Monday, May 26, 2008

Susan Semonick On Schools - Trustees Board of Education Meeting Report of May 20, 2008

Commentary on the Board of Education meeting of May 20, 2008.

Well, I have to admit that when I first saw the agenda I thought there would be nothing really to report here. However, once I received the meeting package, it was an interesting read.

The Board is now in the ‘pat everyone on the back’ mode. Whether it is ‘near the end of the school year’ syndrome or the election-year commentary starting, I am not sure. I always find it atrocious that they jam the Teacher Long-service recognition for over eighty teachers into a 30-minute time slot once a year. It happened again last month, and it was less than impressive considering it was to acknowledge considerable employee dedication to the district. The Board also sees it as appropriate to cut off anyone who takes more than 10 minutes for their presentation and yet, for themselves there is no timer. During the last few board meetings, trustees have spent a fair amount of their comment time patting themselves and colleagues on the back – taking approximately half of each meeting to have the public hear their opinions or commentary. Yet, delegations are ruthlessly limited to the allotted 10 minutes. It is sad that these elected officials are more interested in what they have to say rather than making time for their constituents.

During question period last night, the 6 or 7 people standing there with questions were limited to not more than 15 minutes in total, even though it was just past 9 pm. I believe they adjourned at 9:30 pm. There was no reason to rush to adjournment since meetings can go to 11pm. If a trustee needed to leave, they could have. Consideration of staff or trustee time should not supersede consideration of the public’s expectation to be able to satisfactorily address the Board at a public meeting. Staff and the board are remunerated; the public is not. I saw the adjournment as another act of the arrogance - that they didn’t have the time to hear anyone else’s questions asked of them. The Board chair should not allow this at all in my opinion. Yes, it is the Board’s meeting and there are rules. The Board can also choose to ignore or override those rules for the sake of building relationships, or simply because they choose to take the high road and reject petty shenanigans in favour of respectful behaviour, as we expect our students to do. Leaders should lead by example.

One trustee questioned the number of board meetings for next year - maybe hoping that there would be fewer? Is this maybe overconfidence that they will be re-elected so would need to worry about it?

Trustees do get another raise in December of this year, automatically, as do other districts. I am in the process of doing a review of the districts across the province about this. I must say it is very interesting. I may post results later this summer. It will be more thorough than what the public may have seen in the past.


The agenda item that is worth mentioning is the District Code of Conduct that the district staff presented to the board for information. It seems that this document had little to no consultation with interested partner groups or parents before last night. When questioned, district staff stated that the DPAC president was consulted. However, I was told that the Vice-presidents of DPAC, both in attendance at the board meeting, were not aware that the President of DPAC was consulted. So, I would say it was a very limited consultation. The partner groups said they were not consulted either. Several parents also stated that nothing was discussed at their DPAC meetings in regards to the District’s Code of Conduct. I wonder how many trustees even cared enough to ask about parent input.

It appears that the district thinks that little consultation is required when they are setting rules and codes for our children to follow. The district does plan to advise principals to review school rules and discipline practices with PACs and students on an annual basis. The problem is that the template or umbrella document they wish the schools to follow had no proper consultation to this point. From what I was advised by people at the meeting, it seems that there was essentially NONE.

I understand that all districts had plenty of notice to fulfill this Ministry requirement. Langley schools reviewed their respective codes of conduct last year. Principals met with district staff to work on the district document which presumably reflected what was already in schools’ codes of conduct and focused on common beliefs, principle goals, and general acceptable remediation strategies. For all the lip service from the district about valuing consultation, it is evident that this practice is still not an embedded part of the district’s culture. Consultation with partner groups, especially parents, should have also happened and been ensured BEFORE the document, which affects all students, was presented to the Board. The public was informed that it is a living document that will be discussed at Table 35, a round-table for students. I hope that those representatives at that table will properly consult with their respective memberships. People take note; you should request a copy so that input can be given.

Development of clearly articulated, open processes for consultation and adherence to them is important. Perhaps it would be helpful for the district to work on this over the summer. Expedience is not an acceptable excuse to not consult. Respectful discussion and consideration builds relationships.

A couple of years ago, during my time as DPAC president, we floated the idea of providing key district staff with magnets, note paper, or the like imprinted with the phrase “Have you consulted with parents?” or something similar. The intent was to provide them with a gentle, yet constant reminder of this key practice. I don’t remember why it never was done. In hindsight, it might have proven to be helpful, regardless of the cost or initial resistance. Perhaps, it is an idea that is still useful. I would think that there would be enough in the professional development budget or even the superintendent’s department budget to cover this. Money well spent if it changes practice and improves relationships.

As for the document itself, certain terminology in this guiding document should be discussed. For example, there seems to be an implied expectation for parents to support the school no questions asked. The district Code of Conduct includes the following expectation for students.

Ethical and Respectful Citizens - What this looks like…
“Making a Big Deal” with the purpose of accessing help for those in need (e.g. helping a classmate access counseling support)”

Of course, the Board showed what they thought of people “making a Big Deal” about the Special Ed Inquiry. They totally ignored them until the Minister stepped in and encouraged them to communicate. Good example people. Another case of “do as I say, not as I do”. Then on the next page it goes on to…

Ethical and Respectful Citizens - What this doesn’t look like …
Promoting hatred or discrimination (e.g. encouraging isolation of someone because of their ethnicity)

This district has selective courses that, if you are not of particular ethnic background, you are not allowed to participate. I had thought the purpose of a publicly paid education was to make available all curricula to all students registered. This is not the only district that practices this type of discrimination. The document goes on to say…

Democratic Participants - Would not …Discriminate on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, culture, etc

Yet, don’t we offer courses that do just that? They then go on to say…

Self-directed Individual and Skilled and Knowledgeable Learners - What this looks like…
- Performing at an acceptable level in core subject areas
Who determines what this acceptable level is and what consequences are expected? If the district has listened to parents, they would know that expectation of staff differ from those of parents. Parents of special needs students in particular often comment on the low expectations of staff for their students. To have to sit at this meeting and listen to Board Members state how perfect and wonderful the code is makes me wonder if they even read it.
They go on to define what a Quality Contributors is.
To me, this section as a whole directs the student to be compliant, not to believe in Freedom of Speech and individual creativity. Students with learning differences may not be accepted here. Next, there is the following….

Consequences for Unacceptable Conduct: Advocacy…
Whenever possible or appropriate, an advocate or mentor (e.g. Parent, Special education case manager, aboriginal representative, etc) will be present with the youth during the discipline process.

Who determines when this is required? Has anyone checked to ensure this document does not contravene other policies currently in existence?

Remarks about the definitions list would lengthen this commentary by 3 more pages, so I will stop here. This document is not ready for schools to use as a template. It is a starting draft document not ready for adoption. Whether you agree or disagree, send your input to Mr. Lenarduzzi, Assistant Superintendent at: I believe he is the person in charge of this.

I hope this will help parents and the district make student policy and code (rules) that are non-discriminatory and something that does not contradict itself in beliefs.

It is important to note that the Graduate Profile upon which much of the document is based is currently under review.

As an aside, I wonder how many DPAC executives, and PAC representatives will query the performance of the DPAC president in the consultation process, and the lack of information provided to parents about the District Code of Conduct? I am told that there will be a change in DPAC leadership next year. A comparable change in the make-up of the Board of Education this coming election might be doubly welcome by many people judging by what I read in the local media.

I have received word in regards to the petition - that I have met criteria according to the MoE’s governance department and they have passed on the petition to the Minister for consideration. To anyone wishing to encourage the Minister to take action - this would be the time to contact her, especially all those people who are interested in regional boards, capping salaries and expenses, and amalgamation of ballots. Let her know that there are many, many more people who wish to see change in this area.

I thank all the people who have supported my initiative and thank them all for their time and efforts. I thank all the people who emailed and asked questions, and sent updates. I am glad that the information supplied to you has been helpful. Have a great summer people.

What about the thunder on Tuesday? It reminded me of Saskatchewan. What an alarm clock! Everything shook - the kids thought it was an earthquake. Are you PREPARED?

Respectfully submitted

Susan Semonick

No comments:

Post a Comment