Superintendent of Schools – Early in the term for the Board of Trustees, they take a massive road trip to visit each school / site in RVS. I join the group for the tours and get the opportunity to visit our schools too. It takes about nine full days to visit all the sites, but I believe it is a very important opportunity. Trustees are elected for a specific ward, but they are required to make decisions in the best interest of the entire division. Visiting every site helps put discussions about facilities, budget, and communities into perspective.
While lengthy in total time, visiting over 50 sites over nine days does mean each visit is a bit of a whirlwind. We are in a school for about 45 minutes and in that time, we walk throughout the facility and hear about the school. Principals are asked to organize a facilitated brief tour of each building, featuring initiatives that exemplify the school community. Often, we have students lead us on the tour, while other schools have the principal take us. No matter who the guide is, the tours are always enlightening even for someone who has been in the facility a few times. To me, one of my roles is the taskmaster to keep us on time. It is challenging as there are so many good things going on in our schools; we could stay for hours but it just is not possible.
After each site tour, we jump in a bus and head out to the next site. Often in that drive between sites, we discuss something we saw or heard about. Other times the tour will generate a bunch of questions for us to discuss. The ride time is an important part of the tours too.
I must say, as someone who has taken their fair share of bus trips for sports teams when I was younger, things have changed when on the bus. I remember an important coach in my life, Lyle Sanderson from the University of Saskatchewan, lamented when the Walkman and later the Discman became popular. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself again.) Lyle would say that team trips changed from card playing, chit chatting, highly interactive events to quieter, more individualistic trips when people put on their headphones and listened to the tunes. Having recently been on a few bus trips with 12 and 13-year-old hockey players, that is partially true, but there was still plenty of noise generated by those peewee hockey players. On these early tour days, I can tell you that between some schools it would be quiet as each of us pulled out our phone and got caught up on emails.
Thanks to the schools we have visited so far. The tours have been absolutely great!!! To those we have not visited yet, we will see you in the upcoming weeks.
Superintendent of Schools – Shortly I will be joining the trustees as they tour every RVS site over a period of nine days. These visits provide both new and veteran trustees with the opportunity to physically see each school and learn a bit about it. We are riding on a bus to visit about six sites each day, so I’m sure we will have plenty of conversation between each visit.
A comment I’m sure to hear is that each school is unique. That is so true! Every school has a culture that reflects its community, physical space, staff and students. In RVS we do not have a cookie cutter approach to our schools. We support diversity in approaches while collectively working towards the goals of our Four-Year Plan. We try to effectively blend both choice and standards – and it can be a delicate balance. Most importantly, schools are responsive to the needs and aspirations of their students.
This past week we had grand opening ceremonies for two schools that opened this fall in RVS. Fireside School in Cochrane held their event in the morning and Windsong Heights School in Airdrie was held later that same day. Both schools have almost the same physical plant, but they are unique. These differences are more than just the colours on the walls; you can see the passion of staff and reflections of the community in the differences between the two schools. The schools are building their cultures around similar narratives, but not identical. And the ceremonies were both great. Like their cultures, each school’s event was similar, but not identical. Both celebrations were student-led and included speeches from dignitaries, videos and student performances, but the type of student performances varied due to the different people in each school.
Our schools, like the students and staff within, reflect the diversity of our communities. We come together to support each other while celebrating both our uniqueness and our common experience. In my humble opinion and to quote Martha Stewart, it’s a good thing.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week I spent three days in Edmonton – with all eight RVS trustees on Monday and Tuesday for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) fall annual general meeting, and then with a group of four trustees for the new trustee orientation put on by the ASBA on Wednesday. These ASBA meetings happen twice a year where trustees from across Alberta get together to discuss policy issues, as well as partake in professional learning. As a staff member, my role is to learn with our trustees and be there to support them as they have questions about the policy topics being discussed.
At the business session, there were four policy motions put forward from boards from across Alberta. One policy position was put forward from RVS trustees. The Board took the opportunity to bring up the topic of high school funding when they met with the Minister of Education last spring, but also decided to use the ASBA as a further advocacy approach. The Board wrote up a motion urging government to adjust the funding for high schools participating in Moving Forward With High School Design (MFWHSR). Many school divisions have embraced the approach of MFWHSR and are leveraging the pilot to create flexible learning environments for students. Alberta Education originally stated that high schools would be funded on a three (3) year rolling average (2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 schools years) of the credit enrolment units (CEUs) earned by students. This rolling average funding model would recognize, via additional funding, schools that were able to help students achieve the outcomes of a course. If students generated more CEUs over time, then funding would be provided to recognize and support the provision of the additional learning opportunities. However, Alberta Education has since frozen funding at the 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/2013 historical rates and has not rolled forward the average based on the actual CEU earned by students in the pilot. For RVS, this means we are getting about one million less dollars each year because the grants do not reflect actual CEUs earned by our students since 2013. Providing these additional learning opportunities costs money and schools are having to revisit providing more opportunities for students as a result of the funding in the MFWHSR pilot not keeping pace with the credits students are generating.
Good news is that the vast majority of other Boards agreed that ASBA should urge government to update the funding model to reflect the original intent of a three-year rolling average. The ASBA can only urge / request government to make changes, but it is important to have the support of ASBA for proposed changes.
I just wanted to share an example of how our Board uses multiple advocacy streams as a mean to address issues.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board of Trustees hosted school council representatives and school administrators at their semi-annual Joint Board/School Council meeting. The evening started with Ms. Jill Quirk from Heloise Lorimer School and her STEAM team of student leaders who work in the school to help with coding, robotics and more. We had Ms. Krista Wunsch, also from Heloise Lorimer, with four of her students who have been learning with Elders and Knowledge Keepers on the topic of Treaty 7. Lastly, we had Mr. Vernon Gray from W.H. Croxford in attendance with five students who shared their photography from the Visual Arts & Media Academy. It was great to get the event started with a focus on how we make learning visible and real in our schools.
The emphasis for the rest of the evening was digging deeper into a question we ask annually as part of our parent satisfaction survey. We wanted to hear from parents specifically about if they feel informed about their child’s progress and achievement, what schools are doing that is working to help inform them, and what strategies we could attempt in an effort to improve communication about their child’s progress.
We used on online polling tool where people answered questions on their mobile device and instantly their comments were collected and shared back with the group. The technology worked flawlessly and over about 45 minutes, we were able to collect some really good feedback. The results were interesting because for one person strategy X was a strength and for another person strategy X was listed as something we could do to improve. For one person strategy Z was seen as a positive, while someone else rated that same strategy as not really working for them.
We will take those results and see how we can use that information to improve satisfaction in that area. After collecting the feedback, we shared a brief presentation about how we are attempting to communicate student learning. We had hoped to dig into one other area from our satisfaction survey, but ran out of time. I guess we already have one topic for our spring meeting!
Thanks to all parents and school administrators who were able to attend and share their thoughts with us on that evening.
Superintendent of Schools – On Monday, Oct. 16, voters from across Alberta elected new mayors, councilors and trustees and the shape of local government changed. In RVS, due to ward boundary changes and incumbents choosing not to seek re-election, we were going to have a minimum of five new trustees on our Board of eight. A few of us waited up until the wee hours on Tuesday, Oct. 17 to see the final results. At that moment we had three acclaimed trustees and five trustee elects, and within those eight we had three veteran trustees (we don’t call them “old” trustees) and five first time trustees.
On Friday, Oct. 20, the results became official and our eight trustees were sworn in / affirmed at a public ceremony at our Education Centre on Tuesday, Oct. 24. Upon swearing in, the “old” Board finished their work and a “new” Board was formed. Congratulations to our new trustees and thank you so much to our former trustees.
While the eight officially were trustees on Oct. 24, the work had already started. Emails were flying around 1 a.m. on Oct. 17 as I congratulated them on their elections/acclamation and asked them to book a bunch of dates in their calendar. We had two orientation type events prior to the election date for all candidates. We had our first official orientation session on Thursday, Oct. 19 where we spent time getting to know each other, walked through the orientation plan, dealt with some of the required paperwork and forms, got them setup with technology, and walked through the swearing in ceremony.
Our second full day of orientation was on Tuesday, Oct. 24 where we discussed topics such as: trustee code of conduct, conflict of interest, organization meeting, how board meetings are organized, their role in emergency school closures related to inclement weather, how to do their own timesheets/expenses, and previous motions from the past couple of years. Then they had pictures taken. It was an incredibly busy day and we ran out of time so some other topics will need to be rescheduled.
The third orientation day was Thursday, Oct. 26 where the Board and myself spent the majority of the day with Dr. Leroy Sloan. The focus was on discussing what makes effective governance and clarifying the roles of trustees, the corporate Board and the Superintendent. Leroy connected the legislative framework that boards operate under along with a governance framework. A number of key policies were discussed, all intermixed with a bunch of interesting stories from Leroy. Trustees were also introduced and had a brief “meet and greet” event with Education Centre staff late in the day.
The orientation work continues with three days of Alberta School Boards Association work in late November followed by specific orientation meetings in December and January. We also integrate at least one orientation item after every Board meeting starting on Nov. 16 until April.
Being a trustee is tough work and, as staff, we work hard and spend lots of time early in the term to help trustees get off to a great start.