Uncategorized

EPSB Response to Covid-19

At our most recent board meeting, Trustees heard about the impact of and response to the pandemic on students, staff and families, with an additional report highlighting responses to nutrition and food security. We know our staff, students and families continue to face obstacles, stress and uncertainty in accessing learning at home during this time, including the loss of many of our valued staff.  I appreciated hearing about the hard work of those within Edmonton Public Schools who are working hard to try to bring learning to students in their homes.

Highlights included:

  • Creative ways of connecting with students and families (including sing-alongs, virtual assemblies, and phone calls home)
  • Loaning out over 13,000 Chromebooks to students
  • Working with partners for the provision of low-cost or cost-covered internet for families without access.
  • Educational Assistants working with teachers and students to support inclusive learning
  • Specialized supports for students when possible, including take-home packages, sign language supports, supports for First Nations, Metis and Inuit students, and supporting families where English is a second language.
  • Co-ordinating food hampers and grocery store gift cards for families who are food insecure.

Edmonton Public Schools also brought many online resources together, including the Resource Hub and resources for parents in:

 

Uncategorized

Board updates

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.

 

Uncategorized

Literacy Work, Upcoming Motions on # of Trustees

Here are the highlights from the February 11, 2020 board meeting:

Strategic Plan Update -Literacy

The board dove into a report on literacy within Edmonton Public Schools, which included the work to measure year-over-year student growth in literacy.  Trustees asked questions about the literacy toolkit in support of First Nations, Metis and Inuit literacy, which has been designed to include levelled readers by indigenous authors.  Trustees also asked about the high school literacy project now underway, work to support English language learners, students with learning disabilities, the impact of the curriculum review.  This discussion illustrates the complex nature of literacy in a large, urban school division.

Trustees asked administration about how the current budget reductions will impact literacy work in the district and staff discussed the need to balance efficiencies with high quality teaching and learning, and the importance of the professional development undertaken so far.

RFI

Our board has expressed concerns with a freeze to operational funding for K-12 education, while enrolment growth has been steadily increasing.  In order to ensure that we can advocate for adequate operational funding, I requested that our administration provide the following information specific to Edmonton Public Schools for the past twenty years:

  • The operational revenue EPSB has received from the Alberta Government, our student enrolment, the total revenue we have received divided per student, our enrolment growth, and a measure of inflation.

Motions

Trustees Ken Gibson and Michael Janz both put forward notices of motion for the board to debate the number of Trustees representing Edmonton Public Schools in the next municipal election.  Trustee Gibson will move that Trustees be reduced from 9 to 7.  Trustee Janz will move that Trustees be increased from 9 to 12 with Wards that match Edmonton city council wards.

Trustees also learned that the provincial budget will be tabled on February 27th.

If you have any thoughts on these motions, our work on literacy or any other comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to get in touch: shelagh.dunn@epsb.ca, 780-429-8085.  As always, you can watch our board meeting on YouTube:

Uncategorized

Calendar change survey, finding efficiencies, and other board highlights

Our board meeting today was long and varied, here are the highlights:

Communications from the Board Chair

Board Chair Estabrooks thanked staff for keeping spirits up during cold weather, including our maintenance and custodial staff for keeping schools running smoothly.  She shared thanks for a meeting with Education Minister Adriana LaGrange regarding the needs of Edmonton Public Schools, in which Minister LaGrange shared our board’s view that it is important to direct as many dollars to the classroom as possible.  Chair Estabrooks expressed that she attended a meeting with board chairs from across the province, during which many school boards shared concerns and hopes for the results of the funding formula review. Chair Estabrooks shared thanks for the invitation to speak at the Annual Autism Conference where she shared our commitment to work to eliminate the use of seclusion rooms.  And she expressed a thank you to community and parents for taking the time to complete our survey on transportation.

Policy Motions

Our board had the second, third and final reading of an updated Technology Policy.  Changes reflect additional values around safety, security and privacy of information, collaboration, and definitions of technology and it’s use.  We also had an omnibus motion for updating policy references from the School Act to the Education Act for policies where there were no significant impacts to the meaning of the policy.

Motion on results of Choice in Education Survey

Trustee Draper introduced a motion requesting the results from the provincial government on their Choice in Education Survey conducted this fall.  She described how Trustees have encouraged parents and community members to fill out the survey and would like to be able to see the results in order to inform future decisions on choice in our division and our province.  The motion was amended to include data from the survey, focus groups and all other data collected during the consultation process.  The motion passed unanimously, with Trustees expressing that the data could be useful at informing our future decisions for providing choice in a manner important to parents, and the application of potential future charter schools in Edmonton.  I voted for this motion because I believe that choice is sometimes conflated with voice, equity or quality of education, and seeing the stakeholder feedback could be helpful in shaping future decisions.

Ward Boundaries

Trustees discussed interim ward boundary changes due to the City of Edmonton’s annexation of land to the south of the city.  There are currently 30 students living in this area south of the city, and these students are welcomed into Edmonton Public Schools, while were are working collaboratively with Black Gold School Division.  We passed a motion assigning an interim Trustee to these areas be established under Ward H, so that families can have this information prior to pre-enrolment.

Report on Operational Efficiencies

The board discussed a report on operational efficiencies, outlining Edmonton Public Schools’ work to find efficiencies within our division and our collaboration with other school divisions to find efficiencies and reduce costs.  Highlights include our work to share bussing with Edmonton Catholic Schools and work within a provincial purchasing portal to reduce purchasing costs.

Report on Climate Readiness

The board discussed a report on climate readiness requested by Trustee Stirling.  The report includes work with a firm to monitor the Division’s carbon footprint, and look at a potential climate change vulnerability assessment.  The Division reported on looking into a new Climate Action Incentive Fund established by the Government of Canada, work to improve our infrastructure, including the addition of portable air conditioner units to modular classrooms during increased temperatures.

Motion on Survey for Calendar Changes

Trustee Gibson tabled the following motion, “that Edmonton Public Schools Administration conduct a survey or otherwise gather parent and staff input regarding preferences on how a calendar that has an additional three PD days and two non-instructional days, while maintaining overall instructional time and the quality of our students’ education could be structured and bring that information back as a recommendation report to the Board.”  This motion came out of a report we saw at our last board meeting on the cost savings to the board of restructuring our calendar.  Trustees debated the importance of gathering parent and staff input on how a calendar change such as this could be structured in the best interest of education and family commitments.  Trustees expressed concern about engagement under quick timelines, and concern that our board is in the position of having to consider such a large shift in order to maximize limited resources to the classroom.  The motion passed with a 5-2 vote (two Trustees were absent for this meeting).  I am in favour of engaging with parents and staff on  how we can reduce the impact of a provincially frozen budget on our classrooms, and I would highly encourage all parents to provide input on the best way forward.  I’ll be in touch as soon as the survey is crafted and released.

Uncategorized

Class size reporting and impact of school calendar

The Edmonton Public School Board of Trustees held our first meeting of 2020, here are the highlights from today:

Communications from board chair

Board Chair Estabrooks expressed sorrow and condolences on behalf of the board for the lives lost in the plane crash in Iran, including two Edmonton Public School students.  All of our thoughts are with their families and friends. She expressed that we have provided feedback and are expecting to hear from the province on both the funding framework review for education in this province and the curriculum review panel findings.  Our chair also thanked our division’s maintenance workers for their work in keeping our school buildings safe and working well.

Motion on class size reporting

Trustee Michael Janz provided rationale for a motion to continue reporting class size information.  The Alberta Education funding manual no longer requires school board to report class size data and our board discussed the importance of continuing to track this data to measure the impact on funding cuts.  Trustees discussed the class size metric and many acknowledged that this does not tell the full picture of the cuts, as there is a great deal of complexity in teaching to a varied classroom of students.  This motion was amended to include consultation with other jurisdictions and the potential of looking at metrics other than just class size to tell the full story of the impact of funding on the quality of education.  The motion passed with a vote of 6-3.  I was in support of continuing to track this information so that we can contribute to the conversation on class size as it continues in this province.

Report on potential calendar changes

The board discussed a report on the impact of lengthening school days in order to shorten the number of instructional days and increase the number of professional development days available to teachers.  We heard that each instructional day costs approximately $150,000 in bussing costs and decreasing instructional days can save some nominal costs in transportation.

Trustees also heard that increasing the number of division-wide PD days can save supply costs (costs to hire substitute teachers when a regular classroom teacher misses a day of work to attend professional development).  An increase in the number of dedicated days for PD will mean less teachers having to miss a day of instruction to further their learning and an additional 3 PD days per year could save a total of $2 Million dollars in supply costs, but would also necessitate 2 additional non-instructional days.

The  board discussed the need to look everywhere for potential savings, and the increased stress of teachers and all staff who will be asked to do more with less given current cuts.  We discussed the importance of staff health and also the importance of supporting staff with time for professional development in order to increase the quality of education available to students, while keeping teachers in front of their classrooms rather than hiring substitute teachres.  We also expressed concerns about the impact to parents and the possibility for partnering with Metro Continuing Education or other community partners to offer day camps should this be a direction the board considers in the future.

You can view our board meeting online.