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Thank you

Last night was the last meeting of the current Board of Trustee’s term. It’s been an eventful term and has highlighted the importance of a locally elected school board. Our board is now on recess until the municipal election (and after that I will take down this Trustee blog). Please research your Trustee candidates and vote, it’s a small but very important thing that you can do for public education.

I’d like to share with you the comments I shared with our board at the end of our meeting.

I’d like to express gratitude for the opportunity to serve students, families and communities during my term. The pandemic has been difficult, especially for those serving students.  And I’d like to share a quote by Mr. Rogers: 

At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy.  It’s not that ever-present smile that will help them feel secure.  It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right-side-up again.

Fred Rogers

I see this work happening every day in schools and online. It’s been hard to show up for each other sometimes. When I feel lost or disappointed or angry at what’s happening in the world, all I have to do is look around for the people who are showing up. At EPSB, you don’t have to look very hard. Thank you to my colleagues, to everyone on this meeting, working in our buildings and online, and to every one of you who are supporting schools for being someone who can be counted on until the world turns right-side-up again.

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Eyeing the End of the Work of this Board

It has been one of the biggest honours of my life to serve alongside my colleagues on the Board of Trustees for Edmonton Public Schools.  Yesterday was this board’s second-last meeting.  Our last meeting will be held in September, about a month before the municipal election.

I’m looking back at the work of the board, and am astounded by the many important issues that our community has brought to us.  Even looking at the agenda of yesterday’s meeting, it is almost overwhelming to take in the number of issues over which a school board makes decisions and collects information.  I’d like to share some of that work in one of my last board updates on this blog.

New School Names

The Board of Trustees announced that the new K-9 school in Keswick neighbourhood will be named Joey Moss School.  I’m thrilled that one of our schools will carry the name of this leader in our community.  Our board heard about his work to establish a charitable organization and a foundation, his contribution to sports in Edmonton and his amazing heart.  It was wonderful to share this moment with some of his family.   

The board will also be engaging with the current Dan Knott school community and Elders and Indigenous community to arrive at an Indigenous name for this school and this process will begin in the fall.

Important Policy Work

The board passed a final reading of the new Anti-Racism and Equity policy for the school division, and I am hopeful to see the acknowledgement of the impact of racism, a commitment for systemic change and the creation of a safe-reporting mechanism.   We discussed what will be the work of the next board: to review the board’s policy on human resources in response to the many calls for action on human resource practices to promote a teaching staff representative of the students who attend Edmonton Public Schools. The board also created changes to a draft of Student Behaviour and Conduct policy which now includes reference to the new Anti-Racism and Equity policy as well as additions of restorative justice and the purpose of responses to behaviours including restoration, learning and intervention.  I believe these additions have the potential for incredible positive change and are more reflective of current thinking and practice in our schools.  The policy will go out for community engagement as a next step.

Strategic Plan Update Report on First Nations, Metis and Inuit Students

The board was presented with plans to continue work with a pilot high school completion coach, a caring person dedicated to help navigating and removing systemic barriers.  We also heard about plans to close the achievement gap by more directly monitoring what is working, planning for continuity for students, and looking at how dedicated funding is spent.  I believe this work is incredibly important, particularly given the work of education in the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action and the call to end the achievement gap in one generation.  My hope is to see more updates on this progress as each year passes.

Emergent Motion on Engagement on Provincial Inclusive Education Standards

The board passed a motion to advocate that the Education Minister pause plans for a Ministerial Order on Inclusive Education and engage in meaningful consultation with stakeholders, specifically including students, parents and caregivers.   Our board will advocate for the importance of hearing from the voices of those most impacted before releasing new or updated standards.  

Motions on Renaming Schools

In response to a large community-led advocacy to change the name of Prince Charles School, I put forward notice for the following motion: 

Given the significance of the Awasis (Cree) language and culture program at Prince Charles School, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commision of Canada Calls to Action regarding the commitment to Indigenous languages and action in education, the Edmonton Public School Board commits to renaming Prince Charles School and requests administration facilitate a consultation process with students, families and staff of Prince Charles School, and relevant Elders and Knowledge Keepers in the community to gather feedback to inform the renaming process. 

Our board chair also put forward a motion to call for a committee of students, families, staff and community members to review current school names within EPSB to inform a draft renaming policy. Both motions will be debated at our last board meeting in September.   I’m hopeful that Edmonton Public School Board will rename Prince Charles School with thoughtful engagement and have a respectful and informed process and discussion of all school names in the future.

That’s not all.  The board also voted to support recommendations from the Council for Early Learning and Care, heard from community on playground replacement, voted on marking the new federal holiday for Truth and Reconciliation, received updates on the impact of the pandemic and work to provide free menstrual products in schools.  

This is the work of publicly elected Trustees.  It is important work that impacts schools and communities and it is directed by your voice and during the election, your vote.

Thank you for the opportunity to do this work.  It has been humbling, and it has been eye-opening.  There continues to be much to do. 

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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.