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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school boards in Edmonton and Calgary drafted a statement asking for the Ministerial Order on seclusion rooms to be rescinded.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.

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Capital Plan Amendment and Britannia School Consolidation Concept

Today our board debated and voted for an amendment to our capital plan in light of our growing enrolment and urgent infrastructure needs. Our board voted to re-order our list of capital funding requests to the province in light of spring funding announcements, meaning that our number one request is for an urgently needed high school in the south east of the city, as well as an amendment to include a specific concept for a school consolidation in Brittania-Youngstown, Mayfield and Canora neighbourhoods.

As the trustee for these neighbourhoods, I spoke about my reasons for concern about this specific concept and school consolidations in these neighbourhoods, detailing the reason I voted against this plan and I would like to include my comments in this blog below: Continue reading “Capital Plan Amendment and Britannia School Consolidation Concept”

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Why growth funding for education is so important

At yesterday’s Edmonton Public School Board meeting, we were presented with a report detailing the effects of cuts or freezes to education in the province. The scenarios presented in the report were hypothetical. There are no announced funding freezes or cuts. And while some are questioning the reasoning for contemplating scenarios that are hypothetical, I believe that the board is making public what every good board of governance does, which is to plan for any potential scenario when funding is uncertain, which happens every time there is an election looming, or provincial rhetoric of any kind about belt-tightening or compassionate cuts.

More importantly, the numbers provide important information on why funding for growth is important to public education in our province. Before I became a parent, and more keenly aware of provincial education funding, I thought that growth funding was a form of adding extra money into the education system to expand learning opportunities and services for students in schools. But this is not the case. Funding for growth simply means that a district with growing numbers of students will receive extra dollars to match the percentage of extra students in the district. Funding for enrolment growth means a status quo budget for a school district, it does not provide extra money for additional teachers or educational assistants per student, it does not provide extra dollars for specialized supports to students or services such as mental health supports.

And in fact, while Edmonton Public Schools has received provincial funding for growth over the past few years, that funding has not increased to account for inflation. This essentially means small cuts to our funding, as our costs tend to increase over time due to inflation. Every year we do not receive funding for inflation but our costs go up due to inflation, we are slightly behind in the services we can provide to students.

It is prudent for every school board who faces growing numbers of students to consider what it would mean if we were not funded for enrolment growth – if funding were frozen. This report shows that for our district alone it would result in the loss of roughly $40 million dollars, or 188 full-time staff, that would be required to keep up with the extra students coming into our system. It would be a significant loss, and would impact class sizes and direct supports to students.

And this is just the impact of a funding freeze. If deeper cuts to find provincial budget efficiencies were contemplated, it would mean less resources flowing directly to classrooms, less teachers and educational assistants supporting our students, cuts to wraparound supports, and impacts on students.

As a trustee, I want all of these situations to remain hypothetical. As a parent, I need these situations to remain hypothetical. Our board has requested all parties describe their position on funding for education, I sincerely hope all will commit to funding for enrolment growth, and secretly hope for additional funding to help us increase the resources available to students and schools. Investing in education is investing in our future, and our greatest resource, our children.

 

 

FAQ

What is an RFI?

If you pay close attention to Edmonton Public School Board meetings (and I know you do!), you might notice Trustees or District staff referring to an RFI.  An RFI is a Request for Information that can be submitted by the Board or by an individual Trustee to request additional information from District administration on a subject coming before the board, or relative to the operation of schools or other educational matters. For more information, you can visit the EPSB Trustee Handbook.

If a Request for Information is submitted at a public board meeting, generally a report will come back to the Board at a subsequent meeting.

For example, at yesterday’s Board meeting, I submitted the two following RFIs:

#1:

The nature of school consolidation projects undertaken by the District has been evolving, with a current focus on modernized and/or replacement schools. This has resulted in extensive engagement throughout the process of potential school consolidation projects and in certain cases, requests to the Minister of Education for exemption to sections of the Closure of Schools Regulation.

Please provide an outline for a series of steps for school consolidation/school closure considerations, including a timeline for public engagement, and requests for information such as a community impact statement from the City of Edmonton. As well, an outline for reports and recommendations to come before the Board of Trustees in the form of Capital Plan items and amendments, and school closure motions required by the School Act.

#2:

Edmonton Public Schools values partnerships with community at the school level, advocates for schools as community hubs, and recognizes the importance of childcare to many families. Many daycares, out-of-school care centres and preschools share space within Edmonton Public Schools.

  • How does the district manage relationships and leases with childcare organizations?
  • If a school no longer has space to accommodate a childcare organization, how does the District ensure that partnerships are to be ended in a mutually beneficial way?
  • Is there a minimum required notice to end a lease agreement with a childcare organization?