Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Susan Semonick On Schools - Report from the Board of Education Public Meeting Oct 9

The meeting was full with about 200 people in attendance. Both the boardroom and the overflow room upstairs were packed. There were three past trustees and Mayor Fassbenderin attendance.

District Highlights
The two district presentations were not well listened to, for parents wanted to get to the important things on their minds. Career Education teacher, Judy Gerein, spoke on the apprenticeship programs in the district. Coordinator of Instructional Services, Sandra Averill, spoke about the Internet safety program that is offered in the district.

First presentation was from a student on the HD Stafford reconfiguration and the effects it would have on her personally. Her point – that the proposed changes will basically make her have to go elsewhere out of district or change her career direction. She did state she was already taking Distance Learning courses to meet her graduation requirements.

Second presentation was from a past trustee, Chris Petipas and she commented on the disdain she felt in regards to how the public has been treated and the decisions that are being made. She did state that she felt that Board Chair, Mr. Burton, was not listening and to please look at her when she spoke. Mr. Burton asked in return whether he was then not permitted to take notes – to which in turn she stated he would be receiving a handout.

Then, I did my presentation, which has been posted prior to this report. The essence of my report was that this Board is still failing to clean their own house before they make changes that affect the students. In June, Trustee Bech tried to make a motion to deal with the failing SDBC but there was no second. The rest of the Board did not even wish to discuss an option that would not affect students - NOT A ONE. Hopefully now there will be a second, third and fourth on this so it can be done.

A delegation from the Blacklock Elementary community made a presentation re a proposal for their Fine Arts programming.

Mr. McFarlane did a presentation next and was kind enough to send me the PowerPoint, which I have included in this report (Powerpoint software required, and may take a few minutes to download to view.).

District Reports

Enrolment report can be found at:

Capital plan was received for information and posted at:

Reconfiguration Report

The report includes pros and cons of the various recommendations including suggestions from the public. It shows the steps necessary to move the IB program at REMSS and why it may be difficult to do so.

The one thing that does not seem to be mentioned is that the entire Fundamental program could be moved to LSS and LEC could be moved to LFMSS building. They could close one more building (excess space). This would make more sense and would cost far less than the current proposal. This was an option that they had several years ago but chose not to do. Times have changed. The Fundamental parents already drive their children to school, so as long as they have a stand alone program what does it matter to them? Some of these students already go to LSS for woodwork. Then, the Plumbing and Carpentry programs can be left where they are.

The following is an excerpt from Grade Configurations in K-12 Schools by Nancy McEntire
http://ecap.crc.uiuc.edu/info/pubs/fri/gradeconfig.html (2002)

In the past decade, researchers also have demonstrated renewed interest in schools that include grades kindergarten through 12. A study of rural schools that examined the relationship between grade configuration and student achievement in Louisiana found that students in K-12 rural schools did as well or better on achievement tests as students in separate elementary, middle, or high schools. Students in high poverty areas also did better in the K-12 schools (Franklin & Glascock, 1996). A similar study in Texas analyzed data from a study of 1001 Texas high schools, including 116 K-12 schools. This study produced similar results (Bickel, Howley, Williams, & Glascock, 2000).

Noteworthy mention – Trustee Bech asked to refuse the report and send it back to receive what they actually wanted - a balanced report and a cost estimate. It was defeated.

While the report is lengthy, it is not what the trustees had asked for. There are absolutely no cost estimates attached to any of the recommendations and yet one of the primary responsibilities of the trustees is to manage the finances. How can you vote on recommendations when you do not know what the monetary cost of the ramifications are; let alone the social impact to communities, and most importantly to the success of students. In any private venture, a cost estimate is simply expected.

If the Board knows the costs attached then they should be fully disclosed to the public and trust that the public will be fair in their expectations. It is the appearance of backroom deals, incomplete disclosure, and lack of openness or trust (of the public) on the part of the Board and senior management that has created unnecessary distress and suspicion. It is not change that people oppose. It is a clear rationale, supported by evidence, to indicate that the direction that the recommendations are taking this school district is appropriate for their students and their communities, that people had expected but feel they have not yet received. It is a semblance of a reasonable thought-out implementation plan, with timeline and costs which people expected. That the Board and senior management refuse or are unable to comprehend this is troubling and does not bode well for our students. Is the education system not for teaching? Is not communication a key skill? How can they teach this if they cannot do it well?

South Central Elementary Schools Report

The report was received for information but history shows that a recommendation will very likely be forthcoming shortly. The recommendation in the report is for the closure of Murrayville Elementary and is suggested due to it being an older building, lack of finances and low enrolment in the South/Central area. It is important to understand that the school itself is not under-enrolled but that its enrolment capacity is smaller. This will be the third school out of possible five, according to the McAvoy Report, to be considered for closure. If the middle school reconfiguration goes through, many know that it will be a done deal.

If the recommendation for an Aldergrove Middle/Secondary goes through, they may be closing one more of their catchment elementary schools too. The savings are only $250,000 to $300,000 at best. They only saved $58,000 closing South Carvolth Elementary. So the question is still out there. Why are they doing this? If we were really in financial crisis the trustees would not have taken a 34% wage increase. Trustees would not be taking a raise in December. They would not be allowing the SDBC to suck more funds and resources from direct student services. They would not be contributing $250,000 (to date) to the School District Foundation and it goes on and on. Or would they? Is it just poor fiscal management? Or simple incompetence?

There are many who are saying that it is this Board that hired the current superintendent. They do not have trust in the Board, so therefore, how can they have trust in the Superintendent? This Board has allowed too much to slide through; three trustees appear to have no idea of what their responsibilities are. One seems to be trying to do the responsible thing. but does not have the backing to succeed. This Board has effectively done too little, too late, with no idea of the damage caused by the lack of process and consultation. With the exception of one trustee, all the rest will have to do a lot of campaigning to be re-elected. If they have 7 running against them, there will be at least 6 new names on the Board at the end of the next election.

CLASS SIZE AND COMPOSITION REPORT RECEIVED The Board of Education received the annual Class Size and Composition Report, which is required by the Ministry of Education. The average Kindergarten class size in Langley School District is 18.81 students (a district-wide average of 19 is permitted under the School Act); Grades 1-3 average class size is 20.85 (21 is permitted); Grade 4-7 is 26.91 (28 is permitted); and Grade 8-12 is 24.79 (30 is permitted). Also included in the report are individual classes with over 30 students in Grades 4-7 and 8-12, and classes with more than three students with special needs.

- 17 band or music classes in elementary schools are over the class size limit.
- 6 drama or visual arts classes in elementary schools are over the class size limit.
- 1 PE class at James Hill is at 31, but there is one student who is special needs and only attends intermittently.
- 1 grade 5 class is at 31 at RC Garnett.

Wouldn’t it be nice in these cases, if they could not make one 15 and one 16 to allow the teachers more time with the students; especially since in this particular class the students are meant to be the leaders in their school. Maybe the trustees could refuse their raises to help – or are we not in that much of a crisis yet?

Any class in the secondary that exceeds the recommended limit does a disservice to the students unless it is Art, PE, or Band/Music. For our Secondary schools that leaves
- 3 classes at ACSS 127 students
- 4 classes at BWSS 137 students
- 7 classes at DWP 218 students
- 3 classes at HDS 97 students
- 2 classes at Langley fine arts 65 students
- 10 classes at LFMSS 320 students
- 12 classes at LSS 376 students
- 20 classes at REMSS 633 students
- 10 classes at WGSS 315 students.

In my opinion there are 2,288 students who are not receiving the level of instruction they should be due to class size. REMSS, LFMSS, LSS and WGSS parents with students in any of these classes perhaps should be considering moving their children from those schools to schools that have better class sizes which, according to these figures, would be HDS. Langley Secondary has a high number of large classes and a low number of students compared to capacity. I now understand why the parents at LSS are more than willing to see change - anything would be better than what is happening.

Deferred Report on North Langley Community Consultation
Meetings have been set up to begin after Christmas, in the new year - a cost that may not be warranted considering the damage that may already be done to close to 31% of the public school population. Another $10,000.00 to tell the public what may already be known, that North Langley area is fine for the time being and may ride through the draught of babies. REMSS needs expansion. It is highly likely that an alignment of timetables for secondary schools may be recommended. Some have also heard rumours of a middle school for the North Langley area. We can only wait and see. This is perhaps something that the Board should also do - wait and see until ALL the consultations have been completed before making any decisions about any of the Area Recommendations. What a novel idea! I wonder which trustee would be willing to put that motion forward at the next Board meeting and more importantly which trustees will have the wisdom to vote in favour of such a motion.

Deferred information on Bills 20-21-22
This report was not received for information and was deferred.

Question Period
At the end of the meeting there were several students with questions. The Board Chair, Mr. Burton in my opinion proved his democratic process is not very democratic. To treat future voters in the manner that they were, the Minister of Education should be advised, but I doubt if anything would be done. This is where legislation fails its people.

Q1: Where can she get an application form for the Surrey School District?
Q2. They wanted to know what would happen if a grade eight student did not complete all credits. How were they expected to do dual campus? Do you get held back or put forward?
Ans.: Ms. Beaumont advised it is based on the individual case and it is the teachers and Administration that make that determination.

Then everything thing got out of order and I was unable to hear the last question permitted. Mr. Burton adjourned the meeting and stated that if anyone had questions for them that they were welcome to come and ask them after the meeting.

The following is the view of the Board meeting from a student from SFU who happened to be there to do an anthropological study on status and role and how they define the role.

The Board appeared to waste a major amount of time on trivialities (TPS). The Chair seemed very condescending toward his fellow Board members as well as the public. He appeared to take more into account of what his fellow male trustee stated than any of the other members of the Board. There was an air of disrespect in the room as a whole.

Since the Board chair is the person in charge of creating the agenda for the public meetings, I would have to suggest that the chair receive time management skills training. What is being cut is the most important part of the meeting - “question period.” It is the most important part for it gives the Board an opportunity to hear from its public. There is a BCCPAC resolution to urge the government to require all Boards of Education to record questions and answers that are presented at public meetings. I hope this will go through since many trustees seem to fail to understand the importance of this part of business. What I understood from a newspaper article is that Trustee McVeigh does not consider question period a part of the business of the Board. After 12 years of being a trustee, I would have thought that at least she would realize that this is a very important part of their business. Questions reflect to the Board the scale of how well they are representing information to the constituents and relaying important information.
The Aldergrove meeting on October 11th regarding the proposed middle/secondary had about 300 parents participating. The majority was against the middle school being placed with the high school. There were about 10 % of those who were interested in a stand-alone concept. The concerns most voiced were regarding the mixing of Grade 6’s with the Grade 12’s and the wish that the younger students not be exposed to the older students. For example, a 17-19 year old boy could influence an 11-year-old girl. There were safety issues raised in regards to the territory claims and related drug incidences that have recently occurred at the school. The principal was not aware of any serious incidence that had occurred and that worried the parents.
At the October 16th South/Central consultation meeting, there were at least 700 people present. There were 28 presentations, which involved 47 students and 28 adults. There was a movie clip, and skits and songs done by the students to communicate to the Board various themes and concerns. The community has united and basically stated all the cons of converting to a middle school. There is a long list. The benefits of changing to the middle school concept have not been substantiated with facts or a cost analysis. The point of all of this is, is that they are trying to fill all the secondary schools at the cost of the neighborhood elementary schools. If they would cut costs at the School Board office, they would not have to look at this for at least 2 years. To start, if they

- dissolved the School District Business Company,
- eliminated School District Foundation costs,
- stopped all donations to others for 2 years, and
- directed all the savings to direct student services,

they would only have to close one secondary school for September 2010 and there would be schools operating at capacity - no overcrowding or portables required. The reasoning they use to propose the closure of Murrayville Elementary is the age of the building. Then, why are we not using the same reasoning for secondary schools? LSS, I believe is the oldest. A facility upgrade is scheduled for next year that will cost $13,464,000 of our tax dollars to bring it up to seismic code. I say - defer that upgrade and close the school as of 2008 and affect 603 students (3% of our students), OR close it as of 2009 and not accept grade eights for one year and affect 438 students (1% percent of our student population). The LSS PAC President has already stated that the parents have accepted this transition.

By my calculations, what they are suggesting right now will affect approximately 5799 students, which is 31 % of 18,720. I believe that everyone would have to agree that 3% is much better than 31%. It also will not cost as much money as the current option will.

There was also a presentation that stated that the district would need at least three busses, if not more, at a minimum cost of $130,000 each.

There was a presentation that suggested that someone from the Ministry be sent to review the proposed reconfiguration in the district. According to Dosdal they already have been here recently. He had the following comment:

“Many students in our districts are experiencing success, learning and thriving. However some are not. The visits made over the past few weeks indicate that we don’t yet have the answers to what will work best to engage all students in successful learning … but superintendents are seeking ways to engage the principals, teachers, students, parents and the community to seek answers to our most challenging questions”.

What was additionally interesting is that in his October 5th edition, he also listed seven points of effective teaching.

#3 Sustained initiatives: new programs and initiatives require sustained effort, resources and your individual attention. Too often in education we move from incentive to incentive without our full attention to ongoing implementation.
#7 Community Involvement: when parents are productively informed and included, they support their schools and will work with teachers and other staff to help with student activities and programs. Schools with positive community development have high morale.

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