When are trustees supposed to discuss policy?

Last year, the Calgary Board of Education reviewed their governance policies. This was done with the help of high-priced American consultants in a series of in-camera board meetings because, according to a majority of the trustees, it was in the best interest of the public that this work be done in private. Trustees Bazinet and Taylor voted against going in-camera at each of these meetings. When the revamped policies were officially approved on January 24, 2012, it was made clear that while the policies attempted to convey the values of the Board as clearly as possible, it would be the “Reasonable Interpretations” of these policies by the CBE administration that would ultimately determine their effectiveness. As stated by Trustee Ferguson at that meeting:

“The adoption of these policies is really just the first phase. Implementation is an important next step through which the Chief Superintendent can give the Board her interpretation of each policy and discuss what measures are acceptable to the Board to allow them to judge compliance and progress. I think we know that those discussions will help to build and strengthen our effective governance as a Board.”

You may have read the Calgary Herald partial transcript of the September 18, 2012 CBE board meeting where Chair Cochrane asked each trustee to justify asking their questions about the administration’s report of the reasonable interpretation of Operational Expectations 10: Instructional program.  Now according to the motion printed on the report, the trustees were to approve the reasonable interpretation of this OE, so Chair Cochrane stated that each question asked of administration had to be focused on this. However, confusing matters, on several occasions, she asked other trustees what “values” they were questioning.

This brings up an interesting point, because if the trustees were starting to question the “values” then they would be discussing their own policy, rather than just the reasonable interpretation of the policy. This discussion could then perhaps lead to some tweaking of their policy. Trustee Bazinet started to go down this path, to question how they could, or if they should, measure whether the CBE is in compliance with their policy that states that the CBE’s instructional program “is competency-based.” You see, the Alberta curriculum is not competency-based, so while the CBE may be a leader in beginning to implement competency-based instructional programming, it is nowhere near there yet. However, the administration does not want to be found out of compliance with a CBE policy, so their measures of compliance in their reasonable interpretation are that as long as they are following the Alberta Education curriculum, then they are in compliance. Well, obviously, this does not match with what the policy actually says, which Trustee Bazinet wanted to discuss with the other trustees. It’s not the administration’s fault that they do not yet have a competency-based instructional program, so how should a forward thinking policy like this be measured to determine that reasonable progress is being made? Unfortunately, we never got to hear this discussion as Trustee Bazinet withdrew the question after being asked to justify herself to Chair Cochrane. Trustee Bazinet stated:

“I guess I’m looking for a little discussion, because I thought that was what we were actually about as a board was to try to have some back and forth as we figure out together where we’re going as a school system. I think this is an important discussion that we should be having in Alberta. I know that Trustee Bowen-Eyre’s mentioned a discussion with parents. But if we’re going to be so strict as to not allow discussion, then I will withdraw it.”

It is unfortunate that our elected representatives feel that they cannot have policy discussions in public board meetings, since the public was shut out the entire time that the trustees were developing the policies in the first place. It would be nice to know that the trustees were taking the opportunity to seriously discuss these reasonable interpretations. However, the lack of critical discussion around what could be considered very flawed interpretations at the board meeting was disappointing.

For the real CBE geeks out there, I challenge you to read through the reasonable interpretations presented and see if you think that the “indicators” accurately measure compliance with the stated policy.

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