Principiis Obsta…Finem Respice
Resist the Beginning…Consider the End
I sometimes imagine the dossier all the countless letters from trustees around the province are dispatched to at the Ministry of Education and what sort of company they must be keeping.
I assume our entire correspondence are in the same file as the eight million emails from Nigerian princes (or their widows) who want help getting huge sums of money out of their country. There are the requisite Viagra ads and all those damned messages from Eastern Europe presenting clean virginal Russian girls. Maybe the odd Rogaine offer and every pizza flier they receive in case they need to order for a late night session. For the most part the responses we receive from the Ministry roughly echo the regard anyone might have for these sort of communications but – we did get quite a nice little reply to the account we submitted on our progress regarding the recommendations from the Southern Report (see link at the end). I think I will have this letter bronzed.
It has a distinctly head patting tone – congratulating us for even having tried just like a parent addressing a particularly addled child. Apparently we have made a ‘serious effort’ to meet the requirements in the recommendations from Dr. Southern but alas our zeal was not matched by much of an outcome. I am not disputing this approach – merely noting it.
Our greatest accomplishment has been our astonishing success renewing our relationships with the aboriginal bands in this district and in particular Cowichan Tribes with a spotlight on our progress in working with the Hwulmuhw Mustimuhw Education Council. This came as quite a pleasant surprise to me since we have not actually made any progress addressing their main concerns around inclusion in the aboriginal budget preparations, advancement of serious culture and language programs or equal hiring. Still the ministry must have had a good reason for their happy optimism – whatever is in the account we gave concerning these matters it provided some much needed cheer for our district’s accomplishments.
Now all we have to do is live up to all this grandeur.
Then came the highlights in the letter – as far as student achievement goes our district is-as they said-static in terms of results-our graduation rates below provincial levels. Quite a nasty knock on the head I would say .But I would also add the ministry has a helluva set of cajones grieving in shocked disbelief over our poor performance when they have failed to supply the necessary resources to meet their tragically minimal standards for quality learning. All in all – the kind of letter which could be expanded into an offbeat miniseries or used as an excuse for early retirement.
At the beginning of the meeting the local teachers union folks provided the package they will be circulating concerning the upcoming Foundation Skills Assessment tests – due to be administered to our kids in grades 4 and 7 in the next month. It is an instructive tool for parents who may wish to remove their children from the testing regime.
In January last year, our board sent a letter to the Ministry of Education stating:
“FSA does not provide meaningful information for instruction and therefore is a diversion rather than a support to increasing student achievement. This diversion is costly to teacher time, school district resources and most significantly to student success.”
That was our choice as a board– we made our own views known to the government. How then should trustees support the families of this district who wish to stand up for the same principle?
Our board to its credit has clearly expressed its considerable dismay over these tests – in March 2007 the Cowichan Board of Trustees passed a motion calling on the BC Ministry of Education to eliminate the Foundation Skills Assessment testing program. They supported the teachers call for a moratorium on FSA testing in the fall of 2009. It should be time for us to get off the pot and lend a hand to those parents who feel the same way. As usual – we are instructed by administration without any actual evidence that if we simply practise what we preach and tell parents they have the right to choose we are disobeying a law and will be punished in this or perhaps the next life on the grounds we could be offending the School Act. This despite the fact there is no direct wording in that piece of dynamic legislation which prohibits parental right to decide on this matter. The participation guidelines merely assert our students are ‘expected’ to write. You and I both know if students could be compelled to write the word ‘required’ would have been used– but it is not.
In the interests of clarity, I should tell you the largest School District in BC –the Vancouver School Board- has elected to give their families exactly what the Cowichan board continues to withhold – the right to decide if FSA testing is in their child’s best interests. Pretty mild stuff.
Now we have just begun to machete our way along the budget path -done for now in the Finance Committee but I must offer a bit of commentary on the proceedings. We have been subjected to a new and gleaming budget model which to be frank is pretty much like the old model in that it rests entirely on frustrating the aims of staff and families to provide quality public education. But there is nothing like a bit of elementary graphics to liven things up. Evidently our ministry has instructed the senior staff to establish a design which authorises the barest of legally mandated services and the devil will take the hindmost- those being in no particular order and by no means restricted to this list – small schools, French Immersion, bussing and non enrolling teachers.
So we have a box with the ‘bare bones’ services within (which for now appears to include administration costs) and an ‘optional’ box with everything else. I am not kidding – who cares if eliminating these aspects of our system will not come close to offsetting the deficit we are predicting and in fact will slash our enrollment which in turn will cascade into less funding which will lead to further cuts, less enrolment and on and on.
This is more or less what has occurred in the last decade or so but the new budget model will accelerate the process. At this table – the divide is almost even – 8 voted to proceed with the model presented and 7 against. Yet – in a winner take all approach – there will be no reflection of that considerable lack of consensus. To take this catastrophe to community and claim the ministry made us do it will not stand or certainly it should not. As trustees in the coming months we will all have to decide if our mandate simply is to mechanically and dispassionately dismantle public education so there is nothing left to defend. So far, the majority of us have agreed to proceed as if we have no choice but to do so.
If trustees have no choice…who does?
The end of this meeting was punctuated by the rattle of a motion, intended to shrink our numbers from the current nine to seven. As I have commented on this at length I will refrain here but I am happy to report the majority decided we need all our trustees and the motion failed.
I was relieved – I thought for a moment I would find myself swamped with board work as a result of having fewer colleagues. Now that we have confirmed our numbers I can serenely return to all those activities I enjoy due to the copious free time being a trustee bestows –time travel, cloning mammoths, raising the dead, spray painting nudes on parked cars and oh yes – playing happily with the trains. Amen…
Your Trustee Pal
The “Southern Report” can be viewed at http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/pubdocs/bcdocs/439607/2008-05_special_advisor_report.pdf).