Polices, Regulations, Bylaws, and …. Money

January 1 – Happy Policies, Regulations, and Bylaws Day! This is a catch-up  post, and following entries should be shorter.

Election result on  November 19 were encouraging. Thank you all who voted, and thank you to all who voted for me. I’m pleased to go forward with 12,977 votes.

Media attention to School District 61 issues has been gratifying. New trustees ran with the desire to bring about transparency at this Board, where operating with little attention from anyone has been the comfortable norm for many years. As I talked to people in the  neighbourhoods of Greater Victoria , many people asked me what School Boards did and why they should bother voting for Trustees, and why they should care, especially if they didn’t have children in school. I hope that when the next election is underway, fewer citizens will ask those questions, as they will have a much better idea about the operations and budget and policy decisions of School District 61, and will know more about the fundamental part public education plays in our Canadian democracy.

Yes, I’ve been reading all the GVSD Policies, Regs and Bylaws, and have highlighted a few for further interest. Of course they’re all compelling reading (!) – really they are, as they guide and influence every aspect of education in School District 61 Greater Victoria

Did you know that you can propose a Policy for School District 61? Check out Bylaw 9210! The only requirement is that you are a  trustee, SDS61 employee, SD61 employee group, parent, student, or resident of the school district. That covers just about everybody in thee GVSD!

There is a Policy for provision of information to newly elected trustees, and although the timelines are not specific, my interpretation leads me to believe the information in the Policy should be provided before the swearing in, and certainly as soon as possible. The was some difficulty getting the Regulations, Policies and Bylaws in hard copy, though the Superintendent did provde hard copy after a time. I hope the Chair will provide us with the rest of the material referred to in this Policy in hard copy, as well as a complete line item budget on January 7, the first Saturday of a two-Saturday orientation. Although the Secrertary -Treasurer told me early in December I probably would not be interested in the “paper clip line”, I am. I’m interested in every line for revenue and every line for expenses. The detailed budget is certainly “relevant information” under this policy. (One trustee has asked for this document for three years and still does not have it. Newly elected trustees have been asking for it since the day after the November election.) Time to break out “How To Read Financial Statements” from MBA days!

Because of the slow start regarding provision of information, an incident regarding provision of grievance information to trustees, the discouragement of motions from the floor in Board meetings, the renewal of three year contracts for the Superintendent and Secretary-Treasurer in a secret meeting in October – information which was not reported out in a timely way – and the District culture’s expectation that Trustees not visit schools unless visits are pre-arranged, I’ve been getting that “figurehead” feeling. I didn’t run for election as a figurehead. I’m expecting that feeling to change.

The meetings that encourage public participation and less tightly managed contributions from Trustees are Education Policy and Operations, Policy and Planning. Occasionally the two meetings are combined though the agendas and mandates are quite different. The first combined Ed Policy / OPPS meeting is set for 7:30, January 9. These meetings are supposed to feed recommended, pre-managed motions to the Board meeting. See what happens to heartfelt requests made at the Board, when the chair says “Thank you; that will be referred to the appropriate committee”, while the citizen speaker expected something more.In the past I’ve actually enjoyed Ed Policy and I expect to now.

With the School Act, BCSTA website and learning materials, BCPSEA website and materials, District 61 Bylaws, Regulations, and Policies, and the not so user friendly SD61 website, along with SD61 minutes from the last three years, and a thick Trustee Information Binder I now have (only after insisting) to read before the two Get Up To Speed Days, January 7 and 14, I will be busy learning. And the learning won’t stop there, I know.

I was elected Board representative to BCPSEA at our first meeting,December 5. I will be attending the BCPSEA Symposium and 18th AGM on January 20 and 21.

I attended the BCSTA Trustee Academy December 8, 9 and 10. The first event required a disclaimer at the end from the facilitator : “This is not Ministry of Education presentation”. Could have fooled me. However, presentations over the three days turned out to be better balanced than I expected after that initial session, with some Ministry of Education initiatives cheerleading presentations and a presentation from George Abbott notable on one side, and an excellent speech by Stephen Murgatroyd on the other. I bought Stephen Murgatroyd’s  book, Rethinking Education. Book review to come!

The Board chair assigns trustees to school groups in order to facilitate contact. I share the Esquimalt High School group of schools with Trustee Elaine Leonard (Esquimalt High, Rockheights and Shoreline Middle Schools, and Craigflower, Macaulay, Vic West and View Royal Elementary Schools) , and will make regular school visits. Some of of them may be impromptu. That’s not culturally comfortable in SD61, but that can change. There is no formal liaison with Education Services, like Ledger, the Vic West Assessment Centre, YCC.

I will attend Esquimalt group PAC meetings, at least in part, as often as I can.

I’m the Board representative to Success by Six, and as a former Grade One reading specialist and special education teacher, I am happy with this assignment by the Chair.

The WiFi Committee seems not to be functioning but needs to be restarted. Citizens for Safe Technology provides new research almost daily.

The District budget cycle starts on Monday January 9.

Please consider participating in the vital discussion of public education funding by attending public meetings and Board meetings, and by making presentations. K-12 funding as a percentage of the BC budget was 26.36% in 1992, and in 2012, 15.41%. while public school funding has steadily fallen, support for private schools using public money has increased.

My head is spinning – in a good way! There is a lot to learn, and a lot to think over.  This is a Board of nine trustees. Every motion needs a seconder to even be considered for discussion, and then of course needs a majority vote to pass.  I hope to see you soon at Ed Policy, OPPS, a Board meeting, or the 4th Sunday of each month at he Spiral Cafe from 2-4 pm. I’ll be there with Lisa Helps, Victoria City Councillor, though we’ll have separate tables for our community discussions.

Individualized learning a “big change”? What planet, etc.

It’s time for Geoff Johnson to give up the “Retired School Superintendent” reference to bolster the credibility of his self-styled “education pundit” gig. Mr. J is currently an education consultant, along with Bruce Beairsto and some others.I found this out by stumbling on a web page that lists BC education consultants. You’d think a consultant would have a web page, with cv, published articles, and recent contracts.Let me know if you find it.

In his latest article in the Victoria Times Colonist on December 22 ( The TC has one of the most frank names of any print media, don’t you think?) and other print news media, Mr. J is all excited about the great new thing, individualized learning. I have a few things to say about that. I generally have a few things to say about Mr. J’s pronouncements on public education. Some of them get published. And a few questions arise, among them, just how long has Mr. J been out of the classroom? And I don’t mean a classroom visit.

Individualized learning not a “big change” (Diane McNally, December 28, 2011)

I’m getting exasperated with all the breathless wonder around “personalized learning”. In his December 22 editorial article, Retired Superintendent of Schools Geoff Johnson claimed that “traditional school designs… assumed that kids learn the same thing at the same rate and in the same way”. Johnson actually means that the humans who designed the schools he refers to assumed that. I don’t think that’s a safe assumption.

I began teaching in the late 1960s and during my entire teacher education and practice no one ever said or even implied that students all learn the same way and at the same rate. In the interests of promoting the recent Ministry of Education’s Plan that highlights “personalized learning” (which may be code for sitting in front of a computer, iPad or apparently, a smart phone)  a lot of unfounded statements are being made about a supposed current lack of attention to individualized learning.

It is not a building that teaches our children. Some consultants would have you believe that, and have slick cut and paste PowerPoint presentations to convince Boards of Education that personalized learning is mostly about buildings – especially the buildings their clients build.

It’s telling that government will provide $350 million for capital initiatives while refusing to raise salaries of teachers, the actual critical element in education, to even the point of keeping up with inflation. But it’s clear what personalized learning will mean, since, as Johnson says, even with a possible 80,000 pieces of discrete data to be tracked in a 1,000 student high school, “the administrative technology exists”.

Too bad all the teachers who could be hired with the $275 million the government saved every year as a result of the 2002 collective agreement stripping won’t be there to personalize learning in the way we all know means the most to students: individualized attention from a caring teacher.

A Struggle to Survive Is Not “Bickering”

I’m not sure where the ubiquitous “Oh, my” expression came from, but here’s my opportunity to use it: Geoff Johnson, retired superintendent of schools, oh my.

In his op-ed piece “School reform stalled by endless bickering” (Times Colonist, December 1), Johnson writes about the “free market economy” as if it were a force of nature, like, say, the speed of light. The free market economy is a human choice. We – well, maybe you, as it wasn’t me – voted in the privateers who promote the “public bad, private good”, tax phobic mindset.

I have a great idea for school “reform”, and here it is: proper funding of public education. As a percentage of the British Columbia budget, funding for k-12 schools was 26.36% of the provincial budget in 1992. It fell to 19.67% in 2002, and now accounts for only 15.41 % of the provincial budget.

Students are members of families, whatever form their family may take. For a government that trumpets its intention to put “families first”, the numbers put the lie to that.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled that the Ministry of Education was wrong and the BC Teachers’ Federation was right, when the TF objected when the BC government yanked the part of the teachers’ employment contract, the part that guarantees class size and class composition in order to make sure every child has genuine access to a teacher and is not just on the class list. Instead of rectifying this situation, George Abbott has thrown a piece of bread to the starving and is inviting teachers and administrators and desperate parents to fight over an inadequate pot of supplemental dollars to determine which child gets a bite, while invoking the ancient “Look over there!” strategy with the “bold, new” Bring Your Smart Phone to Class plan.

Johnson’s assertion that recognizing that “we don’t all learn in the same way and at the same rate” is a “major revision in how we think about schools” is simply ridiculous. This recognition informs teachers’ and school administrators’ daily life. It’s the inescapable reality on the ground, and how public schools manage to do so well in that context with so little astonishes me. (How private schools manage, with entry screening and generous subsidies of public tax money is not so astonishing.)

Many of us as citizens, and as Board of Education Trustees for our School Districts, would love to have the “promises” of the Plan For Education that Johnson defends so vehemently spelled out very specifically, so we can measure claims against rhetoric

The real promises of public education are universal access to a free education that ensures each learner reaches potential for a fulfilling life. Meanwhile, British Columbia moves ever farther into “fee for service” territory and “personalized” learning without the interaction of persons.

The current situation is not “bickering”. It is a desperate fight by a fundamentally important public entity – public education – that is in crisis due to systematic underfunding and mismanagement at the Ministry level. Resistance to the death of the notion and the reality of a public good is admirable. I stand with the resistance.

 

 

The Good, the Bad and the Discriminatory

Undoubtedly the idea that Ministry of Education funding categories for students with special needs and the related class size and composition language (illegally stripped from a negotiated Collective Agreement in 2002 ) is a form of discrimination has come to your attention at some point.

Possibly, it is: discrimination can be positive, as in the case of School Districts all over British Columbia being signatories to  Aboriginal Hiring Agreements in order to increase the presence of Aboriginal teachers in BC schools.A Vancouver case alleging harmful  discrimination by a School District is the  Jeffrey Moore case which grabbed my attention when it all began (almost 20 years ago now), as I was then a Learning Support and Special Education teacher who had recently heard that students with learning disabilities no longer had targeted funding for support. It’s not hard to figure out what “No, it’s been rolled over into the per-pupil amount” means, which is what I was told when I inquired if this could really be true.I was astonished, saddened and deeply upset.This case is still underway and has made its way to the BC Court of Appeal, and is on its way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Victoria Confederacy of Parent Advisory Council President John Bird has long held the view that class size and composition language  constitutes discrimination of the “against” kind.

Mr. Bird recently sent a letter to Trustee candidates, giving us three days from November 1 to return our answers. He included a statement that  our answers to his questions would be made public on the VCPAC website. I want to share the letter with you, linked here, along with my answers, which are below. I’d be interested to hear from you  about this issue at McNallyTrustee@gmail.com

November 2, 2011

Attention: Greater Victoria Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils info@vcpac.ca. 

Introduction: (150 word limit)

  • 10 years CUPE Special Student Assistant, SD62
  • 10 years Victoria School, serving learning needs (often intensive health care needs) of students then labelled “severely / profoundly handicapped”,  small classes (no more than 8 per classroom); alternative placement chosen by parents. Multidisciplinary teaming; managed a team  of up to six classroom assistants; very close cooperation / constant communication with parents; ongoing intensive professional development
  • 10 years special education teacher, including  “case manager” for students with IEPs; learning support with tech components; Reading Recovery; extensive ongoing related professional development
  • President, Special Education Local Specialists Association
  • B.Ed.U of A, UVic
  • Diploma French Language / Literature (5 years, UVic)
  • MBA full time (Royal Roads) while working full time
  • Deeply concerned with erosion of service to all children and lack of public advocacy from most Boards of Education when public education is in crisis in British Columbia

1.  Change in the education system can be difficult and new initiatives require careful planning along with dedicated people to champion them.  What potential improvements to the education system are you most passionate about and what specific actions would you undertake to   implement them if you are elected?

  • I want to see Reading Recovery continue and be implemented in every K-5 school. I want a return to previous funding levels for the learning needs of students identified in Ministry of Education funding categories, as well as a return to specific funding for student s identified as ‘learning disabled” in any way. Parents and school staffs need a detailed line-by-line budget for every school, and need details of staffing for students with special needs. EA assignments must be made clear and open for parent scrutiny. I want more teachers and education assistants, and fewer iPads. Specific actions as a trustee seem at this point in my vision limited to bringing motions to the table, finding a seconder, presenting clear rationales and voting on principle, not expediency. Outside the Board room, issues at the Board table and parents’ concerns, and by the time students are in high school, student concerns, need to be in the public eye to a much greater degree. I don’t see any impediment to issuing press releases, blogging, contributing to local media, and more. I see listening to parents and concerned citizens as one very important part of my “professional development” as a trustee. I have always sought out new learning and will continue to do that; I have acted on clearly explained principle in local and provincial level venues, and will continue on that path..

2.       VCPAC’s position on limiting the number of students of any particular classification from being included in a classroom is that it is discriminatory.  If the classification was ethnicity, VCPAC believes that everyone would recognize the practice for what it truly is; prejudice.  Do you believe that the practice of discriminating against a group of students for the purpose of  lobbying the government for additional funding is justified?  Based on your answer, how can the publishing of statistics about classrooms that have more than three students with  individual education plans be acceptable?  Please explain your answer.

  • I have participated for years  in long and at times painful conversations with the executive of VCPAC on this issue. There are a number of issues raised by this question. First, if an “every parent referendum” were undertaken in School District 61, I do not believe the majority position would be congruent with VCPAC’s on “discrimination”. I believe general parent attendance at VCPAC meetings is an issue that needs attention The British Columbia Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils apparently is not enthusiastic about supporting or promoting the ‘discrimination” viewpoint. If the class size and composition provisions to which you refer (the provisions unilaterally and illegally striped from a collective agreement agreed to by both the employer and teachers) were truly negative discrimination amounting to prejudice, there would have been a legal ruling by now as this allegation of “prejudice’ has been going on for many years. Your question is phrased in such a way as to prejudice an answer. Limiting class size is clearly good educational practice if one supports truly personalized learning. The Ministry of Education wants teachers to be involved with the interests and passions of students and to personalize learning for every student. A class size of about 28 gives a teacher around 10 minutes one on one with each student. It is amazing what teachers do under this limitation, and how far they stretch themselves to support each student. Students with more complex learning needs require more attention and more preparation for instruction. There was a reason for those small classes at Victor School. This was not prejudice against the next child who might arrive; it was an issue of making actual access to a teacher and individualized education according to the provisions of an IEP possible. The teacher is responsible for programming and learning outcomes for all students, including those with very complex needs. There is no paid assignment time for CUPE to plan or communicate between the teacher and the CUPE assistants who in reality are the primary providers of education experiences in many cases, because of the multiplicity of learning, physical / health, and emotional needs of the students in any classroom to which a teacher must attend. Class size and composition language was presented by teachers as an alternative to a salary increase because teachers want to ensure all students have access to an education, not just access to physical presence in a classroom. If a teacher needs additional support to meet the needs of a student, the school and that teacher need to make a case for that expectation. If teacher assessment along with parent input were the benchmark, we would not need the somewhat heavy-handed “funding category “ approach, and many more students would have the support they need. However, public education takes place in physically limited-size classrooms with resources that are limited by the public’s willingness to be taxed, and by any government’s priorities. It is difficult to understand how reporting publicly on the numbers of students in any class who need extraordinary access to education opportunities and information as to how well the District is meeting those requirements required by class size and composition provisions can be seen as a form of prejudice. If you have taken this issue to legal action as a Human Rights challenge, I look forward to the outcome. If this issue has not gone to that larger forum for a ruling, it remains an opinion.

3.       At a recent SD61 Board of Education meeting, VCPAC suggested the development of a new  model for funding classrooms that is not based on discriminatory practices but instead is designed  to ensure that the needs of each and every student are met.  VCPAC believes that this could be accomplished by focusing on the composition of resources that are required instead of the composition of students that are acceptable.  Do you agree with this approach for analyzing the total needs of a classroom?  If elected, would you stop the practice of discriminating against students with individual education plans as currently practiced in reports on class size and composition?  Please explain your answer.

  • The current model of funding is not based on “discrimination”” and class composition is not based on student ‘acceptability” to a teacher. All students are “acceptable” in public school classrooms. The issue is access to education, not access to a seat in a particular classroom. My answer to the previous question will serve as my more complete answer to this question as well.

4.      As a result of an advocacy case in late 2009, VCPAC learned that WorkSafe BC processes were being utilized by the Greater Victoria Teachers Association to lobby for additional education  assistant time for certain classrooms. This was accomplished by declaring the workplace hazardous (with a student being “the hazard”) and then refusing to return to the “unsafe workplace” (the classroom) until additional assistance was provided.  In this 2009 case, the action resulted in a grade two student and their family being ostracized along with significant disruption to the learning environment.  Do you believe that WorkSafe BC’s “unsafe work” procedures are an appropriate process for classrooms?  Please explain your answer.

  •   In my assessment, the invocation of WorkSafe processes was and continue to be  symptomatic of the desperation of public school workers to get funding for students who need extra support but who are denied that support because of the inadequate provincial funding for every classroom, which particularly affects students with special needs. If students with special needs that create hazards for other students or school staff had the support they need faster than the timeline that requires the extremely time consuming case building required, including months of phone calls and paperwork and demonstration of complete exhaustion of school based interventions with the non-targeted funding and personnel at hand, and which eventually results in ridiculously inadequate levels of support after all that (and still dependent on the parent’s willingness to involve an “outside agency” like community mental health,  with  no targeted support  ensuing if that does not occur) WorkSafe issues would be all but moot as incidents would be largely prevented by ongoing interventions and adequate support. That said, I do,and did as a teacher, consider having my breasts grabbed and twisted, being bitten, scratched to the point of bleeding, kicked, and attacked and intimidated physically all  workplace safety issues.

5.       Parents have reported to VCPAC that their children have suffered a number of setbacks in their education due to post & fill and/or bumping (due to seniority) processes which sometimes result in numerous teachers and/or education assistants being assigned to a single classroom over the  course of a school year, thereby disrupting student learning.  If elected, would you advocate for some limitation to these processes so that the right of students to a consistent and uninterrupted education is respected?  Please explain your answer.

  • This situation does occur to some degree. However, there is no more transparent and open way of staffing. Students have a right to “an education”. I would not advocate for an end to collectively bargained staffing processes.

6.       In 2008, political information was distributed to parents, via students, relating to a dispute between the SD61 Board of Education and the Greater Victoria Teachers Association.  In 2009, political information was distributed to parents, via students, relating to a dispute between the Ministry of Education and the BC Teachers Federation.  In both cases, VCPAC took the position that  “parents do not wish to have their children interposed in any issue that involves a dispute between adult groups in the school system.”  We were advised that an arbitration decision  (pursuant to the collective agreement) granted the union in each case the right to communicate with parents in this manner.   The difficulty in accepting this response is that students (through their parent advocates) were not represented when the decision was originally made.  This is also the case in the WorkSafe BC procedure discussed in question #4 above.  If elected, would you advocate for legislation that grants legislated parent organizations the right to be heard (i.e. intervenor status) on matters relating to student rights when such processes occur?  Please explain your answer.

  •  Establishing parent intervenor status in any forum would be most credible if the appeal were to come from the British Columbia Confederacy of Parent Advisory Councils. I see this issue as one that is the responsibility of BCCPAC.

Diane McNally