Ken Checkel, Chair of the Clearview Board, expressed some optimism that the province may be changing its focus of measuring educational success of a school (or district) entirely on exam results.
At their regular board meeting on August 19, 2013, board members were keen to start a conversation about moving beyond the high-level goals normally addressed in a 3-year plan and addressing some of the more immediate objectives. Those mentioned included community engagement, programming (including a pilot project at the Stettler schools), budget transparency, board communication with its constituents and user-friendliness.
“We’re in the middle of big government and big unions,” said Checkel. “We’ve got to be nimble in how we do our planning to really have any relevance at all.”
In November, the newly elected school board will be required to approve a 3-year plan setting goals that enable the public to measure how well their students are performing against others in the province.
The Board has been struggling with putting out fires since its release of a board motion on May 23, 2013 which directed Administration to analyze the potential benefits and implications of amalgamating in whole or part the Stettler Schools, including the Outreach School. The discussion leading to this motion was done in-camera (behind closed doors to the public), and with no context provided from the Board or through the media, the reaction from parents and staff was swift and negative.
A June 4th, 2013 media release confirmed that the intent of the motion was a pilot project only, amalgamation was only to be studied, and no decisions had been made.
Board members were unanimous in wanting to ensure steps are taken to mitigate miscommunication during the pilot project. John Bailey, Superintendent of Schools, will work closely with the two principals and keep the board regularly updated. A group of university students are partnering with the School District to provide data collection and analysis. Parents will have access to these research results though school council meetings, their Board representatives and, if deemed necessary, through public meetings. The principals will be responsible to keep the teachers and staff informed and involved.
Backlash to press release
Yvette Cassidy brought forward her concern about the negative tone of letters made public, especially those from Clearview staff members and specifically those relating to the Outreach School. “They are our employees, they should talk to us if they have a strong opinion,” said Cassidy. “We need to get this negativity under control.” Patty Dittrick echoed similar concerns, “many of these letters were built on myth and misconception.”
“We’ve got to understand we’re getting letters from people whose children weren’t successful [in the regular system], and the Outreach School was a place where they found success,” said Karen Holloway. “We need to be sensitive to that.” “Some of these parents had given up on their kids and then they ended up in a place where they did succeed.”
“Staff, students, and parents are powerful voices that we don’t want to ignore,” said Peter Neale, Associate Superintendent. “They are invested in the system and they want to see the same success for these kids as we do.”
Neale suggested that mechanisms be put in place that allow staff an internal, ‘safe’ voice, without feeling the need to go straight to the public.
A draft letter to the Hon. Jeff Johnson, Minister of Education, was discussed. It will focus on the three major transportation issues that continue to disadvantage small rural school districts.
The issues include funding abnormalities for students who live outside the designated 4 x 4; a push for the ability to use upgraded mini vans to transport children in sparsely populated areas; and, yet again, to try and drive home the point that just because the number of students drop, it doesn’t mean the number of kilometres drop.