The Race for Relevance

File:Horse-racing-2.jpgThe 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Look at rotating the location of meetings throughout the division to increase regional participation.
  3. Live stream and record all public meetings to increase awareness and accessibility to the public
  4. Change meeting times to accommodate parents that work.
  5. Make it mandatory that all large decision require a minimum amount of public engagement prior to decision.
  6. Yearly budgeting process includes public engagement and consultation prior to final budget.
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My Platform (not the shoes)

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  1. Improve the relevance of the Board of Trustees – How can we make the Board of Trustees matter to you? This means bringing a stronger community and parent voice to the table. It means improving the relationship with industry, community leaders, municipal decisions makers, and most of all – Parents. Local educational decisions need to be placed in the hands of the community. It is the job of a Trustee to act in the best interest of the community as well as make decisions based on the needs of the community.
  1. Bring the Board of Trustees into the future – I want to take the board room out of the Trustee and move it into the community. This will take creative ways to engage the community. We can no longer believe that public board meetings will improve engagement, and sterilized yearly surveys are enough. I want to bring meaningful and ongoing public engagements so the community is part of the decision making process. Specifically, I want to bring mandatory public budget consultations so that the community decides where the priorities should be, as well as live streamed and recorded meetings that are available to all communities in the district.
  1. Focus resources on the classroom and the school – The most important role of a Trustee is to ensure every school and every classroom is given the appropriate resources. We need to set every student up for success and we need to support schools to accomplish this. I want to ensure the division remains cost effective within the administration side of the division, while directing every available dollar to students and teachers.

GSA

Gay Straight Alliances In Schools

I definitely did not anticipate talking about Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) as one of my first campaign blogs. There are diverse opinions on the subject. I hope I can be respectful to all those opinions.

The Alberta Government passed an amended Bill 10 in 2015 https://education.alberta.ca/media/158726/act_to_amend_the_alberta_bill_of_rights_to_protect_our_children.pdf

The amended Bill calls for the ability of students to start, with school support, a Gay Straight Alliance in schools. The definition of a GSA is:

A Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) is a student-run club, typically in a high school or middle school, which provides a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and work to end homophobia and transphobia.- https://gsanetwork.org

Most of the controversy is surrounding parental consent/ informing parents. As the Bill outlines, students registration and participation in this club must stay confidential. Many parents have expressed their concern that parents have the right to know if their child has joined a GSA. It is important to acknowledge most of the hoopla over this issue is not about the actual existence of these groups. Most parents feel these groups are important and support them. In most circumstances parental rights would take precedence, but due to the extensive issues facing LBGTQ youth extraordinary measures to support these youths are required.

Some statistics

One of every 5 homeless youth identifies as LGBTQ

30% of all youth suicides are by LGBTQ youth

20% increase in suicide attempts in homes that are not supportive

http://www.aclrc.com/2-lgbt-youth

Those are the facts. Now let’s talk about it. As a Social Worker I had the opportunity to work with high risk youth. I have walked down the path, alongside youth who have explored and experienced drug use, alcohol abuse, abortions, sexuality, child abuse, suicide and self harm. Confidentiality is key when working with youth on any of the above topics if you have any chance to help them. They require it and it is often not negotiable. All parents (including myself) would love to be the first to know of the above issues facing their child. The reality is for some youths, parents are not the first to know. In my experience the more positive adult youth have, the better chance that individual youth will reach out to a supportive adult. If we immerse our youth in environments full of supportive adults, it increases the likelihood that youth will be given the help needed and parents will be brought into the fold. A well trained and supportive adult will most often be the catalyst needed so that the youth will disclose to their parents. A well supported GSA will be that vehicle. The moment that a youth chooses to come ‘out’ must solely remain as a decision made by the individual youth. Parents must have trust that a well resourced GSA will have an adult resource person that will develop an extensive support network for each youth in the group. Most adults that are trained to work with youth know the importance of support within the home and will encourage the individual youth to reach out to their immediate family members.

If you think you have a right to know if your child joined a GSA, I believe you do have that right. If you have enough trust in your child’s school staff and you give yourself some time to allow the process to happen, you will be informed most likely by your own child.

Gay straight Alliances have been over politicized recently and do not reflect reality for most of the successful GSA’s in the school division.

As a Trustee supporting GSA’s in the Division, I would:

  1. Encourage administration to continue to provide professional development specific to LGBTQ issues, ensuring that schools have the resources needed to support their students and parents.
  2. Continue to support mental health initiatives in the schools, as well as adequately fund School Liaison positions.

If you or someone you know need support

Family Violence Info Line 310‑1818

Bullying Helpline 1‑888‑456‑2323

Child Abuse Hotline 1‑800‑387‑5437

My Platform (Not the Shoes)

  1. Improve the relevance of the Board of Trustees – How can we make the Board of Trustees matter to you?  This means bringing a stronger community and parent voice to the table.  It means improving the relationship with industry, community leaders, municipal decisions makers, and most of all – Parents.  Local educational decisions need to be placed in the hands of the community. It is the job of a Trustee to act in the best interest of the community as well as make decisions based on the needs of the community.

 

  1. Bring the Board of Trustees into the future – I want to take the board room out of the Trustee and move it into the community.  This will take creative ways to engage the community.  We can no longer believe that public board meetings will improve engagement, and sterilized yearly surveys are enough.  I want to bring meaningful and ongoing public engagements so the community is part of the decision making process. Specifically, I want to bring mandatory public budget consultations so that the community decides where the priorities should be, as well as live streamed and recorded meetings that are available to all communities in the district.
  1. Focus resources on the classroom and the school – The most important role of a Trustee is to ensure every school and every classroom is given the appropriate resources.  We need to set every student up for success and we need to support schools to accomplish this.  I want to ensure the division remains cost effective within the administration side of the division, while directing every available dollar to students and teachers.  

The Road to Becoming a Grande Yellowhead Public School Division Trustee

gypsdI would like to become the next Trustee for Edson for the Grande Yellowhead School Division. I am passionate about education and our children. I want the opportunity to explore new ways of reaching out to the community and parents that will make our school division more inclusive to the community and more engaging for parents.
In the next upcoming months I will be posting a regular blog on some of the current challenges and future issues facing our children within the education system. I want the community to know exactly what I will bring to the education system in our area. I will share my values and principles with you, as well as offer some new approaches. We will have eight months to have an open and engaging conversation about the issues that you care about.
School Boards are one of the only ways that the community and parents get a voice within the education system and they are in danger of losing their relevance. Along with the upcoming new curriculum to be implemented with our students, school boards need to find new, creative ways to engage parents and the community they live in. In the next several months I will share some of my ideas on how we can strengthen your voice at the table.