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Board Update: October 8, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the third time this school year.  Our board meetings so far this year have been important and I’ll offer a summary below, but our full meeting package and minutes are available online.

Report on the District Feedback Survey:

The board received a report on our annual District Feedback Survey. This survey includes questions required by the province of Alberta for their annual report on accountability in education.  It also includes questions developed by Edmonton Public Schools for parents, students, staff and community partners.  I find this report interesting because it shows the areas of strength for our school district and it also shows the areas where we can look deeper for improvement.

Strategic Plan Update Report: Early Years:

Our board requests update reports on the board’s goals and strategic plan.  This report focused specifically on the work with students in the early years, before entering grade one. We heard about the wonderful partnership with Kitaskinaw Education Authority (KEA) of Enoch Cree Nation.  This project aims to build relationships between Enoch Cree language advisors, Elders, Knowledge Keepers, project staff and members of the cohort from the two jurisdictions, with a focus on using literacy-based activities in both English and Cree using culturally informed activities.

Report on the use of seclusion:

A report came back to the board on the use of seclusion rooms in the district, and the numbers were quite startling.  It is the first time these numbers have been tracked centrally at Edmonton Public Schools and the first month of using the new administrative regulation on seclusion rooms. The board and the administration engaged in a difficult but important conversation about the need to do better. We heard how work is being undertaken to prevent, minimize and eliminate the use of seclusion rooms. Board members heard about efforts to flag multiple uses of the room, and the response to work with staff to find alternatives. An example was given of the inclusive learning team visiting a school with multiple uses, spending time in the classroom to reshape strategies being used to support the student who had been placed in a seclusion room, and putting new training in place.  The board heard about consultants assisting a principal to reflect with a teacher after using a seclusion room, on what they could have done differently so that a seclusion room is not used in the future. This was important to hear, as I believe that it reflects how we can learn and change, how we can better support teachers, staff and students and work towards eliminating this practice. We also heard that administration will continue to bring updates on this data back to public board.

Our board meetings are always up on YouTube:

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Board Update: September 24, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the second time this school year.  It was a meeting that was longer and more emotional than most, with a total of 12 registered speakers from the public and some thoughtful debate.  I’ll offer a summary below, but our full meeting package and minutes are available online.

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks reminded the board of the history of Orange Shirt day, a day marking the impact of residential schools on September 30th.

Report on Community Involvement in Schools:

The board received a report on Family Engagement. Trustees asked questions about the new format of SchoolZone, School Council activities, and the Inclusive Education Parent and Community Advisory Committee, which received 91 applications for 5 spots.  I hope to hear more about the work of this committee and the First Nations, Metis and Inuit External Advisory Council.

Motion on involuntary confinement:

At our last meeting, I tabled a motion on the use of involuntary confinement in schools. The board heard from 11 speakers on this issue, including an eight-year old student of Edmonton Public Schools, and it was important for us to hear the experiences of parents and students who have been impacted by this practice.  The board ultimately passed a motion to advocate to the province for standards which clearly specify that these rooms only be used in emergency situations, and to work towards a system where these rooms are not needed or used. Trustee Ip amended a further motion to implement a timeline for preventing and phasing out this practice in Edmonton Public Schools which was tabled for further discussion.

Motion on climate strikes:

Trustees passed a motion by Trustee Janz to suggest schools in the District neither encourage or penalize students to attend the September 27th Day of Climate Action, with parent consent.  The board heard from one speaker on this motion, who is a student of EPSB and spoke to the need for adults to tackle the issue of climate change.

More to come:

Some reports were carried over to our next meeting, October 8th, as the discussion ran well into the evening.

On a personal note, it was wonderful and encouraging to see so many registered speakers at our board meeting.  Public education is a cornerstone of democracy, and it is important that a public school board hears from students, parents and community when making decisions.

Our board meetings are always up on YouTube:

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Motion on Involuntary Confinement

Tomorrow, our board will be debating and voting on a motion I put forward on the use of seclusion rooms and involuntary confinement in school.  I have introduced this motion because I believe that our board needs to have a public debate about this issue, to provide input to the provincial government while they gather feedback on the Interim Standards for Seclusion and Physical Restraint in Alberta Schools and the Interim Standards for Time-Out in Alberta Schools, and to advocate for necessary changes.

Trustees have heard from parents who have described feelings of powerlessness when their child has been restrained or confined, and we’ve heard from teachers and staff who are trying their best to meet the needs of their students and who tell us that they need seclusion rooms to keep people safe. But I don’t think that there is a teacher or staff member who wants to place a student in involuntary confinement.

When seclusion rooms are the solution to a problem, then I believe we need to start tackling the problem. To work on it, we need to think systemically and look at the big picture of education in our province.  With this motion, I am hoping to look at what we can work towards: a system where seclusion rooms are no longer needed or used.

The first part of this motion is re-affirming the first step: ensuring that no student is placed in a room involuntarily as a way to manage their behaviour or as a form of punishment.  To re-affirm that these rooms should only be used as a last resort in an emergency situation to keep people safe.  I believe that this is already spelled out in our District’s new administrative regulation, District Seclusion Rooms.  The main addition to this discussion is clear advocacy to the province to ensure that dedicated time-out rooms are also not used as a form of punishment or behaviour management.

I also think that we need to start looking beyond that, at the next steps, at what needs to change with our system so that we can work towards better supports for our students and teachers and staff. The second part of this motion allows our board to discuss and take a position on what needs to change to make sure that our system of social supports, health care, and education are working together, to make sure that we have the right professionals, the right training, the right supports, and the right funding so that we no longer need or use these rooms.

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Board Update: September 10, 2019

Yesterday your Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees met for the first time this school year, it was a short but important meeting. Here are the highlights:

Remarks from the Board Chair:

Board Chair Estabrooks highlighted the impact of not having a current provincial budget on the decisions of the board and schools, in addition to the impact of the newly introduced Education Act and additional regulations.  She discussed the McKinnon report, our board’s concern about potential cuts to education, the need for predictable, long-term and sustainable funding for all students, and the need for this funding to not be tied to student performance.

Report on School Nutrition Program:

The board received a report on the impact of the School Nutrition Program. Trustees expressed how delighted we were that the government of Alberta released news yesterday that this $15 million dollar program will continue to receive funding for this school year.  Edmonton Public Schools receives $1.2 million from this fund, which allows us to provide a nutrition program for students in 22 schools.  The board heard how important this program is, as 1 in 10 Edmontonians is currently living in poverty. In this discussion, Trustees also heard that at least 77 schools are providing some form of food program to students, with help from  many community partners.

The report described how a nutrition program can increase learning, attendance and positive behaviour. I believe it is also a necessary part of well-being, a word now included in Education Act as part of the responsibility of boards. When we think about student well-being, I am reminded of an important theory called the Hierarchy of Needs which describes that physical needs such as food, clothing, and shelter are the foundation of well-being, necessary before social and psychological well-being needs can be met. For many students, schools are a secure foundation of learning, achievement and well-being, and the critical importance of a universal nutrition program in schools can’t be over-stated, as it allows us to maintain a secure program that is not as unpredictable as relying on charitable donations (as important and valuable as they are).

Upcoming motion on seclusion rooms:

Over the summer, the board chairs of the four school boards in Edmonton and Calgary drafted a statement asking for the Ministerial Order on seclusion rooms to be rescinded. The Minister of Education has since released Interim Standards on Seclusion, Physical Restraint, and the Practice of Time-Out. As our Board of Trustees is an important stakeholder in this conversation, I believe it is important for us to have a public and transparent discussion about this issue. In addition to a request for a report on the use of seclusion and time-out rooms in our district, I tabled the following motion, which will be discussed at our next meeting, Sept. 24th:

1. That Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Minister of Education that involuntary confinement (seclusion rooms and time-out rooms) is not used as a punishment or behavior management technique, and is only used as a last resort in emergency situations endangering the physical safety of students or staff. 

2. And, that Edmonton Public School Board advocate to the Minister of Education for the systemic changes needed to work towards a system where these rooms are no longer needed or used, through:

    • Increased cross-ministry collaboration to serve students with disabilities and mental health concerns
    • Increased and adequate funding for students in need of specialized supports
    • Increased funding for staff training in positive behavior supports and increased funding for regulated specialists to work with teachers and educational assistants

Find out more about this board meeting, or view it on-line:

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Why do we have so many PD days?

Sometimes I get questions from parents about why we have so many PD days, or why their child’s school gets out early on Thursdays. I hear from parents about the challenges this places on families, particularly in regard to child care.

As a parent scrambling for childcare on PD days, I understand the difficulty! Yet it wasn’t until I became a Trustee that I understood exactly what happens on those early-dismissal Thursdays and PD days.

I wish I had the chance to bring every parent and family with me to my morning meeting today.

Today I had the pleasure of attending part of our District’s Annual Results Review – the review of annual goals set by schools and school-groupings for continual improvement of student learning, how these goals are measured and the work to improve for the following year. I heard from principals across Edmonton Public Schools about their work on improving literacy and numeracy, improving staff capacity to serve students in need of specialized supports, and work to support the growing diversity of needs in the district. Principals spoke about the work they are doing to collaborate, they discussed in detail the professional learning undertaken on a regular basis to get better at their work, learn from experts and learn from each other. They spoke about how they are working on staying up-to-date with current evidence-based practice, conducting their own action research, and constantly discussing the implementation of best practice.

What I wish every parent and family knew was that Thursday afternoons, after teaching until 2pm our teachers and educational assistants gather to sharpen their skills and improve, share with one another what has been working and what hasn’t, plan lessons together and collaborate for the good of our students. On PD days, they are getting up early, taking charge of their professional learning and spending the day improving their skills for the next day when they’re in the classroom. Education is not static, it is constantly changing, and I’m inspired by the work being done to keep on top of it, to model the practice of life-long learning.