The Race for Relevance
One of the two most common reactions from people when I said I was going to run for a Trustee positon is…
Trustees do not have a real function, and
Trustees do not have any real power.
First of all, I highly suggest that you run in the opposite direction of any politician who believes that power is the only way to be an agent of change. The best politicians in my opinion are the ones that are filled full of vision, a strong sense of values, and the ability to encourage change. Power is not a requirement. I am not running for Trustee for the power. I am running so I can increase the voice of parents and the community at the table where change happens.
On to the first statement that school boards do not have a real function. Is that statement true? Partially, yes, it is if you consider the current state of the board.
In 2012 the Alberta School Board Association developed a task force to review the primary goal of school boards (http://www.asba.ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/comm_engage_report122.pdf) . In the report the task force talks openly about school divisions losing their relevance, specifically due to the lack of meaningful community engagement. It has been five years since the report was published. In my opinion very little has been done to save the structure and we still are inching closer to the end of elected school boards.
Should the public be concerned that school boards may disappear? Well, in my opinion, yes. School Boards are the only legislated model of full public engagement. This means that every school division is required by law to have an elected board (http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/A32.pdf). You must ask yourself how many times you felt sufficiently consulted about your child’s education and if those consultations were effective. If School Boards were to disappear, so would public representation.
The time is now for school boards to break out of the decades’ old mould and start reestablishing itself as a fluid entity that is constantly connected to its stakeholders. The timing is perfect. The recent curriculum review will give teachers and principals a new model on how to educated students for the upcoming decades. It will be responsive to the new realities around employment trends and the future standards of living. School boards need to also realign themselves with the new realities of the future. I am challenging the premise that Trustees should be sitting around a board table, in a sterile environment, far away from a classroom, and not within the normative environment of the community. I believe that school boards should be doing everything in their power to engage the community in ways that increase the sense of power transferred to the public and the parents. How many times in one year do you believe that industry attends a board meeting? How many parents attend? In the times that I have attended I have never seen another person outside of the division personnel and the media. Board meetings are not high on the priority list of anyone other than those who are mandated to attend. How about Parent Advisory Committees (PAC)? They are also legislated to exist. How many people attend their child’s monthly PAC? A strong Advisory committee may have a dozen parents regularly attending. If limited parents and community members are attending Board meetings or Parent Advisory Committee meetings then how is the school division encouraging active engagement? If public engagement is not effectively being done at every board meeting, then school boards will not survive more a few more years. There are great ways to engage parents without having to attend meetings or fill out an online survey. We need to become creative in the ways we engage parents and the community and I believe we can do it.
If I become a Trustee I will encourage:
- Board meeting be redesigned to become more available to the community and parents. Ultimately I would like to see some key community leaders be invited to participate, as well as encourage PAC executives to attend.
- Look at rotating the location of meetings throughout the division to increase regional participation.
- Live stream and record all public meetings to increase awareness and accessibility to the public
- Change meeting times to accommodate parents that work.
- Make it mandatory that all large decision require a minimum amount of public engagement prior to decision.
- Yearly budgeting process includes public engagement and consultation prior to final budget.