November 2012: Newsletter

Direct contact has now been established with the majority of schools in District 4! I now have a working email list of SAC and PTA chairs and principals, those people at each school who are best positioned to disseminate and receive information on behalf of their communities. After collecting the balance of names I’ll begin to let people know what’s going on at the board level and share whatever board-related information seems like it might be useful to people.

Like drinking from a fire hydrant, that’s the way that best describes these first few weeks as a school board member. The new governing board has been getting oriented from all directions and by all parties and the volume and complexity of the information has been staggering. At the end of the day, however, the good news is that we’re getting to know one another and we’re much further ahead than when we started. My own feeling about the role swings from exhilarated to terrified and back but for the most part I just end up feeling hugely curious and inquisitive and asking a lot of questions as I go.

School boards don’t often make the legislative assembly’s agenda but the announcement last week of Bill No. 131 briefly changed that. It’s an act that’s meant to clarify the duties of governing school board members. It was developed in the wake of a series of governing-board implosions that took place around the province going back several years. These were boards, including Halifax’, that were disbanded owing to one or another form of paralysing dysfunction. In clarifying the duties the bill has drawn fire from some for seeming to instead take away from the role of elected representative. A summary of the act says that every member of a school board shall:

  • maintain a focus on the achievement of all students enrolled in the school board’s schools and programs;
  • respect that the superintendent is responsible for the day-to-day management of the school board; and
  • act in the best interest of the school board and carry out his or her responsibilities in a manner that assists the school board in fulfilling its duties pursuant to this Act.

    This past week I’ve been at an orientation session hosted by the Nova Scotia School Boards Association and attended by all eight boards in the province. Wednesday, November 28, marks our first public meeting as the new board.

School board or school board? Can you spot the difference? Experience suggests it never hurts to repeat the following: there’s an elected board that’s unpaid but for an annual stipend of $9,300. That’s me. And then there’s the staff board, those whose day job it is to do the day-to-day work of running the school system. That’s not me. Two different bodies, both called “board.” Confusing to many. I’ll keep reminding you. The governing board is meant to attend to the big picture as informed by our individual districts.

This communication is designed to be two-way and widely distributed. Please feel free to “reply to” any time you wish and to share the contents of this update with your community. For me to represent the district in discussions at the board table it’s important to know what’s on the district’s mind. And if your school has an enewsletter, I’d love to be included in the distribution.

What I’ve learned about being an elected board member. I may be of limited usefulness to constituents on a day-to-day basis! I can help you navigate the system but I’ll be going to the same people as you to actually make things work. When it comes to day-to-day school business your best best for getting questions answered, raising issues, or addressing concerns is still school board staff: teachers, principals, the school administration supervisors, and others. They’re our go-to people, yours and mine. They’re the ones charged with making schools work and the people best positioned to field your inquiries. I can and will offer myself to this process, helping people navigate the system, but in the end I’ll be going to the same folks as you. No matter the situation there’s always someone to whom you can talk. I’m happy to be a part of that process but I also want you to have the means at your disposal to do the same.

Two links to remember and distribute:

HRSB Administrative staff directory: the source for all non-school based administrative staff information: http://www.hrsb.ns.ca/tools/adminstaff/

Parent tool kit/Parent concern protocol: informal discussion is the starting point for raising concerns, it’s also the manner in which most concerns get resolved. For the complete story on how concerns get addressed, see  http://www.hrsb.ns.ca/content/id/112.html

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