March 2013: Newsletter

With only five more days until March break I wanted to give you as complete a picture as possible of how the governing board has spent the winter to date. I’m told this is the busiest time of year and if two meetings a week with a couple clocking in at five and ten hours are any indication I’d be inclined to agree.

We’ve been drafting HRSB’s new strategic plan and it’s now ready for your feedback. The timeline for writing and revising is of necessity quite tight,  the plan needing immediately to be pressed into service as the basis for this year’s business planning and budgeting. Friday, March 8 is the date by which your input, if offered, is required. A single read may be enough to prompt thoughts or suggestions on your part. If at all inclined, please give it a moment.

School and boundary reviews in Bedford, Sackville, and on the Eastern Shore are receiving the lion’s share of our time and attention. We’ve visited two of the three communities as a group and have now arrived at a decision regarding the first one: the consolidating of two junior high populations in Bedford. It was the first big decision of the new governing board and heavy-lifting for all involved, community and board staff included, but as a result the tenor of the conversation was remarkably thorough and comprehensive. It was, for me, an example of due process unfolding precisely as it’s meant: everything that might or should go into a decision of such magnitude being given full consideration. The remaining school and boundary questions for Sackville and the Eastern Shore will be discussed during March and April. This is also the period during which senior HRSB staff will make their annual recommendations regarding schools reviews for the 2013/14 budget year.

The hiring of a new superintendent to replace last year’s departing Carole Olsen continues to receive the governing board’s attention. The reporting line for school boards sees the superintendent reporting to the governing board and the governing board to the Minister of Education. The superintendent is the governing board’s one and only staff person and it has exclusive control over the hiring; HRSB staff are involved only as support. At this point all efforts are focused on the selection of an executive search firm, a process which in itself is being undertaken with a maximum of diligence, following which the successful firm will manage the search, report to the board on candidates, and assist with the interview process. At this point it’s our intention to have a new superintendent in place by the fall. Acting superintendent Judy White will continue in her role and conduct the handover of duties when her replacement starts. Having a capable acting superintendent has not only allowed the new board to take the necessary time to make the right selection but allowed us in general to get up to speed in the many ways required.

Following her announcement in February of a very slight budget increase for HRSB the board met and spoke with Education Minister Ramona Jennex as she concluded a round of introductory meetings with all boards in Nova Scotia. Each board member ended up using the opportunity to ask top-of-mind questions.

Our district: a monthly primer on District 4

With the winter having involved visits to areas undergoing review I became interested in knowing the ages of our schools here in District 4. Here’s what I learned:

Cunard Junior High, 1965; J.W. MacLeod Elementary, 1947 and Fleming Tower, 1962; Chebucto Heights Elementary, 1974; Springvale Elementary, 1955; St. Agnes Junior High, 1974; Westmount Elementary, 1950; Sir Charles Tupper Elementary, 1929; Halifax Central Junior High, 1950; LeMarchant-St. Thomas Elementary, 1923; Saint Mary’s Elementary, 1950; Gorsebrook Junior High, 1950; Inglis Street Elementary, 1952; and Citadel High School, 2007. This puts the average age of schools built before the turn of the century at 52.

One of the main jobs of the governing board is to ensure that the full array of school facilities is being managed responsibly and providing the best learning environment possible.  The process begins each March with senior HRSB staff recommending schools for review and the governing board’s acceptance or not of those recommendations. If accepted, the review process then begins. District 4 may or may not have an entry in these contemplations for the coming year but if it does all involved with the recommended school are then called upon to undertake the very extensive work of considering what’s being recommended, their views on the recommendations, and the forming of a response.

Having now seen the genuinely influential effects of community involvement in conversations of this type in Bedford, Sackville, and the Eastern Shore, I can say that ongoing familiarity with your school community, its needs, and the nurturing of its voice are tremendously beneficial. Recommendations can touch on anything from grade reconfigurations, school consolidations and closure, new construction, to alterations and additions.

On your mind: issues raised by constituents

Weather-related school cancellations have typically been a peninsula-dweller’s beef, those of us who live in the most densely populated areas of metro Halifax experiencing the greatest incidence of disbelief when hearing of a “storm day.” Knowing this to be the case and with winter upon us I issued a call to district residents earlier in the year to let me know their thoughts on the subject. So far this winter there have been two cancellations for the Citadel and J.L. Ilsley families of schools. I have received three messages from district parents and another two from other districts. This is one of those issues that when indicated would become grist for the governing board’s mill. Should there ever be sufficient expression of concern to warrant a revisiting of the policy on weather-related cancellations I will again ask the full board to give it their consideration.

Deferred maintenance forms a sizable and ever-growing lump under the HRSB’s operations carpet. The list of maintenance required by individual schools is long and growing and funding for it elusive, the province having no mechanism for attending to these costs as a matter of course. Other than repairs that are critical to a school’s running and student safety most requests for maintenance spend their days on a sizable “to do” list. This is the situation facing all boards in the province and a topic of discussion for all operations directors as they continue to grapple with the effects.

From the documents archive:

The HRSB Facilities Master Plan It’s now two years old, still in draft form, and in need of updating but if you’re curious about the overall lay of the facilities land in HRSB this document will tell you how senior staff viewed things when last they turned their thoughts to every facility in the board.

And, finally, from the “bears repeating” department:

Got a concern that needs addressing? The Parent Concern Protocol lays out the way to get the ball rolling beginning with the simple and informal and progressing to the official.

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