November 2014: Newsletter

Lunchtime Supervision: A staffing nightmare?

The answer to that question depends on the school and the many variables that make up a community. The issue: a 2008 decision by the Province makes it necessary for all schools to provide lunchtime supervision to students free of charge, something particularly difficult depending on the area, seemingly where kids traditionally went home, and being unable to find the necessary staffers. Those schools for which it is a particular hardship were invited to share ideas and brainstorm solutions at a meeting at Westmount Elementary last month. The discussion and results were encouraging. Any silver bullets? No. But the conversation gave rise to a list of suggestions which are being looked at by staff for viability. The results will be shared as soon as available.


Supervision of Extracurriculars (aka Supervision of B Teams)  

A year ago people met at Halifax Central Junior High to talk about the steadily declining number of opportunities available to kids for taking part in extracurricular activities, particularly when involving “away” events, owing to the insufficient numbers of volunteer teacher-supervisors required to chaperone such activity. Consensus seemed to favour changes to the supervisory requirement. The School Insurance Program’s (SIP) discomfort with perceived risk in empowering non-teachers became the focus of discussion with senior board staff who are aware of the need to answer the impact of diminishing numbers of teacher supervisors, a product of declining enrolment, and the steady growth in student and community interest. An update is scheduled to be heard by the governing board in the coming weeks.

School Review Process: Shiny and new and still lacking a key part?

Amendments to the Education Act introduced last spring took effect on October 17. The new School Review process includes solid requirements like long-range Outlooks addressing all facilities in each of the eight provincial school boards, district instead of targeted school reviews, and an emphasis on public participation managed by arms-length facilitators. All good. But the process seems to stop short of allowing for the full array of possible recommendations. The problem: recommendations that might hinge on the building of a new school or altering an existing school are explicitly prohibited. (See “Directive N”.) Having seen reviews in which affected schools were receptive to change but reluctant to sign-off without some sense of what shape their next school might take, there is concern about the implications of this directive. If it is in fact the case that you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette, so be it. Let’s crack the eggs. But let’s also be sure we have an adequate container in which to do it. Right now, not so sure about the container. It’s feeling a lot like the old process in this one important respect.

And in other big review news the Minister’s Panel on Education has completed and delivered the “first comprehensive review of Nova Scotia’s school system in 25 years.” Spoiler alert: those who are attached to things as they are should beware. The report is entitled “Disrupting the Status Quo.”

October 2014: Newsletter

Staffing Lunchtimes at Your School: want to brainstorm solutions? Come to the meeting at Westmount Elementary School.Thursday, October 16, 6:30 pm,Library.

Let’s get together and talk about staffing school lunch times. (SEE ABOVE) Frustrated by the challenge? Watching your principal grow old before their time? I’m inviting SAC chairs to get together and talk about what IS working at your school. Let’s share and brainstorm ideas. Just hit “reply” and, if sufficient interest, we’ll talk about it over coffee. By the way, here’s the policy on lunch time supervision.

Want to reduce the incidence of lice? Ban sleepovers! It’s neither a practical nor serious suggestion but it points to the fact that school’s not the big culprit in the transmission of lice. Nor is school the place from which kids with lice should be banned, the educational costs being far too great. Principals are required to let parents know when they suspect a child has lice but it’s up to parents or guardians to treat. And once treatment has begun, kids may return to school. The less school missed the better. In reviewing the Head Lice policy this past week the governing board heard from Capital Health’s Medical Health Officer Dr. Watson-Creed. While expertly characterizing the experience as “icky” she said lice in no way pose a health risk, not in the opinion of Nova Scotia’s Department of Health, not the Canadian Pediatric Society, and not the World Health Organization. The greatest risk, she said, is in perpetuating an atmosphere of stigma and exclusion and thereby compromising the long-term educational success of effected children. Sound alarmist? Says Watson-Creed, Grade 12 math and literacy success is the most important factor and indicator of lifelong health. By extension, anything that needlessly interferes with that success along the way needs to be kept to an absolute minimum.

Click to Adopt. Congratulations to Saint Mary’s Elementary and J.W. MacLeod Fleming Tower Elementary for their inclusion in the Indigo Adopt-a-School campaign. Click through to help them on their way to getting the most votes in Nova Scotia.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall – For those living in the Halifax Citadel-Sable Island part of this school district, MLA Labi Kasoulis is hosting a Community BBQ this Saturday, September 20 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. It will take place on the Gorsebrook Junior High field near the corner of Robie and Fraser. Labi is your elected connection to Education at the provincial level. Food, refreshment, and games. All ages. All welcome.

Fantastic new HRSB website at Navigation just got a whole lot easier. Now instead of being struck by the user unfriendliness of the site you’ll be surfing with ease from offering to another. Want all the details on your child’s school? On the departments that comprise the school board in what is the biggest “About Us” page ever? Or how about the LeMarchant-St. Thomas site selection recommendation that was submitted to the province? Finding things like this and more just got a whole lot easier.

May 2014: On location NSSBA AGM, Membertou

Board member Cindy Littlefair reporting to you from Cape Breton where its school board is hosting the provincial AGM. So far I’ve had conversations with the executive directors of the Canadian School Boards Association and NSSBA, Outgoing President Jamie Stevens, and heard from DEECD Minister Karen Casey, all of which have left me once again feeling quite heartened to be part of education in Nova Scotia and Halifax in 2014. If you’re at all about education, now’s the time to be taking part. And on that note…

*****It’s survey day! The Minister’s Panel on Education wants to hear from anyone who has an opinion, a suggestion, or a thought about “setting a bold new direction for our public schools.” So far 10,000 people have completed the survey. Have you always thought that summer vacation should be in winter? Four months instead of two? Cursive writing should be resurrected? That report cards should be thrown out or schools student run? How about a course on civics? Or maybe just that corrections to your child’s homework should be made in green ink instead of red as was recently introduced in Britain? Now’s the time to say so. Use this opportunity to share every practical, progressive, or seemingly farfetched thought you’ve ever had on the topic of public education because for the first time in 25 years the invitation is out there. Don’t let it go unanswered. And if you want to wax eloquent beyond what the survey provides, the deadline for written submissions is June 13. While you’re at it see what the Nova Scotia School Boards Association has to say on the topic.*****

About HRSB’s budget. The portion of the budget, $321m, that deals exclusively with staffing was approved May 7 in order to meet the many staffing related deadlines that flow from the budgeting decision. The new classroom cap of 20 students in each P to 2 class triggered a significant increase in teacher numbers (80) that was offset by reductions resulting from retirements (25) and enrollment decline (25). At the end of the day, targeted funding aside, cost pressures associated with the General Fund continued to present challenges. As can be imagined a $433m budget is not a simple beast to understand or wrangle. Within the General Fund there is targeted funding (restricted) and untargeted funding (unrestricted). While the Province’s overall allocation to HRSB is in fact greater than it ever has been it remains the case that there’s less in the General Fund for covering naturally occurring, year-over-year cost pressures such as salary increases, heating fuel cost, and transportation. That said staff has produced a balanced budget, the staff portion of which has now been approved, and the balance, $112m, will be discussed and approved before June’s out.

Members of the governing board and Liberal caucus met on May 21 to talk about the ways we do and might work together and how to add value to those relationships whether as board member to MLA or as HRSB to Government. The same conversation is taking place with city council and councillors. Bottom line: all three levels of government need to be working together far more closely. The results of the newly overhauled school review process, the Minister’s current Education Review, Ray Ivanny’s “One Nova Scotia”, and discussion papers such as the NSSBA’s contribution to education review point to the need to pool resources and thinking to a far greater extent than is currently the case. From facilities to curriculum the Municipality, the Province, and the Board each bring to the table the pieces that together will form a greater whole, serving the present and future of our children with everything at our disposal and in the most effective possible way.

The Capital Projects list submitted by HRSB to DEECD in May once again included Inglis Street Elementary. At the Province’s request a maximum of seven instead of ten projects were put forward. First approved for Additions and Alterations money in 2009 Inglis Street was shelved along with every other capital project that was on the Department’s books back in 2010 while a new process for submitting capital requests was developed. Had the original approval stuck there’d now be signs of construction at the corner of Inglis and Robie. As it is the school remains in need of a major overhaul and is once again before the Province for its consideration. J.L. Ilsley H.S., into which some of this district’s schools feed, has also been a previous entry on the capital projects list and recently received $1m. in funding under Capital Repairs to renovate the building envelope, administrative space, and grounds.

The Site Selection Committee for the replacement Le Marchant-St. Thomas Elementary is going full throttle, has now held two meetings, and is hoping to be in a position to make recommendation to the governing board by the end of June. The committee is made up of voting members supported by non-voting members and resource people. Voting members come entirely from the school community. Typically a committee is required to produce three recommendations, approved by the governing board, from which the Province then chooses. In acknowledgment of the fact that three sites aren’t always available the Minister has said it can be fewer. Keeping in mind that the Committee needs to work within the existing Le Marchant-St. Thomas catchment area that news is particularly germane.

Belated congratulations to  Gorsebrook Junior High for snagging a $30k municipal grant for various improvements to its grounds. Waye Mason’s participatory budgeting process has been particularly fertile ground for our district’s schools, Saint Mary’s Elementary have received the same amount last year for schoolyard improvements. Thank you, Waye. And thank you Gorsebrook and Saint Mary’s for having assembled such compelling cases for funding.

Any lingering questions about exactly what school boards do? The NSSBA puts it very succinctly.

And give Superintendent Elwin LeRoux’s May report a look for a snapshot and taste of activity board-wide and as representative of the strategic plan.

June will be tremendously busy with the boundary review involving Park West and Grosvenor-Wentworth Park schools. And graduation ceremonies! In all likelihood I won’t be back to you before end of June. Enjoy your summer, may it be sun-full and relaxed.

August 2014: Boundary Review Comments Grosvenor-Wentworth and Park West

Delivered at the June 24, 2014 regular board meeting during the discussion of whether or not to change the boundaries for Grosvenor-Wentworth and Park West schools.

It may seem odd to preface my remarks with saying it’s a tremendous honour to be able to take part in this debate, but it is. Hard though the work, each of us got involved with the board in order to serve children and public education and this is one of the places and ways that happens. And it is an honour and a privilege to do so.

Diametrically opposed community views of the effects of overcrowding. Each unintentionally causing us to question the other. Not that either is saying, Our argument applies to the other, quite the opposite, but it’s an inevitable outcome of the cases made. As I listen to GW’s remarks about how program delivery is compromised by overcrowding, I think of PW’s steadfast refutation of same. And as I listen to PW’s remarks about how program delivery is not compromised by overcrowding, I think of GW’s refutation of same. It’s where my listening takes me. It’s not by design. And it is alternatively both fascinating and confusing and I mention that in order to remind you of the difficulty of this task.

This view of mine, of two groups each arguing the opposite, is premised on my acceptance of the suggestion that Park West is overcrowded and that the usage for which it was designed appears to have been exceeded. That’s not to say I will oppose its continued functioning in an overcrowded state necessarily. But I do accept that it is too small to both accommodate the student body and deliver the program for which and in the way it was intended. This is where the conversation starts for me. And I do prefer the use of the more accurate “overcrowding” as opposed to the more ambiguous “status quo.” I would like to call it what it is. The question for me is whether that being the case there are still sufficient advantages to outweigh the disadvantages. That is what I’ll be listening for tonight.

My acceptance of the suggestion of overcrowding is based on fact and experience and public perception. In the case of the latter, long held public perception that the school is overcrowded. It’s the stuff of hearsay and anecdote but it has long legs. How many people have left the catchment to avoid the overcrowding? How many have avoided moving there because of it? And how many from withing the catchment are being silenced? The characterization of PW as overcrowded is widely and commonly held and, in that respect, beyond dispute. I emphasize this for the benefit of those holding the opposing view because it would seem they are not aware of the existence of this perception and to explain the part it plays in forming my view. But the perception does exist and in an unfavourable light as being unfair to students. Unfair to teachers. And in need of redress.

Fast forward to January of this year and the striking of the Boundary Review Committee, our idea. The process meant to remedy the overcrowding at each of the schools was now officially underway.

As the Committee’s work proceeded we heard directly from the Park West community. What overcrowding?, people asked. An unfortunate place to start this particular conversation. The experience of overcrowding was negated. Evidence of overcrowding would need to be prevailed upon. And so it should. But then the evidentiary data was refuted, and then the process, and finally the Boundary Review Committee’s work itself. By now perception, experience, evidence, and process had been overruled and Recommendation #1, Scenario 6, defeated.

The Grosvenor-Wentworth situation, very different in tone, started with the premise that there was overcrowding and that it needed to be addressed. It proceeded from there to the Boundary Review Committee to which that community’s input was directed and resulted, after considering a vast array of scenarios, in Recommendation #2, Scenario 8A. It too, however, was defeated.

What did not, however, disappear was the overcrowding.

Several months ago I met a boy at an event in my district. I asked what grade he was in. Five, he said, but I don’t go to this school. Where do you go?, I asked. Bedford South was his response. And how’s that going now that the junior highs are at Rocky Lake?, I asked. There’s so much more room, he said. His words have echoed in my ears ever since. Room. Space. Such an important yet seemingly disposable element in a person’s day, their comfort and their growth. I took much from the simplicity of his response. Acceptance. Contentment. Relief. Resilience.

I would never intentionally put my child in a too-small pair of shoes. Maybe until I could get to the store but never long term. It would be unkind. Uncaring. What is the difference, I keep asking myself, between a too-small pair of shoes and a too-small school? What is the difference whether it’s feet or an entire child being placed in too limiting a space? Where is the attendance to comfort? Where to optimal growth? Why need growth and achievement be forced to occur despite the conditions? How much might there be otherwise? Given the care and support that is so evident in the outpourings of opinion we’ve been hearing for months, how much more growth and achievement might we see if given simple, physical space?

I have been to PW and GWP. I have heard that 600 of the 800 PW students remain at school each day for triple-shifted lunchtimes, the young ones eating last. I have seen and visited the portables, freely exiting and entering unsecured school doors. I have stood among the kids in the halls at GW and been swept up in the exodus at recess and I have had a small but revealing taste of the parking situation in an SUV, never mind a bus. Why would any of us want any of this to continue for so much as a moment more? Why would we want to wait or do with less when there are options? Here. Now. Their comfort and growth are clearly important to you. They may not say, My school is too small. For most it is the only school they have ever known. They have nothing to which to compare it. As with shoes, they may experience discomfort without complaint. You may become aware only when you see signs of excessive wear. And what form does that take?  Think of yourselves in tight spaces. Think of yourselves in a crowded place. To what feelings does it give rise? Do you think you’d do your best work in a portable? They contain but do they inspire or fire the imagination? Would you want to put on your coat and hat to go to the bathroom? We may not be able to quantify or describe exactly how growth is compromised by being in too-small shoes but we know it’s not ideal and so we act to remedy it.  My question at the end of all this: Can we say for sure that comfort and growth are not better served in more spacious surrounds? Are we be able to say and feel with confidence that to turn away from space is a good thing?

What I’ll be listening for as this debate proceeds is how the PW situation is different from Bedford South, a school whose overcrowding led us to the conclusion that it needed addressing. And when I hear the phrase “status quo” I will, for my own purposes, be replacing it with the word “overcrowding” because at no point do I want to fool myself into thinking that sticking with the current state of affairs means anything less than sticking with overcrowding.

You provide them with the necessities of life because you know they are essential to comfort and optimal growth. It is your care and support that keeps them in the shoes that are the right size and it is your care and support that would continue to assure their academic growth, their emotional well-being, their safety, and their sense of pride in a school that fit because you, like us, are interested in “Creating the best possible learning environment for all students.”

April 2014: Newsletter

April 23, 2014: Minister’s Response to the School Review Process Study, Report, and Recommendations

LAST CALL for this year’s “Getting to Great” survey, Halifax Regional School Board’s annual collecting of parent, student, and staff opinion on all things school. Deadline: Friday, April 11.*

And if you have any opinions left to share after that, surf on over to the Province’s report card review survey.  Deadline: Friday, April 11.

The Board has the relative luxury of heading into its 2014/15 budgeting process with status quo funding from the Province. April is all about money: choosing ten capital projects to forward to the Province for its consideration, preparing a repairs wish list for maintenance projects costing between $150k and $1m, and looking at next year’s budget line by line. Never at a loss for financial challenges, the ongoing cost pressures posed by pay raises, bussing increases, and fuel and utilities hikes will continue to command particular shoe-horning.

The provincial school board association, the NSSBA, has received resolutions from HRSB for presentation to the provincial membership. If adopted, the resolutions will be taken up for action by the NSSBA. Resolution topics include: student walking distances, Individual Programme Plans (IPPs) and African-Nova Scotian students, digital citizenship, and the cost burden of lunchtime supervision.

As we await Minister Casey’s response to Bob Fowler’s review of the school review process another process is unfolding under her direction, the Minister’s Panel on Education. Again, if you’re a person of opinion, get ready to share. This one will invite your ideas about strengthening the public education system.

Last November a group met at Halifax Central to talk about the well-being of extracurricular offerings: their present and future. In the time since then the conversation has continued. It’s taking place primarily among and between school board staff, School Insurance Programme (SIP) staff, and with the contribution of legal opinion. That the conversation continues forms the update for the time being.

Care to know what the Superintendent‘s been up to? His most recent and past monthly reports offer a firsthand glimpse. Of particular interest, his and the governing board’s current work on a Digital Citizenship policy. Interesting fact: on an average day as many as 15,000 devices may be connected to HRSB’s school-based wireless networks and that’s with implementation of wireless only nearing the halfway point in our almost 140 schools.

Policies discussed in the last two months include: Fine Arts, Employment and Supervision of Family Members, and Bomb Threats. The latter was recommended for rescinding and then rescinded at the March board meeting. Created in 1998 it has been made redundant by the Province’s comprehensive Emergency Management Planning guidelines.

Every board member fulfills the role their own way, particularly when it comes to communications. And I’m always looking to them and to you for direction. Twitter? In-person visits? Event attendance? Email or enewsletters? Have a preference? Let me know. And in the meantime please share these newsletters with your school community.

Ever hear about something going on in school and think, Didn’t that go out with the dinosaur? Herewith, a list of dinosaurs from an Icelandic elementary school teacher. Is there anything you’d add?

February 2014: Newsletter

Another Wednesday night at home. Newsworthy? If you’re a school board member, yes. We’re accustomed to spending most Wednesday nights from September to June at the board offices in Burnside. But regular Wednesday night meetings have given way to regular Wednesday cancellations. Welcome the winter of Wednesday storms!

That said January still managed to offer up six board-related events in one nine day period and a seventh, unattended by this member, involving SAC chairs and the superintendent in big picture consultative discussion. The item receiving the most attention in January was arguably the follow-up to Robert Fowler’s School Review Discussion Paper. Made available in November, anyone and everyone with an interest in overhauling school review was provided with an opportunity to respond. And respond they did: the general public, SACs, governing boards and board staff province-wide,  the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, HRM, the Small School Initiative. In scope and scale both the recommendations and response were heartening. Everyone, it would appear, is ready for real change in this now 20-year old process. Mr. Fowler will be making his final submission to Minister Karen Casey before the end of February.

The entire board now acts as Policy Development Review Committee, an aspect of board business given a dedicated spot on the monthly calendar. Policies and related discussion recently or soon to be addressed: harassment, school boundaries, student registration, policy development and review, tragic events protocol, bussing, start times. In general business we are or will soon be turning our attention to: Park West-Grosvenor Wentworth boundary review, February meeting with the Minister, identification of capital projects, business plan updating, budgeting.

Reminder: The Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Associations (NSFHSA) wants to make contact with all other HSA, PTA, PTOs in District 4. The fullness of a school’s richness typically owes to the efforts of a select number of parents and teachers going above and beyond. Home and school associations are a great and longstanding example of this. Please send an email introducing yourself to David Smith or Teresa Orser at

If interested in knowing what the business of building a new school involves once approval has been given, let me know. With a new LeMarchant-St. Thomas on the horizon things will soon begin happening.

Making the rounds and going viral last week:

And always worth a read for thought provoking education-related news Educhatter’sBlog.

February 2014: LeMarchant-St. Thomas replacement

New school construction process:

·         Initial funding is scheduled for 2014/15. Typically the funding is divvied up over three or more years and spent as follows: planning/design, construction, and warranty period.

·         The project is funded by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) and managed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal’s (DTIR) project management team. DEECD establishes the space requirements (eg. number of classrooms, specialty program spaces, administrative space, gym size, etc.) based on current enrollment and application of the N.S. Public School Program space requirements. HRSB will talk with HRM about their desire or not to enhance the project using HRM money. This could include an enlarged gymnasium or other enhanced space as informed by HRM’s needs within the community.

·         The site selection process is the first step within the planning stage and is led by HRSB staff. Ultimately it is a process that will see involvement by the Principal, SACs, Operations and School Administration, HRM, DTIR, and DEECD. Recommendations for site selection, a standard feature in the new construction process, are presented to the Governing Board. If accepted they are forwarded to DEECD for assessment by DTIR. Final approval rests with the Minister of EECD.

·         Once a site has been selected and approved by the Minister, a School Steering Team (SST) is established that provides input into the DTIR design team on program delivery and space design requirements. The SST is chaired by HRSB staff and typically includes: Operations, School Administration, and Program staff; Principal and Vice-Principal; SAC chairs; HRM; DEECD; and DTIR as well as the design consultant. Typically there is not representation by elected representatives (MLA, Board Member, or Councillor) at this stage in the process but they have attended on occasion. The SST does not have decision making authority but provides input for consideration by the design team.

·         Finally the conceptual design is reviewed with the SST for feedback and DTIR completes the detailed design and construction documents. Normally the SST function is complete once the project has achieved final design and moves to the construction tender process.

December 2013: Newsletter

On December 23 the Province announced its decision to fund a replacement for the existing LeMarchant St. Thomas (LMST) school. The project, officially referred to as the South Peninsula Elementary, is included in its 2014/15 Capital Plan. This was one of only two new construction projects applied for by the school board, both of which were approved. The other eight requests were for Additions and Alterations and included Inglis Street Elementary. None of these have been approved at this time but will, in all likelihood, be resubmitted in the coming year. As stated in the board’s request, LMST’s robust population and the projected ongoing demand, the advanced state of the building’s deterioration, the age of fixtures, mechanical, and electrical systems, the lack of ventilation and the insufficiency of programme spaces, as well as the necessity to house some students in a physically separate location, all support the building of a new school. At this point the 90 year old building is viewed as having insufficient residual value to be approached as a renovation. Next steps will be shared as they become available.

Superintendent’s invitation to SACs. It’s been almost a year since our strategic plan was drafted and put into effect, serving as the guiding principle for the 2013/14 business plan and all board actions, and three months since the hiring of Elwin LeRoux,  our new Superintendent. In the interest of ongoing communication and refinement of the plan, he is inviting SACs to meet and speak with him on Saturday, January 18 at 9:00 am, 11:00 am, or 1:00 pm; HRSB Office at 33 Spectacle Lake Drive, Dartmouth. He wants your input on the board’s priorities for teaching and learning. Storm date: Saturday, January 25.

The recently released School Review Process Discussion Paper is available at Biting off a bigger chunk than its predecessors, it contemplates changes of a more substantive nature: looking at families of schools instead of isolating single schools for review and engaging in long-term planning with all parties at the table simultaneously – school board, municipality, and province – instead of individually. It recognizes that the best decision requires cooperation, thoroughly supportable data, and a better weighting of qualitative to quantitative factors. SACs will play a key role in refining this document. The date for the meeting closest to District 4 is Tuesday, January 21, 7:00 pm, at Dartmouth High School.

Connectivity. One of my biggest frustrations as SAC chair was the inability to connect with other SACs when needed. With this newsletter the schools of District 4 now have that connectivity. If ever there’s something you’d like to share with or ask of other SACs in the Citadel or the J.L. Ilsley family of schools,  the 13 schools of District 4, send me some copy and I’ll add it to the next newsletter. It goes to all SAC and PTA chairs and co-chairs, principals and vice principals. Event announcements. Questions. Whatever. Bring it up, bring it on. Ultimately this list will live elsewhere but for the time being, for the privacy of the recipients, it will be available as described.

SACs Matter.  SACs have an important role to play in advising the principal and staff and providing feedback and information. Going back almost 20 years, the province saw the need for this form of school-level involvement and made a place for it in legislation. Their powers are enshrined in the Education Act and described in very readable fashion in a handbook produced by the Province. How an SAC manifests at any given school is very much an expression of that school. SACs are how we get to support kids – ours and others – during those those hours when they’re not physically with us and in ways that we otherwise could not. It’s ours to make of what we will.

Upcoming: A report on a November 28 meeting at Halifax Central Junior High at which the topic of extracurriculars, the supervision requirement, and how the two might be better aligned was the topic of discussion.

Citadel Theatre Society, representing the Spatz Theatre, assigns one seat on its board to a school board member. I am now that member. The school board was, in effect, the project’s financier. Since the Province does not fund auditoriums on the grounds that they are not programme related, a group of interested citizens formed themselves into a society and fundraised the necessary money to build the space. It now has a staff of one, a manager who markets and arranges bookings, and a steadily growing list of paying users. It is also used extensively by the school and programmes.

And an interesting read for those still on break: The Principal: the Most Misunderstood Person in All of Education from Atlantic Monthly.

December 2013: Who am I to you and who might I be?

Nothing prevents or excuses me from representing you. I can be useful to you in a variety of ways. The policy governance role doesn’t prevent that; it’s part of that. Relating to policy is the governing board’s primary responsibility but helping you find answers to practical questions and talking with you about issues specific to you or your school is all in the service of that responsibility. For the role to be less than that is to operate in a vacuum. Not only is there a place for everything you might possibly want to talk about but in so doing a policy purpose might also be served. If anyone reading this thinks our mandated policy governance role is an obstacle, it is not. It’s simply the end product of what we do.

Policy or corporate governance, the model by which the governing board is meant to operate, focuses us on governing at the topmost level of the system. We are meant to fix our sights on things that effect the shape learning takes. But the only way for us to fully perform that function is to know what’s happening on the ground. The two most reliable sources for that are your experiences as users of the system and an understanding of the issues you face. Parents, non-parents, students, staff – all have a stake in what happens. As board members we are conduits, collectors, disseminators, and facilitators of and for the information and conversations that need to happen in order to continue to improve the school experience.

And just in case this suggestion of collaboration smacks of runaway naiveté or optimism, be assured that it is tempered by this quote from<;: “Often referred to as ‘an unnatural act performed by unconsenting adults’ collaboration is difficult because it requires going beyond simply sharing knowledge and information…It is more than relationships that help each party achieve its own goals. The purpose of collaboration is to create a shared vision and joint strategies to address concerns that go beyond the purview of any particular part.”*

But just think about it. How many other agencies in HRM have a staff of 8,000, a budget of $400m., and clients numbering close to 50,000? If ever there was something worth collaborating on it’s school and kids.  Don’t ever hesitate to let me know what you think.

The search for a new superintendent yielded Elwin Leroux: board employee, native Nova Scotian, and someone who’s dedicated himself to kids, his own learning, and education in a way that’s informed, current, and forward-thinking. We all stand to benefit. His replacement as Senior Staff Advisor is Gary Adams, past area supervisor for the J.L. Ilsely family. Those who attended the French Immersion meeting at J.W. MacLeod last spring will remember both Elwin and Gary, the presenters. And the new Director of Program, Alison Leverman , brings to three the number of staff changes at the top and the feeling that HRSB’s staff leadership is in particularly good shape as we proceed.

Awaiting provincial announcements. We’re waiting on two things from the Province: news of which capital projects submitted by HRSB last spring will be approved and the discussion paper on the school review process. Unless the new government is delayed in getting to these things, November should bring some news.
2013-17 Strategic Plan: The four main themes are: 1. Student Achievement/Success, 2. Exemplary Teaching, 3. Equitable Opportunities for Students, 4. Public Confidence in Education.


November 2013: Extracurriculars and Supervision Update and Meeting Summary

Update: Halifax Central Meeting of November 28, 2013

Extracurriculars and the supervision requirement have been receiving ongoing attention since last we met. Elwin LeRoux has spoken with the School Insurance Programme (SIP) and the governing board has now discussed the subject at length in a leadership session. The result: instead of starting with and providing only a synthesis of our Halifax Central conversation I’m able to provide a summary of the conversations that have occurred in the time since, concluding with the summary promised. Intervening conversations have been for the purpose of gathering information. Your feedback is encouraged.

Following our meeting at Halifax Central Elwin LeRoux contacted the School Insurance Program (SIP). Discussion at our meeting had touched extensively on risk – the school insurer was the place to start with that question. Their response was unexpectedly and dishearteningly simple: in a decision by the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia involving a school in Lunenburg County it was determined that the duty of care for students lay with teachers and could not be delegated to other staff or volunteers. That’s what’s driving SIP’s recommendation regarding supervision by a teacher at extracurricular events: legal precedent. It’s less a matter of claims history and risk assessment than of a court finding that care can not be delegated. That being the case I have asked the Superintendent if our own corporate secretary might look more closely at the details of that decision bearing in mind our desire to find a way to expand options which meet the duty of care standard through volunteers.

Beyond that and getting back to the meeting of November 28 there was the issue of current practice. At that meeting Elwin LeRoux responded to the example of a game at which a single teacher from a host school and two or three parent volunteers were present with saying that the supervision requirement in such a scenario has been met.  Providing the teacher agrees to be responsible for supervising both teams and the principals involved approve the supervision, one teacher is sufficient. This is not new but it appears it is not commonly known. The principles of teacher consent and principal approval are core to the application of this practice.

Highlights and Suggestions from the Halifax Central JH Discussion

At the heart of the matter is one of the specific requirements for extra-curricular activities: teacher involvement.  This is a challenge for some schools, especially when contemplating breadth of offerings, (eg. B teams).  The meeting was introduced as an opportunity to have a discussion about considerations and possibilities in the absence of the expectation of teacher involvement.  In other words, what things, from a parent and community member’s perspective, might warrant consideration to ensure both care and supervision of students and a broader range of activities.

Most if not all of the (approx. 40) participants shared in the discussion which centered to a great extent on better understanding “risk” as applied by the insurer and possible remedies.

Contributions included:

· Clear volunteer policy

·  Informed consent so that parents have a clear understanding of the scope of supervision for their children

·  Clearly defining risks and implementing strategies to mitigate these risks with non-teacher organizers/supervisors

·  Consideration of the opportunities lost to parents for not taking an ownership role in support/supervision

·  Clearly defining the barriers to change

·  Clearly stating why the teacher is currently required, exploring “common sense” ways to meet stated needs, and examining whether we’re saying that teachers are more trustworthy than coaches

·   Developing a process or programme by whereby the expectations for those organizing and supervising are outlined and communicated, eg. identifying who is responsible for what at which events

·   Recognition that while expanding offerings is a way to increase access to physical activity and participation it will also produce issues of inaccessibility and inequity for some (rural vs urban)

·   Request Minister waive fees for all criminal records checks for volunteers

·   Question of how to accredit or certify people responsible for teams

·   Question of the practical implications of social versus potential litigation costs

·   A strategy for funding extra-curricular activities with donations in schools unable to provide additional offerings

·   One solution or more? Might there be different requirements for: in school, in board, and abroad?

·   Principal should not be solely responsible but should instead share responsibility with the SAC

There is a clear need for the communication of current minimum requirements surrounding supervision for extra-curricular activities, especially team sports.  In essence, the principal is responsible for curricular and extra-curricular activities at the school and there are many things for a principal to consider in approving extra-curricular activities, including related board policies and the School Insurance Program (SIP).

Transportation is a consideration unto itself and brings with it specific requirements of policy and practice. The issue of equity and access to extracurriculars as it pertains to transportation is an additional consideration  – the board needing to contemplate the needs and situations of all students, eg. the ability of all to get to events.

A discussion was had about the possibility of extra-curricular activities being organized entirely by parent volunteers and no longer under the auspices of the school or school board.  Although important to explore, this idea was not a popular one .

Again, your feedback is encouraged. We’ve had a tremendous start to this discussion, staff will continue to explore as described above, and we’ll proceed accordingly.  Your thoughts and suggestions are important.