Quite a lot has happened since my last blog post. Since that time, Edmonton Public Schools has been tasked with the work of most educational systems in the world, as we collectively face the novel coronavirus pandemic together. I’m incredibly proud of the work of EPSB staff who, after finding out that classes were cancelled, began working immediately throughout the night to notify students and families and to plan for the weeks ahead. As our school division has begun to deliver emergency distance learning to students, we’ve been hearing about the many facets of life at home during this period. Many families have been experiencing the challenges of working while helping their children navigate a new way of learning. Some families are navigating this situation through illness, job loss, or the uncertainties of childcare and social support. Families who have students needing specialized supports are facing these difficulties with an added layer of complexity, and students who have relied upon school as a safe place for connection, a meal, and a space for positive social interaction have been facing a large loss.
For me, the cancellation of classes has highlighted the ways that schools have helped to fill some of the holes in our societal support system. Without the every day routine of school, these gaps become larger and I worry about all of our students who may be struggling as a result.
In the meantime, our school division was delivered the bad news that we were to cut our budget by $17 million for May and June. This was a surprise for our board and has resulted in incredibly difficult decisions across EPSB and a loss of 1686 positions. Our board will work to make sure that these layoffs are temporary, as we will need these positions to support our students when classes resume in person.
While we still don’t know when things will return to normal, we have also been tasked with preparing for next year. Our board has continued to meet over Zoom and recently passed a distribution of funds, allowing school leaders to begin planning for next year. These numbers were not a surprise and will mean that EPSB will have to reduce programming and look at school budget reductions, in line with our consultations during the winter. I will devote a blog post to the budget process for next year soon.
In our upcoming board meetings, we will be discussing the work of EPSB during the pandemic, plans for next year, budgeting, fees, policy, and our calendar, among other issues. As a part of this continuing work, I along with my colleagues on the board will also work hard to listen to the needs of our communities, students, families and staff, work with the government and advocate for the needs of public education.
It has been a year of overwhelming change, and we will continue to do what we can to work for you. While I won’t be able to see as many of my constituents at community and school events, please know that I would love to hear from you by phone, email (or Zoom), and I’m happy to attend a virtual meeting of your School Council or community group.
I’m wishing you good health, new ways of connecting, and the hope that we can all find a way to take care of each other as we go forward together.
As always, our board meetings continue to be posted and live-streamed online.