2014 School Trustee Platform

The campaign season has wrapped up and I did not make it in.  But I wanted to keep my platform here for people to see.

Brief Bio:

Noah Arney grew up and attended school in Abbotsford and returned to establish a family after receiving his Bachelor of Education from UBC. He has worked in education for six years at both the secondary and post-secondary levels; working primarily with Aboriginal learners.

During his post-secondary education Noah was active in student government and institutional committees at UFV and is now interested in pursuing a more active role in the community through service to the Board of Education.

Noah hopes to bring to the school board his expertise as an educator and his commitment to current best practices in education.

 

Platform:

The current Abbotsford School Board has done some very good things over the last three years, the strategic plan is a sound document and I would love to be part of the implementation of it, and the increase in the Aboriginal student graduation rate to being within 5% of the general graduation rate is an accomplishment that should be lauded and continued to be worked on. But there are some areas that I feel need to be revisited.

  1. Cancel the Proposed Trustee Raise: the point of being a Trustee shouldn’t be the financial compensation and I feel that the current compensation is more than adequate.
  2. Improved Communication: communication should be open, accessible, easy, and two way. We should be doing everything in our power to have as much local input on Board of Education decisions as possible. Education is the interest of every citizen and we should be doing a better job of ensuring that the whole city is aware of and able to give feedback on current issues.
  3. Vocal Advocate for Education: The Board of Education needs to be a public advocate for education and should be representing the diverse needs of our community.
  4. Parent Choice for Half-Day Kindergarten: there has been no evidence for improved learning or skills development for students in full day kindergarten. If we are going to have parent choice and input be a key part of our goals then parents should be able to choose either full or half day kindergarten.

Platform In-depth:

1.  Cancel the Proposed Trustee Raise:

The point of being on school board shouldn’t be the financial compensation and I feel that the current compensation is more than adequate.

The $725 increase for Board Members comes into effect in two steps from 2016-2017 with a larger increase for the Vice-Chair and Board Chair. The reasons given for the raise (from the Abbotsford News June 19, 2014 http://www.abbynews.com/news/263899641.html) include:

  • “We’re following our policy and we’re adhering to it,”
  • “Necessary to ensure that good candidates aren’t dissuaded from running for the board because of financial concerns.”
  • “It’s not like we were looking for 12 per cent,” (a clear shot at one of the bargaining positions of the BCTF)

The majority of the reasons given in the article are for why the timing wasn’t bad. Only one reason was given for the raise: insuring that financial issues don’t stop potential candidates from running for the board.

I feel that an increase of about $60 per month would do nothing to increase the pool of potential candidates. Any solution which does not adequately address the problem is not a solution. In the previous election (2011) there were 15 candidates, in this election there are 16. I’m not certain how this shows that there is a dearth of interest in running for school board. Also the current $22,000 is more than enough compensation for doing a civic duty. This is not a profession this is not a job this is a duty: giving back to the community.

As for the optics of voting for a raise during a strike I don’t feel that either argument is all that satisfying either. Just because you went through the process you established for the raise doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea, or that the public (who put you in your position so you could represent them) will accept it. And saying that your raise is lower than what the BCTF is asking for is a non-starter. First what teachers do is far more important for the education of our children than the School Board. The board is important, but our role is to create an environment that benefits the two key stakeholders in education: students and teachers. Second by attacking a starting proposal offered by one of the two sides in the dispute you put into question your own boards official statement on the dispute – being that it’s up to the BCPSEA, BCSTA, and BCTF to work things out (http://www.sd34.bc.ca/sites/default/files/Board_News-Sept9-2014.pdf).

If I am elected my first proposal will be to cancel the upcoming raise.

 

2.  Improved Communication:

Communication should be open, accessible, easy, and two-way.

The School Board should be doing everything in our power to have as much local input on school board decisions as possible. After all School Trustees are the representatives of the community; though chosen for their experience and ideas they are supposed to bring the opinions and focuses of the community to the board. Education is the interest of every citizen and the trustees should be doing a better job of ensuring that the whole city is aware of and able to give their input on current issues.

Although the current board is very good at ensuring that information about school and community activities programs and events are disseminated the information coming out about the board’s decisions is limited to the newsletter and the meeting minutes.  Information about topics before the board should be easily accessible and published in multiple venues, including through the district’s social media, ahead of meeting times for the purpose of gathering feedback.

In addition to ensuring that everyone is aware of current topics being discussed by the board and that it is easy to give feedback on those topics I would like to have regularly scheduled informal meetings with any community members who would like to give their input on how to improve our district and our education system. If elected I plan to host these at various coffee shops or public areas.

Information should be going out to the community through:

  • Newsletter
  • Website/minutes
  • Social Media
  • Local Newspaper
  • Informal meetings

Information should be coming into the board through:

  • Email/letters
  • Social Media
  • Informal meetings
  • Question time during board meetings
  • Polls (for example brief online polls and surveys)

3.  Advocate for Education:

The Board of Education needs to be a public advocate for education and should be representing the diverse needs of our community. The purpose of the Board system is to allow a measure of local control over local education and to be a voice from the community to the government regarding education.

There are some who see the purpose of the school trustees being to represent the government or the ministry of education. If this were the case then there would be no reason to have trustee elections. Instead the government would be better served by appointing local boards to oversee education as they would then be able to insure that they have boards that reflect their perspective on education. The changing of the BCSTA members role in the BCPSEA from board members to advisory members is one similar shift made by the government (https://dsweb.bcsta.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-73444/2013-08-01_e-Alert.htm), but this makes the Trustee’s representation of the community to the government that much more important. There are some who want the boards to be the advocate for teachers. This would also be problematic because the Boards of Education are represented by the BC Public School Employers Association at the bargaining table with the BCTF.  The truth is that the boards are there to represent and advocate for the community as a whole. Part of that is keeping the government informed about what the community wants and needs, and the other part is keeping the community informed of how they are being represented to the government (you can see my post on communication here: http://on.fb.me/1ueGxgp).  As the BC School Trustees Association says:”trustees act as co-governors of the provincial education system”.  School Trustees bring an important voice to the provincial discussion on education.

To explain my concern with the current board’s advocacy you need look no further than their open letter of September 9, 2014 (http://www.sd34.bc.ca/sites/default/files/Board_News-Sept9-2014.pdf).

In the letter the Board of Education presents an accurate picture of the situation, expresses their concern about it, states that they appreciate the hard working staff and teachers in our district, and that they understand how hard the job action is on everyone in the district. They state that they don’t see the job action ending any time soon (it ended the next week, but they had no way of knowing that).

They then say “Our Board has been asked about our role in the dispute and what we have done in support of reaching a positive resolution”. This is the crux of the letter and is likely the reason they wrote the letter.

They state “as employers, Boards of Education are legally represented by BCPSEA” and they hope that bargaining will end the job action soon.

The letter then closes off by saying that they are talking with both sides of the negotiation and they hope that everyone can get back to business as usual soon.

That’s it, no update on what type of advocacy they are doing, how involved they are in the BCPSEA, no comment on their communication with our local MLA. I assume that they were doing all of these things, but it’s just that, an assumption. This goes back to my previous point on communication but it’s even more important here.  In the most important education discussion of the year the board put out a bland press release stating that they are “legally represented by BCPSEA”.

The parents, teachers, school staff, grandparents, and concerned residents of Abbotsford shouldn’t be left with this. The public letter at the height of the strike when all eyes in Abbotsford were on education was the perfect opportunity to explain the role of the Board of Education and trustees, to explain how trustees sit in an advisory capacity with the BCPSEA, and used to be in charge of it, to explain the issues surrounding the legal battle at the BC Supreme Court and how each side wants to go about the negotiation as if they were the sole winners of it rather than accepting the truth that although one side did win the other side is appealing it, and has the right to appeal it, and will likely be appealing it until after the end of this contract. So many opportunities to show Abbotsford that their concerns are heard, understood, communicated to the government the BCPSEA and the BCTF, and in turn to educate the people of this great city about the behind the scenes work that goes into our education system.

This was not only a failure in communication, but also a failure to advocate on behalf of our community.

If I am elected I pledge to advocate for education to the provincial government and I also pledge to advocate for education to everyone.

 

4.   Parent Choice for Half-day Kindergarten:

There has been no evidence for lasting improved learning or skills development for students in full day kindergarten. If we are going to have parent choice be a key part of our goals then parents should be able to choose either full or half day kindergarten.

Although early studies showed that full-day kindergarten provided academic benefits, the most recent studies have shown that any lasting benefits have disappeared by grade three.

Advantages to full day kindergarten:

  • Higher academic achievement in early grade one
  • Small benefit to self confidence
  • Small benefit to English Language Learners (disappears after grade two)
  • Large benefit to students with special needs
  • Small benefit to students from low income households

Disadvantages to full day kindergarten:

  • Long term benefits only to students with special needs
  • Small decrease in positive attitude towards school
  • Small increase in behaviour problems

(For further reading see Fong 2013, Bazzano 2013, Cannon et al 2011, and most especially Cooper et al 2013)

There are good reasons for full day kindergarten, but I feel that Cooper states my point perfectly “full-day kindergarten should be available to all children but not necessarily universally prescribed”.

There are situations in which full day kindergarten is very helpful. If a parent has children in several different grade levels it can be a blessing to be able to drop off and pick up everyone at the same time. Students with special needs have been able to progress faster due to supports available to them at school that may not be available at home. English Language Learners can pick up their new language quicker and earlier leaving time later for focus on other academic subjects. Parents who cannot afford to be at home with their children, much as they want to be, have an option that doesn’t involve them paying for daycare and they can be assured that their child is learning from a very highly trained professional.

All of these are very good reasons for full day kindergarten. But parent choice is a key goal for the Abbotsford School District and we should be allowing parents to choose whether or not their child will be in full day or half day kindergarten.  I’ve talked mostly about the lack of benefits from full day kindergarten, but there are a number of large benefits to increased time with their parents (Neufeld, 2005) which I won’t be going into here but I encourage you to read up on.

Parents are given the option of not enrolling their children in Kindergarten at all, but calling that a choice is missing the point. There are proven benefits to kindergarten, and those benefits cannot be overlooked. But parents are the ones who are with their children day in and day out and they know if their child can handle the pressure of a full day in class at age five or if they would do better with only a half day in class and a half day at home. Similarly parents may remove their child from school early, but that flies in the face of socialization studies, singling out that child as different to the rest of the class.  Again it’s a choice in name only.

I understand the difficulties in this. I understand that this was brought in at the provincial level. But, as I said previously, it is very important for trustees to advocate for what is right in education. Especially when taking into account the current research on the topic.

 

If I am elected I would work toward bringing in a program of choice style half day kindergarten option.

 

Citations:

The effects of full-day kindergarten on the long-term academic achievement of students, Fong 2013

The effects of full-day kindergarten on the long-term academic achievement of students, Bazzano 2013

The effect of attending full-day kindergarten on English learner students, Cannon et al 2011

Effects of Full-Day Kindergarten on Academic Achievement and Social Development, Cooper et al 2013

Effects of Full-Day Kindergarten on Academic Achievement and Social Development, Neufeld 2005

 

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