Montague Consolidated Brainstorming Workshop Notes

A "brainstorming workshop" was held on Monday, January 27, 2015 at Montague Consolidated School, 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.

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.

The discussion developed along the following themes; we weren't looking for answers, just questions; as such, none of what follows should be considered "home and school policy" in any way, simply setting the agenda for discussion to follow.

Income and Food Security

  • students not having sufficient food is a big problem: poorly-nourished students cannot learn as effectively
  • who solves this issue? do we need to move away from implementing short-term stop-gap solutions, and move to a situation where proper nutrition is taken on as a community/school responsibility, and built into the education system?
  • there's a larger issue of income security that affects learning in innumerable ways: how many families have computers and Internet at home, and how many don't, for example?
  • the move, over the last 40 years, away from schools rooted in the community toward larger, centralized schools out of students' home communities makes these issues more prevalent and more obivous
  • we need to talk about the challenges of family composition as much as we talk about the challenges of class composition

Class Composition, Class Size, Inclusive Education

  • we need to set higher standards for all students, and then provide supports to allow them to live up to those standards; raise the bar higher
  • the promise of inclusive education hasn't been met: we need to move to a model where all students are seen as having special needs rather than "teaching to the middle"
  • students with special needs are being called, pejoratively, the "adapted and modifieds," and are seen as a drain on the resources of the system; this shapes the approach taken to their education; all students should be valued
  • we need to focus on class composition – the nature of the students in each class – instead of simply class size, and work to ensure that all types of class compositions are adequately supported.
  • concern about families who don't know how to be the "squeaky wheel" and advocate for their children to get the supports they need
  • looked at "statistically," schools like Georgetown Elementary are seen as too small, and likely in need of closure eventually; but how do we factor the strong community that surrounds schools like Georgetown? is that important? do schools with a strong community around them provide a better education? perhaps Georgetown should be a model for the future?
  • We need to re-examine the role French immersion in the system: are students being placed there for reasons having nothing to do with the French language? are there adequate education supports available for students in French immersion with special needs? is the dramatic affect that French immersion has on class composition ultimately harming everyone's education?
  • We need to remove politics from education, and focus on developing the best system for students.

School Busing

  • length of time on bus is a concern
  • very complex, with different families/destinations to manage
  • this management takes up a lot of administrator and admin assistant time
  • stress-level/fatigue for students can be a problem, especially with long and/or complex bus rides
  • behavior on high school buses, especially when younger and older students ride together
  • extra-curricular busing costs are a concern

New Approaches to Parent Engagement

  • Traditional home and school focus on fundraising is a challenge for those whose interests don't lie there.
  • Attending home and school meetings just isn't practical for many families: childcare, other events, single-parent families.
  • Perhaps we need to go where families are already (hockey rink, for example)?
  • Home and school isn't always seen as a venue for discussion about the substance of education: we can work to change that.
  • In some cases the principal ends up chairing home and school association; is this appropriate?
  • We can build engagement one-on-one, parent to parent, using "peer pressure," trying to match skills and interests to needs.
  • We need to find a range of engagement opportunities: not everyone wants to volunteer for breakfast club, or come to a meeting, but there are many other ways to be involved, and we need to make those clearer.
  • Perhaps we should assume that all parents will engage somehow in the school over the school year, and hand out "assignments"?
  • We need to encourage participation by teachers in home and school.
  • It's our school, together, parents, guardians, teachers, staff, administrators.