May Day public consultation

At the New Westminster School Board Education Committee meeting in November the Committee discussed the public consultation process that the Board had approved at the last Board meeting on October 24.
At that Board meeting in October the Board directed the Superintendent to follow our usual consultative process sending out the recommendations from the May Day Task Force to the public for feedback.
The May Day Task Force was tasked with first consulting our staff “to review the nature and scope of the New Westminster School District’s participation in the annual May Day celebration.” The focus was to be on the pedagogical impact of May Day in the schools. After much discussion as a first step the Task Force surveyed district staff on the pedagogical impact of May Day in the schools. Of the 166 elementary and middle school teachers in New Westminster Schools in 2016‐2017, 124 participated in the survey – a teacher response rate of 75%. From those responses the Task Force developed 3 recommendations to the Board for public consultation.
The May Day Task Force Committee respectfully submits the following recommendations to the Board of Education:
1 For the 2018 and 2019 May Day, celebrations be school‐based celebrations and further recommend that on the 150th anniversary of May Day in 2020, the School District support the May Day Celebration Ceremony at Queen’s Park.
2 The District should discontinue the practice of selecting a Royal Suite. The Board should support the transferring of responsibility for the Royal Suite to a community organization.
3 The Board should endeavour to transfer responsibility for organizing the May Day celebrations in Queen’s Park outside of school hours to a community organization who could then decide how best to continue the tradition. In this way, for example, those community members who are particularly keen to keep alive the institutions of the May Queen and Royal Suite could formulate their own selection methods, costume requirements and ceremonial “duties”.
As it currently stands unless the School Board directs otherwise May Day 2018 will follow the same process as in previous years. The School Board does not usually get involved in how it’s directions are carried out, in this case having May Day, so it would be up to the Superintendent to establish the May Day committee from District (and perhaps community) volunteers, as has been the past practice, and move forward with May Day.
The Superintendent has also been tasked with contacting community groups who might be interested in taking responsibility for the Royal Suite and “organizing the May Day celebrations in Queen’s Park outside of school hours.” This will also help inform the School Board of possible options moving forward.
Lastly at the Education Committee the following motion was passed and will be going forward to the Board meeting at the end of November,
That the school board invite the city to partner in the public consultation to determine the future observation of May Day and the recommendation from the school board May Day task force be forwarded to this process.
This would be a great opportunity for the City and the School District to move forward with the community and look at al the possible ways to support and continue our May Day traditions.

Digital Portfolios using FreshGrade

At the November Education Committee we had teachers from Spencer present on the use of  Digital Portfolios using FreshGrade to communicate with parents and guardians on what students are doing and how they are doing. FreshGrade is BC based digital platform. Teachers and students are able to post both work and the assessments of the work on FreshGrade and parents/guardians are given access and can both view and comment on the work. Teachers at Spencer, and most of the other schools in the district, are using this digital platform in addition to the traditional report cards that staff are still doing, essentially doing double duty.
While there seemed to be some confusion at the meeting, there are no changes to the reporting or assessing expectations that are set by the Ministry of Education, and there have been no changes in New Westminster, which have to be approved by the Board. FreshGrade does allow and encourage interactions between teachers, students and parent/guardians.
As a teacher in Surrey I have been using FreshGrade for 3 years with my Grade 6/7 classes. In Surrey some teachers, like me,  are using FreshGrade as an alternative to traditional Report Cards. Students, parents and guardians get to see how they are achieving as work is handed in and assessed, as opposed to only getting the Report Card snapshot 3 times a year, and as Superintendent Duncan pointed out, often the information that parents are getting in the Report Cards is already 3 – 4 weeks out of date by the time Report Cards are issued. I find that both my students and my parents/guardians frequently respond to postings, often within minutes of posting. The comments range from encouragement and support to questions of what happened during a particular assessment or assignment to what do they plan to do about their level of achievement.
There are many teachers in New Westminster experimenting with the use of digital portfolios using FreshGrade. These folks are to be commended for reaching out and working on this digital platform to better inform parents/guardians of what and how their children are achieving. We need to be particularly appreciative since these teachers are doing this in addition to the more traditional Report Cards, essentially doing double duty. 
Thanks.

New Westminster School Board Meeting October 24, 2017

This week’s Board meeting is has a number of important issues coming forward.

The closure and final end of the School District Business Company.

The Business Company was an attempt by the School Board to develop off-shore schools in China, principally, to provide the district with additional funds to support the students of New Westminster. It quickly became mired in the politics of the day and it really isn’t worth the time or the energy to review what did and did not really happen. Suffice it to say that in the end just as the Business Company was turning a profit (bringing over $250,000 to the students of New Westminster) the Liberal Government decided about 4 years ago that public school boards could no longer have Business Companies (which they had enabled and encouraged) and that they must immediately be run only by private companies. This meeting should be the final nail in that issue with the formal process of dissolving the Company.

The Duty to Document Policy.

I have talked about this a lot. This is an opportunity for the public to see and understand the choices for the decisions that the School Board makes and have those choices and decisions recorded, rather then just a motion or notation in the Board minutes. Real information. I met with the Deputy Commissioner – Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner back in August 2016 on my own and have reported back to the Board that while the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner would be interested in helping us, that this is breaking new ground and I am not aware of any other School Boards that are moving forward on this policy at this time. Unless something has changed in the past 14 months then I think that we will get the same information back that I reported in late 2016.

The May Day Task Force Report.

I will write more about the May Day Task Force, it’s recommendations and my thoughts later. At this point the Task Force has crafted 3 recommendations for the School Board, and the recommendation is to take these recommendations out to the community for their reaction.

The May Day Task Force Committee respectfully submits the following recommendations to the Board of Education:

  1. For the 2018 and 2019 May Day, celebrations be school‐based celebrations and further recommend that on the 150th anniversary of May Day in 2020, the School District support the May Day Celebration Ceremony at Queen’s Park.
  1. The District should discontinue the practice of selecting a Royal Suite. The Board should support the transferring of responsibility for the Royal Suite to a community organization.
  1. The Board should endeavour to transfer responsibility for organizing the May Day celebrations in Queen’s Park outside of school hours to a community organization who could then decide how best to continue the tradition. In this way, for example, those community members who are particularly keen to keep alive the institutions of the May Queen and Royal Suite could formulate their own selection methods, costume requirements and ceremonial “duties”.

Student Trustee.

While I support the concept of a Student Trustee I am not sure exactly how Trustee Lalji sees this happening. In other districts that have Student Trustees policies were developed that indicated what the Student Trustee would be doing, what the eligibility and qualifications were and how they were elected to that position.  In New Westminster schools we have many students providing many levels and different types of leadership, principally through school based clubs. Unfortunately there does not exist, and has not for some years, an elected school leadership council at NWSS or better yet a New Westminster School  District student leadership council. While the School Board could direct that such a leadership group be established my experience tells me that things that are imposed on people are short lived.

Education Committee Report (October 3, 2017)

We had a delightful committee meeting last week. It started out with a presentation from Qayqayt Elementary School. 

2 of the teachers from Qayqayt used a relationship with Vancouver Biennale to use art to develop their relationship with a school in Brazil. It was an example of how art is able to connect both curricular and cultural differences.  It was incredibly inspiring and just one more example of why both the Fine and Performing Arts need to have a much more significant place in our school system.

After the Qayqayt presentation the Board resumed work on finalizing the Board values.

The Board has adopted both Mission and Vision statements,

Mission Statement “To enable each student to learn in a safe, engaging and inclusive environment.”

Vision Statement “A place where students love to learn.”

We discussed the list of potential values:

  • Inclusion
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Engagement
  • Collaboration
  • Equity
  • Respect
  • Empathy

The discussion was an example of how School Boards and groups should work, thoughtful and reflective discussion. With Trustees and Staff building on others comments. In the end we concluded with a list of, 

  1. Curiosity
  2. Engagement
  3. Collaboration
  4. Inclusion
  5. Innovation
  6. Integrity
  7. Equity

Of course now that we have developed our District Mission Statement, Vision Statement and Values, what comes next.

We developed these as a Board, representing the public and the education system in New Westminster, but without much input or consultation. I would still have preferred, as I stated at the Board table many times, that we had engaged with both our public and our education partners to be sure that these fully reflected the Mission, Vision and Values of New Westminster as a whole. Engagement with our public and our education partners is a major concern of mine. Over the past few years this Board has seemed to become more isolated from our publics. With many seeming to believe, both on and off the Board,  that all is well if we (1) balance the budget and (2) don’t have angry people attending meetings. The area of Public Engagement is a major concern to me and I see that as an area to pursue over the next year.

So now that we have these I am unclear how these are used to help the system to move forward.  But we did have some great discussions at the Board table getting here.

Operations Committee (Tuesday, October 20, 3027)

There are a number of major issues on this Operation Committee meeting Ops Agenda 171010 Open Package. First and foremost is our Operations update, including our Monthly Expenses and Revenues summaries and our Capital Projects updates. Interestingly this Capital Project update includes the information that the Seismic Upgrade for McBride (either rebuild or replacement) is now ready to go to Treasury Board for funding approval, headlines in the paper to the contrary.

The second major issue on the Agenda is the dissolution of the School District Business Company. As some of you may remember just as some School District Business Companies were becoming profitable for School Districts the Provincial Liberal government established a rule that only private companies could operate off-shore schools. It has been a long wait to conclude this venture that was finally bringing monies into our district.

In an oddity we are looking to reopen a school that has been operating as a location for our Home Learners Program. When we transferred the last students from Hume Park and moved the Home Learners Program in, we had to technically close the school to end the use of it for regular program.

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Finally I am very excited to have my Duty to Document proposal finally make it to a Board agenda. I first proposed this in November 2016, it has been a long wait.

I think that we need both the Duty to Document policy and a Duty to Inform policy that clearly stipulates that all items that come before the Board are accompanied with clear , written documentation,

(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board

That would mean no more verbal reports and it would also mean that that the Board has a Duty to Document how and why and not just what decisions were made to preserve the institutional memory of the Board and the reasons for those decisions.

We need to constantly remind ourselves at all levels of government that the decisions we make and the money we spend belongs to the community and public.  The public needs to have information, as do Trustees, before decisions are made to help inform the public of what might happen, of what options are to be considered and allow the public time to influence those decisions. We who are elected to public office can never lose sight of the public’s right to know since we serve on their behalf, in their name, spending their money.

I believe that this is so important for reflective, considerate and transparent Board decision making that if we need to hire more administrative staff to accomplish this I would be supportive. I believe that there is a cost to democratic and transparent decision making, and as one trustee I am prepared to pay for it.

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Supplement to: OPERATIONS POLICY & PLANNING COMMITTEE
DATE: Sunday, November 13, 2016
Item: Requiring Action

PROPOSED DUTY TO DOCUMENT POLICY

Background:
Duty to Document is the concept of providing and preserving the full reasons for decisions that are made by public bodies.

For decades public bodies have relied on minutes of meeting to keep track of what was done and “institutional memory” to remember the why it was done. In this world of Freedom of Information we have seen cultures develop of the destruction of documents to prevent the public from knowing about an issue and an increasingly oral culture has developed in government so that information does not have to be put down on paper or in documents thus keeping that information from the public, obviously forgetting that it is the public’s information and it is the public that we serve, both as elected officials and as administration.

Elizabeth Denham is the former Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. On October 22, 2015 she released a report called, ACCESS DENIED: RECORD RETENTION AND DISPOSAL PRACTICES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. In that report she stated,

“Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees. If they fail to meet this obligation, the access to information process is rendered ineffective.

Democracy depends on accountable government. Citizens have the right to know how their government works and how decisions are made. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) enshrines this right, promoting openness, transparency and above all accountability of government activities.
Citizens can only exercise access rights when proper record keeping and retention is followed and the law providing access to records is respected. This requires that government:

    • appropriately create records;
    • understand and respect the distinction between a transitory record and a non-transitory record;
    • preserve all records that are potentially relevant to an access request once the request is received;
    • respond in an open, accurate and complete manner to access requests;
    • and dispose of records only where there is legal authority to do so.”

In this increasingly complex world I believe that we have a duty to be much more transparent and much more forth coming, not just informing the public about our decisions, but the reasons for those decisions, and the options that were considered.

In late August 2016 I went over to Victoria to meet with the Deputy Commissioner of Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I went over as an individual Trustee and made it clear to those that I met with that I was acting as an individual Trustee, and that I was preparing information to take forward to the New Westminster Board of Education to propose developing a Duty to Document policy. They are very willing to help the Board of Education develop such a Duty to Document policy. They suggested that we could look at a couple of different areas that already have some Duty to Document policies. They suggested both New Zealand’s Public Records Act  and the New South Wales’ State Records Act. Both of these Acts require public offices and their local authorities to create and maintain “full and accurate records” of the activities of the office or activities.
As well the Government of Canada, in it’s Policy on Information Management  states,

6. Policy requirements

6.1 Deputy heads are responsible for:
6.1.2 ensuring that decisions and decision‑making processes are documented to account for and support the continuity of departmental operations, permit the reconstruction of the evolution of policies and programs, and allow for independent evaluation, audit, and review;

This is all about access to the reasons for decision making and making that information available to the public that we serve. I see this as happening in two ways. The first way I am proposing is that we alter our proposed Board Policy by requiring staff to present information in writing, in the form of Backgrounders, in our packages prior to our meetings. In a different document that I have forwarded to Trustees I propose altering Policy 7 Board Operations, by adding a Duty to Document and Inform section before decisions are made, requiring,

Policy 7
BOARD OPERATIONS
6. Notice and Agendas

6.3 (1) Duty to Document
All items on the Board agenda must be accompanied by a Backgrounder
(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board
All presentations must be attached to the Board agenda when it is distributed. If presentations are not attached, the presentation will be postponed.
No decisions can be made by the Board without proper and full written documentation. The Board Chair and Vice-Chair are responsible for ensuring that the proper documentation is attached to Board meeting agendas when they are distributed.
No verbal reports, material or items may be added to Board meeting agendas without the unanimous consent of the Board.

To move forward on such a policy the Board would need to determine what areas we would expect and apply such a process. It could be all areas and all items for Board decisions or it could be specific areas and items that the Board deems most important for the historic record and for public information. Once the Board has determined what areas need to be documented then I would be prepared to bring forward the Policy amendment that is noted above.

Recommendation:

THAT the Operations Policy and Planning Committee recommend to the Board of Education for School District No. 40 (New Westminster) that the Board develop a Duty to Document Policy on the Duty to Document Board decisions and retention of School District decision making records, and that the Board determine what areas and/or what items should be specified in such a policy.

 

Education Committee (Oct 3)

This Tuesday’s Education Committee meeting continues our visits to district schools and program sites and includes a presentation from Qayqayt Elementary school on Cross Curricular Learning.

As well the Board will continue and perhaps conclude our work on Mission, Vision and Values statements.

We have adopted the Mission and Vision statements:

Mission Statement “To enable each student to learn in a safe, engaging and inclusive environment.”

Vision Statement “A place where students love to learn.”

and we need to continue and perhaps conclude with our Value Statements.

Superintendent Pat Duncan has said

“Values clarify our collective commitments – How must we behave to create the School District that is reflected in our Mission & Vision. For every value we identify, it should be possible to point to many examples from all corners of the School District of that value in action.”

We had the potential Values up on our website all summer and will be sharing that feedback on Tuesday.

The list of potential values has been reduced by the Board to:

  • Inclusion
  • Integrity
  • Accountability
  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Engagement
  • Collaboration
  • Equity
  • Respect
  • Empathy

For me the number one Value both for our district and for education generally is the need for real collaboration, between all of those engaged in helping to education our children. Real collaboration should not impede decision making, it should aid in making those decisions not only the most relevant but the most thoughtful. I have found that all too often decisions are made in education without talking to those that have to deliver the services to the children. This has been particularly evident at the Provincial level where for many years Ministers of Education have made decisions in Victoria, often times, without even asking if it is possible to accomplish their decision. Whether it be Daily Physical Education, Student Information Systems, haphazard Curriculum Implementation or at various Districts buying computers, iPads or other technology for schools and staff (without asking either are they needed or what we would like) all too often decisions are made away from the people who have to implement those decisions. For decades the New Westminster School District has been an incredibly collaborative district.

For me the second Value both for our district and for education generally is the need for real accountability.  Accountability that includes giving both the decision makers and the public real and full information to ask questions and base decisions. I believe that such accountability comes from a Duty to Inform and a Duty to Document (this item is coming forward to the October 10 Operations Committe meeting), so that everyone, at either a District, Provincial or Federal level have all of the information to make real and informed decisions. Whether it is making Provincial decisions on Site C, ICBC or BC Hydro, or making local School Board decisions on why Schools are at where they are in the development or redevelopment queue or why Budget allocations are being made in a certain area, we need to have real and timely information to make those decisions and engage in those discussions , both at the Board table and, more importantly, in the public. We need to constantly remind ourselves at all levels of government that the decisions we make and the money we spend are not ours, but belongs to the community and public.  The public needs to have information before decisions are made to help inform them of what might happen, of what options are considered and allow them time to influence those decisions. We who are elected to public office can never lose sight of the public’s right to know since we serve on their behalf, in their name, spending their money.

Consistency Needed – September Board Meetings

You know if I plan to Blog about the New Westminster School Board I need to be more consistent.

Since my last Blog post the New Westminster School Board has met 3 times (Education Committee (Sept 12), Operations Policy and Planning Committee (Sept 19) and a full Board meeting – which I missed(Sept 26)).

My goal is to be reporting before and after every Board and Committee meeting and I will endeavour to better meet that goal.  I am reminded with the Duty to Document and Duty to Inform concepts that it is information that the public needs to have before decisions are made to help inform the public of what might happen and allow them time to influence those decisions. We who are elected to public office can never lose sight of the public’s right to know since we serve on their behalf, in their name, spending their money.

I will report on all 3 of the meetings here and will work on separate Blogs for each in future, starting with this Tuesday’s Education Committee.

Education Policy and Planning Committee (Sept 12)

We have started a process of travelling around to the difference schools for the Education Committee meetings. This is a beginning attempt to re-engage with our public.

We had a delightful presentation from the Tweedsmuir staff regarding their Outdoor Learning Space. The story about developing the space was incredibly inspirational. A true collaborative effort between the students, the school staff, our CUPE support staff and the community (who kept it alive and growing over a very long and hot summer).

We also discussed our Board annual work plan. The Board work plan is to give staff directions around what information the Board wants and when it should arrive.

We also approved Trustee School Liaison Assignments and Committee Assignments, leaving assignments virtually unchanged for the upcoming year with a couple of minor changes acknowledging that Trustees should not be the liaison at their child’s school, although I must admit that I can’t recall who changed, and unfortunately I cannot find it in the minutes.

Operations Policy and Planning Committee (Sept 19)

Most of the September Operations Committee meeting is always taken up with the Board receiving the audited Financial statements. The Board finished the 2016/2017 Financial Year with a surplus of about $254,000, giving us a total of an unrestricted accumulated surplus of $1,619,557, plus a Board Restricted Surplus account for $500,000. According to our Policy 19 (RESTRICTED AND NON-RESTRICTED SURPLUS FUNDS) expenditure of such funds is restricted to the following items on a 2/3 vote of the Board;

Policy 19 RESTRICTED AND NON-RESTRICTED SURPLUS FUNDS

2.5.1 The incurring of new cost pressures in a fiscal year that were not known at the time of budget development that are in excess of$150,000;
2.5.2 The payment of severance (wages and benefits) in excess of $75,000 upon termination of a non- union employee without cause;
2.5.3 The settlement of any legal action that is not covered by the School Protection Program;
2.5.4 Initial one-time cost outlays for new educational programs;
2.5.5 Extraordinary unknown utilities cost-pressures;
2.5.6 To cover monies owed as identified by the Deficit EliminationPlan.

This was in response to BC governments who made budget changes to School Boards mid-year and didn’t fund them. Since it was established in 2014 we have never had to use the funds.

We also confirmed that Richard McBride and Lord Tweedsmuir were 1 and 2 on our Seismic Mitigation list.

Board Meeting (Sept 26)

I was unable to attend the Board meeting so the following are from both the Board Agenda Package  and comments from other Trustees and staff.

The Board approved the Education Committee recommendation to establish both Mission and Vision statements.

Mission Statement “To enable each student to learn in a safe, engaging and inclusive environment.”

Vision Statement “A place where students love to learn.”

The Board approved 5 Year Capital Plan, Financial Statements and the District Work Plan as presented.

The Board also agreed to send out a second Queensborough Bussing Survey, this time in a variety of languages. Some Trustees felt that the previous survey as not able to reach the Queensborough parent community due to it being in English only.

And of course Superintendent Pat Duncan announced his plans to retire from the District December 31 of this year. I certainly wish Pat well and I have enjoyed working with him.