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March 2016: Newsletter

It’s perhaps too early to start counting chicks or breathing sighs of relief but so far this winter’s been gentler than last, weather-related school closures have been few, and March break is within easy reach. We’re well on our way to Spring.

Now underway within the school board are two sets of school reviews.  Initiated in January they focus on Eastern Passage, soon to be the home of a new high school, and the northern half of the Citadel family. Both areas were identified for review based on the findings of the board-produced Long Range Outlook. Heavy lifting though the reviews are, they’re also a heartening development for the departure they mark from past process and the opportunity they present for community to play a central role in shaping their own school future, all of it taking place under the guidance of professional facilitators with access to extensive information resources. By May we’ll begin to see the fruits of their labours.

The replacement Le Marchant St. Thomas Elementary, working name Halifax South Peninsula Elementary, is well into its School Steering Team phase. SAC chairs and principal along with key staff from the Dept. of Education and Early Childhood Development, Dept. of Transportation, HRM, and HRSB are meeting to discuss appearance, features, and enhancements in order to advise the designers. Demolition will get underway in the summer  beginning with abatement. The Beaufort school site across the street from LMST will be home to students during construction of the new school.

2016/17 budgeting and business planning will get underway shortly. For detailed descriptions of 2015/16 results and a look at how it’s shaping up relative to plan, click here for the third quarter  report presented last week.

The focus on schools in the Auditor General’s November report was about oversight and management of the delivery of educational services during 2014/15. Coincidentally the Halifax board had already spearheaded its own look at governance, feeling that there were improvements to be considered. An ad hoc committee has so far looked at three forms of governance and will report to the full board on its findings in the Spring. Like the schools it oversees the board is responsible for its own continuous improvement.

Superintendent Elwin LeRoux’s monthly reports identify stories from within schools and across the board that highlight the strategic plan in action and more.

Though still relatively early it’s not too soon to start thinking about running for school board member in the next municipal election. Interested? I’m happy to share my experience with you. Elections take place in fall 2016.

The vast majority of school-related concerns that come up for students and families can be handled at the school level, working with those involved. Between teacher and principal the means exist to resolve most concerns. For the full process as captured in policy see the Parent Concern Protocol.

Feel like a visit? I can attend an SAC meeting. I can welcome you to a board meeting. Let me know your pleasure an we’ll arrange something.

November 2015: Newsletter

Happy report card week! The following is a selection of school board highlights and notes for your information.

It appears school may continue uninterrupted for students. The Province and Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union arrived at an agreement that will be put before the membership for ratification December 1, remarkable news given the tenor of negotiations elsewhere in Canada of late and the long and bitter disputes and disruptions seen in BC and Ontario. It will be especially interesting to see which items from the Minister’s Action Plan come to fruition in the agreement.

HRSB’s Long Range Outlook, the new provincially mandated starting point for all discussions related to school review, has begun to serve its intended purpose. Based on needs identified within the outlook Board staff will be recommending the formation of School Options Committees for Eastern Passage, Cole Harbour, and schools in the Citadel Family’s northern half, the north end of the peninsula. If the governing board accepts the recommendations, these areas will form the points of focus for the balance of the school year. The board will hear from HRM about the Regional Plan as part of its considerations.

The provincial Auditor General’s report on three of the eight Nova Scotia school boards is about to be released. Halifax is one of the audited boards. The focus is oversight and management of the delivery of educational services in schools during the 2014/15 school year. All boards and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) have seen and responded to the report and it will be made public this week.

On a separate but related note the governing board has formed an ad hoc committee to review what it feels, based on three years’ experience, is a model of governance that would add value to how the elected board fulfills its responsibilities. It does well with the collection of processes and systems it has but sees room, a path, and now possibly the means for continued improvement. More on that as it proceeds.

The LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary (LMST) School Steering Team (SST) for the replacement school is in place. This is the group that contributes to the design process, working with the Department-chosen design consultant, informed by a cross-section of relevant voices – school board, city, province. SAC chair David Jakeman, Principal Jeanne Boudreau, and an assigned facilitator will lead the SST process. The school board has now confirmed that the Universite Ste. Anne and Beaufort school sites across the street from LMST will be home to students during construction of the new school.

HRSB is reviewing its electoral boundaries. The need to do so comes on the heels of changes by HRM driven by a scheduled Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board process. The implications in this district relate to a small stretch along Purcell’s Cove Road that affects eight residents in and around the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. See link for details. Residents will be reassigned from their current to the adjacent district. This is the final week for the public to respond.

Superintendent Elwin LeRoux’s monthly reports identify stories from within schools and across the board that highlight the strategic plan in action and more. Good news stories? Absolutely. And why not, we’ve got a ton of them! Enjoy.

Although still relatively early it’s not too soon to start thinking about running for school board member in the next municipal election. Interested? I’m happy to share my experience with you. Elections take place in fall 2016.

The vast majority of school-related concerns that come up for students and families can be handled at the school level, working with those involved. Between teacher and principal the means exist to resolve most concerns. For the full process as captured in policy see the Parent Concern Protocol.

A note on newsletters. For communication purposes the 13 SAC chairs in this District now form a special area of focus for me. They’ll be receiving the monthly board and policy meeting agendas highlighting current discussion and information topics. Board business provides a regular and wide variety of starting points for the many discussions SACs and the board might have. I want to hear what SACs have to say. As mentioned in the first message, SACs together with the Minister and school board members constitute the elected arm of education in this province. It is our shared responsibility to be contributing to the ongoing improvement of the student and schooling experience. Newsletters of a more general nature such as this one will be issued as need dictates.

“Slow Down, We Love Our Children” signs have popped around the district. MLAs Joachim Stroink and Labi Kousoulis and Councilor Waye Mason have joined forces to produce this campaign and are encouraging residents living around schools and in areas where traffic is known to be problematic to display them. Email Waye Mason waye.mason@halifax.ca or drop by Joachim Stroink’s Quinpool Road office to pick one up.

October 2015: Message to SAC Chairs

Both the key and a challenge to serving as an elected school board representative is communication: reaching out to people and being responded to in return. You’ll probably experience this in your role as SAC chair. Questions. Conversations. Information sharing. All are important in contributing to the improvement of our system. For the last three years in my role as a member of the governing board I’ve used enewsletters and website for getting messages out and I’m happy with their performance but starting this year the emphasis will be on inviting feedback from you and your SACs and providing specific opportunities to do so.

Owing to your role as elected chair of a District 4 SAC you’re now part of a dedicated chairs-only mailing list. You’ll be receiving messages from me tailored specifically to your role, your responsibility, and your authority. Elected representation within Nova Scotia’s education system looks something like this: SAC chair, school board member, and minister. Viewed in this way it becomes clear just how condensed and important a grouping you’re part of and how important it is for all parties, from school-level to Department, to exercise their potential to be heard by one another. 

Starting this month I’ll be sending you the school board’s regular meeting agenda. We meet weekly but the third Wednesday of each month is reserved for public meetings, also called the regular meeting. The agenda for this meeting is posted publicly the previous Friday. I’ll be sharing the link or its contents and any relevant comments so that you can share your thoughts on it with me. I’ll share the Policy Committee agenda as well. Maybe there’s something that’s of particular interest to your SAC and school. Maybe there’s something you’d like me to be exploring or asking on your behalf. Having the agenda is just one way of informing and generating conversation. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on all topics.

September 2015: LMST Update

A happy day for the LMST community. I offer my congratulations to all who mobilized so effectively around creating and maintaining momentum with the site decision. The following are the next steps now that the site has been approved. I can confirm that Ste. Anne/Beaufort is the starting point for relocating students. Board staff are already at work looking at learning spaces and needs.

School Steering team being established;
Anticipate its formation before the end of October;
The next step in the process is for province to let RFP for design consulting services;
Upon notification of award of the consultant the School Steering team will convene;
School Steering Team meets to advise design team during design process;
Relocation of the students from the existing site for the start of the 2016 school year;
HRSB developing relocation plan for students in advance of construction;
HRSB will continue to communicate with community throughout the process.

I’m sure this is just the first of many messages to come. Please share with anyone you think might be interested. I’ve established and will add names to a dedicated LMST list as we proceed.Contact me at c.littlefair@ns.sympatico.ca if you wish to be added.

June 2015: Newsletter

Eastern Passage High School decision. The jury’s out on whether last week’s debate about petitioning the Minister to halt construction of this high school was in fact time well spent, that decision resting with the Province, but the point about flawed process definitely needed to be made. It undoubtedly makes sense that the Province work with its own school boards in deciding on the best expenditure of capital money. It’s possible the point could have been made differently – more simply, more directly – but such was not to be had and the motion was born, debated, and defeated. It added significantly to the regular workload of all involved but there’s hope the right people were listening.

The board continues to seek an update from the Province on the site selection process for the new Le Marchant St. Thomas.

Last week’s announcement of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s findings and recommendations was a key development in the continued righting of centuries-old wrongs and education is seen as central to reconciliation going forward. Fortunately the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Action Plan anticipates that.  As of this coming September Treaty education will be part of the P to 12 curriculum. As John Ralston Saul says in his book The Comeback, being sympathetic to the fate suffered by First Nations, Metis, and Inuit, is no substitute for every last Canadian realizing that we are are a party to treaties dating back to colonization. It is for everyone to understand and honour them.

Another forward-thinking development is the work of C21 Canada, a nonprofit education advocacy group, with a CEO Academy, of which HRSB superintendent Elwin LeRoux is a member. The group’s focus? Improvement and innovation in learning models. Hold on! Stifle that yawn. The words are overused, yes, but in this case that belies their underlying significance. Take a look. Authored by Penny Milton with Canadian industry and educational leaders, the end result makes for surprisingly encouraging reading. It indirectly endorses, for instance, the Province’s emphasis on improvement in the Action Plan but then goes it one better by describing genuine innovation. Beyond tinkering. The good news? The two are not at odds. It marries “the traditional and the intentional,” says Supt. LeRoux: working with what we have and capitalizing on it. LeRoux says the group is now introducing its work to deputy ministers of education across the country. With any luck the paper will receive an enthusiastic response in Nova Scotia where the mesh with the Ivanny report and the Action Plan will be immediately evident.

The Halifax governing board joined its fellow boards at the Nova Scotia School Boards Association AGM the last weekend in May. Together in body if not in spirit the Halifax board’s only resolution was defeated on the floor. It proposed an extension to the community review phase of the long range outlook under the new school review process. A successful motion would have seen the Association sending a letter to the Minister that asked her to give interested boards until the end of October to submit their outlooks. The defeat was frankly a surprise, hailed a “no brainer” as it was by the Resolutions Committee, and provoked the question of how best the Halifax board might advance its interests. In the meantime the board’s own efforts to encourage feedback on the long range outlook are meeting with tremendous success.

And I’ll finish with the Winter since it’s only now that it might be safe to say it’s finally finished with us! April and May were largely quiet, operational fallout from the weather and budget being the main foci. The staffing budget was thoroughly gone over and the remainder will be reviewed before the end of June. This year’s allocation is mostly sufficient to Board purposes ($420m) but the Supplementary Fund ($16m), provided by HRM and as yet not formally confirmed, sees an additional reduction of almost $500k that will, once again, need to be taken from areas that enrich children’s education experience.

June 2015: Eastern Passage High School debate comments

I’m in complete agreement with board member Blumenthal-Harrison for calling-out bad decision-making. Although not a member of any of the boards that discussed an Eastern Passage high school over the years their slowly building ambivalence is abundantly clear from my reading of events: 14 years of on-again-off-again discussions and postponement, the delivery of a felling blow by the province’s own consultant, and a final board decision that effectively ended the discussion. By the time this board arrived on the scene in fall 2012 the Eastern Passage question was nowhere in sight and out-of-sight-out-of-mind it remained until, to everyone’s surprise, the province announced its construction.

I remember the disbelief among second-term board members and staff. The question of whether or not to build had already been addressed. Why was this happening? The frustration was clear. At that point it had been 14 years since the idea had first gained traction with the board. 10 years since board support had started to waver. 5 years since a failed facilities planning exercise had referenced it. And only a year since the board of the day experienced a reversal of support unanimous enough to remove it from the capital requests list. This school was not supposed to happen. And yet it did.

I share the frustration and unhappiness behind this motion. So many needs in the system. So much excess capacity. A marginalizing of board role and process – circumvented, undermined, and sidestepped. Not to mention the inevitable hard decisions to which it committed the board for the remaining schools in the family. This situation will stand as a model of flawed process.

But two wrongs do not make a right and this motion comes close to that for me. Another wrong. I think it’s useful for having highlighted the problem with the process but that’s possibly where my support of it ends. At this point it’s not obvious what tangible or intangible good might come from this motion.

We haven’t been asked for our opinion. We haven’t been invited to comment. The government has asserted in the legislature that it will be built. They haven’t said or implied that it would be conditional on our feedback. Or this motion. They haven’t reached out. And we have enough experience to be reasonably certain they won’t. And if that’s not enough to relieve us of any notions about an imagined place in the decision-making then the fact that Eastern Passage is a government-held riding should do the rest. At some point I heard it remarked that the Minister may have alluded to some faint willingness to attend to this but it would be optimistic of us to count on that. And risky. And something I’d suggest would be long odds from where we sit. To proceed with the motion given these circumstances seems ill-advised. And doomed. And for what?

If not because we stand a reasonable chance of succeeding then why proceed? To make a point? Are we in the business of making points? Or altruism? Are we feeling that we can’t in good conscience condone it or that any other use of the funds would be superior to this? If so, I’m still unconvinced. In fact I see it then in terms of its potential damage. Continuing along this course might lead other schools in the family to believe that we have some standing in this decision and that their circumstances will remain unchanged. But that strikes me as misleading. We risk filling them with false hope. And in the meantime we will have missed the opportunity to welcome an addition to the Eastern Passage community. It will have been a lose-lose proposition. Not of our own making and owing to circumstances beyond our control but a lose-lose nonetheless.

For me this motion has already served an important purpose. It has emphasized how important it is for the Province to act in concert with its own school boards. And that’s important. I am almost grateful to board member Blumenthal-Harrison for making an issue of it. But right now I’m not in agreement with what it proposes. Thank the government of the day, we will say to the people who end up adversely effected by this decision and to the taxpayers who feel their money is being mispent. But so far it’s been sufficiently demonstrated to me that our hands are tied. And beyond that it is my hope that none of us is so attached to making a point or thinking our disapproval so important that we’d cut off our nose to spite our face.

I went to Conrad’s with my kids on Saturday. They did a good deal of their summertime growing along this stretch of shore and it had been a long time since we’d been back. We returned by way of Cole Harbour Road, taking a left at Caldwell and zigzagging at the other end to check in on the moose at Cow Bay, backtracking to Eastern Passage in search of an ice cream store that no longer exists. And all along the way and because my memory is tragically imprecise I kept saying, Oh, this must be where the new high school is meant to go, until finally one of my daughters said, You’ve said that three times.

At which point I finally admitted that I couldn’t remember the exact location. But the reason I mention this is because there WERE, it seemed to me, that many spots in this now sizable and well-populated area that a school might be built. And that was striking because my recollection of Eastern Passage did not feature such growth. And that led me to my next thought, Why not Eastern Passage? It clearly has merit. I am listening and participating in this debate with an open mind but these are the thoughts and concerns I bring to it.

April 2015: Long Range Outlook

Never before have the times been better for talking about the future of our schools.
 
The draft Long Range Outlook is this spring’s main event in school boards across Nova Scotia and it’s now time for everyone to start talking about it. Forming the cornerstone of the newly overhauled school review process the Outlook is a  comprehensive and detailed listing of every school in the system. In the case of Halifax that’s 137 schools organized into 15 families. It includes such information as enrolment history, capacity, projections, physical condition, programming, and needs. Completed and delivered to the Province at the end of April the draft document is now available to community and schools for review and feedback. Come September 1 the draft enters the final revisions stage. You’ll find a feedback form here.  
 
This is the first time we’ve ever had this volume, depth, type, and quality of information about our schools. Tell us what you think of the draft and where you think it needs improving. The format was dictated by the Province, every board in the province is reporting in exactly the same fashion, and ultimately it will give us the means to have the discussions about the future of our schools. Never before has community been in a better position to take part. The Long Range Outlook will make it possible for everyone to have an informed discussion.
 
But now’s the time to read it and consider how it might be changed and improved. Talk to your school community. Get them involved. And if there’s anything I can do to help, please call or write.