Superintendent of Schools – Noun – ad·vo·ca·cy \ ˈad-və-kə-sē \ – the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.
Let me start by saying I am not an elected official. I work for the Board of Trustees of Rocky View Schools and have an employment contract directly with them. At the same time, I have a long list of statutory requirements in the School Act that I must comply with. In my role, I work closely with our trustees to support them in their advocacy efforts. I might provide them background information, discuss strategies, share what I am hearing about the topic through my circles, draft letters, and countless other tasks.
Over this past year, I am consistently impressed by the work our trustees do to advocate for students, staff and communities. The advocacy takes all different forms – meeting with the Minister of Education; meeting with MLAs; meeting with local government officials; meeting with other trustees from around the region; working as a collective through the Alberta School Boards Association or the local zone; writing letters to the Minister on topics such as capital needs or transportation funding for French Immersion students; providing feedback on potential legislative changes; attending consultation sessions to provide input on a wide variety of topics; and meeting with parents and other stakeholders in a wide variety of settings, including school councils.
RVS’ advocacy efforts are often focused on influencing potential changes or decisions being made by government. Board of Trustees are heavily influenced by laws of the land and associated regulations. Boards do not have complete autonomy to do whatever they want to do.
Recently, I was able to spend two days as part of an RVS contingent at an Alberta Education consultation for our region. Trustees, senior staff members and parents were in the room discussing a wide variety of topics related to potential legislative changes. The sessions included group work, but also allowed individuals to provide direct comments to Alberta Education through online tools. I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these topics and provide input rather than reacting to them once they are enacted. Having table discussions with people from different school divisions and from different roles helped me understand the issues from different perspectives.
While advocacy efforts take time, and may not have immediate results, I believe those efforts are worth the time and energy.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted its second of two annual meetings with School Council executive members. Rocky View’s Board of Trustees values the contributions of its School Councils. School Councils can enhance student learning by engaging parents, staff, and community members to advise the Principal and the Board on matters concerning school improvement planning. The Division views each School Council as a means for parents and community members to work together with the school to support and enhance student learning. These joint meetings are opportunities to network, support the important work of our School Councils, and gather input. Trustees try and attend as many school council meetings in their wards throughout the year as possible.
In our administrative procedure about School Councils (AP110), it highlights a number of important functions and roles. Among many duties, the School Council will have an opportunity to provide advice on the development of the school’s: mission, vision and philosophy; procedures; annual education plan; annual results report, and budget.
In the fall, the joint meeting focused on hearing from Alberta Education staff about the curriculum refresh currently underway. The spring meeting included sharing with School Councils the recently completed three-year capital plan and a showing of the movie Screenagers, an award-winning documentary on mental health, which focuses on the challenges families face given social media, video games, and the internet. Screenagers offers solutions to empower kids to navigate the digital world and maintain a balance between home, school and academics.
We appreciate everyone who joined us for the evening. We know people are busy and have very full schedules. There was plenty of table talk after the movie that was a good sign that people were engaged and found the topic and content of the movie interesting. I know as a parent of a 15 and 11-year-old, some of the parenting strategies we have implemented were reinforced and I learned a few things by watching the movie.
Superintendent of Schools – Recently I attended a RVS Advocacy board committee meeting where one of the topics on the agenda was a discussion about how this Board can encourage, help, and support people considering running for trustee in the upcoming elections this fall. It is important to remember that I am not a Board member nor a trustee. A major part of my job is to actually support the Board and one of the ways is through supporting effective governance. I am a strong believer in public education and the important role that trustees have in providing the voice of the community.
The Alberta School Boards Association puts out a variety of materials to support potential trustees prior to each election. Locally, RVS has put out information packages for potential trustees, held an evening session to support candidates, published information about the election. Often people only have a vague idea of what a trustee does so I think it is important for people to gather plenty of information prior to making a decision to run for trustee. I can tell you it is a lot more work than the public two hour meeting every two weeks! Being a trustee is a rewarding opportunity to serve your community and does require dedication. In any given week/month trustees may also: attend committee meetings; attend school council meetings; meet with local government officials and MLAs; work and learn with other trustees in the zone/province; engage in professional learning related to the role; help parents navigate the system; research information; and countless other tasks.
According to the ASBA, “school board trustees are local politicians elected by and accountable to the community they serve. The school board has many responsibilities, including:
- setting school division goals that ensure students have the knowledge and skills that enable them to be better prepared for life;
- planning school division priorities based on provincial curriculum requirements, community input, available resources and best practices in education;
- developing and implementing an annual budget for the school division based on curriculum requirements and strategic priorities;
- developing policies to guide school division administration and employees toward division goals;
- ensuring residents of the school division are regularly informed about the work and achievements of the school division;
- advocating on behalf of the school community to decision-makers and stakeholders on important issues that affect education, and to ensure education is a top public priority;
- ensuring regular opportunities for public input and access;
- evaluating the school division’s chief executive officer – the superintendent of schools.”
According to our own RVS policy, here is what the role of a trustee is -> policy 3. Here is a link to information about what the Board does -> policy 2. These documents help provide the big picture view of what is expected of trustees.
If you know someone who is interested in running for in the fall election for a trustee, encourage them to attend a public meeting this spring, check out the ASBA website about the work of trustees and election information, continue to monitor the RVS website for more information, and/or talk to an existing trustee to gather more information. The nomination process will come up quickly in the fall (Sept 18th) so now is the time to think about the opportunity to serve your community by becoming a trustee.
p.s. As many of you reading this are RVS staff, there is rule which restricts your ability to run for trustee if, on nomination day, you are an employee of any school district, school division, charter school or private school as of nomination day – unless you take an unpaid leave of absence to run before the last working day prior to nomination day.
Superintendent of Schools – Last week the Board hosted their fall joint meeting with trustees and school councils. In addition to trustees, about 70 people were in attendance with a combination of division administrators, school administrators and school council representatives. The two-hour event included a casual pizza supper and information about resources for school council leaders and information about the ward boundary review, but the main focus was about the Alberta curriculum development currently underway.
Two Directors from Alberta Learning walked the group through a 75-minute presentation mostly focused on the “why” and the “how” of the curriculum development project. Looking around the room the group was nodding appropriately and when we had table talk opportunities there was plenty of discussion. We had bursts of questions/comments at certain points. When talking about the development process a couple key question were asked – “How are students being involved in this process that will impact them?” and “Have you talked to recent graduates about their thoughts about what they needed to learn?” These questions resonated with people and a conversation spun-off about when and how that could occur.
About 60 minutes through the presentation a parent made a comment that really hit home with me. The parent stated (very politely) that most of what had be presented did not really make any sense to her. Some other parents quickly vocalized similar sentiments. My mind raced through the previous 60 minutes as I tried to process her comment. I came to the realization that the talk was too much about the “why” and the “how” whereas parents in this room were more concerned about the “what” this means for their children. The talk had acronyms that parents did not know; it talked a lot about the technical components of the development process, which potentially really did not matter to parents; and a six-year timeline to build curriculum just does not make sense to many people. There was a hunger to talk about how and when the eventual curriculum would be implemented.
I walked away from the event with a reminder that we need to make sure that when talking to parents we avoid the edu-jargon that dominates our language. We consistently make assumptions about terminology that we use in our business is known to everyone. We need to focus on how whatever we are talking about impacts their children. Like everyone, we all want our kids to be successful, get what they need and have every opportunity available to them when they finished our system. We need to listen to what parents want for their children. People generally trust public education, but need to know that their kids will get what they need in the end. Maybe, for parents, curriculum development is like making sausages – we don’t need to know about how it is made, but just that it is good.
Superintendent of Schools – This past week I spent two days in Edmonton at the Alberta School Boards Association’s Fall Issues Forum. We had four of our trustees attending the forum where discussions were focused on big picture issues impacting schools and school boards. Topics included: Alberta’s political environment; communicating your messages in the modern era; legal changes impacting schools; child and youth advocate act review; joint commitment to action on First Nations, Metis and Inuit student success; curriculum development; and a number of other topics. Our Deputy Minister, Dr. Curtis Clarke, joined the assembly to share some highlights from the Ministry and answer questions from trustees. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about the Alberta political environment as it relates to public education.
I spent two other days last week touring 11 of our schools on the east side of the division. These were the beginning of my formal school tours along with the ward’s trustee. The visits are quick, but highlight that our schools are unique and are doing great things for our kids and communities. Whether it was a large high school or a smaller K-9 school, what was clearly evident is that staff care for kids; that people are dedicated to supporting student learning; that our student and staff come from diverse backgrounds; and that each school has programs and offerings to address their local needs. Some tours were led by students, while others were led by school administration. We visited many classrooms and chatted with both staff and students. We were treated extremely well and I want to thank all those involved. Over the upcoming weeks I’ll have the pleasure of visiting every school in RVS along with their ward trustee. Watch my Twitter feed for various highlights from the tours.