 23, 2010
- These minutes will be posted March 10, 2010.
F. Improving Student Achievement
    . Improving Student Achievement Through Balanced Literacy Instruction

G. Comments from the Public and Staff Group Representatives  (This is your chance to address the board on any educational topic, no need to register. 3 min max)

H. Reports
3. Report #9 of the Conference Committee (From the Meeting Held March 2, 2010)
---Re; Motion to Transfer of $2000 from Trustee Gibson's PD acct to Board Chair Fleming's PD acct
---Re: Motion to add "Strategic Plan" to every Conference meeting agenda

4. Motion re Review of JGB.AR -Utilization of Surplus Space in Schools and the Development of an Accompanying Board Policy  (this is a motion I put forward and will be advocating for.)

5. Reviewed Board Policies Recommended for Affirmation, Minor Wording Changes or Rescission
(third and final reading)
6. Presentations from Staff Group Representatives re 2010-2011 Budget:
- Exempt Staff  (7:00 p.m. - 7:15 p.m.)
- CUPE Local 474 (7:15 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.)
- CUPE Local 3550 (7:30 p.m. - 7:45 p.m.)
- CUPE Local 784 (7:45 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.)

7. Response to Board Request for Information
provide previously gathered information regarding the experiences of those students who transitioned from a closed school.
8. Committee, Board Representative and Trustee Reports (NO ENCLOSURE)
I. Trustee and Board Requests for Information
J. Notices of Motion
K. Meeting Dates
L. Adjournment

Friday, March 5, 2010

Eastwood Public Meeting to consider closure

Last night, a meeting was held at Eastwood School from 7-9 PM to discuss the potential closure of the school. The turn-out was quite good, I thought. Eastwood parents, community members and Eastwood staff attended, as well as 8 of the 9 EPSB trustees, City Councillor Tony Caterina, MLA & Leader of the New Democrat Party Brian Mason, the media and many observers from our District.  The gymnasium was set up with tables to allow for small group discussion. A facilitator was seated at each table to record comments. After 45 minutes of conversation, the facilitator from each table reported back to the larger group, highlighting the chief concerns or issues of their table. Most summaries drew applause from the room. All of the comments/ideas/concerns/questions will be gathered and presented to the trustees for consideration. I sat at one table for the entire discussion. Other trustees chose to circulate throughout the room and listen to the conversations at various tables.

At my table, I heard concerns about safety and transportation: parents who do not drive or have limited financial resources wondered how they would get their children to a new school that is not within safe walking distance. I heard how valued the school was and the critical role it played in supporting single-parent or low income parents in particular. These supports include on-site daycare, before and after school care, the hot lunch program, the modified calendar which creates shorter summer breaks and the Monday morning coffee group that welcomes parents.  I heard fears about the impact on the wider community should the school close and what type of activity a vacant school might attract. I heard a lot of concern for and from people who are struggling to make a better life for their children and who are facing significant challenges at this point. The people at my table suggested that the school has created a strong sense of belonging for people who have previously felt disenfranchised or marginalized.

Following the small group discussions, there was a presentation from our Planning Department outlining some key information about demographics, Eastwood's current enrolment (106), past enrolment trends and possible outcomes and impacts should Eastwood remain open or should it close.  As well, our Planning Department answered questions from the public that had been submitted ahead of time (via and questions that came from the floor.

As you might expect, there was emotion in the room and some people expressed their frustration. School closure is a difficult issue to discuss, but I thought everyone worked hard to maintain a respectful atmosphere. I stayed around for an extra 30 minutes to talk with people after the meeting was adjourned. 

People who have comments to make about Eastwood or any of the recommended closures, can email their comments to

You may also want to check out this website for additional information about the process, times, dates, etc:

As always, I am open to your input as we wrestle with this complicated issue.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Correction- list of schools involved in Sector Review

It turns out that four schools listed in our Sector Review map will NOT be involved:

Alberta School for the Deaf,
Argyll Home Education Centre,
Edmonton Christian School
Meadowlark Christian School

The Edmonton Journal will be running a correction tomorrow to clarify that the Alberta School for the Deaf, Argyll Home Education Centre, Edmonton Christian School and Meadowlark Christian School are not part of the upcoming Sector Reviews. These schools were incorrectly listed in the article that appeared on February 27 and on my blog.

Sorry for the confusion. Please spread the word!