Tag: ata

What does Dr. Raj Sherman’s election mean for public education in Alberta?

www.stopthecuts.ca

Congratulations to Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Dr. Raj Sherman who was elected to the leadership of the Alberta Liberal Party on Saturday.

What does Raj Sherman’s election mean for public education in Alberta?

During the Leadership Race the Alberta School Boards Association surveyed all of the candidates on a variety of issues affecting public education and school boards.

I was pleased to see:

  • A commitment to stable, predictable funding (I wish he had added “adequate”)
  • A committement to an increased role for local control and autonomy for school boards
  • A committment to supporting schools as community hubs and a commitment to supporting wrap-around services, physical education, and helping fight child hunger.
  • Financial autonomy: “Municipalities and school boards need the power to generate their own revenue because there is no real political autonomy without financial autonomy to go with it. That is why I support giving the power of taxation back to our school boards and putting decisions closer to home so that they may develop local solutions to local problems.”

What are your thoughts about his responses?

With a provincial election looming and the Progressive Conservatives in the midst of their own leadership race we have a unique opportunity to shine a light on challenges with regard to many key education issues.

The Alberta School Boards’ Association, the Alberta Teachers Association, and the Alberta School Councils’ Association have recently partnered to re-launch the “Stop The Cuts” campaign.

Please check out the site and share it with your circles: www.stopthecuts.ca

As school boards we are being asked to do more with less. We have greater demands for maintenance, new schools, 21st century learning, changing expectations around special education, growing technological expenditures and much more. We are being asked to do the same, if not more, for children and communities than we did last year, but with fewer dollars than we received the year prior.

By email, phone, and even in line at the Canadian Tire, I’m hearing from parents, teachers, and staff about their frustrations with this most recent budget. The Education Minister himself has said that this wasn’t the budget he would have liked to deliver.

With the Official Opposition taking new leadership and direction from Dr. Sherman, where will public education fit in his party priorities?

Here is the full text of Dr. Sherman’s interview with the ASBA:

Raj Sherman

Question 1

The provincial government invested two years and millions of dollars talking to Albertans about creating the school of the future that will truly serve the student of the future. In the wake of this consultation, Bill 18 – a new Education Act – was introduced in the legislature this spring; but it has not been passed. The Action on Inclusion report dealing with special education is in circulation; but its future seems unclear.

What would you like to see happen to these key policy initiatives: the new Education Act and Action on Inclusion?

Answer

I hope to educate all of our children. We don’t need legislation to do that, what we need is a commitment to hire more teachers and get them the support they need to do their job. It is my sincere hope that after the next election, which may be held in the near future, Albertans will change the government they have and get the government they deserve.

Speaking from experience, anytime this government decides it wants to “consult” the people its purpose is to gain legitimacy for a policy it has already developed. I am certain the millions of dollars spent on bureaucrats and conferences could have been better spent on keeping teachers in the classroom, reducing class sizes, and providing more support staff.

You are the experts; you do not need the Ministry of Education to tell you what is right for you. There are common sense solutions already out there. I am sure you know what they are. True change happens when it is organic, from the grassroots up. If you have recommendations for the student of the future and to make the educational experience more inclusive, I would be happy to hear them, free of charge.

Question 2

This spring’s loss of some 1000 teaching positions speaks to the upheaval Alberta children experience when funding for Alberta schools is subject to the ups and downs of our oil and gas-based economy. Projects launched in one year are halted the next when the dollars dry up. Kids lose out.

Alberta’s health care system jumped off this rollercoaster when the provincial government announced five years of funding for health care. While Alberta’s health care system can plan for the future – Alberta school boards can’t.

Do you think the provincial government should move to longer term funding announcements for Alberta schools? Why or why not?

Answer

Of course, this is yet another area where the simplest, common sense solution is the right one. Schools need to be given control back to them, not centralized further into the hands of government. The government needs to provide stable, predictable funding so that our educational institutions can make budgets, plan programs, and recruit and retain staff. Let’s provide the municipalities and school boards the power to generate their own revenue. As long as government controls the purse strings, educational institutions have to do what politicians say. We need to put decisions closer to home and put Alberta back into the hands of Albertans.

Question 3

In 2007 the provincial government negotiated a five-year deal with the Alberta Teachers’ Association. The deal linked teacher salary increases to the Alberta Average Weekly Earnings index, saw the provincial government assume responsibility for the teachers’ portion of the unfunded liability in their pension plan, included a commitment not to change legislation relating to teachers for the duration of the agreement and gave each teacher a $1,500 signing bonus – in exchange for five years of labour peace.

There have been pros and cons associated with this agreement. While the five years of labour peace provided learning stability for Alberta children, the global economic downturn left the provincial government struggling to fund the financial commitments it made, resulting this spring in the loss of 1000 teaching positions. This collective agreement with Alberta’s teachers ends in 2012.

In the future, how should collective agreements with Alberta teachers be established? Who should be involved? What role should the provincial government take?

Answer

Are you surprised? I’ve found that before an election this government will promise you the world and everything in it so that there’s “peace.” After the election, and when times get rough, all bets are off, and the government starts reducing the number of teachers and asking for the money back. Lately, it seems that education is the preferred whipping post, perhaps for the reasons mentioned in the preamble above. Now you have a golden opportunity to not commit the mistakes of the past.

Albertans need to be joint partners in the decision-making process when it comes to agreements such as this. Decisions need to be made based on necessity and not political expediency. Choices about salaries, the number of teachers, support staff, and the infrastructure we need all have to be made in concurrently with the big picture in mind.

Question 4

Fifty per cent of Alberta’s schools are 50 years of age or older. The 2006 Alberta Government Schools for Tomorrowreport pegged the overall backlog to repair the province’s schools at $1.6 billion. If Alberta doesn’t repair its schools, Alberta will have to build new ones at a far higher cost. Some years ago, an MLA task force recommended the province move to the industry standard of setting aside two per cent of a building’s replacement value for annual maintenance and repair.

What approach do you think Alberta should take to secure the future of Alberta’s current inventory of schools? What approach do you think Alberta should take to building new schools?

Answer

First, we must change our government. The current management style is clearly failing all of us. It is the same in education as it is in health care and many other areas. Those with connections to government officials or status in a political party are able to bias the decision-making process so that decisions are made based on politics, not on merit. Enough is enough!

As with our own personal health and automobiles, regular check-ups and maintenance are essential if we’re to avoid unforeseen calamity. You correctly pointed out that, because we’ve allowed our infrastructure to deteriorate, we will spend more of our investments on capital projects, which starve the operating budgets of all of our facilities.

My vision is that schools need to be used as community hubs where school boards, municipalities and the provincial government work together not only to educate our children, but to provide the much needed wrap-around services to support the teachers and address the challenges our children and families face. We need to link our schools with non-profit, public daycare, the prevention side of the medical system (i.e. nursing staff, nutritionists, mental health and addictions counsellors etc.), reinstate mandatory physical activity, and make sure that every child who comes to school has breakfast and a warm lunch. So, let’s repair and maintain our buildings on a regular basis.

Question 5

School boards serve students in rural and urban communities. As Alberta’s population continues to shift from the country to the city; from the inner-city to the suburbs, more schools are being considered for closure – one of the most difficult decisions a school board can make.

What are your views on the role of the school in the community? Is the school exclusively there to provide a quality education to students, no matter where they live? Or do schools also play a role in contributing to the viability and vitality of a community or neighborhood? If schools do play a role in community building, how should that role be supported?

Answer

I believe that schools function best when they are set up and resourced as community hubs.  They can and should be the centre of community activity.  Let’s not only make them great places to educate; let’s connect people within our community as well. We can use our schools as multi-use centers of community connectivity where grandparents, parents and children can all come together to exercise, get healthy, be entertained, and participate in community events.

Question 6

The proposed Education Act will put school boards on equal footing with municipalities by granting them natural persons powers – and the ability to do whatever they choose in pursuit of their mandate as long as it isn’t specifically prohibited in legislation. School boards, unlike municipalities, do not have taxing authority and now rely almost exclusively on the provincial government for funding. This disconnect with the community comes at the cost of flexibility and perceived accountability.

What do you think about returning taxing power to Alberta’s school boards?

Answer

Municipalities and school boards need the power to generate their own revenue because there is no real political autonomy without financial autonomy to go with it. That is why I support giving the power of taxation back to our school boards and putting decisions closer to home so that they may develop local solutions to local problems. It is the very essence of what it means to put Alberta back into the hands of Albertans.

Source: http://www.asba.ab.ca/leadership_q_a.asp#sherman

New District Priorities for Edmonton Public Schools

Thank you for your feedback on my thoughts about citizenship and Edmonton Public Schools. I was happy to support a new, clear, succinct Vision, Mission, and 5 key district priorities for the next three years.

This suite of priorities will now inform our budgetary decisions over few months as we have to make tough decisions regarding our disappointing 1% budget increase.

Vision

All students will learn to their full potential and develop the ability, passion and imagination to pursue their dreams and contribute to their community.

Mission

We work with families and community partners to provide safe, caring, healthy, diverse, inclusive and equitable learning experiences that engage students to achieve their full potential in an increasingly interdependent world.

District Priorities 2011-2014

  1. Provide supports and programs that will enable all students to complete high school.
  2. Deepen students’ understanding of equity and empathy as key citizenship traits.
  3. Ensure all students and their families are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in every school.
  4. Promote health and wellness for all students and staff.
  5. Listen to staff, honour their contributions, and support their opportunities for collaboration, growth and professional development.

Fighting Bullying with Edmonton Public Schools

There is a motion to be debated tomorrow evening regarding creating and anti-bullying advisory committee. UPDATE: This motion was carried 8 votes to 1.

Motion re Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee

RECOMMENDA TION

That the Board establish an Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee that will develop a list of recommendations for the Administration to consider implementing in an effort to identify the scope and reduce the extent of bullying in Edmonton Public Schools. The Advisory Committee would consist of one Trustee, a member of Central Administration who specializes in this area, one active staff member of school, one junior high student, one high school student, one elementary school parent and one person from the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities. The Committee would provide recommendations to the Administration by May 31, 2011.

I think change happens both from “TOP DOWN” and “BOTTOM UP” approaches. I think that there are some already fantastic initiatives going on in our district at certain schools that could shine a light. There is no sense reinventing the wheel and I don’t think this committee intends to do that, but rather to examine policies and practices that should be shared across the district. I also think that the profile that this committee could give to the recommendations, both in the media and in the education community would be a positive downstream effect of the committee’s work.

One area we need to do better is with regard to sexuality and gender-based bullying. Another area is the growing complexity regarding cyber-bullying and helping our students. Much work is to be done!

As a final excerpt, I thought I might share some final thoughts from the ATA code of conduct as we discuss how to define bullying.

From the ATA Code of Conduct:

In relation to pupils:

1 The teacher teaches in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of all persons without prejudice as to race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical characteristics, disability, marital status, family status, age, ancestry, place of origin, place of residence, socioeconomic background or linguistic background.

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