The Record Off the Record: Ed Policy Oct 7/13: Choice and Fragmentation / Student Trustee

“Student Voice Initiative operates on a foundation of support from policy-makers, school administrators, academics, and students from across North America and the world in support of giving students a greater voice in their own education. “

Posted October 14, 2013. Please credit this blog if used as a reference.

Note: The Report of the SD61 Committee on Public Engagement is posted on the SD61 website. Have a look at the 14 strictures on asking a question at a Board meeting if you’re a member of the public. This Report will come to the October 15 OPPS meeting for discussion.

The Record Off The Record is my personal record of and commentary on Board and Standing Committee meetings in School District 61 (Municipalities of Esquimalt, Oak Bay, Victoria, View Royal and a portion of Saanich and Highlands ).  “Official” approved minutes of Board  and Standing Committee meetings  are posted on the SD61 website under the “Board of Education” menu, generally one month after the meeting (Education Policy Development Committee is posted as “Education Meetings”; Operations Policy and Planning Committee is posted as “Operations Meetings”).

Reports from In Camera meetings are posted on the Board meeting page as “Section 72 Reports”. “Section 72” refers to Section 72 (3) of the BC the School Act which states “ A board must prepare a record containing a general statement as to the nature of the matters discussed and the general nature of the decisions reached at a meeting from which persons other than trustees or officers of the board, or both, were excluded, and the record must be open for inspection at all reasonable times by any person, who may make copies and extracts on payment of a fee set by the board.” Key word: “general”. The public meeting schedule is posted on the District Calendar.

Trustees are referred to by last name only for brevity; “the Board of Education of SD No. 61 (Greater Victoria) may be referred to as “the Board”. No audio recordings are made of Standing Committee meetings, only of Board meetings. (No record of how the audio recording decision was made, or any debate on proposed uses of and storage of the record appears to exist.)

Motions may be  shortened but will retain the essential wording.

Trustee Assignments December 2012-December 2013
Trustee Assignments December 2012-December 2013

Clarification: I am not on the GVTA Negotiations Advisory Committee, though that’s what this assignment (by the Chair) chart says.  And I still don’t know if the GVTA Negotiations Advisory Committee above is the same thing as the two trustees who sit at the local issues bargaining table with the teacher employee group, or if that is called something else. Two trustees do sit at that table and neither of them is me, since they are Orcherton and Ferris, not Orcherton and me. The BC School Trustees Association states : “Trustees in some districts participate directly in union negotiations; in other districts the bargaining is left to staff and the board approves the negotiated agreements.”

As far as I know, Trustees in SD61 do not have any part in developing bargaining objectives, although we are publicly responsible  for them.  Discovering  what they are can be surprising. A recent public petition developed by the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association employee group is a case in point. Although they got the name of the Vice-Chair wrong (It’s Horsman, not Ferris), the points made in the petition seem clearly aligned with Human Rights legislation.

6:00-7:00: A “Special”  In Camera Meeting preceded  the public meeting.  (Point 3 of  Bylaw 9301.1 refers to “special” in camera meetings.)

Trustees are assigned by the Chair as members of the two standing committee, Ed Policy and Operation Policy.  Current members of Ed Policy are Alpha, Horsman, Loring-Kuhanga, and McEvoy (and Orcherton as Board Chair).

Education Policy Development Committee: 7 pm, October 7, 2013 Chair: Alpha
Absent: Ferris, Leonard, McEvoy.

Recognition of Songhees and Esquimalt Nations’ traditional territories.

1. Approval of Agenda: Approved [Adopted]
2. Approval of Minutes: Minutes of Combined Ed Policy / OPPS September 9, 2013:  Approved.
3. Business Arising Out of the Minutes: Nohr requested a written summary of programs addressing youth suicide prevention that are currently in place in SD61 Middle Schools and Secondary Schools. The Deputy Superintendent will provide information based on the last two years.
4. Public Request to the Committee: None
5. Correspondence Referred to the Committee: None.
6. Motions Referred to the Committee: None
7. General Announcements: None

8. New Business:

A. Program of Choice Application: Coastal Kindergarten Program Proposal (pages 9-15 of agenda)  ): Sherri Bell (Deputy Superintendent) and Janine Roy (District Principal of Learning Initiatives)

That the Board approve the Program of Choice Application: Coastal Kindergarten Program Proposal for a two year pilot located at James Bay Community School and South Park Family School beginning September 2014. / Carried. For: Alpha, Horsman, Loring-Kuhanga, Nohr, Orcherton     Against: McNally

  •  In public seats were Principal Jeff Mitchell from South Park Family School [a “school of choice” with no catchment area: if you can afford to drive your child here, your child can attend] and a member of the South Park Parent Advisory Council, and Principal Elaine McVie of James Bay Community School and Tiffany Carlyle, Co-Chair of the School Parent Advisory Council , and Bonnie Davidson, founder the Victoria Nature School: ” For the past 14 years Bonnie have [sic] been passionately using music to help children create a strong foundation for learning to read and write, first as a music therapist and then as a classroom and learning resource teacher …Creating the Victoria Nature School and a community of collaboration focusing on shifting the current eduction [sic] system alines [sic] with Bonnie’s passions and values perfectly! “
  • District Principal Roy mentioned involvement with the City of Victoria Planning and Parks Departments, the SD61 Occupational Health and Safety Advisor in regard to risk assessment, both schools’ staffs and Parent Advisory Councils,  and representatives of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations. Applications for grants will be involved but no specifics were provided. A thirteen point rationale and bibliography is appended to the meeting agenda (pages 9-15).

Who wouldn’t like this idea? I like it: children outdoors, connecting with the environment and with the traditions and language of the people whose traditional territory we’re on. “Nature deficit disorder” has been widely discussed since Richard Louv wrote “The Last Child in the Woods” in 2005

But these activities should be offered District-wide, or more broadly than that.

On many occasions a teacher, administrator and class will present their school-developed activity / program at an Education Policy or a Board meeting. I believe this very commendable program concept could have been developed that way, and as a great idea, essential even, it’s very possible it would be emulated in other schools as parents and staffs collaborate.

  • Orcherton: This is a pilot program created by parents. It may expand, or may not be what parents in another community desire.
  • Loring-Kuhanga: There are to be two spots held in each program school for students with Aboriginal ancestry. Was any Aboriginal targeted money used in development or will be used in operation of these programs?
  • Deputy Superintendent: No numbers are available yet.
  • Lorng-Kuhanga: Has any thought been given to moving the concept up through the primary grades?
  • Principal, James Bay: Discussions about developing the program have already influenced practice in higher grades.
  • Parent Advisory Council rep, South Park: The Ministry of Education is moving more and more to “choice” so it could spread throughout the District.
  • Nohr: Outdoor experiences are a growing movement; the dearth of experiences in nature are contributing to higher levels of anxiety and being outdoors a can lower anxiety for some children.

 Backgrounder: The “school choice” movement

Until “school choice” and open boundary / catchment area policies came into effect in the early 2000s when the BC Liberal Party  changed Sections 2 and 74.1 of the School Act [the beginning of many sudden government decrees regarding public education], students were expected to attend their neighbourhood school.

Currently, the not-fully explained BC Education Plan  continues to promote increased “flexibility” and “choice”. In SD61 Greater Victoria, fifteen “Programs of choice” are listed on the District website.

Board/Authority Authorized (BAA) Courses are locally developed courses that are authorized authorized (according to requirements set by the Ministry of Education) by Boards of Education and independent school authorities to meet local student needs and interests in their communities, and are not offered at every school, but scattered around schools in School  Districts.

A no longer updated page on the BC School Trustees Association website states: “There is no limit to the number of BAA courses a student may use as a part of the 28 elective credits required for graduation. The information located in this collection [a list of BAA courses] is *** NO LONGER UPDATED ***. All BAA-related queries should be directed to the Ministry of Education: Sandra Smith, Education Coordinator, Sandra.C.Smith @gov.bc.ca or (250) 893-6914. BCSTA hosted the BAA database on its website from 2004 to 2011. Funding for maintaining the database was provided by the Ministry of Education.The grant has since been discontinued and BCSTA is no longer able to provide the original database due to the high costs required to reprogram the format and update the data.” So, you will have to check with your own District for updates.

The School Act states in  Sections 85 (2) (i) and 168 (2) (b): 85 (2)” … A board may, subject to this Act and the regulations, do all or any of the following… (i) develop and offer local programs for use in schools in the school district…”  Graduation requirements specified by the Ministry of Education require that ” Boards of education and independent school authorities must authorize each BAA Course and ensure that it meets the BAA Course requirements set out in the current Board/Authority Authorized Courses: Requirements and Procedures document before delivering it to students.  A board or independent school authority must submit a signed BAA Course Form to the Ministry verifying the course satisfies current requirements. ”

155 BAA courses are offered in School District 61, scattered around the secondary schools.

SD61 BAA Courses as of 2013 (1)
SD61 BAA Courses as of 2013 (1)
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013 (2)
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013 (2)
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013 (3)
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013 (3)
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013
SD61 BAA courses up to 2013

With fifteen locations for  fifteen programs of choice and varied locations for 155  local courses, it comes to mind that the good can be the enemy of the best. Here’s what Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Secretary of Education appointed by George H.W.Bush and Bill Clinton, and a widely respected writer on public education says: “Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities, a steady presence that helps to cement the bond of community among neighbors.” “Going to school is not the same as going shopping. Parents should not be burdened with locating a suitable school for their child. They should be able to take their child to the neighborhood public school as a matter of course and expect that it has well-educated teachers and a sound educational program.” [The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education}

The growing emphasis on “school choice” is a marketization of  and a retail model of public education, by creating competition amongst schools just as any retail operation competes for customers. Those schools which attract enough “customers” by creating an individualized “brand” so as to attract students / parents – and not a small thing, the minimum $6,900 in Ministry of Education per-pupil funding that comes with each student – away from other schools thrive and can afford “extras” like a vice principal, not always assured at small elementary schools, or a Reading Recovery teacher. [300 students was the magic number that funded a teaching vice principal at a K-5 school in 2011.] Those schools that lose “customers” lose that  entire per pupil funding amount though the school’s infrastructure costs remain the same. One might think these schools may eventually face closure, after years of split-grade class restructuring in an effort to stay viable.

Middle schools and Secondary Schools schedule open houses early in the New Year at which they showcase their “brand”, the attractions for choosing that school over others in the District. And marketization and the  privatization model get even cosier with public schools in the case of sports and other specialty “academies” at which fees are charged for program participation  (and for attendance at International Baccalaureate courses in Districts that offer them). Former SD61 Trustee John Young challenged the expanding institution of fees in public schools and sued his own District, SD61, while a sitting trustee, winning a partial victory.

As well as the encouragement of consumerist culture in regard to a public good, there is the issue of inequality of access and opportunity: families that have the means and the time, and students who can afford to drive to programs out of the neighbourhood can attend these “programs of choice”, while others face barriers to access.

In the Summer 2012 edition of Education Canada, a publication provided to all SD61 Trustees, the authors of “What Happened to the “Public” in Public Education?” state “We have allowed consumerist thinking – the more choice the better – to infect public policy around education. A moment’s reflection reminds us that the corollary of consumerism is fragmentation, which is very problematic for the transmission of shared civic culture. Education is, in any event, a generative and productive activity, not one of consumption…..These special interest, alternate programs are exclusive in the sense that they are not accessible to all. Thus they challenge fundamental precepts of public education and ignore – and therefore contribute nothing or very little – to the achievement of our societal aspirations for public education as a community builder. …we recommend that both school boards and departments of education take a ‘time out” from approving further alternate programs and schools.”

B. McNally:Student Trustee

That the Board of Education SD61 Greater Victoria establish a position of Student Trustee  (from Grade 10, 11 or 12, with voice but no vote) on the SD61 Board and Standing Committees, that the position be supported by an honorarium or credit to be determined by the Board along with the student’s school administration annually, that the term be for one school year September 1 – June 30, and that a Student Trustee information handbook be developed.

Rationale: The Vancouver School Board carried a similar motion in June 2013. School boards in Ontario and New Brunswick, and Edmonton, Alberta have already implemented similar programs. Calgary is considering it.

Citizens often speak to the lack of youth engagement in municipal, provincial and federal politics and elections. The position of student trustee would provide for engagement with one of the District’s major stakeholders and “partner groups” in public education; the students in our schools who are not represented directly at this table. Seeing student representation on the Healthy Saanich Committee to which I am assigned, I have every confidence a Grade 11 or 12 student would shine as a student trustee.

As decisions of the Board affect all students, recognition of the voice of youth in decisions that affect them is in line with democratic principles. The position of Student Trustee is intended to provide for open communication between the student body and the Board, and intended to provide an opportunity for student engagement in school district governance, by encouraging student observation of and participation in district planning and policy and program development. The honorarium is proposed as many students work outside of school hours.

Further a parameters for the position: a) The Student Trustee position is not a Trustee as defined in the School Act. b)The Student Trustee would not attend in camera meetings c) May suggest but not move motions  d)  Will have access to all public information and resources provided to Board members  e) Will have access to BCSTA AGM attendance if a regular trustee assigns his or her “professional development” funding to the student trustee f) Will present a Student Trustee report at each regular Board meeting  g) Will report to and solicit input from SD61 student councils  h) May engage in liaison with the City of Victoria Youth Council and / or Saanich Youth Council.

Proposed eligibility criteria: a) A student in regular attendance at a School District 61 secondary school in order to represent the main student body   b) 16 years of age or older by December 31 of the school year in which he/she holds office  c) Parental consent if under 19  d) Election process proposed:  e) Nominated by SD61 student(s) or self-nominated  f) Personal resume and /or a letter of intent provided for posting on (to be created) Student Trustee page on the SD61 website  g) School based election to be held for candidates at each of the 7 secondary schools in May / June of each school year, beginning 2014  h) SD61-wide election be held (run by student council) with voting open to any SD61 secondary school student, candidates being up to seven students, one from each secondary school (resumes and video if desired on the SD61 website), votes counted at each secondary school, totals sent to the Board Chair  i) Board of Trustees to accept the student with the highest number of votes, in an in camera session of the board  j) If the Student Trustee leaves office, the position will be offered to the next highest candidate, and so on.

Proposed rescission of eligibility: a) Absent from two consecutive regular meetings of the Board  b) Convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada or under the Youth Criminal Justice Act  c) Suspended from school  d) Conflict of interest guidelines suggested for development:  e) Will not participate in discussions when their parent, spouse, sibling or child has a direct or indirect financial interest in the matter being discussed at the Board or Committee meeting.

Discussion and debate:

  • Orcherton: Qualicum School District 69 is also exploring the idea. We need to talk to students to find out what the interest level is. We have stakeholders at the table that many Boards don’t have at the table. The term “student trustee” elevates that person above the others. Student “representative” would be better. Not every high school has student council. A survey to see what student governance exists at schools might be a place to start.
  • Horsman: [SD61 trustee for more than 21 years] SD61 had a District Student Council in the past and a student representative at the table. Not in favour of the “trustee” label. Each student body could elect a representative who would attend on a rotational basis from each high school. In the past student representation fell through because of the time commitment needed.
  • Loring-Kuhanga: Amendment: That the Board request the Superintendent to explore the idea of Student Trustee / Representative and report back to the Board and Standing Committees in January 2014. / Carried unanimously.

Back to the main motion: Carried as “amended” (by a substantive change, but the idea is out there now and under consideration, and will be followed up on).

Follow up on Student Trustee:

9. Adjournment: 8:20

Next Meeting:
October 15 Tuesday 7:30 , Board Room: Operations Policy and Planning
October 21 Monday 7:00 , Board Room: Board Meeting

Agendas posted on the District website each Friday before meetings, under “Board of Education” drop-down menu.