Spring Park Brainstorming Workshop Notes

A “brainstorming workshop” was held on Thursday, January 29, 2015 at Spring Park Elementary, 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 session at Montague Consolidated are here).

In attendance were home and school members from many Queens County schools, academics from UPEI, current and former school and school board staff, and interested others. It was a diverse group.

The first half of the session was a general brainstorming to identify issues of concern in education; participants were asked to identify issues that were not immediate projects, but were also "this is never gonna happen" issues: achievble mid- to long-term goals for education.

Points mentioned during this initial period were, in brief, as follows:

  • A need for programming for “high-functioning” students – i.e. QUEST program. These students need to be challenged.
  • Every school should have a "cell phone basket" where devices are placed before entering class – not in class
  • Segregate the buses – high/intermediate/elementary schools should have different buses.
  • Over/under crowding of schools: this is a problem, and is only going to get worse. There's a political aversion to "rezoning" discussions, but we must tackle this.
  • IB program – too stressful / no middle ground for students who want more challenging education, but also want a richer extra-curricular life.
  • Communication between home and school: the tools used must be regular, consistent.
  • Parents needs to know more about what curriculum is being taught: communicating this clearly and in a home-focused way helps parents help support learning.
  • Number of days in class – how are days used – for what?
  • What is an “instructional day”? How this is defined is unclear, and there seem to be "days spent in school" or "days on the calendar" that don't involve instruction.
  • Challenges of home and school engagement – family life has changed, home and school model needs to adapt. Can Facebook, Skype, meeting on different days or times, increase engagement?
  • Administrators can be pre-emptive and reach-out to parents on specific topics, but experience shows this can be hard to sustain.
  • One schools asks for 2 parents per classroom to come to meetings.
  • There is a disconnect between home technology and school technology: student has more powerful device in their pocket than the in-school technology and the two cannot work together.
  • “Social education," citizenship and "soft" skills can get missed with a focus on analytics.
  • More transparency with education data: we need board/department "data wall" that shows up to date indicators for everything from student achievement to attendance.
  • Are standard tests helpful? Are they understandable?
  • “New math” vs. “Old Math”; a suggestion to compare the  PEI vs. Quebec grade 9 math curriculum description; Quebec is seen as clearer.
  • Weather closures – does it have to be all or nothing? Why don't we close by "family of schools" any longer?
  • "Class composition" is a challenge: how do we cater to all students' individual learning needs?
  • Technology for teachers: can there be a base job description that defines what is expected of teachers with regards to technology literacy?
  • Many students lack the resources (staff, materials, technology) needed to support their learning style. Home and school can help shed light on this.
  • “Placing” vs. “Failing” – a discussion of the benefits of each approach.
  • Could we adding “catch-up” time – weeks, summer, etc. to allow students who need more time to learn to advance with their peers.
  • Grade levels are a myth!

At this point the group broke for a break, and the following four key areas of discussion were identified:

  1. Supporting the Home Front: resources, tools, information, communication for parents and guardians.
  2. Time:  School day, school year, what’s an “instructional day”?
  3. Class Composition: making sure every child gets the education they need (high-functioning, challenged, placed, etc.)
  4. How are we doing? Testing, data, transparency, assessment.

After the break the group self-organized into smaller groups, ranging in size from 4 to 10 people, around three of these areas of discussion, had a more focused discussion for 45 minutes, and then reported back to the larger group as follows (each group was asked to suggest concrete projects, goals, initiatives):

Supporting the Home Front

  • More money in education (increased budget) is essential.
  • Supports/resources for parents: outlines for parents for each grade that identify the curriculum outcomes, what is planned to be taught and identify some support tools for parents (ie websites, YouTube, etc.)
  • The classroom-level blog format, used consistently and regularly, has been found to be a great help to parents.

Class Composition

  • The group proposed a resolution as follows:

That the Provincial Home and School Federation develop a resolution to indicate that sufficient funding be provided to allow for:

  •  adequate specialized staffing and their related training
  • appropriate material resources
  • appropriate technology

 to ensure that students at all levels get the education they deserve based on their needs.

How Are We Doing?

  • As a home and school community (and academic community, and general community) we would benefit from more access to more data: school-level assessment data, attendance data, socio-economic data, etc.
  • We need to understand more about how class composition actually affects student outcomes, and what additional resources are most effective. We need to be able to assess and report more effectively how diverse the needs in any given class are, and react more quickly to changes in those needs.
  • Assessment of any kind should be gathered only when it can be tied to educational and/or social outcomes, and where there is a willingness to take action on the results.

The meeting concluded at 8:45 p.m.