School Board Community Engagement

The School Board tends to use what I consider to be an antiquated process for community engagement and the result this time has caused some serious angst among some people regarding our May Day consultation.

Currently the School Board tends to use what I call a “sit and wait” approach to public consultation and seeking public feedback. It is essentially a passive approach hoping and expecting that people will come forward either to Board meetings or respond to our information as it is circulated to PACs and employee groups in the city.  I don’t believe that this has worked particularly well, or has served our community particularly well. 

Throughout 2015 and 2016 the City reviewed their Public Engagement tactics and adopted a new public engagement strategy in December 2016.

I believed, and still believe, that this could form the basis of a School Broad reflection on our Public Engagement practices. I forwarded the following motion to the Board November 13, 2016,

THAT the Board establish a board based education partner and community Task Force to review the current School Board public engagement and make recommendations to the Board on how to improve our engagement with the public.

This motion has not been brought forward yet.

I firmly believe that we need to move away from our antiquated and ineffective engagement process and we need to (1) review what the City did and (2) establish our own process to more effectively engage with our community.

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In my Backgrounder to my November 2016 motion, Public Engagement in the School District, I said,

Background:

We have had some challenges regarding engaging our public. Typically at School Board meetings and at our Committee meetings we get between 0 – 4 members of the public.

Recently the Board has discussed restricting Trustee attendance at both School PAC and the District DPAC meetings, to only those times that the PAC or DPAC request an elected Trustee.  This may or may not be a good idea, but I think that the Board should review the work that the City of New Westminster has done on engaging  the Public,

“The City recognizes the need to respond to the demand for high quality public engagement—not as a nice-to-have—but as a central component of how the City does business and delivers services to community members.”

and develop our own strategies to better engage our communities.

In the past the School District has had:

    • Community based committees
          • Education
          • Social Responsibility
          • Finance
          • Operations

The Community based committees were not very successful and after they struggled with quorum issues they were amalgamated into Education and Social Responsibility and Finance and Operations.  Once again they struggled with quorum and were eventually dropped, to be replaced by different variations of our current structures, Board Public Committees, with flexible rules to allow and encourage public participation.

For many years the School Board also had a District Advisory Committee. The committee was a broad based committee composed of members of the public, members of the parent community and members representing a wide base of community organizations (including the Labour Council, Chamber of Commerce and service organizations). The purpose of the Committee was to review School Board policy initiatives.

    • District Advisory Committee.

DAC was comprised of representatives from various schools in the district, as well as representatives from a variety of local organizations interested in making a contribution to public education in New Westminster;

• Some of the organizations participating in DAC during this time included the West End Residents’ Association, Douglas College, the Hyack Society, the New Westminster Multicultural Society, and the Presbyterian Church, among others;

• The central goal of DAC was to provide a range of perspectives reflected through the diversity of its membership to the school district with respect to its ongoing educational and operational programs and services;

• An additional goal of DAC was to review draft policies of the school district as well as to explore new initiatives for the Board’s consideration;

  • A key determinant in the formation of DAC was a desire on the part of the school district to forge closer and stronger relationships with its community partners which would lead to a stronger, more robust and vibrant school district.

(From a Backgrounder from Superintendent John Woudzia Feb 9, 2010)

I think that before the Board makes any decisions about District engagement we should discuss with our community and education partners how we might better engage them.

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I think that the recent May Day consultation process, as well as the Board decision to develop a Mission Statement, a Vision Statement and District Values without significant staff and public engagement, have all been pretty clear examples of the Boards current lack of commitment to real and in depth staff and community engagement.

Author: Michael Ewen

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

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