Elm Street Elementary Brainstorming Workshop Notes

A “brainstorming workshop” was held on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at Elm Street Elementary School in Summerside, one of a series of three such workshops scheduled for this week to allow home and school members to reflect on larger issues in education where we can work to affect change (notes from an earlier sessions at Montague Consolidated and Spring Park Elementary are available).

In attendance were home and school members from Elm Street Elementary, Parkside Elementary and Three Oaks Senior High.

The small size of the group attending allowed us to hold a single free-ranging discussion as opposed to a more formal series of small group discussions. The mandate presented to the group was to identify current issues in education, focusing on broader practical and policy issues rather than immediate ones.

School Trips

  • Elm Street has a yearly trip for grade 6 French immersion students only.
  • There's concern about English students being excluded from this trip, especially as so much school-wide fundraising is directed to this trip.
  • Also concern about how the decision-making process is made regarding this trip, and the related fundraising.
  • There's a feeling that trip leads to a certain "French vs. English" feeling among parents and students in the school, which is unfortunate.

School Registration Process

  • The process of registration for new students in the Summerside area, before the introduction of kindergarten, was centralized and held on a single day in February, which allowed for more resources (busing, for example) to be present, and allowed the student numbers to be determined earlier in the planning process, as opposed to "trickling in" as they do now.
  • We'd like to understand more about why this change was made.

School Attendance Zones

  • Discussion of "out of zone" students from rural areas, especially those zoned for Kinkora Regional High School, who request and are allowed a "zone transfer" to come to Summerside schools.
  • Concern about the future of Kinkora Regional, and its feeder schools, as this trend continues, and also a concern for the number of students attending Three Oaks Senior High as a result.

School Administration

  • The job responsibilities of school admin support staff ("school secretaries") aren't well-understood by parents, and work could be done to improve this.
  • There are areas where responsibilites could be streamlined using technology (attendance management, for example).
  • In general there's a feeling that principal and vice-principal time is "expensive time" that should be spend on being curriculum leaders, not on clerical/technical work, transportation issues, etc.
  • A general feeling that mass-text-messaging could be an effective tool for communicating urgent issues to parents (school closures, attendance issues, etc.)

Home and School Participation

  • A relatively small number of parents participate in home and school – "close to zero" was the initial feeling.
  • Parents participate in other ways than attending home and school meetings: volunteering at the breakfast program, helping to manage the lunch program, etc.
  • Parents present at the meeting see home and school as a way of being of service to the school, doing things and supporting projects that the school isn't capable of taking on itself.

Hot Lunch Programs

  • Both Elm Street and Parkside offer hot lunch programs to students.
  • At Elm Street it's a home and school-managed program that uses Greco for the food preparation and delivery, as well as for managing most of the money and paperwork issues; the school administration has no involvement with the program. It's offered 5 days a week, and they try their best to work within the school nutrition policy. The program costs parents $3 per student per day, ordered and paid weekly. Home and school volunteer time devoted to the project is minimal – an hour or two a week of oversight. The financial surplus of the program is used to provide hot lunches at no cost to families who cannot afford them; this is one of the main drivers for the program. On average, 200 students per week use the program.
  • At Parkside there is no home and school involvement in the hot lunch program at all: it's managed by the school administration, and the food is prepared and delivery by a variety of suppliers. The cost is $2.50 to $3.00 per student, and there's no accounting back to parents on the financials (i.e. what costs are, whether there is a surplus or not, and if there is where it is directed).

Breakfast Program at Elm Street

  • The program is managed entirely by home and school volunteers: one coordinator and approximately a dozen volunteers.
  • The program is offered to all students, and all students are encouraged to take advantage of it, in part to remove any social stigma associated with using it.
  • 150-200 students (of a population of 425) use the program every day.
  • Funding comes from several sources; one of the requirements specifed by the funders is that there are 3 "food groups" offered every day (previously only 2 were covered).
  • Summerside Caps hockey players serve the breakfast one day per week.

Student Assessment and Teaching

  • A general lack of understanding of standard assessments/tests was expressed: why are we testing students, what do we learn, are the results valuable given the amount of time that goes into managing the testing?
  • In some situations, teacher involvement in developing the tests and marking the tests takes them out of the classroom, which decreases the quality of instruction for students; it would be good to get a sense of the impact on staff time, in total, of assessments of this type.
  • If assessment results aren't positive, its perceived as a failure of the students, not a failure of the education system to teach them; this needs to change.
  • A discussion of how to (or whether to) assess teachers and teaching.
  • Should teachers and administrators be regularly moved among schools: "too long in one place isn't good" was a comment.
  • Concerns about the nature of substitute teachers allowed into the classroom: do they need to be certified teachers? why do French immersion classes end up with non-French-speaking substitutes? There need to be more understanding by everyone about the substitute system and how it's managed.

Classroom Composition

  • Concerns about the "inclusive classroom" and whether it's the right way to provide an effective education to all students.
  • Interest in understanding how the inclusive classroom affects student achievement: is classroom composition taken into account when evaluating standard assessment results?
  • If a student with significant behavioural and/or learning challenges is included in a classroom, and that consumes an inordinate amount of teacher time, is that "fair" to other students?