Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bluewater update #9

I have been putting this off for a while given there was much material to read in order to catch up with all that's been happening at the Bluewater District School Board. Readers here and at MendEd will remember a process that started with a letter from an MP and a resignation of a school board chair earlier this year.
MendEd has been doing a much better job than I in keeping track of all the media coverage and developments. This includes the coverage by the Owen Sound Sun Times (article, unsigned editorial) of the release of the public consultation report prepared by Thames Valley District School Board trustee Peggy Sattler.
Sattler (this link contains outdated info), is a two-term past-chair of the TVDSB, mother of two and works in the communications industry. She provided the board with a simple summary of what she heard at two public input meeting attended by 170 people. A MendEd commenter quibbles with Sattler's characterization of 170 people as a 'small' sample size, but in a district where there are 180,000 public school supporters and 18,000 students (who all have parents, even if some of them aren't involved in the day-to-day of their kids' lives). The number of people who stepped forward was equal to 0.09 per cent of the student count, hopefully trustees take this into account when reading the report.
Moving on to Sattler's report -- her summary:
Several issues were repeatedly raised by parents, teachers, and community members:
  • The board must focus on students and ensure that students come first in decision-making and board operations.
  • Trustees are accountable to their communities, and have an obligation to represent their constituents. There is a need to clarify the roles and responsibilities of trustees, the director, and the senior administration in board decision-making and operations, as well as the advisory roles of SEAC, SCCs, and PIC, and the board’s obligation to consult under Reg. 612. Trustees must fulfill their responsibility to evaluate the performance of the director and take action based on the results of the evaluation.
  • There is a serious concern about the “silencing” of teachers, and the inability of teachers to express their opinions about educational issues, or question board policies and administrative directions, without fear of reprisal.
  • Parents, teachers, and the community do not feel consulted by the board and have not been given opportunities to provide input into board operational decisions such as rotary instruction, gifted programming, assessment and evaluation, and the balanced day.
  • There are increasing parent, community and teacher concerns about bullying and safety in schools, and the adequacy of board responses to incidents of student-to-student and teacher-to-student bullying.
  • Frequent visits to schools by both trustees and senior administration are important to ensure a genuine understanding of what really happens in a classroom. Trustees should be able to communicate freely with both staff and parents, and should regularly attend SCC meetings to inform parents of board issues and respond to questions and concerns. Parents should be able to communicate freely with teachers.
  • In several cases, the board has failed to respond promptly, meaningfully, and appropriately to parent and staff concerns. The board must acknowledge past problems and ensure open and transparent communication of plans to address concerns and make improvements.
This is a worrying list. But this is the list that should be focused on as the board and its public seeks to improve communication and the relationship between staff, senior administrators, trustees, parents and students. Sattler successfully separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of the issues that arise over and over again in several sections of the public input sessions regarding things trustees can do little about. She also failed to include the repeated concerns about credit integrity (mostly brought up by teachers and retired teachers), the move away and then towards rotary instruction in the intermediate grades and parents' concerns over balanced-day v. traditional schedules-- though I would read these included in her final bullet point.
We do need to remember this is just part of the process. The two ministry "Mr. Fix-its" still have to complete their focus-group meetings and submit a final report and set of recommendations to the Bluewater trustees. Then the bigger challenge-- the trustees have to do something with the recommendations, or the whole exercise will just have been a giant waste of time.


KarenPease said...
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Anonymous said...

Not sure what your post has to do with the Bluewater issue Karen.

I think ER nails this with the bigger challenge being what he trustees decide, which to me should be interesting considering the trustees feel hamstrung by their administrations.

I'd really hate to see the trustees be told what they can and can't do to improve things by the Ministry or administration.

It really is a sad situation when adults can't get along and student are caught in the middle of things.

Education Reporter said...

The earlier post, largely a self-promotion for a U.S. author's book, was deleted.