Finding our voice: time to show up
(Comments offered at the Feb. 21/18 Halifax Regional School Board Special Board Meeting on the motion recommending that the NSSBA be asked to convene a general meeting.)
I suppose if I was a good board member, a dutiful board member, I would “go quietly into that good night,” the night described by the newly adopted Glaze recommendations. For that matter, I would also do as required of me by my duly assigned board member role and responsibilities. I would not resist. I would not “rage against the dying of the light.” But light is being lost, arguably important light, and before it dies completely it feels like it is incumbent on board members, not chairs but regular members, to continue to act in the best interests of the public we serve, advising it on the changes to come. Alerting it.
I have been confused, no, torn about how to react as an elected member. I envy the teachers their NSTU, their representation. I envy the public its complete freedom of personal expression. I have struggled with the fact that our own hands are tied. I feel like I have mostly sat quietly by while this thing marches toward its seemingly inevitable conclusion. The only group less enviable than regular board members at the moment is board chairs. With board chairs having been conscripted into the effort to dissolve the very boards they serve they have been placed squarely in opposition, isolated, alone, and in conflict.
We need leadership at this moment. Those of us not conscripted into the dissolution effort want to serve the public to the end. Earn our stipend. Fulfill our duty. What “serving” looks like at this moment in the history of education in this province isn’t clear. Perhaps it’s a matter of shedding light on the perceived implications of the recommendations. Perhaps it’s action. Whatever it is it continues to be about the public we serve. If ever there was a time to represent, it’s now. It’s not the representation described by the org chart and definitions into which we were inducted as elected members but that induction did not anticipate this fate. How were we to behave in the event of elimination? Absent an answer it seems continued representation is how we best serve the interests of the public for the time that remains.
It is incumbent on regular, non-chair members to continue to act as a board, adopting the leadership and guidance already provided by our provincial Association, the NSSBA, and its, our, response to the Glaze report. It is time to participate fully, from one end of the province to the other, with the large chorus of voices already registering their concern. The chairs’ hands are tied, the rest of us find ourselves in a no-mans land, but the NSSBA has paved the way.
What will we say? We’ll talk about the grave concerns we have surrounding the disenfranchising of African and Aboriginal Nova Scotians. We are particularly well-suited to talking about the watering-down of local voice. And we can empathize with teachers who feel they’re being kicked when they’re down. We might also bring attention to the summary elimination of 57 of 104 seats filled by female electeds. And all for questionable gain.
We are reminded that our health was to improve as a result of improvements to the health system. We’re now told that education will improve as a result of improvements to the education system. With the recommendations now being implemented? How? There’s little, if anything, that directly and immediately improves the lot of students. And about the recommendations overall? How many of those were the fruit of the very elected boards those recommendations now eliminate? We’re looking down the barrel at a change that brings no demonstrable improvement and threatens the erosion of existing and emerging strengths.
This ends up being both the first and the last big public issue to confront first-time elected members. It doesn’t come with a room full of concerned parents or a nail-biting decision at night’s end but the stakes are high, higher even than a school or boundary review or spending decisions or teacher discipline, because this time it’s the board’s very existence and its contributions that are at stake. We may not be able to change the course of history but it’s incumbent on us to show up.
In the wake of Raise the Bar, the province’s review of the administration of education, the previously scheduled District 4 meetings have been cancelled. I’ll be spending the balance of my time as elected member communicating by Twitter posts. Please follow @cindylittlefair.
February 13 & April 17, 2018, 6:00 to 9:00 pm, Halifax Central Library. HRSB District 4: Peninsula South, West, and Armdale.
Open discussion. All invited.
January 2018: Weather-related cancellation info
HRSB is continuously improving communications around school cancellations and collecting feedback differently.
When you click on the red “All Schools Cancelled” button on the website homepage, you will be taken to this link:
You’ll find information on what has gone into the decision to cancel school and have the means to provide feedback.
January 2018: Halifax South Peninsula School Construction Update
The following is an update from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (DITR) on the new school design and schedule:
We are pleased to provide the SST (School Steering Team) and SAC with an update regarding the new LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary School. As a result of the redesign, there are some exciting new features that benefit the learning environments for the students and teachers. These include:
· A new common area at the northern end of the second floor,
· A larger area of the Library second floor,
· A larger cafeteria
· 5 additional classrooms
After much consultation, it has been determined that the benefits of including a drop-off/pick-up loop on site are outweighed by the challenges involved. Therefore, the drop-off/pick-up loop has been eliminated. This change provides more space on site for recreation activity, and the design team will meet with the Green Space Committee in the near future to discuss how to most effectively utilize the available space.
We are working closely with Architecture 49 toward the start of construction in the spring 2018 and a targeted opening date of September 2019.
The revised drawings will be distributed to the SST. We’re looking forward to the start of construction of a fantastic learning environment for the students of this community.
January 2018: Focus on Communications
For what ended up being a relatively brief moment this fall, a few months, Google removed cindylittlefair.ca from the internet. No explanation was forthcoming but the site contained five years worth of content and following the submission of a deceptively simple form the site unceremoniously reappeared. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I immediately arranged for the migration of content from the Google site to the site you now see before you.
The experience was a wake-up call. If there’s an uncrackable egg associated with being a school board member it’s effective communication, making contact with community, and the disappearance of the site, the only communication I’d succeeded in establishing, was sobering. Earlier this fall I successfully moved the creation of a communications committee for the governing board and now, I decided, it was time to apply myself to improving my own communications.
Representing community is difficult at the best of times. The responsibilities are diverse and plentiful. It’s hard as a communications amateur to know which of the traditional and social media channels to harness and to what end. There’s a tremendous amount of vaue in the role of representation – providing a counter to and sounding board for senior staff, an accountability mechanism, the contritubtion of your own experience of the system to all discussion, oversight into the business of schooling, informed debate with nine other members, and, at the end of the day, informed decisions arrived at jointly that one and all can get behind and support. But regardless, in order to represent your district you need to know what it’s thinking.
On February 13 and April 17, 2018, 6:00 to 9:00 pm, there will be open discussions on school board related matters at the Halifax Central Library. All are welcome. As time proceeds and allows there will be other events elsewhere in the district.
March 2017: Weather-related school cancellations
Weather-related school cancellation decisions come from the Superintendent’s office. If wishing to register your opinion on a decision you can speak with that office. If wishing to speak about the policy itself (see link below), please call or drop me a line.
For comments about a decision: Superintendent’s office, 464-2000.
For comments about the policy: Cindy at 717-0040 or email@example.com.
I have requested that the chair of the Policy Review and Development Committee add B.012, School and Bus Cancellation Policy to an upcoming agenda as an item for discussion. The policy was last reviewed and revised in 2011, informed in part by a 2009 report entitled School Storm Days in Nova Scotia commissioned by the Department of Education. HRSB produced a response to the report. As is frequently the case with policies it was sent to every school in HRM for consideration and feedback was received from almost every school. That feedback is reflected in the policy.
Please feel free to contact me with any thoughts or comments on the School and Bus Cancellation Policy.
NSTU announces a return to work-to-rule job action on Monday, January 31. See links below for full detail.
See here for news releases from the Nova Scotia Teachers Union.
See here for news releases from the Halifax Regional School Board and Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
On October 4 the NSTU rejected the tentative agreement with the Province. Minister Casey: “I was very disappointed to learn about the outcome of the vote this evening. The collective bargaining process has run its course. This is the second time we reached a tentative agreement with different bargaining teams from the NSTU that was rejected by the membership. We will not be returning to the table, we now await the union’s decision.”
In December 2013, the Province of Nova Scotia approved the construction of a new Primary to Grade 6 school on the south end of the Halifax Peninsula to replace LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary (LMST). See all of the updates on the temporary relocation of students and construction of the new school.
Ever wanted a simple way to get a sense of the school board’s inner workings? The HRSB.casite has a few entry points that are especially revealing.
The first is a cheerful and admittedly cheerleading-like telling of stories from all over the board. But justified! Entirely justified. Produced by the Superintendent it’s a monthly report that draws on daily life in the classroom and beyond to illustrate different aspects of the strategic plan* in rubber-meets-road fashion. Snapshots. Profiles. Factoids! A great way of tying it all together! And there’s a ton of embedded video. Here’s the full collection.
And, second, would you like to see the source of what frequently forms the basis of a news story about the school board in the media? Go to the site and enter “focus on learning” in the search bar. What you’ll find among the results are again spotlights on particular aspects of education and related issues. Offered in report form these drill down into top-of-mind topics: IPPs, student suspensions, assessment results, capital construction requests, and as you can see from that list they’re also the source of a lot of the stories you end up seeing and hearing about in the news.
And finally, a brand new video that puts the new school review process in wonderfully plain English. Playfully animated, well-explained, take a look and become an instant expert on the new story of school review in HRSB! You’ll be impressing friends and family with your expertise in no time.
*Strategic Plan Goals:
- To improve student achievement and personal success.
- To maximize exemplary teaching practices to support high quality instruction.
- To achieve equitable learning opportunities for all students.
- To build engagement, support and confidence in HRSB.