For the New Board of Education

Although I was not elected (not even close) I’d like to give my thoughts to the new Board of Education in Abbotsford School District, SD34. Please take ideas from all of the candidates platforms. I mentioned during the forum that it’s important to cast a wide net to bring in a lot of ideas so that the best can be examined. Please use the ideas of all of the candidates, or at least examine them.

To that end, I’d like to propose four points for you to look into.

1.  Heal the Wounds

There were a lot of hurt feelings coming out of the union negotiations this year. They weren’t necessarily the Board of Education’s fault, and nothing the Board did during the strike was illegal, or even against their policies.  But I would recommend that the argument that “we did nothing wrong” doesn’t necessarily mean you did the best thing.

Our education system relies on teachers going above and beyond for their students. And they are happy and proud to do so. But right now they’re feeling hurt, and although the wounds weren’t caused by the Board of Education it is in their power to help with the healing. I can imagine it would be hard as a teacher to go above and beyond for their employers if their employer refuses to do the same.

There are a lot of ways that the Board can help.  I’d recommend two: the extra day of pay and canceling the proposed trustee raise. The board did nothing wrong in either case. But as I’ve said before you can’t work to the exact letter of the law and then expect your employees to go the extra mile.

The extra day of pay is a minor (in the big scheme of things) bonus, but it would go a long way to letting teachers know that you appreciate all of the hard work they do beyond what they are required to do (and I know that the board does very much appreciate them).

As for the raise, I do not think that any of the trustee candidates put their names forward for the financial compensation. I especially do not think that any of the incumbents did. However it is important to look at the optics of what happened.

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 don’t think that about $60 per month would do anything to increase the pool of potential candidates; and looking at the candidates who ran I don’t see a dearth of experience or ability. In the previous election (2011) there were 15 candidates, in this election there were 16.

There was a great deal of hurt caused by at least one of the statements from the board, and with a minor change here they could help heal it.

2.  Improve Communication:

Part of my platform was that 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, and I know that they try. Education is the interest of every citizen and the trustees should be focus on ensuring that the whole city is aware of and able to give their input on current issues.

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.

I would recommend that information go out to the community through:

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

I would recommend that information come 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 is a public advocate for education and represents 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 education in the community. 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.  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.

The board needs to educate the whole of Abbotsford on the role of the Board of Education and trustees, the role of trustees in the BCPSEA, to explain the issues surrounding the legal battle at the BC Supreme Court and how each side wants to pretend they were the sole winners of it rather than accepting the complicated truth that although one side did win a ruling the other side is appealing it, and has the right to appeal it, and will the appeals will likely continue until after the end of the new contract.

The Board needs 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 all of the behind the scenes work that goes into our education system.

4.   Parent Choice for Half-day Kindergarten:

This is a tough one because it would be a great deal of work to advocate for this.  But, 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. Perhaps this could be worked into the program of choice framework.

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.

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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