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.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Hi Sue,

I will definitely miss your blogs - honest, heartfelt and informative. Best of luck in your future endeavours!