Advocacy and Trusteeship under siege

School Boards and individual trustees should be advocating loud and long about the needs of their communities for a strong, well funded and supported public education system.

We have seen 2 reports over the past year on the Vancouver School Board both of which seem to have preset agendas that should be of concern to all who support publicly elected trustees for public education. I am not going to comment on what the VSB Trustees may or may not have done, but both of the reports by Roslyn Goldner and Peter Milburn raise serious questions about the roles viewed for School Boards and the publically elected School Trustees. Both of these reports seem to suggest that (1) School Boards should not be advocating for public education and (2) that School Boards should be unquestioning in their acceptance of Senior Administration recommendations. As those who know me will expect I reject both of these suggestions. For a different view see, Crawford Kilian’s Article in the Tyee and and article in the Royal City Record.

 Even with the recent victory in court by the BCTF and teachers for a return to the class size and composition rules our school system will remind significantly underfunded. We still need additional funds to continue to support resources and field studies to make learning more real to our students and to support the New Curriculum. We still need additional supports for our students than what was provided in 1998. There have been cuts to custodial and secretarial time, there are repairs and upgrades to our facilities that need to be done after years of neglect.  The list goes on. We need to continue to pressure the provincial government to provide adequate funding to meet the real needs of your public schools.

I also think that it is the duty of trustees and School Boards to question the decisions of our Senior Administration. Are the decisions in keeping with the expectations of the community, whom we represent? Are they made in a way that is keeping with the direction of the Board as provided through our Policy and School District foundational statements?

Of course I think that it is equally critically important that when we are working towards solutions that we do so in respectful and reasonable ways. But politics, and we (elected school trustees) need to remember that we are all politicians, and that even when it gets difficult and difficult decisions need to be made, it must always be respectful and reasonable, with an open mind listening to all sides. But we also need to be able to disagree both with each other and with our staff. That is where and when the best decisions are made for our children and our community.

So what do School Trustees do?  Well it turns out that it really depends on your point of view. The BC School Trustees Association says,

What Do Trustees Do?

British Columbians elect their Boards of Education to improve student achievement according to the diverse needs of these communities. As locally elected representatives, the trustees on these boards best understand their respective communities’ particular strengths, challenges and demands.

Trustees engage their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. School trustees listen to their communities; guide the work of their school district; and set plans, policies and the annual budget. Reflecting the strength of local representation, boards report back to their communities on how students are doing: boards are directly accountable to the people they serve.

The work of a trustee

School trustees are elected to govern their districts in the interest of improving student achievement. They do this by engaging their communities in building and maintaining a school system that reflects local priorities, values and expectations. They listen to their communities, and guide the work of their school district by setting a strategic plan, amending policy as necessary, helping build an annual budget that is aligned with the strategic plan, and reporting back to the public on the progress toward district goals. They hire senior staff, approve job descriptions and administrative objectives, delegate responsibility for administration and day-to-day matters consistent with those descriptions and objectives, and monitor staff and district performance on a regular basis. Working within the policies, regulations and directives set by the provincial government, trustees act as co-governors of the provincial education system by setting the local direction for achievement, allocating available resources, and monitoring local performance.

How can we monitor local performance, how can we monitor staff and district performance without questioning and even challenging staff?

We should be demanding that our Schools Boards and Trustees speak out collectively and individually supporting the community expectations that got most of us elected.

Author: Michael Ewen

Husband, Parent, Grandparent, Dog Owner, Public School Teacher, Public School Trustee

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