Back to School : Reporting on the Meeting I Didn’t Attend

The flyers are in the newspapers, and the sunlight is thinning a bit, so it must be that time.

I spent July reading minutes from Board and Standing Committee meetings as far back as 2004. (The former Secretary Treasurer originally told me no one could find them. After only a few months of back and forth emails and finally saying   “foipop”, I did get access to the minutes of my own Board.) My objective was to become familiar with notable motions and to try to get a sense of the development of the culture of the Board over a few years, as some of the Trustees have been ion the Board for some time; for example, Trustee Horsman : 22 years. (That beats former Trustee John Young’s 20 years on the Board at the time  he lost his seat at 90 years of age in the November 2011 election.) As well, I’ve read about half of the BC School Districts websites and had a look at other District Policies, Regulations and Bylaws. I will finish the rest of the Districts within the next month. (Wikipedia keeps coming up in a search, instead of the Ministry of Education, with a list of Districts. Interesting.)

On June 15 I posted my speech to the Ecole Esquimalt High School Grade 12 graduating class to this blog.  It was a wonderful experience to be part of that significant day. I was uplifted by being part of the energy that was there, by the number of grads who showed up, including students who expressed in the short bio that was read as each one crossed the stage something about their struggles to get to this day, and students who may not have had such a struggle, and families and friends who shared the journey and the day.

Long ago, I chose not to attend my own Grade 12 graduation ceremonies at Ross Sheppard Composite High School in Edmonton, for a few reasons, and looking back, none of them was good. If anyone reads this and is thinking of not attending a grad, just go! Make a wonderful memory for yourself and for those who care about you.

The Esquimalt Grad took place on the same evening as the last Education Policy meeting of the school year, June 4, 2012, so I missed that Education Policy meeting.The minutes will be available once they are approved by the Board, so until then, here is my short story about it.

Item 8B on the agenda (this was an interesting 71 page packup that included the Achievement Contract – no more strategic plans for SD61; the Achievement Contract reportedly fills that need – and a Literacy report )  was “Reading Recovery Update”.

As a former enthusiastic and effective Reading Recovery  teacher (9 years in SD61, including my training year), I was looking forward to hearing how this excellent and highly accountable program that has a built in inservice (mandated participation if a teacher signs on to deliver the teaching) / professional development (a teacher who signs up to deliver the teaching attends as part of the agreement) component is making positive changes in young lives in School District 61. By ensuring individual attention to children who have significant struggles with a foundation skill for school – literacy – Reading Recovery is a social justice program; it prevents failure, and many later associated struggles in life.

I was disappointed to conclude from reports that the students from Reading Recovery in SD61 were presented in a group along with READ’s grade 2 and 3 Noisy Kids Reading Club.  I was a teacher for the READ Society for several years, and know that the READ Society offers wonderful community service. But Noisy Kids is not at all equivalent to Reading Recovery, which has impressive and practically demonstrated success rates  with the lowest achieving and very-confused-about-literacy 20% of students in Grade One.

It is heartbreaking and disheartening as a teacher to see a child’s self-esteem fall and anger or a feeling of defeat grow in children who struggle with learning to read and write in Grade One, as they see peers reading books and writing while these struggling students try to figure out the alphabet or the alphabetic principle, and try to learn  to print. A comprehensive assessment by the Reading Recovery teacher at the school can pinpoint the need for intervention and support, and give a benchmark of the child’s state of understanding in relation to peers of the same age and grade. Most struggling children in Grade One need more help than just a having another birthday.

A student might sit printing random letters for months in a “journal”, while the often over-stretched classroom teacher tries to address the learning and behaviour needs of other students, while hoping the “birthday magic” will happen.

The students who qualify for Reading Recovery instructional intervention after school-based assessment are sometimes described as “hard to teach”, and some of them do have very resistant behaviours, deep misconceptions about fundamentals of early literacy, and little idea about how they themselves can learn, all calling out for one on one intervention for 12-18 weeks daily, by a highly trained teacher with the equivalent of a Master’s Degree specialist focus in early literacy: a trained Reading Recovery teacher.

Children who don’t get such an intervention risk being “learning support lifers”, in small groups that may not address their idiosyncratic learning needs, or sitting in front of a computer working on the latest heavily marketed program that cannot replace the sensitive and individually designed instructional delivery of a qualified Reading Recovery teacher.

School District 61 assists some schools with the cost of Reading Recovery by providing half the teacher’s salary, as a teaching intervention that requires one-on-one teaching is of course expensive in the short run. As School District 61 enters the new budget cycle I hope to see a line item for enough funding for every K-5 school in School District 61 to have Reading Recovery, if school teaching staffs desire. Wouldn’t it be an excellent thing to have the line item budget accessible to citizens? It took months of requesting to get it for trustees, last fall.

Last on this Education Policy agenda was my motion regarding adult education: “Moved McNally: That the Greater Victoria Board of Education School District 61 write to the Minister of Education asking him not to cut funding to any adult upgrading courses. “ The motion did not go forward as I was absent (at the Esquimalt Grad).

The New Zealand Parliament allows another member to move a motion for an absent member with understood permission of he absent member. I think that’s an excellent practise as it moves the business of the meeting forward in an expeditious manner, and as the School District 61 Board agendas  have no “Old Business” item at present, motions can get lost.

I plan to bring a motion that the Board adopt this practice.  How could it fail?

I look forward to the 2012-2013 school year in service as a School Trustee to the students, parents and all citizens of Victoria City, Esquimalt, Oak Bay, View Royal, the Highlands, and parts of Saanich. The Board of School District 61 chose in the past to use the Achievement Contract as a guide and did away with a District 61 Strategic Plan. A strategic plan can be a valuable guide for implementation of a Board’s vision and planned action in more than one year increments, which is the period of time the Achievement Contract addresses. The Vancouver Board’s plan is an interesting example.  But perhaps after the Stantec District Facilities Strategic Plan debacle  people felt burned by the process.

I hope to see you at a Board meeting, a standing committee meeting (Education Policy or Operations, Policy and Planning), or a budget meeting (SD61 is the 6th largest employer in the Capital Region ) this school year! As of August 14, apparently there are no meetings for 2012-13.  More will be revealed, unless George Abbott has decided to fire us all for getting in the way, as he did with elected Cowichan trustees

Standing up for Cowichan Trustees: rally in June at the Ministry of Education building, Victoria


About Diane McNally