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Budget, COVID, literacy and numeracy

Last night’s board meeting agenda was full of very important reports and decisions for the Board of Trustees.

Distribution of Funds

The board spent almost three hours debating next year’s Distribution of Funds, the beginning of our budget process. I believe that the Distribution of Funds is the most important report coming before the board for two reasons. First, it outlines for the public what our revenue is for the coming school year (95% of this revenue comes from the government of Alberta). Second, it is the decision-point for the board on how that revenue will be allocated to schools and central departments.

The government of Alberta has continued with a frozen education budget of $8.2 Billion dollars, province-wide. This remains problematic for a province with growing numbers of students in K-12 because it means less dollars per student on average. Edmonton Public continues to be impacted by these funding decisions, even though we saw a decline in our student numbers due to the pandemic. While many grants to school boards have shifted, the high-level news is that we will be recieving similar funding to previous years and we will likely have more students next year.

That leaves our board to decide how to best allocate the funds we do have. I had been very public in stating that my vote for this year’s Distribution of Funds would hinge on whether there was money allocated to students in Kindergarten who would have previously qualified under PUF. Last year, the province eliminated all PUF grants to Kindergarten (and much of the grants to Pre-K). If the province of Alberta did not provide this funding, I was expecting our board to direct targeted funding for supports in Kindergarten.

With their recent budget, the provincial government did target funding back to Kindergarten for students with severe and moderate needs for specialized supports. The bad news is that this funding was taken from our overall Specialized Learning Supports grant, and our Operations and Maintenance grant. While I was hoping for additional money to replace these funds, I was pleased to see that our students in Kindergarten will be receiving targeted allocations in this Distribution of Funds. I was also pleased to see that there will be more funding weighted to K-3 students. In previous years, this also occurred due to the provincial grant for small class sizes for K-3. I believe the weighting is important and fits with our Board’s Strategic Plan goals of supports for early learning.

At our board meeting, our board was presented with a new model for how funding is weighted to schools to support students who need specialized supports. I was pleased that our administration included the formula for weighting this funding and I raised concerns about the criteria used to arrive at the weightings. For instance, it is not clear if the amount provided per student for a student with profound needs provides the funding required for one-to-one supports. Our board heard that a principal committee provided feedback on these weightings and believe that they allow for the flexibility for principals to make decisions based on individual student needs, yet I believe it is important for future boards to ask whether these weightings are best suited for those decisions. While our board did not have time to request further information or engagement on this question, I believe that this will be critical for future allocation discussions coming before the Board of Trustees. I believe that staff, student and family engagement on these weightings will be an important first step in determining if the weightings allow our school leaders the ability to provide the supports needed in their schools without feeling that they are pulling funding from other areas.

COVID

The board also heard an update on the impact of COVID and learned that the numbers of cases in our schools are continuing to increase with the number of cases in the community. Superintendent Robertson shared that the necessary measures for self-isolation have once again begun to impact staffing levels, with increasing difficulty to fill openings. This may impact the division’s availability to operate if cases continue to rise and the Superintendent shared that it may require the provincial government to think about a return to online classes for older grades.

Literacy and Numeracy

The board also debated a motion to create an action plan to improve literacy and numeracy skills in Edmonton Public Schools. I put this motion forward in response to a recent report before the board showing lagging achievement overall and an achievement gap in literacy and numeracy for students from high social vulnerability schools, students who have been identified as needing specialized supports and students who self-identify as First Nations, Metis and Inuit. The motion put forward the need to address systemic barriers to learning, and to use evidence-based practice to ensure that effective strategies are used to improve literacy and numeracy for students. While this work is currently happening and has the support of all working at EPSB, I believe that a division-wide plan can allow for more collaborative and effective change for students. I am happy to say that it passed with unanimous support from the board and look forward to updates on the action plan.

To watch this action-packed meeting, see below:

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Stepping Down as Vice-Chair, Remaining as Trustee for Ward C

It has been an incredible honour to serve my colleagues, my community and our students in the role of Vice-Chair.  The past year has brought so much more than anyone could have predicted, and it has made so many of us re-examine how we spend our time.  At the current moment, I believe that I can be most useful in my other work as a psychologist. I have decided not to seek re-election and I am also making the difficult decision to step away from the additional duties of Vice-Chair in order to focus my energies where I believe I can be of most service.  I wish to thank my colleagues for their incredible support in this role, and I look forward to continuing to serve with you all on the board until the end of the term.  There are still eight months left in our terms, and plenty of opportunity to continue to do good work.  I plan to continue to work hard to represent the families and communities of Ward C and to serve the students in our school division with care.  I’m looking forward working with our next Vice-Chair and supporting their work in whatever way I can.  Thank you so much for this opportunity.

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Thank you for your support

I’d like to announce that I will not be seeking re-election as an Edmonton Public School Board Trustee in the upcoming election.  

It is with gratitude and appreciation that I look upon the time I have served in this role and to have had the incredible honour of representing the students, families and communities of Ward C.  And it is with gratitude and hope that I will continue to serve as your Trustee for the coming months.

Representing you on the school board has been inspiring, humbling, challenging, and one of the highest honours.  For me, it has and will continue to be, an act of love.

I ran for Trustee because I love my children’s community schools.  As I continued in this work, this love expanded, as I saw the incredible work happening in our schools, the care and dedication of teachers and school staff and the communities and families who support them.  My favourite moment of being a Trustee was reading to a grade six class of students, who were supported with care by their teacher, and multiple educational assistants, who talked with me about their life and their opinions on what needed to change to make education better for them.  

There are still many things that need to be made better, and the pandemic has laid bare many inequities in our society and our schools.  I believe that this can change, because I’ve been fortunate enough to witness those working hard to make change.

I’m hopeful I was able to be a part of some positive changes in my time on the board – I’ve certainly tried hard to do that.  And it has been a wonderful learning experience.  I’ve learned about the fierceness of parent advocacy, the importance of schools as the heart of a community, the heart-and-soul dedication of those serving students in EPSB schools, and the importance of a democratically elected school board to public education.

I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who supported me to run for public office, who trusted me with their votes, who trusted me to talk with about their concerns, and who trusted that we could discuss important issues and hear each other even when we don’t agree.

I’ll be working to support thoughtful and caring people to run for Trustee in the next election, and I’m happy to talk with you if you’ve thought about running.  In the meantime, I’m looking forward to continuing to serve you in this role.  Please continue to reach out and talk with me, and I hope you do the same for the person who holds this job in the next term – it is the most important part of the work to support students.   

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2021 Board Updates

The work of the Board of Trustees at EPSB has been continuing through the pandemic. My blog updates have been a bit sparse, but I thought it was time to highlight some important work and information that has been coming forward at our board meetings this year so far.

At our last board meeting in January, the board unanimously passed the first reading of a policy that has been renamed and significantly changed, the Anti-Racism and Equity policy. The board’s policy committee worked in collaboration with an advisory committee of community members to refine their work, and now the policy is out to the public for engagement. I believe that this policy will provide an important foundation for ongoing work on anti-racism and equity in Edmonton Public Schools. There is still some work to do on this policy and I encourage you to provide feedback by visiting EPSB’s website for more information. The policy will then come back for a second and third reading.

At our board meeting yesterday, the board received an information report on the impact of the pandemic. Of note, are the impacts of the pandemic on daily life in schools, such as the disruption to learning caused by important and necessary measures to self-isolate. Between November 11 and January 26:

  • 17,508 students were recommended or required to quarantine
  • 2,040 staff were recommended or required to quarantine

The board continues to advocate for increased information sharing with the province, and the resources we need to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students, staff and families.

We also received an incredibly informative report on the impact of early education. I remain very disappointed withe the provincial decision to cut PUF supports to early learners in Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten. This report highlights the impact of early intervention on school readiness and links to a summary of research on the impact of early learning on society. Our board continues to advocate for the needs of early learners and the restoration of PUF supports. I’d recommend listening to this conversation if you are interested.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I’m curious about how the pandemic has been impacting your family and community, and your thoughts about the future of education in Alberta and at Edmonton Public Schools. You can watch our most recent board meeting below:

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Stories from schools

Last week, I had the privilege of sitting down with principals, school staff and parents to have conversations as part of the division’s results review process.  This process allows Trustees a glimpse into how board priorities are functioning at the school level and serves as an accountability mechanism for the board.  In a normal year, I find these conversations valuable to help hear from school leaders and parents about the important work happening in schools and some of the challenges that are faced in this work.

This year, the conversations were different.  I left these conversations feeling hope, concern, and most of all, admiration for the staff and communities supporting Edmonton Public Schools.  And I wanted to take some time to share some of this with you because it’s not something I always have a chance to share in detail at our board meetings or school council meetings.

In these meetings, I heard about the principals and teachers coming in over the summer to get their schools and classrooms ready to welcome students back to school.  Principals talked about their worry for students when classes were closed in March, about the efforts to partner with organizations and school councils to make sure that families who relied on breakfast or lunch programs could be connected with groceries and hampers.  They talked about their worry for the students and families who they could not connect with.  

I heard about what it has been like to not have any cases of covid in a school, but that feeling of looking over your shoulder and waiting for the first case to appear, and I heard about what it has felt like to have an outbreak identified in your school.  A vice principal described having to isolate for 14 days, only to arrive at school for her first day back and be notified that she had to isolate for another 14 days due to another case coming into the school.  I heard about custodians who have been the mainstay of school safety, disinfecting classrooms at a moment’s notice. Principals discussed their efforts to reassure staff who are worried about rises cases and the possibility of getting sick or having their own children get sick and what this would mean for their students. They discussed plans for leadership when principals and vice-principals are both sent home.  I learned that some teachers were preparing “go-bags” to take back and forth every night in case they learned in the evening that they have to self-isolate and can’t return to the classroom – so they can be ready to teach students from home.

I learned about the impact of the budget on supports for students.  I heard about the mental health impacts of the pandemic on families and staff.  A principal described reaching out to offer emotional support to parents in distress, who didn’t know if they would lose their job because they had no childcare and their child needed to self-isolate.  I heard about the concern over missed instruction last year – the impact on literacy, regulation, and social support and the work to try to support all students where they are at when they walk through the doors to the school.  School council chairs described the feeling of being supported by their school, but also described the loss of being able to enter the building and help out like they usually do.  I heard about the challenge of supporting families online and helping new teachers navigate this landscape for the first time.  I heard about so much more, the work, the worry, the support, the hope, the plans.  I’m humbled to witness it.

There have been so many losses this year.  And so much change.  What I know for sure is that every person I talked to last week in results reviews is working harder than they’ve ever worked before.  They’re worried about the families they support.  They’re worried about covid, and the impact on their own families, and even though they didn’t say this, I worry that they are getting a little bit tired.  I worry about how sustainable this, and the fatigue that I know must set in sometimes – I certainly feel it as a parent.

But one thing stood out to me above everything else. What struck me the most in all of these conversations, was the faces of teachers and principals when they talked about seeing the students again in September.  They smiled wide every time about how good it was to be back with their students, even if it meant protocols and masks and distancing and cohorts.  Their faces lit up when they talked about their students.  It’s clear to me that the work that is happening in our schools is work of the heart.  

When I think about this work, and the creative ways our schools and our communities have found to support each other, I can feel the many hearts beating for the students in our schools.  All I can do is say thank you again and again for those who have been working so hard and have been given the largest task in education during our lifetime.  Thank you for your work and thank you for your heart.