Submission to English Language School Board on Draft "School Change" Policy

The English Language School Board released a Proposed Board Governance Policy - School Change in June 2015 and offered the public an opportunity to comment until October 2, 2015. The following was the response of the PEI Home and School Federation:

Fred Osborne, Chair
English Language School Board
PO Box 8600,
Charlottetown, PE
C1A 8V7

Dear Chair Osborne,

I am writing on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation to provide you with feedback on the draft “Proposed Board Governance Policy - School Change.”  Our member associations have been encouraged to offer you additional feedback, sensitive to local school concerns, and you may receive this, in addition, directly from those associations.

To begin, let me say that we are generally supportive of a formal framework for handling changes in school configuration: having a well-designed mechanism, with ample opportunity for public consultation, and a well-specified set of criteria, will ultimately be in the best interests of public education.

We welcome the opportunity to provide trustees with feedback on the draft framework, and appreciate the long window of opportunity provided for this feedback.

While we are mindful of the need to move the policy forward, we are hopeful that the opportunity for written feedback that ends today is the beginning rather than the end of public consultations on this draft policy: as the spirit of the draft policy itself is one of collaboration, we feel that its move from draft to adopted policy should embody the same spirit, and would encourage you to hold public discussions, conduct outreach to our member associations and to other education partners, and to engage the broader community in a discussion, in the weeks and months to come. Changes to our schools and to the communities of which they are vital members are simply too important to not consult as widely and as broadly as possible before formalizing this policy.

As to our feedback on the Draft Policy itself, we respectfully ask that you consider the following:

Section 1.1

We are in agreement with the commitments as stated, but believe they don’t adequately touch on the notion that schools are not independent institutions from the communities that surround them, so would recommend addition of a fourth commitment:

recognizing that schools are not independent of the communities and neighbourhoods that surround them, and that a close relationship between home, school, and community is vital to effective public education.

Section 1.3

We are aware from the educators in our membership that one of the primary factors affecting the complexity of public education in the province today is what is generally referred to as “class composition.”  In every inclusive classroom there are a basket of challenges – educational, behavioural, socio-economic, language – that are presented to educators, and it’s vital to the success of every student that supports to educators and to students are available that recognize those challenges.  

By the same token, schools also have different compositions as their communities and catchment areas evolve; as such, we feel that it’s important in this section to add an additional point:

(f) changes in the educational, behavioural, socio-economic, and/or language composition of a school population, or other related factors, that substantially change the challenges presented to educators in the school, and prevent the equitable access to programs and services.

Sections 5.1 and 10.5

We would request that, in addition to those parties named, you add:

(a)(iv)    The president or chair of the school’s home and school association or school council

and

(b)(iv)    The PEI Home and School Federation.

Section 9.5

If there has been any aspect of school change processes in the past that has been a failure from the perspective of constructive public engagement, it has been public meetings; we have only to look at the fractious, combative atmosphere of the meetings held in the former Eastern School District to see an example of public engagement gone wrong.

To this end we feel that it is important that the board closely examine the format of the public meetings to be held, and describe in the policy a mechanism that is collaborative, inclusive, and respectful of all opinions in its spirit and is conducted in a manner that ensures this spirit is honoured and given opportunity to flower.

Our point here is simply that the traditional “trustees at a head table at the front of the room with the public lining up behind a microphone to make comments” style of meeting is not a sufficiently high-enough bar for true public engagement: there are approaches to public meetings that are considerably more constructive, and we request that the policy lay one or more of these out and mandate they be used.

Section 11.2

We request that you add the following to the membership of the Transition Committee:

(e) a representative of the home and school association or school council from each affected school

(f) in situations where multiple schools are affected, the Regional Director(s) of the PEI Home and School Federation from the affected family(s) of schools

General Suggestions

Open Data

Given the increasing “data literacy” of the population, we believe it’s vital that the “Study Reports” referenced in the draft be accompanied by open data that allows stakeholders to independently analyze, visualize and understand the data supporting the Study Report conclusions.  As such, we request a statement such as:

Where quantitative data is gathered in the preparation of Study Reports for Category I and Category II changes, and the data is under the control of the Superintendent, it will be released as open digital data, on the Board’s website, in a generally accepted open data format.

Transition Committees

While we recognize that Category I School Changes are less involved, in general terms, than Category II School Changes, we believe that Category I changes would also benefit from the establishment of a “Transition Committee,” as, in our experience, any change in a school benefits greatly from a collaborative, well-communicated joint effort, and the mandate of a formal committee to this end would be beneficial.

Home and Schools

We ask that, to be inclusive of our complete membership of associations, you change references in the draft from “school councils” to “home and school associations and school councils.”

Parents and Guardians

We ask that, to be inclusive of all those involved in the home, you change references to “parents” to “parents and guardians.”

We thank you for the opportunity to offer comment, and look forward to further collaboration with board staff and trustees as this drafts makes its way to becoming policy.

Regards,
Peter Rukavina,
President

Posted by Peter Rukavina on Tuesday, October 6, 2015.