Thursday, July 16, 2009

Revised guidelines, revisited

Had the opportunity this week to chat a few people up about the recently revised Pupil Accommodation Review Guidelines, which I've blogged about twice this month already. This included finding the 'B' memo from ministry staff to school boards, along with the relevant revised guideline and administrative review document. I tapped some local reaction and will link the relevant article here, once it's posted.
From the B-memo:
Accommodation decisions can be some of the most difficult faced by school boards and they are best made at the local level with meaningful involvement of the local community.
Based on these accommodation review processes, the Ministry has received hundreds of comments directly and through the media from school boards, parents, community members and Ministry-appointed independent facilitators. We also reviewed reports from other stakeholders and the report of the Declining Enrolment Working Group, Planning and Possibilities, which recommended that the Ministry review the Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline.
As a result of the feedback, it is clear that the original Pupil Accommodation Review Guideline supports that principle by strengthening consultation and decision-making processes at school boards. The Accommodation Review Committee (ARC) process has supported improved transparency of decision-making, constructive discussions among the board and the public, meaningful community engagement, and outcomes that will benefit current and future students.
The Reference Criteria are an important tool for boards, ARCs and the public. The criteria – outlined in the Terms of Reference – are intended to improve transparency about accommodation decision-making by ensuring that ARCs and the public consider accommodation options that fit within the educational and accommodation policies of the school board. Examples of Reference Criteria are: grade configuration, programming objectives, transportation policies, and school utilization. It is up to boards to determine the level of detail they wish to include in the Reference Criteria.
Boards are expected to be transparent regarding the capital planning process in order for ARCs and the public to understand the difference between planning proposals and the capital approval process. Boards are also expected to be transparent with ARCs and the public regarding available funding, the process of applying for funding, and funding approvals, including planning approvals. Where no funding is available to support a particular accommodation option for students, boards are required to inform the ARC and propose how students would be accommodated if funding does not become available.
(Ellipses reflect there was text omitted between the quoted sections)
These revised guidelines would apply to any accommodation review committee trustees vote to create after Sept. 30 of this year. The memo clearly points out the revised guidelines do not apply to accommodation decisions that have already been made, or to review committees that have already begun their work-- or have presented recommendations to trustees but a vote has not yet been held.
If a board is not commissioning any new reviews this fall, it has until March 31 to update its policies to be compliant with the revised guidelines.
The ministry calls these changes (outlined here) 'small.' I disagree. Some of these changes will, hopefully, allow boards to be much clearer in their goals for an accommodation review. It also cannot be understated how much impact the procedural change in how review committee recommendations are presented to trustees is going to have. This may eliminate the feeling in communities the committee's work was buried in an administrative report, as it will now be presented to trustees under separate cover.
I missed one change in the revised guidelines-- the business rep and municipal rep on committees are being replaced by a single 'community' representative, who can be nominated from any part of the school community.


Anonymous said...

Glad these changes are being made.

I found that the ARC in my area had great difficulty understanding that the Capital Plan is very relevant to the process, AND, offers some in the school community such as school councils the first opportunity to offer up feedback. The school councils in my region missed that opportunity when it was made available to them.

Also at a regional meeting school councils were advised clearly that they needed to make sure that their channels of communication between council and other parents was open and functioning, and that the parents best able to represent the parents were in fact on the ARC.

That the school councils were not in compliance and functioning well makes the process much, MUCH harder. Some were left scrambling at the last minute and it showed sometimes when the councils that appointed the community rep. didn't know each other because the council had been in place with no community rep. for years.

Education Reporter said...

Good points-- the dysfunction of many school councils is another great untold story in education. Look at the act and what they're supposed to do, then look at what many actually do. They're glorified fundraising clubs.
NOT ALL of them. Some of them. Too many of them, considering school-council legislation is... 11 years old.

Anonymous said...

You're right ER! So much of the new guidelines depend on an elected,effective and supported council, which to me was a fault of the guidelines when I'm pretty sure the Ministry doesn't have a really great handle on how school councils are functioning(or not).

What of schools with no councils or those who have been relegated to that fundraising you speak of.

Ironic isn't it that school councils are still fundraising and they're getting gov't money to encourage parent engagement too.

I think our parents raised approx. $7million last year. Do you think that in times of economic stress the gov't looks at that and says
"ChaCHING! if parents have that much money to spare then they'll be ok with an education premium?"