Tuesday, November 20, 2012

parents asked to do more

Many parents are indeed more involved; as a teacher I’d like to see even more partnership. The idea that parents need to subsidize our public education system, though, is not good. While I admire their support and respect for school staff, too many PACs are actually donating money to teachers to buy basic supplies for their classes. That should be fully funded by the government via the local district. I’m also not quite sure how to “place” the former chair's comments. He said that in 2001 when cuts and closures were on the agenda, parents were brought into the conversation and realized they had a place in the school setting. Is he referring to the public consultations around closures required by the School Act and Board Policy? Nine years later during the 2010 cuts the school district still hadn’t figured out how to extend the conversation beyond required meetings, and seemed shocked by the expectation from the public that they wanted to be a more significant part of the conversation. Partner groups (e.g. parents) were given a few hours to provide feedback on cuts, and were completely left out of the jigsaw puzzle plan that could not be changed until the final hour before schools were to be closed. Parents had to fight to get basic answers to financial questions throughout the process. Don’t take it from me… previous DPAC chair Don Sabo went through all this when he gave his “summary report card” at the end of the “Sustainability” process. Normally an uplifting and praise-laden fellow, he had hard words for many aspects of a process that could have been improved at any point along the way.

Personally, I was really impressed that the most coherent expression of support in 2010 for public education and vision for the roles of sustainable communities anchored around schools came from passionate groups of parents. Most everyone else just reacted, the bulk of teachers included. The cuts and changes were in some ways inevitable, even understandable (partly related to gov’t cutbacks, partly related to the way our district has spent its money in the past). However, we did not do a great job with either the consultation process or the repercussions to school district culture and educational programs; we are still dealing with them now and last year's job action did not help. I’d like to think we learned from this, but that’s what we said after the 2001-03 cuts, too. I think the former chair meant well by his comments (i.e. respect for parents) but perhaps he has his “optimism” hat on when recalling the opaque process around cuts. Yes, tough decisions had to be made, nobody faults the board for that. What was/is needed is a process with much more back and forth, more like the “conversation” that supposedly took place.

At a conference I recently attended, I was impressed with the convincing research on the power of meaningful collaboration to affect student performance and achieve change in organizations. This topic came up directly in two of the plenary sessions and indirectly in the break-out sessions and the table talk that included many of our own school trustees. I believe a majority of them are committed to seeing more collaboration with parents on future decisions and directions. For example, they will be doing open budget consultations this coming year including partner groups -- District Parent Advisory Council, Aboriginal Ed Board, Two CUPE locals (e.g. maintenance and ed assistants), PG Teachers Association, Professional Employees Association (e.g. speech pathologists) the  Ed, Principal/Vice-Principal Association. Ordinary citizens have to work a bit to get their voice heard through these groups, but the first stop for public input (beefs and bouquets?) could be DPAC http://sd57dpac.ca/ or the trustees http://www.sd57.bc.ca/index.php?id=498. The board also has a half hour for public input at the beginning of every board meeting. With a budget bigger than the City of Prince George, we need to provide the School District with an improved level of public accountability. Parents, students, educators, members of the public -- watch for their call for input on budget consultation and consider adding your voice.

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