Thursday, September 30, 2010

Creating the necessary dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Public lectures on inclusive education- Oct. 13


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

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


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

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

Questions and comments from the audience will be encouraged.

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

Monday, September 27, 2010

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

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

Edmonton Municipal Election 2010
All Candidates Forum in North Glenora

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

               13535 – 109A Avenue


Time: 7:00 TO 10:00 PM


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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sector Review at Jasper Place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My suggestion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sue's thoughts on Wildrose Education plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which Wildrose ideas create new problems or challenges for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Thoughts- last board meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 10, 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Trustee Panel Discussion on Sun, Sept. 12


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

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

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

The panelists will be:

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

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

Sue Huff former Vice Chair of the Edmonton Public School Board

The discussion will be moderated by David Beckman of ARTES.

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

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

Media contact:
Dale Hudjik
c. 1.780.904.6081

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

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

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sector Reviews- September/October 2010

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Sector

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

9425 - 132 Avenue

Monday, October 4

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

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

8440 - 105 Avenue

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

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

8950 - 163 Street

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

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First day back, Aristotle, standardized tests

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

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

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

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

In my opinion, I think Aristotle got it right:

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

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ward F (McKernan area) trustee debate

Community League Notice

August 30, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

when evaluating potential school closures and program changes.

Date: September 29, 2010

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

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

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

one block north to the community hall.

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

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

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

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


For further information, contact:

Steve Wallace

McKernan Community League


Sheila Campbell

Queen Alexandra Community League