Loki and the Gifted Children

This beautiful mural is on the side of the James Bay Community School.

When I go to schools to talk with and listen to  parents as they arrive with their children, often one person will want to come back to talk about an issue that is especially important to him or her.

Today I listened to questions and comments about the shamefully inadequate funding for extra service and support for gifted children, and the strange delay in testing.

A 2009 Maclean’s article (I wish they’d move that maple leaf over) discussed erosion of services to gifted children:  “As his classmates learned phonics [I’ve got lots to say about phonics, but not here, not now] Marshall says her son, who by five had graduated to the Harry Potter series, sat alone with a novel…. in B.C., the number of students identified as gifted has dropped by nearly half since 2000. (The decline coincides with the province’s 2002 decision to stop earmarking special education dollars, which, says [former] Education Minister Shirley Bond, gives boards “flexibility” to “best meet those needs.”)…. [T]he context for cutting special education services is rarely the subject of candid discussion.”

In twenty years of teaching in Special Education / Learning Support / Reading Recovery in Greater Victoria, I’ve seen first hand the erosion of service to gifted children. Teachers who have “Gifted” as part of their school assignment often receive a FTE point (full time equivalent – 1.0 = a full teaching day) for “gifted” of something like .02. That works out to about half an hour every two weeks for a small group of identified students.  Fun? Probably. Serious investment in bright young minds? Not so much.

I went looking for a support and information group for parents.

The BCTF support and information group link doesn’t work.

The BC Association for Gifted Children seems to be in hiding, because I can’t find a link that connects. It shouldn’t’ be this difficult. One of the several BCAGC pages I found is inextricably entwined with the political presence of an MLA. Odd.

I tried Mensa. The site has lots of information about gifted children (and provides a scholarship – check it out). But again, the link to the BC Gifted Children’s Association didn’t work, so I tried a Calgary link, clicked though to British Columbia, and again found a link to BCGCA. Clicking  that got me to the Vancouver Community Network, where Brian on the phone help desk. found that BCAGC is not hosted on VCN but is hosted on a different server: pwcows.com.  Brian found an address, president@gca.bc.ca. I emailed, and it bounced as an “unrouteable address”.

I went back to Mensa and followed the link to the BC Ministry of Education Special Education page where  the government manual “Special Education Services: A Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines” addresses Gifted Designation on page 60 of the pdf. The Ministry says “Early identification of students who are gifted is an important element in planning and delivering appropriate educational programs for these students.”  Makes sense. If they’re not identified, how could service be targeted? Oh, but wait – remember that 50% drop in gifted people  in BC referred to in that Maclean’s article? And Grade Five is “early”?

There are lots of “shoulds” in this manual, including in regard to the education of gifted children.  I always felt when reading it as a teacher that the “shoulds” were like reading “should be able to feed 50 with one croissant”. I still feel that way.

Funding for gifted children and for the entire public education system has been dramatically eroded in terms of real dollars since 2001, regardless of the predictable creative accounting–based government “highest funding ever” silliness.   CUPE BC, not alone in thinking we have an emergency in regard to public education funding in BC,  identified ‘emergency action’ as being required in April 2010. It hasn’t got better since then.

All this from a walk around a pleasant neighbourhood in Victoria, talking with parents and walking with a friendly orange cat named Loki.

If I am For Myself Only, What Am I?

At Occupy Victoria, I spent some time  talking to people in the crowd about public education and school trusteeship. I eventually found myself talking to a large man who rebuffed any effort at reasonable conversation and who said after a very short exchange,  “You’re only in this for yourself. I can tell.”

I didn’t know what to say, apart from “You’re very wrong about that.”

I have a B.Ed., a very rusty 5 year French Language and Literature Diploma from Uvic, and in 1999 enrolled in the Royal Roads MBA full time two year Master’s program while working full time as a teacher in SD61. I was one of two treehuggers in the cohort and it was uphill all the way, but it demystified capitalism, economics and business for me, and that was my objective. I treasure my Naturalist Diploma from The Whale Museum.

Most of my teaching has been with children and youth who need extra support for learning. I worked with students labeled “severely and profoundly handicapped” for 10 years at Victor School with multidisciplinary specialist teams and CUPE classroom teams. (Why doesn’t anyone ever get called “severely gifted”? was a question I first heard during those years.) I’ve taught learning assistance and will never forget the evening  I was writing a Learning Assistance IEP, and discovered the targeted funding had been “rolled over into the per student amount”. I knew the writing was on the wall for actually meeting the learning needs of students with special needs, and that situations that were already challenging were about to make a giant leap in quality of challenge. I’ve been IEP case manager and written many IEPs, and worked with all school staff to do our best to implement them. Occasionally there were tears and hands shaking from frustration from me and from CUPE support workers when we could not do what we hoped to do, and could do –  if only we had the funding. For the five years before retiring from SD61 last June, I taught Reading Recovery to struggling Grade Ones, with very positive results for young lives.

Why do I want to do be a School Trustee in the Greater Victoria School District?

I’ve spent many hours at various meetings of the Board over the years. I have been and continue to be  taken aback by the lack of transparency and accountability that characterizes this Board’s process.

Teachers and CUPE education workers spend their lives in service to the public good, one young person at a time. Even in oversize classes teachers give their best to this ideal. What could be more important?  I want to support public education by being a strong advocate for this shining public asset, and want to do my best to defend it against those who would damage or destroy it.

It’s time for change.

Same Old, Same Old: No, and Yes

October 15 and 16 was a weekend of interrelated connections, connecting with friends I hadn’t seen for years, with people who had been of significant help in my life whom I’d lost track of, and connecting with new interesting people with interesting ideas for our community’s welfare.

Saturday’s People’s Assembly (Occupy Victoria) demonstrated citizen disillusionment with market forces that free market aficionados swore would fix everything. Citizens of Victoria, along with counterparts all over the world taking part in Occupy events, have had enough of “trickle down” that doesn’t, and enough of austerity programs that allow the 1% to grow ever richer while communities and workers and families scramble to make ends meet.

We do not need “austerity”; we need a reworked taxation system.

Taxes are the way we pool resources to help each other achieve goals we can’t achieve as individuals, goals such as transportation infrastructure, public health care, and public education. The “1%” hold money that could be freed up by a reasonable taxation system, money that could be redirected to the public good without free market “austerity”.

Imagine a fully funded public education system in which every child’s needs really could be met!

On Sunday I attended Philippe Lucas’ initial community coffeehouse meeting in the Atrium, the first in a series he has set up to talk with citizens about community issues. Talking and listening with Ayla (I’ve got to find out what The Dance of the Photons is about), Timothy, Nick, Mark, Philippe and Lisa Helps in Habit  made for a very interesting 90 minutes, and I’ll be back for more of each of Philippe’s and Lisa’s intelligent and open approach to community capacity building at other events.

Next School Board / Board of Education meeting is Monday October 17, tomorrow. The minutes from last Board meeting on September 19are not up yet on the District web page. Nor are the minutes of the October 11 “Special” (“stealth?”) Board meeting at which the Superintendent’s Report on Class Size and Composition,now called “Report on Class Size” – the rocky issue of composition just disappeared! – was passed, as usual. When will we now who voted how? We won’t. It’s not recorded. When will  we be able to access video of  the meeting? We won’t. Meetings are not recorded for public review and accountability purposes.

It’s time for change.

WiFi in Public Schools: Vancouver Concerns, My Concerns

One of my goals is to act as soon as possible to limit unneeded wifi / wireless technology in our public schools. The “precautionary principle” means “Don’t act unless you are very sure of your conclusions”, and no one is very sure of the effects of wireless technology on our children. Research also points to negative effects on bees, who are fundamental to crops and food.

Jennifer West, the co-chair of the District Parent Advisory Council for Vancouver has significant concerns with the proliferation of wireless technology in Vancouver schools.

We were all holding cell phones close to  our heads a year or so ago, except for the few people who mentioned possible carcinogenic effects,and chose not to do that. Now we see headlines in mainstream newspapers cautioning us about the possible effects of cell phone radiation the brains of children and youth, and adults.

Meanwhile, School District 61 Trustees have allowed wireless technology in at least one elementary school, and are enthusiastically planning for it to be installed in middle schools and high schools.

Exactly how is wireless technology supposed to improve the graduation rates for aboriginal students, and for all students? The main beneficiaries here will be companies and corporations that supply the hardware and infrastructure, not our kids.

Improvements is graduation rates and in overall achievement come with increased teacher attention to individual students and their learning needs, the strengths of each child, and each child’s needs. A Smart Board will not do this.

Children are not impressed by our late take-up of technology. They are ahead of us on this curve. Institutions can never keep up with the expensive obsolescence of gadgets and technological innovation. Students could well see our “computer labs” as old tech. What we need to give our children and youth is public schools is truly personalized education – from a person: a teacher.

Tax money needs to go to hiring teachers, and restoring the class size and composition language that was illegally stripped from Victoria Teachers’ Collective (that means both parties, the Union and the Board, agreed to the provisions) Agreement, now.

We teach our children that if you do something wrong, you own up and make it right as soon as you can. Why can’t our government do that?