October 21/13 Board Meeting: The Record Off The Record: 3.5% For CUPE, 10% For Trustees?

C. Board Committee Reports

C.1 Education Policy Development Committee
a) Minutes (information only, attached to agenda): October 7, 2013 [Official minutes are posted on the SD61 website after a Standing Committee approves last month’s minutes at its next meeting.]

b) Recommended [after discussion and being carried at the previous Standing Committee meeting ] motions:

i. 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.

  • McNally: 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.

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.

The Statement of Education Policy Order (Mandate for the School System, September 1, 1989, via the VanderZalm Social Credit government) (Authority: School Act Section 169 (3)) started it off, and states “In an effort to accommodate varying parental and student expectations of school services, public schools, within available resources, will provide parents and students with a choice of programs.” Currently, the not-fully explained BC Education Plan  continues to promote increased “flexibility and choice”.

The School Act states in Sections 85 (2) (i) , backed up by 168 (2) (b): ” … 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…”

  • In SD61 Greater Victoria, 15 “Programs of choice” are listed on the District website.
  • 155 BAA courses are offered in School District 61, scattered around the secondary schools. Board/Authority Authorized (BAA) Courses are locally developed courses authorized by Boards of Education and independent school authorities (within parameters set by the Ministry of Education) to “meet local student needs and interests in their communities”. BAA courses – a significant “choice” item – are not offered at every school, but scattered around schools in School Districts. 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.
  • With 15 locations for 15 different Programs of Choice and 155 BAA courses already in existence in SD61, it comes to mind that the good can be the enemy of the best. Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Secretary of Education, now a widely respected critic of “No Child Left Behind” policies and 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.” [ In “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”]
  • The growing emphasis on “school choice” is marketization of public education, creating a retail model that encourages and demands competition amongst schools just as any retail operation competes for customers. Those schools which attract enough “customers” by creating an individualized “brand” designed to attract students / parents – and not a small thing, the minimum $6900 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” from the neighbourhood lose that entire per pupil funding amount, though the school’s infrastructure costs remain the same. Thinking ahead, small neighbourhood schools may eventually face closure, after years of split-grade class restructuring and other efforts to stay viable.
  • Middle Schools and Secondary Schools schedule open houses early in the New Year to showcase their “brand” , highlighting attractions for choosing that school over others in the District. And marketization and the  retail / 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.” “Inclusivity is the default position.”

At the October 7 Education Policy meeting,  which addressed this motion initially, Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association President Benula Larsen read a letter from the union local that was sent to Trustees outlining the GVTA’s issues with the program, which included inequity of access, liability questions, and more. The GVTA requested a hold on this program until further research and planning takes place.

Nohr: Moved to table the main motion. / Defeated. For: Loring-Kuhanga, McNally, Nohr     Against: Alpha, Ferris, Horsman, Leonard, Orcherton     Back to main motion.

  • Horsman: In favour. Proud of offering Programs of Choice and Board Authorized Courses. The “fracturing neighbourhoods” argument in McNally’s rationale doesn’t apply as this is a neighbourhood initiative.
  • Loring-Kuhanga: Good to see an initiative that works to create better relationships between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people at such a young age. The lack of consultation reported by the GVTA is a concern. Why wasn’t Craigflower School kindergarten brought into this initiative?
  • Ferris:  It’s not clear how the BAA course list applies to kindergarten. Other schools will pick up a lot from this. Some schools in SD61 have 60% of catchment students driving to another school.
  • Orcherton: Programs of Choice are the law. [See VanderZalm initiative above.] Students will be happy. Other schools may want to get in on it, too. We re looking at another French Immersion site at another school.[Currently, French Immersion is offered at 17 schools in SD61.]
  • Leonard: Speaking against this motion. Such a kindergarten could occur in any kindergarten; not going to support yet another separate program. This program can still go on but without Board approval [as a “pilot program”]. We certainly can have “magnet schools” but at this point, we have enough.
  • Deputy Superintendent  (at request of Chair): Regarding consultation, parents at the schools were consulted; SD61’s Policy and Regulation on Programs of Choice were followed [The Board may support community or district initiated educational programs …]; this pilot program is supported in the two schools; the University of Victoria is interested in offering a course in Nature Kindergarten for teachers; grants are being sought to assist with the program implementation

Motion to refer to the November Board meeting. / Carried. For: Alpha, Ferris, Horsman, Loring-Kuhanga, Nohr    Against: McNally, Orcherton

ii. That the Board request the Superintendent of Schools to explore the idea of having a position of student trustee / representative on the SD61 Board and Standing Committees and report back to the Education Policy Development Committee in January 2014. / Carried. For: Alpha, Ferris, Horsman, Loring-Kuhanga, McNally, Nohr, Orcherton     Abstained: Leonard

About Diane McNally